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One Virus to Rule Them All

Written By: - Date published: 2:33 pm, March 28th, 2020 - 37 comments
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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

Well, not that long ago, and not that far away, secondary school students were striking against Climate Change. National had stepped up their election campaign since 19 October 2017 and were in full-flight electioneering. Slightly farther afield, Boris Brexited over backwards, the Sherriff from Mar-a-Lago assassinated a local hero in Iraq and almost started WWIII, the trade war between two super powers was escalating, and there were the Primaries in the US that got many heated under the collar. To name just a few things that hogged the limelight.

Then, all of a sudden, a few people got sick in China. Then a few died, quite a few, and it spread, quickly. Next thing we knew was Doom’s Day scenarios based on comparisons with the Spanish Flu, the deadliest epidemic in recent human history.

Thanks to the internet, we can now watch the stat counters every moment keeping a tally and an eye on the number of new cases and deaths anywhere in the world. Obviously, we tend to focus on the worst cases or countries. The daily updates by Ashley and Jacinda have become compulsory viewing and we obsessively scour the media websites for updates, information, and answers, even answers to questions that nobody knows the answer to notwithstanding their PhD.

Our world, or ‘bubble’ as it is now known, has shrunk heaps. We worry about toilet paper. We worry about our finances and how we will pay the bills. We worry about our jobs. We worry about the bottom rungs of and on Maslow’s ladder of needs. Some of us worry about our health too. Some of us can work from home but it feels a little (more) pointless, at least to me it does.

It is too early for me to ponder the purpose of my professional life, let alone life in its totality – reductionism rules. However, a huge part of what sparks joy in my life is the clutter of social interactions through work and less so, but still important, through going out for groceries or even a meal, once every blue moon – my pub days are merely a twinkle in my foggy distant memory.

The projected period of four weeks is about as long as a long holiday, but this is not a holiday, really. During a real holiday, you tend to reset, recharge, and recuperate. And then you jump straight back into the rat race and daily rut and quickly forget the good times of leisurely living the life of Riley – it is wiping your memory like ketamine.

So, when this passes, as it will, and we go back to Alert Level 1 (or zero?), will we come back to Earth with a sickening thud? I guess it depends on how bad things may get. In times of crisis, and facing your mortality by staring Death in the eyes (AKA memento mori) certainly is a momentous crisis, many people make a major mental shift. And often this shift is lasting and permanent, almost life changing.

Perhaps the even bigger question is whether we will make a collective mental shift. Time will tell and again it will depend on how bad things get. If this microscopic virus – a slight misnomer, because it cannot be seen with ordinary light microscopes – is not enough of a reason to change our ways then we can wait for the next crisis of global proportions. We won’t have to wait long as we can all look forward to Climate Change slowly but surely altering all life on this planet – plenty of stats to keep staring at if you wish. With a bit of luck, it will be life, but not as we know it.

Maybe now is a good time to start pondering because it is the only moment that is right here, right now …

37 comments on “One Virus to Rule Them All ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    Instead of using your brain to "make sense" of what's happening, try using your heart heart

  2. Treetop 2

    My perspective on short and long term goals has certainly changed.

  3. Carolyn_Nth 3

    Or maybe Tom Robinson had it right when he sang “The top folks still came out on top” in the Winter of 79

    • joe90 3.1

      • Carolyn_Nth 3.1.1

        Thanks. I was a big Dylan fan way back. So this is a song he recorded a while ago – I'd love to know when.

        It's not just about the death of Kennedy – maybe the death of the US dream? A lot of it's about popular culture (music and movies) in the sixties and beyond. Early in the song there's mention of "Ferry Across the Mersey" and the Beatles wanting to hold your hand; later there's Nat King Cole, etc, and Nightmare on Elm Street and a whole lot more.

        Of course "Murder Most Foul" is also popular culture.

  4. weka 4

    "If this microscopic virus – a slight misnomer, because it cannot be seen with ordinary light microscopes – is not enough of a reason to change our ways then we can wait for the next crisis of global proportions."

    Climate, worse pandemic, ecological collapse, war, lots to choose from. But also, finally, a way out.

    What do we want to be aligned with now? Too soon to say which way this will go, but in terms of tipping points and being able to intervene in the system and have an effect, this is totally new territory.

    I see people who still think this will all be over in 4 weeks (or maybe they find such optimism helpful to cope). Others have been preparing for this for a long time. This week was an emergency needing fast action, as we settle down people will be looking more and more for what's beyond that, and how much we will be forced, not by governments but by nature. I am encouraged by the number of people already talking about the potential for system change.

    • Incognito 4.1

      The thing is that when you ask people what they want, they don’t know. Or they tell you what they do not want. Now, we have an opportunity to taste something different and hopefully this will inspire people to come up with different answers in future beyond Idk. Otherwise, we will be back at BAU before we know it.

      • weka 4.1.1

        I agree, although I think it's ok that lots of people don't know yet, or can only say what they don't want. So many people have been working on what we might do at this point that I think we have enough visionaries and creative people to create a space for potential good change. That will include people who want to be involved (not everyone will).

