The more things change

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And yet, there is a funny way in which the change that analysts, pundits, and experts prophesy is the change they already wanted. China hawks say coronavirus will require hard decoupling. Trade hawks say it will require onshoring. Environmentalists want us to develop a taste for their cleaner air that comes with less human productivity. Skeptics of the growth of the American university system predict its imminent collapse. Social traditionalists predict a newer wave of stay-at-home mothers and the growth of homeschooling. People who habitually fret about declining adherence to religion predict that more people will lose the habit of religion. Nationalists predict more nationalism. Each of these predictions is framed in a way to alternately elicit hope or fear for the future.

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Suffering from cabin fever and worried about potential food shortages, I think that all sounds so reasonable, even inevitable. But I’m not sure it’s true. The fact that most analysts haven’t changed their fundamental analysis of the world is a clue that even they don’t expect change, so much as an intensification. Having lived through September 11 and the 19 years following it, I’ve begun to believe that social and political transformation is illusory. Very few human beings experience it outside of cataclysmic world war. Things change, sure, but slowly. Humans experience social change as addition and complexification. The transformations are only obvious in hindsight.

- Michael Brendan Dougherty, Life after Coronavirus: Bet on Less Change Than You Hope or Fear