Lesson of the Day: ‘Collapse: Inside Lebanon’s Worst Economic Meltdown in More Than a Century’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Collapse: Inside Lebanon’s Worst Economic Meltdown in More Than a Century’

7. The article states, “The crisis could do lasting damage to three sectors that have historically made Lebanon stand out in the Arab world.” What are these three sectors, and how have they been damaged by the crisis?

Option 1: Read The Morning newsletter’s explainer.

The featured article was originally published in August 2021. However, much has happened in Lebanon in recent weeks. To learn more about the causes that led to this crisis, read this explainer in The Morning newsletter written by David Leonhardt and Sanam Yar.

As you read, record any new information you learn in your notebook. If you still have questions, you can read this article about violence between sectarian militias or this interactive investigation of the port explosion.

Option 2: Read this guest Opinion essay.

Read the first four paragraphs of “Lebanon as We Once Knew It Is Gone,” a guest Opinion essay by Lina Mounzer, a Lebanese writer and translator:

I never thought I would live to see the end of the world.

But that is exactly what we are living today in Lebanon. The end of an entire way of life. I read the headlines about us, and they are a list of facts and numbers. The currency has lost over 90 percent of its value since 2019; 78 percent of the population is estimated to be living in poverty; there are severe shortages of fuel and diesel; society is on the verge of total implosion.

But what does all this mean? It means days entirely occupied with the scramble for basic necessities. A life reduced to the logistics of survival and a population that is physically, mentally and emotionally depleted.

I long for the simplest pleasures: gathering with family on Sundays for elaborate meals that are unaffordable now; driving down the coast to see a friend, instead of saving my gas for emergencies; going out for a drink in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael strip without counting how many of my old haunts have shut down. I never used to think twice about these things, but now it’s impossible to imagine indulging in any of these luxuries.

What is your response to her description of living in Lebanon? How does it make you feel emotionally? How does it change, or expand, your understanding of the situation as it was described in the featured article?

Ms. Mounzer’s essay ends with these words:

Beirut as we once knew it is now gone. Even during the 1975-90 civil war, the city enjoyed a certain cachet. There was shelling but there was also glamour, a zest for life like an electric current. But now the strips of nightlife are mostly shuttered and dark. During the war there were cease-fires that permitted some rest, however fleeting. But in a world run on fossil fuels, what life is possible when they are no longer available? What life without electricity, cars, cooking gas, the internet, drinking water? There’s no break from this kind of economic warfare.

Because that’s exactly what this is. Fuel and medicine, though scarce, are not entirely unavailable. They are unattainable, hoarded by politically connected individuals and organizations, likely to be exported or sold on the black market.

In a world where the maximalist pursuit of profit is supreme, such behavior is simply the way the system was built to work. Lebanon is not an exception. It is a preview of what happens when people run out of resources they believe are infinite. This is how fast a society can collapse. This is what it looks like when the world as we know it ends.

What is your reaction to Ms. Mounzer’s conclusion? Do you agree with her warning about the dangers of goods being hoarded and an obsession with profit? How does her message connect with other things you have read or learned about presently or historically?

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