One of the few advantages of frequent flights is that one can read without being interrupted by constant telephone calls and other things. This time, at the top of my must-reads I had COVID-19: The Great Reset by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret. Thanks to modern technologies there is no need to carry volumes with you or even to wait for their translation into Russian.
Why did I decide to share my impressions of this particular book? First, it introduces us to the reflections of one of the world’s main globalists and ideologists of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the global pandemic. Secondly, the book has sparked the most controversial opinions and assessments among Western readers. For some people, it is a crucial book that allowed them to understand how the world lives today. For others, it is "a scary book written by people laying out their roadmap for global governance." I must say, there are many more negative reviews than positive ones. On Amazon, the book scores only 3.5 out of 5 points, and appears to be the "most scandalous" publication of 2020. Moreover, both high and low points were given for the same issue - the directness of the author's judgments. As a result, for some it has become an “open warning”, and for others, it has become an “open conspiracy” (the metaphor of the half-full or half-empty glass immediately comes to mind). The book by Schwab and Mallere has been compared to Orwells’ Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley’s Brave New World dystopias but, unlike them, it has been criticized for its gloom and despair. But can dystopia be optimistic?
The book went almost unnoticed in Russia as other more impressive events and facts caught the public's attention, in particular, the US presidential elections. There were only a few central Russian media and private observers who responded (mostly negatively) about the book by the chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
Schwab's previous books, The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, were highly ranked on the international book websites and became almost mandatory citations in scientific publications on the digitalization of modern society. It raises the question of how such ostracism can be explained concerning his work in t The Great Reset albeit with Malleret. I will try to answer this question in no way claiming to have deeply and comprehensively analyzed the original text and with no intention to repeat what has been said and written before. I will dwell on those moments that caught my attention most of all.
The first and foremost disappointment awaits in the introduction of the book. The annotation from Amazon promises “a worrying, yet hopeful analysis” of the current and post-pandemic situation and says that “the power of human beings lies in being foresighted and having the ingenuity, at least to a certain extent, to take their destiny into their hands and to plan for a better future”. However, the introduction in the book sets up a completely different tone. It explains that readers will find "many conjectures and ideas about what the post-pandemic world might, and perhaps should, look like" and also that humanity has only two paths. “One path will take us to a better world: more inclusive, more equitable and more respectful of Mother Nature. The other will take us to a world that resembles the one we just left behind – but worse and constantly dogged by nasty surprises. We must therefore get it right." It is clear that in this case, we have no real choice. It is not clear why there are many conjectures and ideas about the future, but still only two paths - the best and the worst. Besides, a significant part of humanity, exhausted by the pandemic and lockdowns, is nostalgic for the old world and does not want anything fundamentally different. It is not surprising that after such an introduction, the rest of the narrative is perceived as an imposition of somebody’s ill will. There are many other contradictions in the book, which creates a feeling of some haste and unfoundedness of several conclusions made by Dr. Schwab and his team, as well as of those "futures" offered.
Indeed, the book, claiming to be a systematic analysis of the global crisis caused by COVID-19 and the only strategy for entering a bright future, was published in June 2020 - just 3 months after the official announcement of the pandemic. Many saw it as a direct confirmation of the authors' belonging to the circle of people who knew about it and its consequences in advance and planned it with the aim of a "great reset" of the world order in their own interests. If we remember Event 201, which took place just a few months before the start of the pandemic, then the conspiracy nature of COVID-19: The Great Reset is simply impossible to refute. Let me remind you that Event 201 was a high-level pandemic exercise that was hosted on October 18, 2019, by Johns Hopkins Research University (Baltimore, USA) with the participation of representatives of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Its goal was to identify areas where public-private partnerships would be needed while tackling a serious pandemic to mitigate its negative economic and social impacts. Attentive observers noticed that the coronavirus pandemic began and has been literally following the scenario of the Event 201 computer simulation, which the authors of the book under discussion knew about. How else can this be explained, except as “they played and got themselves into trouble”?
