Some clarifying big-picture perspectives on the coronavirus

I think we will see everything…people coming together and some with an “every man for himself” attitude. I also hope this is the tipping point that was needed or the wake-up call to take action on the things we needed to take action on. I am scared, excited, shocked, in a bit of denial and at the same time fascinated watching it all. – Cheryl Reed

There’s a new introspection coming into the world… Everybody I talk to these days seems eager to have deeper conversations and ask more fundamental questions. – David Brooks

There is much talk about returning to normal, and some talk about a “new normal”. I sense big assumptions hidden in both of those terms.

I, for one, am not very confident that any phrase including the word “normal” will serve us as a useful frame of reference right now, given the speed of change that’s underway and the deep dynamics driving that speed of change.

Perhaps the biggest “message” from the pandemic – aside from “we’re all in this together” – is that we’re in for an era of profound change and uncertainty… and that much of what happens next will be influenced by our response to that dynamic of change and uncertainty. Furthermore, many such responses would undoubtedly add to the climate of change and uncertainty rather than ameliorating it.

So what do we do when we are in all this change and uncertainty together?

One approach is to shut down our awareness of it and turn to artificial/ partial/ polarizing forms of certainty – leaders and answers that make it SEEM like everything is or could be fully under control. But our world – according to complexity science – is actually beyond our control: Our efforts to control it almost always introduce “unintended consequences” and “side effects” into an already swarming dance of complexity. Who knew?!

Different and perhaps more useful responses may look more like this:

* We nurture relationships and partnership with each other, with nature, and with reality as a teacher and friend.

* Because we don’t actually know anything for sure, we become more humble, not just in attitude but in practice, curious about what is happening and where it comes from, while always knowing that there’s more to it than whatever we think we see and know.

* We watch for patterns in the dance unfolding within and around us. We learn from, join or counterpoint them in a spirit of partnership and see what happens, always ready to heal impacted relationships and restart our approach with the best co-creatively we can muster, watching for more patterns.


In the spirit of looking for deep patterns and meta-patterns, I offer the following resources that have helped me step out of the various obvious ways of looking at what’s been happening into new bigger-picture perspectives. They’ve helped me to think differently about what is going on in and around me. I suggest these long articulations are worth immersing yourself into. After all, it takes some time to dig deep or to get up to 30,000 feet for a broader look around….

1. The Coronation
by Charles Eisenstein

I particularly recommend this essay, which just arrived this morning. Many spirit-oriented thinkers ground themselves in the dichotomy of “fear or love” – or its cousin “separate or connected”. Eisenstein rides these frameworks into higher, deeper, but always grounded realms, presenting us with a very nuanced and real, gigantic opportunity for choice. Civilizational transformation is going to happen. What will its flavor be?

One of a thousand possible great excerpts from this essay:
“In the short term we want to save… lives; [but] the danger is that we lose ourselves in an endless succession of short terms, fighting one infectious disease after another, and never engage the ground conditions that make people so vulnerable.”

2. Covid 19 Situational Assessment, Risk Landscape & Possible Solutions
Daniel Schmachtenberger  (video interview)

From a novel, deeply informed but accessible systems perspective, Schmachtenberger reviews “the risk landscape” and how to relate to it – both from within the coronavirus pandemic and out in the wider world where the pandemic is interacting with so much more…

3. Coronavirus, synchronous failure and the global phase-shift
A systems analysis uncovering the light at the end of the tunnel
By Nafeez Ahmed

Ahmed’s analysis is a sort of companion to Schmachtenberger’s video, but with a foot planted solidly in Eisenstein’s worldview and with its sights fixed on a visionary “light at the end of the tunnel” that can help us move into action….

Brief excerpt, more attached below:
“Even as we see evidence during the coronavirus crisis of old structures experiencing systemic failures that strain them to the brink, these processes are symptomatic of the fact that industrial civilization is moving into the final stages of its life cycle. This stage creates wide new spaces for societal and civilizational renewal. And the seeds of that renewal are also visible even now…..”

Take heart and see what speaks to you…


= = = =

Excerpts from Coronavirus, synchronous failure and the global phase-shift

Getting through coronavirus will be an exercise not just in building societal resilience, but relearning the values of cooperation, compassion, generosity and kindness, and building systems which institutionalize these values….