        More of an issue for me is the people in power who aren't there yet and who will try and cling to power.

        • Carolyn_Nth

          The real changes are yet to come. The deep changes will happen gradually.

          I recall when I was in the UK when Thatcher was elected. We were gloomy, but many of us felt protesting, striking etc would stop the changes. They never did; they just rolled on, often to the disbelief of many of us.

          It was 1979, which is why I referred to Tom Robinson's "Winter of '79" when everything changed, but "the top folks still came out on top."

          • weka

            Really feeling for folk in the UK right now.

            We did all those actions all these years and it managed to hold a line I think, although often it doesn't feel like that. To me what is happening now is different because the hegemony of neoliberalism was just broken by nature. I don't know if it will get hold again, but I feel more hope now for real change than I did before.

        • Incognito

          I have a (bad?) habit of commenting at multiple levels at once, at my own personal level and a collective level. I think the reason for this some vague notion (intuition) that the distinction, if there really is one, is not as sharp and clear as I/we think it is.

          If you were to encounter a genie who’d suggested you could wish for a car and you’d responded with “well, I don’t want a yellow car”, nothing would happen and you ‘wish’ would come true at the same time. If you don’t know what you want or where you want to be, you won’t get it or get anywhere, for that matter (I know this is contradictory). OTOH, you could go with the flow, follow your intuition, or your heart, according to Robert. This was the theme (motto?) of the How To Get There posts. Just do it, live, get on it with it, go to the end of the path and through the gate and keep going and going. I think that many people, myself included, sit somewhere in the middle; they have no clear idea of what they want but they also don’t really move forward, so to speak – they literally sit in the middle (or on life’s fence).

          Your comment about people in power clinging to power is true. We all do this. We all cling to the familiar, to what we know, because to a large degree this gives us a feeling of relative control and safety (predictability), and ‘power’. Apparently, it is engrained in our psyche and we are hardwired to act this way. We become more protective of what we have instead of exploring new ways and means. When we feel under threat, our risk-taking and curiosity take a step back, instinctively, generally speaking. Just look at the behaviour of investors and the stock exchange; it is irrational but it does happen each and every time when there is some kind of threat or crisis.

          • Poission

            I have a (bad?) habit of commenting at multiple levels at once, at my own personal level and a collective level. I think the reason for this some vague notion (intuition) that the distinction, if there really is one, is not as sharp and clear as I/we think it is.

            Putting lyrics to a different song,which you intuitively know may still have the same meaning.

          • Carolyn_Nth

            Clinging to the familiar may explain the Covid-19 denialists, in NZ, that I am seeing on twitter.

            Another one last night in response to this article about Covid-19, featuring 12 "experts" who disagree with the current Covid-19 line from most scientists, medical people, epidemologists, etc.

            It descended to a point where the Covid-19 denialist resorted to repeating the lines I've seen before:

            1. More people die of flu each year than are dying from Covid-19

            2. This virus has been around for years and no one has noticed.

            3. The mainstream experts are people with power doing this for their own commercial or career interests: either big pharma, or academics seeking promotion.

            My reply, which never really is answered: in global hotspots where it has not been checked early, the health services are being overwhelmed e.g. running out of ventilators; plus we have yearly updated flu vaccinations that keep the flu in check.

            • RedLogix

              More people die of flu each year than are dying from Covid-19

              The usual range of seasonal influenza deaths is between 290 – 650 thousand.

              COVID 19 is only just starting it's rampage. Worst case … if 70% of humanity gets it and 4% of them die, that is around 210 million deaths. At least three orders of magnitude greater.

              It's unlikely the worst case will actually happen, but the chances are not zero either. In any discussion around total hazard like this, it has to be included, regardless of how distressing it is.

              This virus has been around for years and no one has noticed.

              The virologists are adamant; from the genetic studies it's clear that it's a novel zoonotic virus that has only recently emerged. This one can be absolutely discounted. Besides even if this point was true … what difference would it make to the obvious pandemic we are seeing now.

              • Carolyn_Nth

                Yes. Good answers.

                Also, this Stuff article, reprinted from the Washington Post, explains why Covid-19 (aka SARS-COV-2) is such a problem.

                It's new and there is no herd immunity or even partial immunity as happens with other viruses.

                It is very contagious, and spreads by stealth and with unusual speed – before people show symptoms, unlike SARS, which was only contagious after symptoms developed and people were hospitalised.

                We have vaccines and anti-virals for flu.

                Plus, I would add, in NZ we have a health service that has been underfunded for too long and couldn't cope with a surge of serious admissions.

            • Incognito

              Thank you for that excellent find! TBH, I’m slightly bewildered by the global response too.

              There are a few interesting counter-views appearing and I’d come across an intriguing and provocative blog but I can’t seem to find it anymore. I toyed with writing a post on this but it’s too early (for me) and I don’t know what good, if any, it would do.

