I consider this issue of magical thinking to be important. Will we, as a society, listen to experts and evidence over time, or will we listen to will-o-the-wisp reassurances from certain wrong-headed mayors, governors and autocrats, that all will be fine? I’m reminded of the tired refrain from a song years ago: “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
We may have enough experts to advise us about testing, look backs, and trace backs, but we’re going to need an army of new personnel to carry things out. As well, we could likely use more scientists working on vaccines and antivirals. But more urgently, we’ve got to listen to experts.
Experts remind us that whatever we do, there are more contagions and more waves of this contagion heading our way. We need more robust distant-early-warning systems as troubles appear on the horizon. Too often the messages we need to hear are blunted or diverted by persons deaf to such news. This may be a structural issue for us, as we need multiple voices to trumpet the stuff we need to hear.
There’s talk about “a new normal” that we can anticipate, though there’s little new or normal in our lives. Until effective vaccines and antivirals are ubiquitous – a period of years, not months – our moves must be cautious and limited.
Our struggle thus far has defined us, for viral defence purposes, as groupings of persons that share a home, though many if not most of us live alone, and large households are uncommon. We’ve learned to be wary of others lest they broach our six-foot perimeter. Though this may have saved us thus far, it’s a habit that our tentative selves may find difficult to break and which threatens to become its own type of imprisonment.
Not long ago, globalization was touted as necessary in an interdependent world. This notion’s been turned upside down as we and our communities become accustomed to lives that are ever more insular and solipsistic. Our crimped social structures couldn’t develop at a worse time, when we consider climate change and the expanded concern and altruism we need. Our outlook may be grim.
On the other hand, trouble isn’t new but comes in different flavors and we’ve dealt with it before. Remembering the carnage wrought by the Spanish flu at the end of WW I, we can be thankful for both universal health care and a well-developed social safety net.
Our digital technologies have served to distract us in this lonely time but may assist us in our struggles with contagion. Telephone apps that can discern our movements and gauge our proximity to infected persons may help us isolate the virus. As Uri Alon of the Weizmann Institute has suggested, we may benefit from the kinetics of the coronavirus and the observation that newly infected persons are not themselves infective for about three days. Arguing for a shortened work week, for instance, makes sense with a four-day work week, followed by a fallow period of 10-14 days thereafter. Any developing illness should, accordingly, be confined to the furlough interval, limiting workplace illness and planning care as needed.
I think that we count on both our creativity and our adaptability to confront our vulnerabilities. When the virus surfaced months ago, I was worried that we would miss old habits and, in particular, our tradition of shaking hands, which predates Greco-Roman times and is regarded as necessary for interpersonal trust, comity and cooperation. Even before the virus arrived, however, the habit was waning, similar to men’s experience with neckties, and the handshake’s demise may be overdue. Some refer to the custom as representing “microscopic grotesquerie,” possibly overstating the case.
There’s much to learn from our astronaut, Chris Hadfield. We’re in a marathon, Hadfield reminds us, not a sprint; he goes on urge us to “understand the danger, look at constraints and set objectives.”
This helped Hadfield in his six months in space, rolling around our blue planet and I find it good enough for me.
Bring it on.
Editor’s note: The views, perspectives and opinions in this article are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the AMA.
Banner photo credit: Marvin Polis