Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Final Solution: The Lonely Crowd

"Let the chips fall where they may" goes the old saw. But what really will be legacy of the pandemic? One used to think of neutral countries as impervious to shifts of geopolitics, but in this world of interconnectivity, there’s literally no Switzerland —no place to use the words of the famous Hardy novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. The filibuster of the American economy has been dealt a staggering blow—say like Odysseus' men staggering Polyphemus by shooting an stake into the monster’s eye. But let’s get back to cosmopolitanism, metrosexuality or whatever soubriquet you may want to use for the social contract. With cities from Milan to San Francisco on lockdown, people first bemoan the loss of human contact, but the process is multivalent. It's developmental like the stages of mourning or dying. The dreaded isolation becomes a relief. The pandemic (for those who don't contract the disease) is regarded as an emetic, flushing out contacts that seemed superfluous and wasteful. Undoubtedly the fallout may be that while 20% of the population may be unemployed, another 20% will conclude that they didn’t like Bob, Alice, Ted and Carol anyway and have no need to resume social relationships which weren’t fulfilling in the first place. Some marriages will grow stronger as a result; others will implode due to the stress and for those who have chosen a totally solitary path, multiple personality disorder may be in the offing. But there's going to be a legacy of change on both macro and individual levels. If it turns out employees work as effectively from home as from the office, many business may ask, is the sense of community afforded by a workplace worth the price of rent? Downtown Detroit was dealt its death knell years ago, but many center cities may be threatened, with office towers becoming vacant. Canny real estate investors might better put their money into warehouses (which are potential shipping depots for Amazon) then into glitsy Towers of Babel. One change will be bought at the price of the next and who knows what Phoenix will rise from the ashes.

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