I’ve been thinking a lot, about coronavirus. Partially because I can be a bit of a hypochondriac, partially because I have a young son, but partially for another reason, I’ve been struggling to put my finger on. This reason, I suspect, is something more fundamental than my own limited perspective, but rather, something more universal and closer to the real truth of the situation.
After much rumination, I finally came to the conclusion that this truth was in fact that the hype was just that, hype. That, when faced with the data, coronavirus is not more serious than the swine-flu of a decade or so ago, certainly not more serious than spanish-influenza, and ultimately, while undeniably a pandemic, finally not something as terrifying as my greatest fears are urging me to think.
In fact, the conclusion I came to, was that the hype around the pandemic was less objectively threatening, with, it’s reasonable death rate of 2% (especially when further contextualized by the higher rates of immuno-compromised and elderly affected) and infection numbers astronomically lower than some previous outbreaks, especially barring the genesis where cover-up and incompetence fueled the spread of disease. In fact, I found myself quite contented with the thought that this was in fact, not something to be overly worried about (though caution never hurts) but rather an illustration in the continuing digital derangement of humankind through social media, an increasingly digital and 24-hr alarmist news cycle, and good ole fashioned desire for originality.
However, as I stood tonight, after everyone in my home (condo, technically) has gone to bed, peering out at the artificial cliff of the distant ocean horizon, another thought crossed my mind. It seems plausible at least, that this phenomenon we are witnessing around this novel virus is not just a specter of our digital lesser nature, but rather perhaps, a Dr. Manhattan-esque subconscious manifestation of our collective fear of the unknown. The undiscovered country as Shakespeare and the fictional Chancellor Gorkon would have called it. In the age we live in, we may have managed to create a collective unconscious dread for the end of humanity. Zombie movies, post apocalypses, be they the simple countless movies, video games, and literature, or those inspired by our sometimes quite legitimate fears of the irrationality of our current commander in chief, have all drummed up our fear for our future. I myself (and I’m surely not alone) am perhaps most haunted by the drake equation, which predicts (based on a handful of expected ranges of cosmic constants) that the heavens should be replete with intelligent life such as ourselves. And yet, SETI has yet to find even the faintest hint of such an existence. There are many hypotheses to explain this reality but, the burdensome Occam’s razer and humanity, such that it is today, seem to suggest that the most likely explanation is the theory of The Great Filter.
Maybe this collective dread of our possible (or impending, depending on how you count our chances) demise is a premonition of what is to come. Or maybe it is as simple as a human phase we are going through. But it strikes me now, that I suspect this COVID-19 hype is not in fact JUST a result of the more digital interconnected (and sometimes echo chamber) we live in, but perhaps more a result of our collective existential dread, be it founded or not. In some weird way, that gives me more peace about the whole thing. It feels less… symptomatic, and more… causal. Depending on how you interpret the cause, that is perhaps worse news, but it feels more substantive, more real, to me, and that I will count as a win in any event.
As always, I take solace in the insane, humbling, beauty of our planet. A great artist is not fulfilled by her riches, but rather her accomplishments. I find tonight, staring out at the horizon, much as I do peering up at the canyon walls of a river, or my son as he suddenly realizes his potential to communicate directly with the world around him, that the beauty of this world is enough to make my heart nearly burst. It’s sheer existence is overwhelming, comforting, and fulfilling in ways that easily outstrip anything I could ever build or accomplish in this life. If it is to end, I pray only that I remember that beauty and find comfort that such a wondrous thing will surely echo through all time, regardless of any human living to remember it.