Back in the 1990’s, things seemed to be looking up. Francis Fukuyama had declared “the end of history”, and it was supposed to be smooth sailing from there on end. While there were a few rough patches with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the war in the former Yugoslavia, as well as troubles in other places, this period was one of optimism.
The first chinks in the armor appeared in 2001, when the Twin Towers in New York City were brought down by hijackers in airplanes. The world woke up from its sleep, reminded there were new dangers lurking ahead. However, in the US, the institutions were still working fine. A level of civility was still inherent in the government. When the George W. Bush and Al Gore election was too close to call, dependent on a few hanging chads in Florida, the matter was resolved gracefully.
Yet underneath, things were starting to boil. Greatly exacerbated by the Economic Crisis of 2008, events went into overdrive. Societies in different countries grew more and more polarized. Radical new ideologies from the right and left sprang up, seized upon by political entrepreneurs seeing an easy path to power and riches.
Authoritarian strongmen around the world began to flex their muscles. In 2014, Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine, seizing and annexing a part of its territory. China’s Xi Jinping drew China on a more authoritarian course, threatening Taiwan in the process. In 2016, Donald Trump was elected US President. His rule damaged the American institutions, sewing distrust, which culminated in the shameful sacking of the US Capitol by a radical mob of Trump supporters on the 6th of January, 2021.
All this happened, as the planet was heating up in the background. Numerous fires constantly ravage vast swaths of land in different countries around the world. Freak storms and flooding fortify the damage. Rainforests are being cut down, resulting in a huge loss of biodiversity. All this culminated in something straight out of a dystopian horror movie, the COVID-19 pandemic which is keeping us locked down in our houses for a third year straight.
We have arrived in 2022 now. What will this year hold for us? While my heart hopes for the best, my mind isn’t so optimistic. My emotional part wants things to improve, but my rational part sees the trends, most of which are bad. Let’s a have a look at some of these worrying trends.
Trend 1: The COVID-19 pandemic is still here
It’s the third year of the pandemic and a new variant named Omicron is causing havoc. Cases are going up exponentially, and it seems like there is no end in sight.
The good thing is that large sections of the population are vaccinated around the world, and this variant seems to be milder. Could this mean that the virus is becoming less strong, as what happened with the Spanish Flu back 100 years ago?
It’s still too early to tell, and there are still many people who are not vaccinated, meaning that they are potential sources of mutations. Especially Africa with its low rates of vaccination is one danger zone.
However, I think this will be the last year of the pandemic. There will be a push towards making vaccination mandatory in some countries, but not much else. Governments are increasingly hesitant of imposing lockdowns and other tough restrictions. The population is tired.
The first phase of learning to live with the virus will begin, and things will slowly start going back to normal. Of course that is, unless some strange, new, and deadly mutation will arise somewhere. Then all bets are off.
Trend 2: Climate change and the loss of biodiversity are accelerating
This pandemic made it clear how dangerous the loss of biodiversity really is. Forests are being cut down, and people are increasingly coming closer to contacts with wild animals. This means exposure to risks of passing their viruses is higher.
The world is also heating up, and many areas of the globe are seeing ever-recurrent fires destroying wildlife areas, but also human-inhabited ones. Australia saw huge fires destroy parts of the country. California saw its first megafires. Even places like Colorado aren’t spared.
The summer of 2021 around the Mediterranean was full of fires. Parts of Siberia were razed to the ground. The Amazon, and other rainforests around the world are constantly burning, either through natural or man-made causes. In fact, the rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest was the highest in the past two years than it has been for decades. This trend will only continue, and potentially get worse in 2022.
Trend 3: The Republican Party is sliding towards authoritarianism and cult of personality
The Republican Party is the party of Trump now. It has been overcome with a cult of personality. In 2021, supporters of the former president stormed the US Capitol, marking a shameful low point in history. All this at the instigation of a failed president trying to cling to power at all costs.
Yet, none of this seems to have served as a wakeup call for the GOP. Fringe elements are increasingly taking over the party, sidelining the moderates. They are actively working towards undermining democracy and sowing distrust in the institutions of power.
While there are still sane voices left within the Party, they are increasingly being marginalized by the radicals. The Republican Party is sliding towards authoritarianism, which doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy in America.
Trend 4: Wokeism is getting out of control
Together with the radicalization on the right, we are seeing worrying radicalization on the left. The two go hand in hand, feeding off each other. Woke ideology seems to be gaining more and more power. Self-censorship is becoming the norm, and previously apolitical or moderate institutions are increasingly bowing down to the woke orthodoxy.
