Andrew Nikiforuk, in The Tyee, gives COVID a voice. It's a must-read piece. The virus offers ten lessons. I'll only deal with three of those lessons.
The first involves eternal growth:
Do you think your kind can just keep growing forever? Not even bacteria live such a fiction.
Maybe you should have listened to that German economist who said, “Man makes his own history but not always as he pleases.” Well, that’s me, a cultivator of displeasure.
Your overshoot is of another dangerous nature. Your future is no longer a reflection of your past, because you do not understand the dynamics of complexity in your own networked universe, let alone mine.
Since my last truly memorable visit in 1918 with my Spanish Flu (and it wasn’t Spanish, but no matter), you have made the world more connected and more complex with your machines and systems. You never bothered to calculate how steam ships could transform influenza from a regional delight to a global scourge, did you? Let me thank you again for that splendid innovation.
Every day you multiply this hazard. Every time you add another airplane route to a finite planet you accelerate the speed of my viral servants. All seems stable until your complexity brings down the house with a well-transported contagion on every doorstep.
Growth does not raise all boats. And the virus simply sinks many of them.
The second lesson is inequity:
Show me a pandemic that equally afflicted the rich and the poor? I know. I have not made one. Your kind underestimates my unprogressive nature, which holds but a mirror to the flaws of your social relations.
My coronavirus has struck down the usual victims: the poor; immigrants who must work of a living; people of colour burdened with disease because they have no access to health care. People incarcerated in buildings like cattle in feedlots. It never ceases to amaze me how you concentrate people and animals in the name of efficiency, heedless of the inevitable biological price to pay.
The reality is this. Pandemics like myself don’t create inequalities. We merely exploit them and play with the opportunities.
The third lesson is all about hubris:
Your vulnerability is a product of your hubris. Think of me, this fine pandemic, as a Mongolian cavalry probing the defenses of an overconfident Chinese city. Even after SARS and Ebola (you can’t say I didn’t provide a fair warning), I marveled at your porous defenses. All about my feet I found a global tableau of disbelief, denial and timidity.
Almost everywhere I ventured, I found the powerful unprepared and inattentive. I moved through open borders and took advantage of overextended supply chains. I found politicians who minimized me as another “flu.” Your leaders actually believed that they could muddle through an extreme event with impunity.
Everywhere I probed, I discovered familiar vulnerabilities. I found a stubborn resistance to act quickly and a denial of the exponential function. I found the precautionary principle abandoned like an orphan on the Silk Road. I found an expert class reluctant to don masks or to consider the dominance of aerosol transmission. I found democracies who stupidly elected to fight a viral fire in their hospitals instead of in their communities or at their borders.
In sum, I found inept bureaucracies incapable of managing catastrophic risk led by a callous political elite that prized money more than workers. What a marvelous and entirely predictable reception!
A few lessons to ponder over this holiday weekend.