Gastbeitrag_Corona Gastbeitrag_Corona

from Author: Matthias Horx

The world after Corona: A backwards forecast by Matthias Horx.

I am often asked when Corona will “be over” and everything will return to normal. My answer: Never. There are historical moments when the future changes direction. We call them bifurcations. Or deep crises. These times are now.

The world as we know it is disintegrating. But behind it, a new world is coming together, the shape of which we can at least guess. I would like to offer you an exercise that we have had good experience with in visioning processes at companies. We call it the RE-Gnosis. In contrast to PRO-Gnosis, we are not looking “into the future” with this technique. But from the future BACK to today. Sounds crazy? Let’s give it a try:


The re-gnosis: Our world in the fall of 2020

Let’s imagine a situation in the fall, let’s say in September 2020. We are sitting in a street café in a big city. It’s warm and people are moving around on the street again. Do they move differently? Is everything the same as before? Does the wine, the cocktail, the coffee taste like it used to? Like before Corona?
Or even better?
What will we be surprised about in retrospect?


We will be surprised that the social sacrifices we had to make rarely led to loneliness. On the contrary. After an initial period of shock, many were even relieved that all the running, talking and communicating on multiple channels suddenly came to a halt. Renunciations do not necessarily have to mean loss, but can even open up new possibilities. This has been experienced by many people who have tried intermittent fasting, for example, and suddenly found that food tasted good again. Paradoxically, the physical distance enforced by the virus also created new closeness. We got to know people we would never have met otherwise. We reconnected with old friends more frequently and strengthened ties that had become loose and fragile. Families, neighbors and friends have grown closer and sometimes even resolved hidden conflicts.
Social politeness, which we had previously increasingly missed, increased.


Now, in the fall of 2020, the atmosphere at soccer matches is completely different than in the spring, when there was a lot of mass rioting. We wonder why this is the case.
We will be amazed at how quickly digital cultural techniques suddenly prove themselves in practice. Teleconferencing and video conferencing, which most colleagues had always resisted (the business plane was better), turned out to be quite practical and productive. Teachers learned a lot about Internet teaching. Working from home has become a matter of course for many – including the improvisation and time juggling that comes with it.


At the same time, seemingly outdated cultural techniques experienced a renaissance. Suddenly you didn’t just get the answering machine when you called, but real people. The virus gave rise to a new culture of long phone calls without a second screen. Even the “messages” themselves suddenly took on a new meaning. People were really communicating again. Nobody was left in suspense. Nobody was held back any more. This gave rise to a new culture of accessibility. The commitment.


People who had never been able to relax because of the hectic pace, including young people, suddenly went for long walks (a word that was previously rather foreign). Reading books suddenly became a cult.
Reality shows suddenly seemed grotesquely embarrassing. All the trivia trash, the endless soul garbage that flowed through all the channels. No, it didn’t disappear completely. But it lost value rapidly.
Does anyone remember the political correctness controversy? The endless culture wars over … what were they actually about?


Crises work above all by dissolving old phenomena, making them superfluous… Cynicism, this casual way of keeping the world at bay by devaluing it, was suddenly quite out of fashion. After a brief initial outburst, the media’s exaggerated fear hysteria was limited. At the same time, the endless flood of gruesome crime series reached its tipping point.

We will be surprised that drugs were finally found in the summer that increased the survival rate. This reduced the death rate and corona became a virus that we have to deal with – just like the flu and the many other diseases. Medical progress helped. But we have also learned: The decisive factor was not so much the technology, but the change in social behavior. The fact that people were able to remain united and constructive despite radical restrictions was the decisive factor. Human-social intelligence has helped. In contrast, the much-vaunted artificial intelligence, which is known to be able to solve everything, has only had a limited effect when it comes to coronavirus.


This has shifted the relationship between technology and culture. Before the crisis, technology seemed to be the panacea, the bearer of all utopias. Nobody – or only a few hard-boiled people – still believe in the great digital salvation. The big technology hype is over. We are refocusing our attention on the human questions: What is a human being? What are we to each other?


We marvel backwards at how much humor and humanity has actually emerged in the days of the virus.
We will be surprisedhow far the economy could shrink without something like “collapse” actually happening, which was previously conjured up with every tax increase and every government intervention, no matter how small. Although there was a “black April”, a deep economic slump and a stock market collapse of 50 percent, although many companies went bankrupt, shrank or mutated into something completely different, it never came to zero. As if the economy were a breathing being that can also doze or sleep and even dream.


Today, in the fall, there is once again a global economy. But global just-in-time production, with huge branched value chains in which millions of individual parts are carted across the planet, has outlived its usefulness. It is currently being dismantled and reconfigured. Everywhere in the production and service facilities, temporary storage facilities, depots and reserves are growing again. Local production is booming, networks are being localized and craftsmanship is experiencing a renaissance. The global system is drifting towards GloCALization: localization of the global.


We will be surprised that even the asset losses caused by the stock market slump will not hurt as much as it felt at the beginning. In the new world, wealth suddenly no longer plays a decisive role. Good neighbors and a flourishing vegetable garden are more important.
Could it be that the virus has changed our lives in a direction in which it wanted to change anyway?