      • Carolyn_Nth 4.1.2

        There's these enterprising Kiwis open sourcers, worked out how to make protective face masks using 3D printers. they're getting people all over NZ to print them, and are gifting them to front line workers:

        The initiative was started on Tuesday by Auckland 3D printing business Mindkit owner Tim Carr, who has created a database urging all 3D printer owners around New Zealand to print the masks for understocked medical clinics.

        In just 48 hours, there are now 8500 orders from Kiwi clinics, some who have just a handful of masks for 50-odd staff.

        They're basically plastic visors – not sure if they need to be quality tested. I read somewhere else that such much would need to be able to be sterilised with bleach.

        Ah, this Stuff article mentions the need to be able to bleach them.

        • weka

          Good to see people stepping up like this.

          • new view

            Great to see private individuals using their initiative Weka. Why are they having to do this when the Government is informing us of their huge reserves of PPE equipment. That apparently front line medical workers at medical centres etc aren’t supplied with. ?

    • Gristle 4.2

      4 weeks is the minimum, not the maximum, and level 4 could be re-imposed any time.

      Besides we are likely to drop to level 2 after this.

      And then this thing called tourism. That's not going to restart until mass inoculations have occurred throughout NZ. Kiss goodbye to tourism for at least 18 months.

  5. joe90 5

    Strange days indeed.

  6. AB 6

    Feeling like the "unimportant clerk" in W.H. Auden's the fall of Rome?

  7. observer 7

    The opening paragraph of the OP is spot on. It's important that we don't start rewriting history. But some already are.

    Now various masters of hindsight are saying "everyone knew" about Covid19, which usually means "I knew", which usually means "I'm making it up". (Note: this does not refer to qualified people in the relevant medical field, who *should* be taken seriously).

    It's often assumed that Google is all we need to find out what was in the news weeks or months ago. But that is confirmation bias (search for Covid19, and that's obviously what you'll find).

    What Google doesn't tell you is the prominence of the news. What was the lead story on TV that night? What was on the front page? Well …

    "Lotto Powerball … $50 million jackpot! Punters rush to buy tickets! Long queues everywhere! But with 2 metres of social distancing …"

    OK, I made up the last one. Because nobody had heard of it. Nobody cared. One month ago.

    • Incognito 7.1

      Ah, yes, the $50 million jackpot. I lost interest the moment after the draw but thanks for reminding me 😉

      It always amazes me how many postscient people there are in this world and they don’t all have a degree in History either.

      Media prominence does not equal importance and the same is true for ‘hits’ from internet search engines. We increasingly let our lives be lived by algorithms that have no bearing on reality and real life. There are still people out there who think that The Truman Show and The Matrix are funny!

  8. Ad 8

    Open-ended questions are the best kind are navigational currents at this moment: feel the chaos barely contained and feel it move you.

    I am already beginning to think whether I can retire early like I had hoped. It's probably unlikely.

    With my Significant Other looking after the mother-in-law and locked down in the South Island, we find ourselves communicating in poetry as if we were courting again.

    We'll take an hour on the morning long-walk and read a short story over the phone.

    It's a tiny window for the humanities of poems and good prose to help us think as our futures and our families and our country is damaged all around us for many years to come.

    But we have to choose the authors we go back to with care. It's probably the wrong time to dive deep into writers of hard poverty like:

    Dickens' Oliver Twist

    Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row, or

    Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov

    We'll all have our favourites, but we need mental care.

    I sure ain't touching any theory books for a while – it's too early.

    I need to allow my imagination not to reach for answers. Or even plans.

    The most accurate visual representation I can think of in my moment is Ripley in Alien 3 diving backwards towards the molten fire:


  9. Que 9

    A problem I see, is that those nations with the best health systems could actually have the highest rates of death due to their ability to keep ailing people alive longer, who ordinarily would have perished under a less funded public health system. I'm not expecting a staggering rate of death in Sierra Leone for example – life expectancy if too low. I would hope that if this plays out, it doesn't add fuel to the fire for the likes of Boris Johnson in his attempts to attack high spending European social democracies.

  10. Molly 10

    Apologies if it has been posted previously, but there was a well-thought out article in the Guardian from an author in Italy, after three weeks of isolation:

    "…You will count all the things you do not need.

    The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.

    Literati who had been omnipresent in the news will disappear, their opinions suddenly irrelevant; some will take refuge in rationalisations which will be so totally lacking in empathy that people will stop listening to them. People whom you had overlooked, instead, will turn out to be reassuring, generous, reliable, pragmatic and clairvoyant.

    Those who invite you to see all this mess as an opportunity for planetary renewal will help you to put things in a larger perspective. You will also find them terribly annoying: nice, the planet is breathing better because of the halved CO2 emissions, but how will you pay your bills next month?

    You will not understand if witnessing the birth of a new world is more a grandiose or a miserable affair…"

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  • School upgrades and new classrooms for West Coast, Tasman and Canterbury
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  • Minister of Foreign Affairs makes three diplomatic appointments
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