War, profit and virus

March 14, 2020

If you want expertise, don’t bother reading any further here. I know as much about coronavirus as any stunned disbeliever with a sudden, irresistible urge to touch his face.

This is a news story that’s spookily personal – far more personal, somehow, than all those other ongoing horror stories out there, about war, refugees, climate change. Those stories are real, yet compared to the coronavirus story, they feel like abstractions. This is about a potential pandemic – the possibility of hundreds of millions of deaths worldwide – and it’s about the need to use hand sanitizer. Right now. And also, don’t touch people anymore. And stay home.

Part of me feels positively Donald Trumpian about this: Come on, this isn’t real. Indeed, my urge is to defy the warnings and hug my friends, shake strangers’ hands, continue living a connected and joyous life. But part of me stops cold, thinks about the post-World War I influenza pandemic that wound up infecting almost a quarter of the world’s population and killed as many as 100 million people.

These things really happen. Don’t be ignorantly dismissive. But don’t panic either.

So, stabbed with “maybe,” all I can do is grope for understanding.

We live in a dangerous and paradoxical world. OK, fine. But is our social infrastructure capable of calmly and sanely handling new dangers that emerge – or is it more likely to make them worse?

I begin with this crumb of data from a recent USA Today story:

“According to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Commerce Clause of the US constitution grants the federal government isolation and quarantine authority.

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services can take actions to prevent the spread of communicable disease from foreign countries into the United States and between states.”

The words invoke both a need for top-down, authoritarian control of things and what I call the Yikes Syndrome: the idea of a viral invasion from a “foreign country,” from somewhere out there beyond our borders – beyond what is known and safe. Somehow the assumptions quietly hidden in this sort of wording throw me into a spiral of doubt. Like climate change, a potential pandemic requires global cooperation: people and governments pulling together to survive and transcend the danger.

While enforced order and temporarily isolating people is also sometimes necessary, I see in such wording how panic spreads. We’re quick to “go to war” against a problem and haven’t learned yet, at the highest levels of government, that wars don’t end and are never won; they simply set the stage for further war.

In that regard, consider these words from the social-justice and peace organization Code Pink: “Due to US. sanctions, Iran is suffering from a shortage of the medical supplies, products, and equipment required for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of the coronavirus.”

Excerpted from: ‘War, Profit and the

Coronavirus’. Commondreams.org