An Alternate Brave New World

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Certainly no one wants to hear or read more about coronavirus. Yet, despite being glued to TV screens, despite the profusion of news stories and narratives about the virus, all of humanity is tuned in to avariciously learn more about the virus, hoping to get a glimmer of hope, a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, now herself in self-isolation because of exposure to the virus, compares the current situation with World War II, when humanity was engaged in a self-destructive conflict. But that was a manmade calamity and it was in everyone’s subconscious that the conflict could be controlled, reshaped or even brought to a halt through sober thinking and will. But the current pandemic is beyond human control, and that is why it has halted all human actions. It is an invisible and invincible enemy, which as of yet cannot be defeated, only avoided if one is lucky.

The living organisms populating the globe inherently carry the agents of their self-destruction, namely viruses.

Medical research has made great advances, bringing about incredible breakthroughs in healing and recovering. But today’s pandemic proves yet again that much lies beyond the grasp of science or human comprehension.

Historically plagues and pandemics have wreaked havoc on populations, killing large segments of human society. But mankind has continued to survive and find cures for those ills, even if only after the fact. Society has seldom acted proactively; it has only reacted after the fact and has been able to come up with some remedy, or preventative procedure, although that kind of universal threat has always been predictable, not just in terms of past experience but historic record.

Bill Gates, a humanitarian but by no means an expert in public health, had sounded the alarm long ago to warn the world of the possibly of just such a crisis as we see today. Yet, all major countries have been crippled by myopic policies, investing in and manufacturing military hardware, powerful enough to destroy their perceived enemies, and seldom thinking beyond their enemies to see the kind of pandemics that threaten the entire species.

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And we are currently at that juncture.

Gates had warned in a TED talk in 2015 that the world is not prepared for future pandemics. “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it is likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than war,” he said.

He also blamed the major powers for having invested tremendous resources in nuclear deterrence, paying less heed to potential pandemics. As a precedent, in his talk he cited the case of the Spanish Flu, which killed some 50 million people between 1918 and 1920, including 195,000 in the US.

Incidentally, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has allocated $100 million toward the COVID-19 response, it announced last week.

Governments now are engaged in a race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. At the time of this writing, there is no medicine yet to cure the thousands infected worldwide.

Relief could come in two ways: healing the infected population and immunizing the rest.

Topics: Coronavirus

Estimates vary at this time regarding when such medications can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US and put to use by the medical community. The most optimistic guesstimate is that a vaccine can come within six months. Others believe that it may not be ready before a year and a half. In the meantime, defenseless patients are suffering. There is a shortage of ventilators and masks and people are dying. The healthy ones are gripped by fear that the invisible enemy may seep into their bodies and infect them.

By the beginning of the 21st century, technology and biology had recorded great advances. Gene therapy had offered tremendous potentials to cure or prevent illnesses thus far believed to be incurable. Despite those advances, we now realize how much there still is to learn.

This raises an inherent question whether there is a built-in self-destruct button, which has to surface at one point in the development of society to create a balance between the population growth and the means to sustain that growth. It brings to mind the Malthusian Catastrophe, a theory about the population of the earth outpacing the plant’s ability to provide food. The theory was developed by Thomas Malthus, who believed that the human population always grows faster than the food supply, until war, disease and famine reduce the population again.

Despite the failure of Malthus’ theory, many proponents of his logic have come up with similar theories.

Today, those theories do not stand up to scientific truth but they continue stirring fear into people’s minds that population growth one day will result in some global catastrophe. COVID-19 is just that kind of disease which fuels fears that humanity is at the edge of its finite existence.

Whatever used to overwhelm our lives ordinarily has become insignificant in light of this pandemic. It has become irrelevant that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Kabul to cut a peace deal with the Talibans, nor does it interest anyone that Turkish and Russian military are monitoring Idlib jointly, to avoid another flare up. Fear and death are around us, or perhaps also, in us.

Those who believe in human ingenuity will look back and realize that every time a pandemic has threatened human existence, mankind has come up with a means of its survival, albeit at the cost of high casualties.

As the coronavirus spread from China, perhaps the Chinese adage can also bring some hope. Indeed, it is said that the word for crisis in Mandarin has two meanings: distress and opportunity. We already have experienced distress and maybe opportunity is around the corner, with many labs in the world working in overdrive and collaborating with governments that are ready to pour millions into the research and development of drugs necessary to fight the crisis.

It is also time to remember another old adage: necessity is the mother of invention.

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