The coronavirus pandemic has kicked off the first global conflict since World War II. While the conflict had been brewing for a while, COVID-19 was the spark that lit a transnational conflagration, highlighting differences between two ideologies: Factual Networkism vs. Individualist Relativism.
Wars, in general, are based on different views of the world. Some, like the American Revolution or the American Civil War, are grounded in an attempt to give more rights to more people; Others, like World War II, are kicked off by a belief of increasing control from one group over another. Fundamentally, most wars come to a clash of ideologies, based on long-brewing divisions, surrounded by pre-existing alliances and a defining moment that sparks the kind of fire that engulfs the world.
So what is Factual Networkism? In the years following the end of the cold war, when the communist vs. capitalist conflict came to an end, we saw the rise of a new world dominated by increased collaboration (some would label this globalism), the rise of a global communication network (this internet), and an explosion of scientific innovation, ranging from the sequencing of the DNA to the conquest of Mars. The result has been an era of increasing global prosperity and peace while at the same time driving an increasing amount of social and financial disparities in the most advanced economies.
Driven by this, an increasing reliance on the power of science and the supremacy of facts over beliefs has driven policymaking in many sectors while leading to an increased amount of secularism over organized religions.
This is what I call Factual Networkism: factual because it is grounded in the belief that there is factual truth to be achieved through scientific expansions; Networkism because it is based on the idea that we are living in inter-dependent systems (either economic systems, social systems, or political systems) that form a global network of interactions.
In political circles, Factual Networkism can be identified in the policies of Angela Merkel or Barack Obama, who’s own political agendas were often less clear than their direct science-based responses to the events of their time. The rise of modern China can also be seen as subscribing to that belief in that it discarded much of its political rhetoric for a mix of global capitalism with an authoritarian political class in order to increase its power around the globe and drive the economy that has allowed for the creation of a larger middle class (a note on this is that Factual Networkism does not necessarily guarantee a democratic approach).
A counter to the Factual Networkism movement is Individualist Relativism.
Key to this movement is the idea that the individual holds supremacy over any systems. In economics, it results in a laissez-faire attitude and a deep suspicion of any agreement that might force the individual to do anything different than what he/she believes in, even if it is in the individual’s best interest. In politics, this belief drives to a general suspicion of government, which this movement sees as a force for evil, bent on taking over people’s lives.
But why Relativism, you may ask? That is because this movement is also grounded in the belief that since the individual holds all knowledge, all facts are relative and the concept of truth is subjective. As such, this movement does not believe that any fact is demonstrably true. This movement can reject established science (eg. climate change, the anti-vaccine movement, and now “COVID-19 as conspiracy”) and establish “alternate facts” that are then distributed through social media. Some nefarious elements exploit those groups through Viral Deception, pushing known fallacies as new truths.
World War III or Cold War II?
If you believe in the frame I’ve highlighted above, the contours of the current crisis drive to the conclusion that we are entering World War III, not a conflict between two nations but a conflict between two ideologies presented as their response to these events.
The fight has existed for several years now, as people have started to revolt against the Factual Networkism model that brought globalism and its disparities to the front. Anxieties about economic transformation have been exploited by Individualist Relativist to drive a narrative of oppression and undermine science and established truths.
COVID-19 (aka the coronavirus) and the reaction to it from leaders of the different factions is the spark that truly highlights a great divide in approaches and their resulting body count we’ve seen so far (in the early days of this global crisis).
On the Factual Networkism side, leaders have relied on information from global organizations like the World Health Organization and on information they have shared with other leaders. The Factual Networkism camp has also gone to experts in global health, infectious diseases, and economists to drive the kind of decision making that has led to substantial lockdowns of entire countries (as I write this, over half of the world’s population is under some sort of government-mandated lockdown. What drives this belief is that the virus knows no boundaries and thus a complete shutdown is the only way to flatten the curve (reducing the number of cases).
On the Individualist Relativist, there has been a belief that this crisis has been overblown and that the reaction to it requires a strong man to take control. In Hungary and the Philippines, leaders took advantage of the situation to grant themselves expanded executive powers; In the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil, the country leaders have directly contradicted their own health officials, initially downplaying the danger and seeing the Factual Networkist response as overbearing.
We now live in a world where the Factual Networkists are trying to assemble coalitions and inform the masses on the dangers of individual action and the virtues of collective involvement while the Individualist Relativists have been questioning the existence of the virus, its danger, and highlighting that intervention does more economic damage than needed.
While we are still in the beginning of this crisis, facts point to the virtue of network-based action but it is clear that relativists will reject those facts by highlighting that the virus has not grown as fast as early projections (rejecting the idea that intervention is WHY the growth curve was changed). The next 12-24 months will be defined by this political fight in every jurisdiction around the world. With major elections coming up in the United States, Poland, France, India, and many other countries, these two warring ideologies could stand to redefine the global landscape. These elections could lead to further friction between those two factions and increased tension or to a conclusion of hostility between those ideologies and a global collaboration to fight a common enemy.
The hyperbole of election language usually defines national election as a do or die choice but this year, unlike any other years, the actual choice you make at the ballot box will either results in more or less global deaths.
So choose wisely.