RE-Gnosis: Overcoming the present by leaping into the future

Why does this type of “from-ahead scenario” seem so irritatingly different from a classic forecast? This has to do with the specific characteristics of our sense of the future. When we look “into the future”, we usually only see the dangers and problems “coming towards us”, which pile up to form insurmountable barriers. Like a locomotive coming out of a tunnel and running over us. This fear barrier separates us from the future. That’s why horror futures are always the easiest to depict.


Re-gnoses, on the other hand, form a loop of knowledge in which we include ourselves, our inner change, in the calculation of the future. We connect inwardly with the future, and this creates a bridge between today and tomorrow. A “future mind” – awareness of the future – is created.


If you do it right, you create something like future intelligence. We are able to anticipate not only the external “events” but also the internal adaptations with which we react to a changing world.


That feels very different from a prognosis, which always has something dead and sterile about it in its apodictic character. We leave the paralysis of fear and return to the vitality that belongs to every true future.


We all know the feeling of successfully overcoming fear. When we go to the dentist for treatment, we are already worried long beforehand. We lose control in the dentist’s chair and it hurts before it even hurts. In anticipation of this feeling, we get ourselves into fears that can completely overwhelm us. However, once we have survived the procedure, the coping feeling sets in: the world seems young and fresh again and we are suddenly full of zest for action.


Coping means overcoming. Neurobiologically, anxiety adrenaline is replaced by dopamine, a kind of endogenous future drug. While adrenaline prompts us to flee or fight (which is not really productive in the dentist’s chair, nor when fighting corona), dopamine opens our brain synapses: We are excited about what is to come, curious, anticipatory. When we have a healthy dopamine level, we make plans and have visions that lead us into forward-looking action.


Surprisingly, many people are experiencing exactly this during the coronavirus crisis. A massive loss of control suddenly turns into a veritable frenzy of positivity. After a period of bewilderment and fear, an inner strength emerges. The world “ends”, but in the experience that we are still here, a kind of newness arises within.
In the middle of the shutdown of civilization, we walk through forests or parks, or across almost empty squares. But this is not an apocalypse, but a new beginning.


So it turns out: change begins as an altered pattern of expectations, of perceptions and connections to the world. Sometimes it is precisely the break with routines, the familiar, that frees up our sense of the future. The idea and certainty that everything could be completely different – even for the better.


We may even be surprised that Trump is voted out of office in November. The AFD is showing serious signs of fraying because vicious, divisive politics does not fit in with a coronavirus world. The coronavirus crisis has made it clear that those who want to set people against each other have nothing to contribute to real questions about the future. When things get serious, the destructive nature of populism becomes clear.


Politics in its original sense as the shaping of social responsibilities was given a new credibility, a new legitimacy by this crisis. Precisely because it had to act “authoritatively”, politics created trust in society. Science also experienced an astonishing renaissance during the coronavirus crisis. Virologists and epidemiologists became media stars, but “futuristic” philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists, who had previously been on the fringes of polarized debates, also regained their voice and weight.
Fake news, on the other hand, rapidly lost market value. Even conspiracy theories suddenly seemed like slow sellers, even though they were offered like sour beer.


A virus as an evolutionary accelerator

Deep crises also point to another basic principle of change: The trend-countertrend synthesis.
The world after corona – or rather with corona – is emerging from the disruption of the connectivity megatrend. In political-economic terms, this phenomenon is also known as “globalization”. However, the interruption of connectivity – through border closures, separations, lockdowns, quarantines – does not lead to the elimination of connections. But to a reorganization of the connectomes that hold our world together and carry it into the future. There is a phase shift in the socio-economic systems.

The world of the future will value distance again – and thus create a more qualitative connection. Autonomy and dependence, opening and closing, are rebalanced. This can make the world more complex, but also more stable. This transformation is largely a blind evolutionary process – because one thing fails, the new, viable thing prevails. This makes you dizzy at first, but then it proves its inner meaning: what connects the paradoxes on a new level is what is sustainable.

However, this process of complexification – not to be confused with complication – can also be consciously shaped by people. Those who can do this, who speak the language of the coming complexity, will be the leaders of tomorrow. The hopefuls in the making. The upcoming Gretas.


“Corona will change our entire attitude towards life – in terms of our existence as living beings in the midst of other life forms.”

Slavo Zizek at the height of the coronavirus crisis in mid-March


Every deep crisis leaves behind a story, a narrative that points far into the future. One of the strongest visions left behind by the coronavirus are the Italians playing music on the balconies. The second vision comes from satellite images that suddenly show the industrial areas of China and Italy free of smog. In 2020, humanCO2 emissions will fall for the first time. This fact will do something to us.

If the virus can do something like this – can we possibly do it too? Perhaps the virus was just a messenger from the future. His drastic message is that human civilization has become too dense, too fast, too overheated. It is racing too fast in a certain direction where there is no future.


But it can reinvent itself.
System reset.
Cool down!
Music on the balconies!
This is how the future works.


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