One can be forgiven for having no reaction to the point of almost being bored with the word “coronavirus.” It almost feels like this pandemic is in every headline – it definitely is in this one – and on everyone’s mind. There has been so much information consumed and shared over the past few months that it seems everyone and their cousin has become an expert on this disease. But today I want to take the opportunity to discuss the pandemic from a different perspective: the need to understand its existence and spread at this particular point in our history, and to touch on the context from which the pandemic was born.
Let me begin by saying every event does not happen by chance; it is a result of various causes and circumstances, some of which we are aware of and others which may escape our attention. If we look far back in our history, every event can be revisited through an analytical lens and seen through various perspectives, bringing a greater understanding to past events. History speaks of many epidemics that have afflicted mankind, perhaps the most known one being the infamous bubonic plague or "black death," which arrived in Europe in October 1347 via trading ships and caused the death of about 200 million people.
Every epidemic mankind has ever lived through were caused by certain factors, and in many cases had serious consequences that lead to the collapse of states. A look back at these events and it becomes clear that to understand them, one must adopt a holistic approach that tracks each event through its historical context. Almost all pandemics affect the environment, as there is an environmental sequence for each one. When humans ignored the cleanliness of their immediate environment, whether as a society or individually, or when different peoples interacted with one another through far-reaching movements, such as through trading ships and merchant convoys, the result was a disease confined to a certain place transforming into a pandemic that killed millions.
Mankind’s opportunistic approach towards the environment – and specifically our deliberate alienation from nature – is causing major problems across the board. Today, we have put our self-interest above sustainability, both ours and the environment. Our selfishness is the cause of detrimental levels of pollution, global warming, imbalance in biodiversity, acid rain, and ozone depletion. As a consequence, these imbalances in nature caused by our actions are now posing a direct threat to our health and the health of other living beings, becoming the key reason behind various diseases. To discuss the current pandemic is to understand our larger role as humans in its existence.
The size of our population is another important factor to look at with regards to the changes taking place across the globe today. We are now witnessing a staggering population rise of more than 79 million people every year, a phenomenon that many may argue poses serious challenges when considering the limited natural resources we have available to us, and the intensified competition for and conflict caused by these resources. In fact, according to Robert Walker, Vice President of the Population Institute, our population explosion is a major concern for many politicians and global organizations. Paired with the scarcity of key resources like water and food, it is being predicted that by 2050, we will need two planets to accommodate the population of earth.
In times of crisis, there are many questions asked and many theories posed, some elaborate, others outlandish; there are certainly those who draw a link between population growth and the occurrence of deadly epidemics, and others – often branded conspiracy theorists – who go as far as to say that scientists utilize epidemics to control population growth! Regardless of popular discourse or unfounded theories, the world does face many questions and social realities that are amplified in times of crisis, a key one being that global political and economic systems are unfair, with a few who control resources and wealth and the many who live on donations and aid.
When mutual responsibility ceases to exist, the universe transforms into isolated islands. To each their own, everyone doing what serves their interest, most times at the expense of others. It has been proven time and again that market and trade liberalization are not always effective. Indeed, theorists and proponents of these thoughts who adamantly supported the link between human happiness and market freedom are now opening the door to new parameters and perspectives.
Those who follow US President Donald Trump’s tweets crying out against the continuation of the lockdown, “Free Minnesota,” “Free Michigan,” “Free Virginia” would think Comrade Che Guevara has risen! Indeed, reality imposes change.
Now, questions arise about these shortcomings and point to a new world order. Are liberal regimes the solution in light of the inability and vulnerability of these countries, and their failure to address the epidemic and the collapse of their health systems from within?
No matter how impressive our scientific and technological progress is, what is its true value in the absence of justice and unilateralism? Is it enough to have a powerful external structure while the core, the substance of our humanity is in disarray? Such an unjust social context, be it at the level of nations or individuals, requires a moment of pause, reflecting on the level of transparency with one’s self. Nothing happens without reason, even if the connection appears unclear at that very moment.
Any epidemic presents a hardship but it also carries a message with powerful implications. It can be perhaps said that the world has never been this united under a crisis as the one we are currently experiencing right now. The ongoing pandemic may have created a shared feeling, a "democracy of hardships" if you will. This pandemic has afflicted the rich and the poor, developed and developing nations, making its elimination a joint responsibility and a shared humanitarian act that goes beyond politics and economy.
This novel coronavirus could mark a major shift in our humanity, for the benefit of mankind. Indeed, many crises open the way for a chance to reflect on past mistakes, to correct our direction, and to allow reason and justice to prevail, not only at the level of countries that desperately need this, but also on an individual level. Self-conscience is a weapon that protects people, prevents conflicts, and maintains peace.