I believe that it is necessary to carefully read the previous two books written by Klaus Schwab and to compare them with what we see in this new publication with Malleret. In my opinion, the "best path" proposed follows quite logically from the content of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and its technologies. At some points, these books simply repeat each other. The main strategies outlined in The Great Reset are indeed a pre-planned agenda since they are based on the theses formulated several years ago. They are also based on the entire victorious technocratic discourse that has intensified since the 1990s in connection with the global spread of the Internet and the emergence of various innovative technologies (primarily NBIC). Schwab has been faithful to his doctrine of digitalization of all spheres of life and has never denied it. The only difference is that The Fourth Industrial Revolution was published in 2016, that is, in a relatively peaceful time, and The Great Reset was published in the midst of the war against the coronavirus when the public was inflated and annoyed by any facts and forecasts that had negative character. Five years ago, readers perceived Schwab as a futurist, and today he appears to be a tough realist, cynic, and digital dictator. But it does not change the main points of his doctrine. The contexts have changed.
People had a calm interest in the predictions made by Klaus Schwab about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and by Raymond Kurzweil about the technological singularity. However, for the most part, they were not ready for those predictions to come to life so quickly. It is more convenient for people when technologies evolve gradually, not rapidly, i.e. revolutionary. The natural instinct of self-preservation works. Those who are ready to immediately use the latest technologies rarely think about the risks and negative effects of technologization and digitalization, despite all the warnings (see J. Attali, J. Habermas, W. Mitchell, S. Garfinkel, D. Rushkoff). In other words, we all want to have everything - a variety of gadgets, wireless communications, social networks, online shopping, telemedicine, smart homes, and more, but we do not want to pay for it with computer addiction, fake news, annoying advertisements, total control over us, restrictions on our mobility (in case of tax evasion, for example). But it doesn't work that way! These are really two sides of the same coin.
As for the amazing similarity of the scenarios of Event 201 and the real pandemic. It was the purpose of the computer simulation to predict what could actually happen as best as possible. It is clear that all risks, including the possibility of all sorts of laboratory leaks, were introduced into the conditions of the problem. Computer simulations, studying various global problems, are constantly held at Johns Hopkins University. By the way, this university, with its branches in Italy and China, is still the main analytical center that tracks the global statistics on COVID-19.
We should not exclude the chance of the coincidence between the strategies of the computer simulation, the pandemic, and the book as a manifestation of a certain pattern. It is known that the American science fiction writer Morgan Robertson described the sinking of the Titanic (1912) in detail in the novel, The Wreck of the Titan, published 14 years before the wreck. The researchers of the crash were amazed at the similarity of situations, causes of the disaster, as well as the technical parameters and even the names of the giant liners: the real Titanic and the fictional Titan. Later it turned out that Robertson was a very experienced naval officer, who rose to the rank of the first mate and therefore had a good idea of how ships collide with icebergs. In addition, he monitored the trend towards the production of increasingly large liners in the late 19th century and realized that this could affect their maneuverability. Schwab and Malleret also closely followed all trends before publishing their work describing the course and possible consequences of the pandemic for various spheres of society.
Let us go through some theses of Covid-19: The Great Reset that met the most criticism.
“Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: never… Radical changes of such consequence are coming that some pundits have referred to a “before coronavirus” (BC) and “after coronavirus” (AC) era.”
The response from the authors is unpleasant but honest, and impossible to argue with. Some readers saw this "never" as a sign of the coming era of continuous global pandemics and lockdowns. I didn't see that. Moreover, the authors call the coronavirus pandemic a quasi- instantaneous risk in contrast to the environmental crisis that can last for decades. Lockdowns cannot be endless, since they kill the economy and damage all spheres of society. But it is obvious that the post-pandemic era will be an era of super-complexity, super-instability, and fragility, forcing scientists, engineers, IT specialists, heads of corporations, and states to think about the possible consequences of the use of any new breakthrough technology, no matter what industry it concerns. Otherwise, apart from natural cataclysms, new "man-made» global catastrophes and disasters will take place in the future. Other people will also cherish the memory of the global pandemic in 2020, which will force them to change their lifestyle in many ways and, possibly, change their values.
“They (changes) will shape a ‘new normal’ radically different from the one we will be progressively leaving behind. Many of our beliefs and assumptions about what the world could or should look like will be shattered in the process.”
