- Richard Lum
On How COVID-19 Defeated America
The following recent article in The Atlantic is an interesting - if fairly disheartening - discussion about America's failures (on multiple levels and time frames) to prepare for and respond to the pandemic.
The emergence of the pandemic has certainly prompted many people to ask about whether or not all of this could have been "predicted." The Atlantic article provides an opportunity to point out a critical fact about "foresight."
Foresight is not prediction. It is best thought of as insight. On its own, foresight is not strategy or policy, and it is most certainly not action. In most cases, foresight informs about how and why the future may be different from the present. In the best cases, foresight inspires action towards some preferred future. Just generating new foresight alone is like generating an "ideal" strategy: it makes perfect sense to analysts without necessarily being something that decision makers can or want to execute.
The past few decades have seen a lot of people develop legit foresight about pandemics. And when those conversations, forecasts, and conclusions fail to connect with the many other process, institutions, and interests that ultimately determine our state of readiness for a real pandemic, it can be as if those insights had never been generated.
The point? Foresight is one of many components necessary for systemic change. It does not magically induce change in society; that has to be shepherded and cultivated.