The World is Flat(er)

Posted: August 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

Flat EarthWhen Tom Friedman first released his provocative book, The World is Flat, people took notice; he had named dominant world currents that took everybody back to zero – the internet, globalization, democratizing movements. At the time we began to understand what he meant. But it didn’t turn out exactly as he predicted.

Those same currents generated tribalism and the emergence of new elites. The box was indeed shaken and reorganized, but the powerful made use of it for gain even as the less powerful suffered more. Social and world currents do have a leveling-out effect, even if not in the ways we imagine. Like pandemics, for example.

There is no doubt that the current pandemic has done the same kind of thing, at least for most of us. It has shaken institutions, organizing principles, the way we do commerce, family, religion and spirituality, family life, dating, education and entertainment. In many cases it has just  finished off what was already in the process of dying. In other cases our adapting actually pushes us to new ways of relating and organizing that creates a new way of typical living. For example, using Zoom as a way to gather is no longer novel, it’s simply assumed.

In the same way that Friedman’s observation that new communication and global commerce would shake us up and level us down, but at the same time did not take into account how the powerful would use it to their advantage, so our present pandemic has also leveled most of us out even as the elite and very wealthy have prospered. Even now wealthy politicians quibble about how many bread crumbs of unemployment benefits or relief assistance they want to throw under the table to the desperate.

As most world citizens have endured loss of health, life and livelihood, needed to adjust to new limitations, and in many cases made new discoveries about what is really important, a certain class of people — the elite and super-wealthy who are quite insulated from the ravages of COVID — have exploited the pandemic to their advantage. They have prospered off of the suffering of others, becoming even wealthier as millions have plunged deep into an economic depression. They have been helped to become even richer by government itself, which has favored certain people and corporations, giving them lucrative contracts and exceedingly generous bailouts. Even large churches that were in bankruptcy due to clergy child abuse cases were given aid – an artificial shot in the arm when they should have been allowed to experience the full consequences of their injustice.

It is not a new story, the wealthy exploiting hard times to get even wealthier. Every war provides that opportunity, and contractors that make every armament and supply necessary for the war effort profit, ending up better off after the war than before it. There are entities right now that are becoming fantastically wealthy as a result of our present pandemic.

Excluding that sorry dimension of the hyper-wealthy and powerful prospering during hard times, most people in the world are in roughly the same boat, even if located on  different decks for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd classes: We are forced to the essentials of life and our humanity; we allow ourselves to be remade not only for survival, though there is that, but also aspiring for a better self and world; the ways, structures and methods that used to carry us go flat even as new models and innovations take their places.

In important ways, the world is flattening again. When that happens everybody goes back to zero, a kind of universal flood that transports us in an ark of transition toward a new world. Just what world that shall become is as unknown to us as it was to Friedman. But it is being transformed, for good or for ill, before our very eyes. We are living at a dramatic inflection point filled with chaos. And the wise and courageous among us will walk across that newly leveled landscape and imagine a new world even before it appears.

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