The arc of history bends towards whatever

I’m convinced history is just an accumulation of accidents; there is no general direction.

What will happen ‘after’ the pandemic is over? Most likely, the answer is ‘whatever will happen’.

A significant number of people with spare time are engaged right now in thought exercises, trying to speculate about what will come. The New Yorker has an article this week on how the Black Death allegedly triggered the Italian Renaissance. The gist is that because their contemporary institutions had been so rooted in superstition, failing miserably to both interpret and tackle the pandemic of 1347 A.D., that the zeigeist became more cynical, more profane, and more empirical, leading to a revolution in their worldview. Art and science followed.

The article predicted nothing specific for the current pandemic, except a looming surplus of labor, meaning mass unemployment.

Economically, we can’t even predict whether we’re going towards inflation or deflation (in Lebanon it’s hyper-inflation right now, whilst in the UK, it’s closer to deflation).

Socially, the big question is, if a vaccine is found, will everything return to the consumerist-based ‘normal’? Will the world improve with many of the right lessons learned? Will we as individuals and as societies, work for more compassion, solidarity, and pooling of resources, or will our selfish survival instincts prevail?

My bland answer is ‘both’. Also, ‘whatever’.


One cataclysm too many

Wherever I go, I like to compare sizes.

Mostly, I compare surface areas. The first part of the comparison is always Lebanon: 10.452 Sq. Km.

Right now I’m in Norfolk, and it’s half the size of Lebanon. My children live in Yorkshire, and it’s bigger than Lebanon. Lebanon is half the size of Wales.

Greater London is roughly the size of North Lebanon Governorate. Which is the size of the island of Mauritius, where I had also lived.

I guess the point is I want to gauge the relevance and viability of my small country. When it comes to countries, size matters, but to a point.

The most important metric in Lebanon right now is the sheer SIZE of its debt. If one wants to make a facile explanation of the current crisis in Lebanon it would be something like this: Geopolitics led to sectarianism, sectarianism led to war, war failed to end sectarianism, which led to corruption, which led to debt, which led to collapse.

Countries can survive a debt collapse, but only if the right remedies are applied. Lebanon and ‘right remedies’ tend not to like being in the same sentence.

In October, 2019, an uprising appeared to gain enough momentum to become a revolution, the kind that can find the ‘right remedies’. But somewhere it faltered and lost momentum. There are many reasons, but if I had to pick two, I would say Hezbollah and Covid-19.

Hezbollah was a stubborn obstacle, having placed itself in the position of defending the status quo. Chipping away at this monolith is nigh impossible, but it was Covid-19 that proved to be a cataclysm too many.

It has allowed the leaders of the status quo to regroup and seize the most sensitive part of the anatomy of the Lebanese: Their money.

What will follow, unless the uprising regains momentum—an unlikely prospect—is that the ‘wrong remedies’ will be applied. The kind of remedies that will protect the accumulated wealth of those at the top, and assign the cost of most financial losses to working-class Lebanese via inflation, reduced wages, unemployment, mass expatriation, and even worse living standards, services, and social security benefits.

In other words, Lebanon is Greece, Argentina, and Venezuela on steroids. A lost decade, while the country awaits ‘Eastern Promises’ that will never come.