In fact, this statement follows the previous one. If "new normal" means a new picture of the world or, as philosophers say, a new ontology, then you cannot argue with that. Ontology changes or “great resets” have happened more than once in the history of humanity. For example, people lived for centuries with the idea of the Earth as a flat surface, and their beliefs influenced everything: religion! attitude to nature; etc. It was hardly easy for those who lived at the turn of the 16th to 17th centuries to immediately get used to the idea that the earth is not only round but also revolves on its axis and around the sun. It is difficult for any adult to accept a "new normal". For this to happen smoothly, one needs to be born and grow up in it. So we are now at the turn of eras, which makes it so difficult for us. Another question is WHAT exactly the upcoming "new normal" is. What Schwab and Malleret offer us in this capacity is far from indisputable. In some cases, it is simply unacceptable as a permanent measure of influence on people and as a lifestyle - total digital control, the online transition of the overwhelming majority of educational institutions, etc. Based on the authors' thesis, we can say that their current beliefs and guesses about how the world should look can also change.
“The greater population growth is, the more we disturb the environment, the more intensive farming becomes without adequate biosecurity, the higher the risk of new epidemics.”
Some critics took this thesis as a direct call for population reduction. I would call this a "Freudian slip." Demographic growth has always been a sore point for the Club of Rome members, and now, apparently, for the WEF as well. I would like to say right away that the risk of new pandemics can be increased by other factors: the development and production of biological weapon in some countries, despite the Biological Weapons Convention; poverty and the lack of access to quality health care; lack of freshwater; and so on. If you analyze the book as a whole instead of pulling out separate phrases, then it becomes obvious that the authors understand the problem perfectly. But it is also obvious that they have a special attitude toward the topic of demography. Of course, it should constantly be present on the agenda of state leaders and relevant organizations, in particular, such aspects as the search for new ways to increase the birth rate in "aging" Europe and its containment in the poorest and undeveloped countries of Africa and Asia (by the way, special studies have shown that the most powerful means of such containment is not the promotion of contraception, but women's education). In general, the planet is still very far from overpopulation. And now everyone should be worried about another problem: pandemics are reducing population growth!
“The pandemic gives us this chance: it “represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine and reset our world.”
Schwab and Malleret are criticized for "fictionalizing" the pandemic and not holding back feelings in anticipation of realizing its potential. But Schwab and Malleret are far from being the first who see crises as opportunities as well as danger. And this is the most reasonable approach, except when crises are created for the sake of such opportunities. Naturally, the authors predict great progress and many innovations in sectors such as digital technology and biotechnology, as well as in the arts. The historical cases cited by them show that situations of forced isolation in a number of cases contribute to a deeper reflection and concentration of attention on the object under study when it comes to people with original - scientific and artistic - thinking. Among them were, for example, Boccaccio, Newton, and Shakespeare, hiding from the plague, as well as Pushkin, who survived the cholera epidemic in Boldino. It is believed that isolation helped them to make their most outstanding discoveries and create the most ingenious works. We are not aware of all the discoveries and works on which scientists, engineers, painters, sculptors, writers, screenwriters and composers are now working on, but they will certainly soon be presented to the world. On my own behalf, I would add a case confirming that quarantine in combination with new technologies that support social communication can lead to a creative state of even not just a few, but masses of people. I am talking about the flash mob "Isolation" launched by Russian-speaking users of Facebook. Tired of the monotony of their forced leisure, people began to reproduce famous paintings and sculptures from scrap materials, posting their photos on the Internet. Similar projects were then initiated in other countries, but they could not surpass the Russian initiative.
“Many will have realized that working from home is more climate-friendly and less stressful than having to commute to an office.”
Schwab and Malleret are also criticized for singing an ode to teleworking. Actually, it was first sung by Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave (1980) where he described the delights of an "electronic cottage". Such a cottage was supposed to allow a family to rationally manage production processes using computers and cable-satellite communication networks and have additional leisure time, without wasting time moving between home and work, maintaining virtual contact with society. As they say, be careful what you wish for. Today, many would perceive this lifestyle description as mocking. However, there are also many people who are not used to it but also do not want to return to offices for various reasons. We are talking, first of all, about people who have a permanent job and can do it quite effectively and remotely, in a comfortable environment.
“If both democracy and globalization expand, there is no place for the nation state.”