At the helm of all systems are people…. The people who helm institutions in these systems make choices everyday, and can make make decisions about which structures and pressures and incentives they consider important. When people operating in systems choose to make decisions according to ethical parameters instead of simply doing what the machine tells us we must do according to past precedent, established order and the way things are, they open the door to revolutionary shifts that can transform those systems or give birth to new systems….

[We are] at a time when the imperative is to build people’s capacities for sense-making, for collective intelligence, for wisdom, for love and compassion, for building and designing and engaging in the emergence of new ecological systems within a new life cycle….

The real way forward… is as follows: for communities across multiple sectors to take the initiative in working together, building new cooperative processes, sharing resources, looking out for our vulnerable neighbours and friends, and ultimately providing each other support in developing public interest strategies informed by collective intelligence….

While the immediate impact of the coronavirus is, of course, systemic disruption, it is important to remember that the very process of global systemic decline of which this is a symptom, is opening up new opportunities to do things differently. Many of those opportunities are becoming visible even in the midst of what appears to be turning into a long-lasting, slow-burn crisis….

Futurist Azeem Azhar, who writes the Exponential View newsletter, has put together an intriguing list of how societies are already adapting rapidly to the crisis.

Firstly, he points out that the coronavirus is spurring a new global scientific culture of open collaboration, rapid publication, and open-sourcing. We have seen new platforms created and even new illegal scientific archives go up to aid the process of tracking and understanding the coronavirus. What happens when we leverage such processes to tackle wider issues? When we realise that the buck doesn’t just stop at the coronavirus, but at climate change, global poverty, water scarcity, conflict resolution and myriad other issues that are destroying people’s lives right now — and will do so further in the near future? The mutual, collaborative scientific efforts to understand and respond, to feed scientific rigour into policymaking, provides an exciting model for how human beings can work together to address numerous social problems.

Secondly, there are now numerous remote working initiatives to attempt to keep businesses operational despite the closure of offices. This could be end up dovetailing with gym-at-home and livestreaming cultures. As global travel cuts back, remote working and remote office solutions are being furiously explored. Going forward, we may realise how much is in fact possible without spending excessively on fossil fuel consumption for wide-scale travel — that it’s possible for companies, firms and individuals to dramatically rollback their carbon footprints by being more circumspect about our travel choices.

Thirdly, Azhar points out that as global supply chains feel the pain from the silence of Chinese factories, the demand for local solutions will ramp up. There could be two results from this, in my view. One is that we may learn that we really don’t need to keep buying ‘shit we don’t need’. Another is that for the stuff we do need, we may innovate simpler local-based solutions. Local manufacturing will be increasingly important, and powerful technologies like 3D printing may come of age.

Relatedly, Azhar highlights the need for more local food and energy production. Could the impact of this crisis, as it strains supply chains, also end up feeding into greater public demand for more investment in resilience at the local level for access to food and energy? It’s worth noting that even the renewable energy transition is currently heavily dependent on critical raw materials and rare earths imported from China — but there has been lots of research into how those can be substituted with other materials, or more powerfully, recycled. Those process are currently in their infancy in Europe — currently recycling rates for critical raw materials are at below 1 percent, meaning that the potential is exponential. A prolonged crisis may spur innovation in this area. Azhar specifically points out the potential of hydroponic vertical farming in urban areas, which are often pesticide and herbicide free, and use less water. There are questions and limitations about such enterprises, but we could see greater the impetus for more local forms of sustainable farming at community and city levels.

Light at the end of the tunnel

So it seems likely that the world is about to enter a dark tunnel for at least the next six months to a year. But there’s light at the end of that tunnel, depending on our choices.

On its face, an economic crisis would of course appear to undermine the material capacity to support the shift to these new systems and processes.

Yet there’s one thing that systems modelling doesn’t account for: and that’s the human capacity to give freely regardless of material constraints. As the coronavirus crisis kicks off, it is our capacity through love to work, give and share not for monetary gain, not for self-protection, not for any reason other than the intrinsic beauty of the act itself, that will get us through to the other side.

And as this global phase shift accelerates, as this civilization built over the last few hundred years slides deeper into chaos and uncertainty, it is that capacity which will provide us the strength and resilience to weave the foundations of a new emerging system that is adaptive to, not dysfunctional with, the web of life.


Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

Evoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole

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