The Coronavirus is a Psychedelic
Opening the gate for a new century of virtual reality, digital nomadism, cryptocurrency, and hallucinogens.
The question on everyone's minds right now is if a vaccine will be a "system restore" to the way things were in 2019. Once the era of social distancing is past us, will there be second-order effects from the hysteria? Johns Hopkins ran a pandemic simulation event in late 2019, and they projected that an event like this (of a coincidentally similar scale), would have social, economic, and political shock-waves lasting up to a decade.
Another point of view: there is no going back. The virus is a catalyst that is igniting a century-long societal shift that we are only just beginning to feel. In many ways, the coronavirus is like a psychedelic - but not a wide-eyed kaleidoscope of wonder, more like a terrifying Datura odyssey.
At a personal level, the pandemic has cut us off from our normal rhythms, forcing some to experience the long-term effects of a psychedelic trip (without undergoing the formal act of hallucinating): a revelation, a change in priorities, a change in habits, a change in scenery, introspection, anxiety, a health-scare. Like all trips, we will come down, but things will be different on the other side.
The virus is acting as a psychedelic at an institutional scale as well. It will cause old institutions to buckle, opening a gate for ideas, technologies, and lifestyles from the underground to emerge and fuse into a new civic order.
Psychedelics act on language-based structures in our mind, like our beliefs about the world. A "trip" can dissolve weak structures, leaving a void for new or subconscious structures to take form. The act of this happening can feel like a crisis. It's common for people to resist it, but it's sometimes necessary. Ego can grow stale if unaudited, and it can become detrimental to the "host." The act of dissolving the ego, letting the subconscious in, and then solidifying a new whole is an alchemical process called "individuation" by Carl Jung.
Our institutions and markets are a representation of our collective ego. They've been unraveling over the last few decades: unease in Corporate America, real-estate bubbles, runaway inflation, national debt, the mechanics of Congress, the public lack of trust in authority, the degradation of the news and our information systems, radical ideologies, etc. The virus didn't cause any of these symptoms, but it amplified them and made them more public. An impending sense of "collapse" has spread from obscure subreddits to general consensus. Before anyone saw a virus coming, the 2020s have been anticipated to be a multi-dimensional "meltdown" of sorts.
There is an idea called the "Strauss-Howe generational theory" about historical recurrence. Even though history has a degree of linearity to it, there are elements of the human psyche that are unchanged, resulting in "sociological" loops. The American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War 2 are all around 80 years apart (which is the length of an average human life span, or, a "Saeculum"). If you analyze every Saeculum within the last few hundred years, there are 20-year phases called "turnings," each with a distinct character (a high, an awakening, an unraveling, a crisis). This theory came around in the 1990s, and lead many to predict that something crazy was on it's way between 2005 and 2025. People are now saying that the 2008 recession was the pre-tremor, and that COVID could ignite a historical economic storm in the first half of the decade.
Every saeculum ends in a crisis, but then leads to a new cycle that starts with a high. This is optimistic! The societal turbulence that might follow the pandemic is not the end of times, but a metamorphosis. If the patterns behind "The Fourth Turning" unfold in our own timeline, it means our next Saeculum will be defined by the counter-cultural trends of our last one. The Great Awakening in the colonies shaped a new America, just as the Transcendental Awakening shaped a post-slavery America, and the Progressive era shaped post World War 2 liberal democracies.
The rise of the internet in the 90s, the current rise of VR, the Beat Generation of the 50s, the Consciousness Revolution of the 60s, the advent of Bitcoin after the 2008 financial crisis: all of these things might fuse together to shape what a 21st century post-COVID America looks like. The pandemic has given us a low fidelity glimpse our future. The following image is a strange one, but it isn't new - it's based on our past:
Communications technologies will approach the realm of magic, lifestyles will be based around flexibility and autonomy, decentralized networks will compete with monopolies, and a new religious movement could spawn based on how regulators grant access to hallucinogens.
Here are some essays that look into how the currents we see today will extrapolate forward to shape the 21st century:
- The age of the internet (telepresence) - virtual reality
- Gen Z & the Beat generation (demographic) - digital nomadism
- A New World Order (conflict) - cryptocurrency vs. data-giants
- Religious awakening (awakening) - psychedelics