While there is no leftist Trump, wokeism has entered the mainstream. Whereas far right crazy is confined to its own sphere (like Fox News and other channels further to the right even of that), wokeness has taken over previously more moderate media like CNN or the New York Times.
Wokeism is even taking over apolitical magazines dealing with science like Scientific American, which does not bode well for science research. In 2022, self-censorship will keep on increasing, and certain normal topics will be deemed beyond the pale. There will be a pushback against this from more moderate forces, but the power of wokeism is increasingly becoming more entrenched.
Trend 5: Authoritarian leaders are getting bolder on the world stage
Vladimir Putin, the autocratic leader of Russia, has moved a hundred thousand troops to the border with Ukraine. There is a fear that he will invade his neighbor. Like a true mafia boss, he is now trying to blackmail the world.
On the other side, Xi Jinping is turning China in a more belligerent direction. The crackdown in Hong Kong has almost wiped out the democracy movement there. Increasingly, he is turning his eye towards Taiwan. This island, which China considers a renegade province, is threatened constantly. More threats will likely occur in 2022.
However, much of this saber rattling comes from a position of weakness. Putin has nothing to offer his people, so he is trying to divert the attention outwards. China was the source of the entire pandemic we are living through now. The Chinese economy has also seen some of its largest companies crash and burn last year. So Xi Jinping needs to shore up his position, and the best way to do that is to create problems abroad.
We can see that many of these strongmen have no solutions to offer from the case of Erdogan in Turkey where the economy is seeing a meltdown. Unfortunately, times of crisis for their regime is when these type of men are the most dangerous. Exactly because they are in trouble, they might try to concoct problems on the world stage.
Trend 6: Sophisticated cybercrime is on the rise
The pandemic has just accelerated a trend which had been decades in the making. More work, fun, and normal life is conducted online. Not just that, many of our normal everyday appliances are being connected, exchanging data, and using sophisticated technologies in an internet-of-things.
While this is an opportunity, it is also a threat. Nefarious hackers, identity thieves, and other types of cybercriminals have seen the potential bonanza this could bring into their coffers. Online crime has exploded in recent years, especially during pandemic times.
Be careful. As more and more of your life moves online, the more vulnerable you will be to cybercrime.
Trend 7: High inflation is rearing its ugly head
I went to a get a haircut recently and had to pay 5 bucks more than I used to pay before the pandemic. That’s a huge increase, and one that signals another trend in the economy: skyrocketing inflation.
The economy took a huge hit during the pandemic. Many businesses had to shutdown, only to reopen much later. Many went down under. Millions of people lost their jobs. The economy stagnated, which exasperated supply chain problems.
There is a huge lack of some basic materials (such as needed for the manufacture of chips), which brings the prices up. Demand is high, while supply is low. The governments are also pumping more money into the economy, with deficit spending, which is further driving up the inflation. Energy prices are also spiking, due to various reasons.
What I have heard the birds chirping around the block is that higher prices will continue for the foreseeable future. So strap in, your pocketbooks might empty out faster in 2022 than in previous years.
What will this mean in the long-term beyond 2022?
The fact that I am writing many of these types of articles lately shows how worried I am about what is happening. Democracy is dying around the world. The climate is being destroyed. The world seems to be heading in the wrong direction.
In these types of situations I like to use historical analogies. While not perfect, they can illustrate the trends and show where these can potentially lead. The keyword here is potentially. Since the future still hasn’t been written, there is a chance of us turning things around.
A good analogy to show where the current malaise could lead is the fall of the Roman Republic. While this happened thousand of years ago, in a societal structure much unlike our own, the institutions underpinning that ancient republic served as the basis of our modern ones. Many of the processes that brought down that state seem to be at play today.
A growing polarization in society, distrust in the institutions, the rise of narcissistic strongmen, all ate away at the republic. It didn’t happen overnight. Rather, the decline was slow over a hundred years. At the end, the republic was no more, replaced by autocratic one-man rule of empire.
Could a similar slide be happening today? This question is especially pertinent for the US heading into the 2024 presidential election. With polarization so high, any result could potentially unleash chaos on a now yet unimaginable level, probably leading to political violence, even civil war in a worst case scenario.
Yes, while my rational mind says things will continue heading in a negative direction, my emotional mind hopes things will turn out all right. Haven’t humans (and the planet) suffered enough? Can’t we learn from the past?