Now that we’ve been living with the COVID-19 virus in the US for most of the year, perhaps it is time to start thinking about how this pandemic can be viewed in the long-term perspective of history and even prehistory. At the begin of this whole disaster, on March 23, I wrote about the far-reaching and life-upending potential of this problem.
We do not want anyone in June to think back to this post and say, “I wish I had taken this more seriously.”
In addition to the knock-on effects of preventing the spread of the disease, I also suggested that we are due for an economic downturn.
If we hunker down for the rest of 2020 (and even if we don’t), what might have been “just” a recession, might well turn into a full-on depression.
Why did I say these things back in March? Because I’ve been thinking, learning, and writing about the rise and fall of large-scale, complex societies for years. My background is in archaeology, and before running the Low Technology Institute, I wrote books. In this case, the most germane is Why Did Ancient Civilizations Fail? Some might accuse me of being the shepherd who called wolf or Casandra, but at the time I was warning of shutting down for all of 2020, the CDC reported less than 16,000 total cases (today we have almost 48,000 new cases daily). Also at that time the CDC recommended staying home only if you were symptomatic and not wearing face masks. I note these facts because March seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
I know that many of us are still immersed in the day-to-day struggle of getting through this ever-changing situation. It is a psychological drain on everyone to have looming uncertainty about jobs, schools, health, family, housing, and food. But I hope that we have been living this way long enough that we could begin to think about how this will be viewed in history. And I don’t mean when our children learn about this in a generation. I am talking about a thousand years from now. Perhaps the best way we can judge COVID-19’s long-term legacy is to look back on how pandemics and other disasters have affected those that came well before us. With the benefit of distance in time and space, we might have a more objective view of our situation.
With that in mind, I’ll be publishing reworked sections from my 2016 book, Why Did Ancient Civilizations Fail?, updated for today, with a special emphasis on health and COVID, but also discussing other social problems we face.