For sure, there is no rush with this one. Perhaps someday all countries will merge into a single state, as described in many science fiction novels, but this process cannot be artificially accelerated. So far, not total globalization, but glocalization seems to be a good idea. Glocalization is a coexistence of multidirectional, but mutually complementary tendencies - globalization and localization. I would illustrate it this way: one of the main motives of tourism as a global phenomenon is interest in local (i.e., national) cultures. The processes of universalization and monopolization that invariably accompany globalization have led to the fact that we come to different countries and see the same chains of hotels, cafes, shops, and cinemas. Why go somewhere if it's the same everywhere? As a result, those countries where national traditions in architecture, various types of arts and crafts have been preserved have become the most popular touristic directions. National culture is the most important resource and spiritual heritage of every nation.
“Many potential students would question the pertinence of disbursing prohibitive costs for higher education in a world marred by high levels of unemployment. A potential solution could lie in a hybrid model.”
Despite the fact that many months of online transition revealed not only the disadvantages, but also the advantages of online learning, and naturally led to the idea of a future hybrid model of the educational process as a combination of its offline and online formats, part of the domestic teaching community does not accept it. In fact, this is also a question of changing ontologies in the minds of people. It will take some time for the new picture of the world of higher education to settle in the heads of universities, teachers, students, and their parents. The speed of this process will largely depend on the content of the hybrid model itself, as well as on the options in which this model can be implemented. Our goal is to make this content deep and varied and to make the options complementary and convenient for students and professors. It is this kind of hybrid design that the world's universities are engaged in today. In a sense, it resembles the simultaneous work of aviation engineers and dispatchers who need not only to create modern aircraft but also to control them in the air, taking into account difficult weather conditions and a variety of time zones. The hybrid model is not so much a sequential change of periods of face-to-face and distance learning (although there may be such a practice), but a combination of various options for offline and online formats within the same periods of time.
In addition to the theses above, Schwab and Malleret are accused of other “sins” that cannot be fully discussed in one review. The authors' clearly correct and very timely thoughts are also criticized. For example, the statement that the opinion of the younger generation, who will have to suffer from economic and social insecurity entering the labor market in the middle of the deepest recession, cannot be ignored when developing a new social contract. “The millennials (at least in the Western world) are worse off than their parents in terms of earnings, assets, and wealth. They are less likely to own a home or have children than their parents were. Now, another generation (Gen Z) is entering a system that it sees as failing and that will be beset by long-standing problems revealed and exacerbated by the pandemic.” Here, too, they are accused of "banality and pessimism", which others would not be blamed for if they expressed a similar opinion. Schwab and Malleret are also criticized for their commitment to green energy, which they "are trying to impose on humanity."
How can such a reaction from readers be explained? In my opinion, the "halo effect" is triggered here: dislike for globalists affects literally everything they say and write. And if these globalists are also narcissists, then nothing is forgiven. Indeed, at the end of section 3.1.1 ("The best angels in our nature ... or not"), the authors of The Great Reset consciously or unconsciously make it clear that they are the very "angels" of human nature that humanity should call upon in a situation when it is incapable of responding to existential crises. Well, what can we say? It is difficult, at least sometimes, not to lose your head from self-admiration, if you head the club of the richest and most influential people on the planet!
And yet, what should we feel about the book, and is it worth reading at all? Definitely, it is worth it. But it is necessary to do so with common sense. One should not take anything for granted. The scenarios presented in The Great Reset are just ideas, and the ideas are not yet the truth. Ideas generate truths only if their readers accept them. Try to be impartial. Life is nonlinear: "Black swans" can fly in at any moment and radically change any plans and strategies. Some theses of the book are refuted by life itself. Let us remember the February events in Texas. Millions of people were deprived of electricity and heat due to windmills and solar panels failure as it was too cold for many days. Under such circumstances, the "ode" to green energy, sung by Schwab and Mulleret, sounds far from solemn. I believe that the world is now at the point of bifurcation, which means that the choice of the trajectory of its further development largely depends on the actors, that is, on you and me. There is no turning back. We need to learn to live in a new reality. I see the significance of the book COVID-19: The Great Reset, first of all, in the fact that it makes everyone think about this new reality and their place in it.
Translated by Snezhana Nosova