The next civil war?

1. May. 2020

Lessons (to be) learnt from living with Covid-19 (#10)

by Klaus Schuch

Thinking about the future (futures thinking / foresight) is important because it opens up perspectives, even if they never actually materialize as expected. In science, we deal relatively little with 'futures', because we mostly deal with the problems of the now (except for climate change) or fundamental scientific challenges. We also identify solutions and the scope for action mostly by extrapolating or slightly modifying the current regime (e.g. through technical changes - electromobility instead of combustion engines). However, crises are ideal as game changers against the continuation of the economic, social and cultural status quo.

The Covid-19 crisis could become a game changer. Every virologist knew that a viral pandemic would come, but our mode of production and consumption has superseded it. The neo-liberal efficiency logic may create wealth (at the expense of others and nature), but it does not allow space for alternatives or even buffers. Beck’s 'risk society' continues to be very topical.

The Covid-19 virus will not cause social change per se, but the aftermath crisis may, in particular by increasing existing social and economic upheavals and disagreements.

It seems to me that this is obviously the case in the United States, which I think is just about to face a civil war or at least severe social uprising. The bi-partisan behavior of the two major parties with regard to policy-making has been around for decades, but unlike in other countries, the acute Covid-19 crisis has not led to a national dialogue. That would not have been possible with a president, who is in permanent campaign mode. It is shocking to see how many Americans are eager to take up, defend and multiply punching on ad hoc supposedly scapegoats (be it China or the WHO or the refugees on the southern border of the United States). One has the impression that a reasonable discourse is hardly possible anymore. The principle "choose which side you're on" before you can even look me in the eye affects the search for common ground.

If, in my opinion, the United States was (and will be) on the eve of a civil war in the face of the global climate catastrophe, the likelihood of this  increased through how Covid-19 is treated, because Americans who are protesting on the streets today against "stay home"-slogans, fighting for their “freedom” without a mouthguard and safety distance will be increasingly perceived by others as an attack on one's own health and therefore on life. (Moreover the media are operating in a heated climate because the election to the president is just around the corner!) And health and life are valuable goods that are known to be defended.

Conversely, the lockdown naturally threatens the economic and social existence of many, especially in a country where the social network is very wide-meshed. In addition, there is no shortage of armed citizens in the United States ready to defend themselves against real or alleged aggressors. The president does not calm down but acts instigating. Small armed groups of partisans who understand the restrictions on freedom as an encroachment on their inviolable fundamental rights, who are prepared to defend this by force and who maybe also experience climate protection as an unacceptable encroachment on their way of life can quickly (virally) become many in the USA.

In our considerations about 'futures', we have to include the civil war in the United States, which will massively destabilize the country for a while and let it deal with itself. This primarily affects European foreign and security policy, but of course also the global economy and the fight against climate change as well as many other areas of life.

In any case, I no longer dare to say whether the civil war in the USA or a massive civil uprising is less likely than a continuation of the current social and political co-existence. A "classic" supposed "way out" might be the identification of an external enemy which can be militarily encountered. Rallying round the flag almost always worked in the United States. This time, the bad guy has to be something special. Not a calming scenario either. Back to the first sentence.


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