Anyone who works in the right answer fields, like engineering and computer science, has run across the magic box gag. This is where someone draws up a process, describing the various inputs and sub-processes. Somewhere toward the end of the diagram is a box into which all of this stuff flows. What comes out of the box is the desired result of the entire process. That box at the end, where all the good stuff happens, is labeled something like “magical happens here.”
It is a stale gag, but a persistent one as it is a very good way to simplify a project for the people who put the magic in the box. The people who will get the magic really don’t need to know what happens inside the box. That’s not their concern. That’s the job of the technical people to solve. In fact, the whole point of the exercise is to make sure everyone shares the same understanding of all the other stuff. The users of the process must trust that the technical people put the right magic in the box.
It does not always go that way through. Even the simplest processes have peculiarities that are not appreciated until you start monkeying around with them. The combination of inputs may create conflicts that require immensely complicated solutions inside the box in order to get the desired result. It’s why after the meeting ends, the technical people erase the board and spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what form of magic will have to go into that box. Magic is not as easy at looks.
This concept is one to keep in mind when evaluating the responses to the virus panic and soon the economic consequences of it. Loads of people on both sides of the great divide think something momentous has happened. They see the flood of changes that have been imposed and rightly assume that it will have a profound long term effect on the country and the West in general. They are probably right, but they disagree as to what will come out of the magic box that is this panic.
The most obvious starting place is with the people demanding we take this extreme measure to stop the virus. As has been discussed at length here now, they fail to consider the consequences. Instead, their response is something like, “The economy is not important. That will fix itself.” In other words, something magical will happen and things will get back to normal. The magic box will not only fix all the damage done to civil life, it will restore everything back to where it was before the panic.
It’s possible that things bounce back to where they were to start the year. No one knows, because this has never been done. Maybe in a year this whole episode will be forgotten, like the Kavanaugh hearings or the Russia hoax. On the other hand, we could be facing a long depression. The blows to the system could be so profound they cannot magically heal themselves. Instead, things remain broken. In other words, maybe the magic in that box is bad magic, the very worst kind of magic.
That brings up another camp that is now deeply invested in the magic box. There are a lot of people on this side of the great divide that are cheering the lock down. They think it will forever discredit the things they don’t like. The consequences of globalism and the neoliberal order will flow into the hive brain of the public and what comes out the other side is a rejection of all of it. Magically, everyone will come to the conclusions many people on this side held before the panic and subsequent results.
It’s possible that some of those things Greg Johnson lists will come true. It’s also possible that none of them will happen. People are remarkably resilient to reality, as we see with the panic. If your first response to the prospects of a pandemic are to fill your basement with toilet paper, you are unlikely to draw the best lessons from this panic and its results. The ruling class, the people who triggered this panic, are also unlikely to abandon all the things that allow them to be in power.
The point here is not to take issue with Greg or his post. Greg’s lessons are correct, but they were correct before the panic. He is assuming this sudden crisis will be the magic box that transforms everything. The last half century of history is flowing into this panic and the resulting turmoil. What will come out the other side is a great awakening, as the scales fall from the eyes of everyone wondering how they will pay their rent and feed their kids. The coronavirus panic is the magic box.
Similarly, there is a subset of this thinking that exists in fringe socialist circles, like the remnants of the old alt-right and the Bernie Sanders camp. They cheer the coming collapse, because they think the prophesies will finally come true. America will become Weimar Germany. One version of the game has Richard Spencer delivering his first speech to the new Ethno-Reichstag. The other side thinks they will finally be free to punch those Nazis that secretly control the world.
It is an interesting key value pair. Both camps think their political ideology is timeless and forever relevant. Both sides think history must repeat in the exact same way it happened 90 years ago in Europe. It’s like coordinates on a map. Because the coordinates never change, their place on the great map of human history never changes either. It’s a form of mysticism. In this case, they assume an economic collapse must magically result in conditions most favorable to them.
Again, that magic box may not contain what they imagine. The most likely result is the increased power of the tech oligarchs. They are now helping government track people, all in the name of safety, of course. A world in which drones are used to police citizens identified through their mobile phone as having stood next to the wrong person is not favorable to the revolution. You see, the people in charge have been planning for the arrival of you-know-who for a very long time as well.
In fairness, maybe the critics of the response to this virus are engaging in magic box thinking as well. To assume lots of bad things come out of the other end of the box is just as presumptuous as assuming only good things will emerge. Maybe the great reorder that will occur after this will be better for the Nazis and Bolsheviks camped out in the pumpkin patch. Maybe people will wake up to the reality of neoliberal order and demand changes. Maybe things get back to normal in a hurry.
The one true thing in all of this is no one knows what is inside the box that events appear to be leading us. The panic itself is unprecedented in the modern age, so we are left to guess about what follows. What’s happening with the global financial system is less novel, but the scale is unprecedented. No one can know if the economy will spin back up, as no one has tried to turn it off and then back on. We are in the world of unknown unknowns, the part of the diagram labeled “Magic.”
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