Any representation of history contains an irreducible element of fiction. As argued in ‘Interpretation in History’ (1973) by Hayden White, a renowned American historian: ‘In [his/her] efforts to reconstruct the past, the historian inevitably must include in [his/her] narrative an account of some event […] for which the facts that would permit a plausible explanation of its occurrence are lacking.’
What is presented as the fruit of an objective analysis of factual events is often not different from a TV series like ‘The Serpent’, which is ‘inspired by true events’ where ‘all dialogue is imagined.’
Now imagine the year 2040. Historians dispassionately revisit the COVID-19 crisis. They are tasked with writing history, looking for patterns explaining government policies across nations, and the sequence of global events that marked 2020 and 2021.
The historians first review Lowy Institute’s COVID Performance Index (2021) in search of clues. Could regional aspects, political systems, or the level of economic development explain the relative performance of more than 100 countries when considering the number of fatalities? The answer is negative. The historians are off to a bad start.
Next, they explore whether concerns about macroeconomic and mental health implications played a material role in defining COVID policies. Baffled, they do not find much evidence that governments sought to account for these variables, and, if they did, how.
Reading an old article published in BMJ, a medical journal (2021), and similar sources, they identify a myriad of factors that appear to have had an impact on the countries’ relative performance when it comes to health. They include geography (island vs. mainland), exposure to globalization, the age pyramid, the size of households, population density, a population’s health, the health system capacity, the level of inequality, and the quality of social safety nets. Yet, the historians cannot find a link between these variables and national health policies implemented by political leaders and governing authorities during the COVID crisis.
Unable to build a logical narrative underpinning the decisions and events of 2020-21, the historians determine that the most plausible explanation for what happened during the COVID crisis is that impulsivity rather than rational decision-making prevailed.
In other words, highly consequential decisions defining the lives of billions of people were made on the spur of the moment by political leaders under sensorial overload. For two years, humankind was subject to the dictatorship of randomness.
The historians further agree in their infinite wisdom that governments’ gross negligence and incompetence stem from the unforgivable lack of preparedness for the crisis.
They conclude that the best way for leadership teams to make history is to anticipate it.