Millions Died That November

Millions died that November.  It happened all at once and so suddenly that not a single country or soul on earth was ready for it.  To this day, we’re still not exactly sure what had changed, but it was as if God had flipped some kind of master switch of life and death.  The numbers that eventually came to pass made the Pol Pot death marches in Cambodia in the late 1970s seem like amateur hour.  The massive fatality rates landed like waves crashing against the beach with ever-increasing intensity, exponentially.  First 4,000 deaths a week which people professed to be disturbed by; but in their heart-of-hearts just considered, “That’s the way it goes.” Then 8,000 the following week; then 16,000; then 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,028 by week nine… that’s over a million people dying every week1,028,000.  It just took us just nine short weeks to get there.

How did society respond?  Predictably, I guess.  Like Billy Bob Thornton once remarked, “Basically, it was the worst parts of the bible.”  Civil services broke down overnight.  Kind of pointless to show up for your job when there was a 50/50 chance you could contract the virus and just suddenly die.  The stock market, which had rebounded so spectacularly, nosedived once more– plummeting something like 10,000 points in a single day.  It was Black Monday all over again:  Speculators, investors, and day-traders lost everything as margin calls swept across the land and bank accounts were cleaned out.  Flooded with redemption requests that destroyed their livelihoods, every week some new hedge fund manager was flinging himself or herself off a Wall Street skyscraper.  We didn’t know it then but they were the smart ones; the lucky folks.  It was a merciful swift end in the cold, heartless, brutal new normal that was to come.  Grocery shelves were picked bare, schools were abandoned, airlines went bankrupt, and the economy once more halted on a dime– except this time, it wasn’t a voluntary crash like it had been back in March.  It was the real thing.

And then, what happened next– if there were ever some executive one-pager, some Cliff Notes or Spark Notes for how humanity operates in its darkest hour– what happened next basically goes down as the pinnacle HBS Case Study that best represents the human species:  One day, long after humans have already gone extinct by our own hand, some alien race will discover our remains in some epic archeological excavation and scratch their little alien head(s).  “Jesus,” they’ll wonder.  “Was this a tragedy or a comedy?”

In a nutshell, the place it all began:  That infectious diseases biolab in Wuhan, China– It developed the first successful vaccine.

And China refused to share its vaccine with the rest of the world.

Life After Coronavirus

Interstice One

Life after Coronavirus was never the same.  In the beginning, everyone was extraordinarily careful.  Everyone followed the government’s initial recommendations.  We stayed inside and avoided all human contact with the outside world.  For months, the only interactions we had were with our own families.  We were all good citizens.

This lasted for about three months.

Why did things end so badly?  In summary, the chief cause was two-fold:  First, humans are simply not built to process long-moving, slow-term danger.  It’s like facing climate change or the proverbial frog example:  We’re much better as frogs put into a sudden boiling pot; we’ll feel the sudden heat and immediately leap to safety.  But as a society of hundreds of millions of people, it’s infinitely more challenging (read: impossible) for us to sense and react to the pot that’s slowly brought to a boil.  It’s simply difficult for humans to sit still for long periods of time without being shown the immediate consequences of what happens when we do not.  Thus, predictably, in March, college kids sauntered off to beaches for spring break; students attended keggers; and entire more libertarian-leaning families went on road trips, totally disbelieving the dangers of Coronavirus.

Second, we didn’t immediately understand the full severity of Coronavirus.  Sure, plenty of people got sick.  But most of them recovered after several weeks.  It was like a bad case of the flu and so after the initial panic wore off, folks largely resumed their lives as normal believing that the warnings had all been overblown and it really wasn’t a big deal.

Or at least that’s what we had thought.

As a civilization, we’d weathered the initial outbreak admirably; folks banded together and shared in the sacrifice of cancelling vacations, camps, and sporting events.  But after a few months, after all of that shared community spirit and comradery began to dissipate, that autumn, when the Coronavirus returned in people we thought had made full recoveries– well, that’s when things really hit the fan.

Basically, the timeline that first year:  Coronavirus arrived in early spring.  We were all good citizens throughout the summer and bunkered down in our homes.  And then people started to get tired.  By mid-summer, we saw that the fatality rate wasn’t as high as initially feared.  And the people who were dying were largely older, senior citizens– the above-60 crowd.  To be clear, hundreds of thousands were still dying in America.  And millions around the world.  But there are ~330 million people in America.  And we have a global population of over seven billion.  So mathematically, you’re still “only” looking at 0.7% of the American population dying.  And people were, it turns out, fine with that– especially if they were older folk already in retirement homes and nursing facilities. Our politicians whispered darkly to each other while sitting on back porches, sipping tumblers of whiskey and scotch: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

So the economy kept roaring and people kept spending.  The government sent out free money to everyone.  The stock market, after initially cratering in March, neared all-time highs again by that October.  We thought we’d turned the corner.

And then November happened.

Story – Introduction + Changelog

NOTE: This is an ongoing original fiction story that I’m currently writing. I started writing this fictional story back on October 2, 2020 and contribute ~1,000 words to it every day on this blog. I didn’t outline the story at all going into it but it’s slowly evolved into a tale about a data scientist in his mid-thirties from America who finds himself summoned to China where’s he’s been offered a job to work for the Chinese Communist Party on a project monitoring the Uyghurs in the Chinese “autonomous region” of Xinjiang. In China, the story’s protagonist, Dexter Fletcher, meets other professionals who’ve also been brought in from abroad to help consult on the project. My story takes place several decades in the future and explores human rights, privacy in an age of ever-increasing state-surveillance, and differences between competing dichotomies: democracy vs communism, eastern vs western political philosophies, and individual liberties vs collective security. If this sounds interesting and you’d like to read more, my fiction story starts here.

Continue reading “Story – Introduction + Changelog”