Suffering through a pandemic is a terrible way to have to learn a lesson or two about the nature of humanity.
But it’s what we have, so we may as well make use of it.
What can we learn from our current crisis? Not so much in the “I should have stocked up on more toilet paper” vein, but in terms of understanding more about who we are and our place in the universe? You know: big picture stuff?
Here are my thoughts.
1) Normalcy is an illusion. Still thinking that conditions prior to the pandemic were the way things were “supposed” to be? Or that once this thing is over, we’ll all go back to “normal”? Give it up. We’ll adapt, we’ll get by the best we can, because that’s what we humans do. But there is no special state that represents the way things are supposed to be — there’s just the way things are. As Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari put it:
The heated debates about Homo Sapiens’ “natural way of life” miss the main point. Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens. There are only cultural choices, from among a bewildering palette of possibilities.
2) We humans don’t occupy any particular place of privilege in this world. One day we’re feeling like the Crown of Creation. The next day we’re getting our butts kicked by a submicroscopic infectious agent that’s not really even alive, and certainly not conscious. So if we think we’re something special, and somehow chosen or destined to ride herd on the rest of the world, it would be best to think again. I’m reminded of some rather obscure song lyrics from an old Jefferson Airplane song:
Consider how small you are:
Say it plainly,
The human name
Doesn’t mean shit to a tree.
… or to a novel coronavirus, as it turns out.
3) Although each of us likes to think of ourselves as powerful, independent agents, the truth is somewhat different. Is there something ironic about all of us sitting quietly at home, streaming shows and movies often showing strong heroes conquering evil villains? I think so. When confronted with a real threat to humanity, it’s interesting that our ace superpowers turn out to be sheltering in place, social distancing and ordering…