Living in Interesting Times

April 17, 2020

There is an old (though far older in apocrypha than verifiable records indicate) veiled insult/curse: "May you live in interesting times".  I'd say the present days qualify as interesting on a global scale.

 

It's surreal to be going through such days with an awareness that it'll be recorded in history books (or their future equivalents) for the ages.  Did Eurasian/African people in the 1350s have any concept that they were living through Black Plague?  Will the likely instigator of a hapless rural resident contracting SARS-CoV-2 from a wild bat become the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the 2000s?  What proper noun will be stuck on this pandemic (my guess is "Covid")?

 

In going through this time of crisis, I'm certainly thankful that I haven't been struck too hard by it.  Millions of people around the world have lost jobs, shelter, friends, family, and/or their own lives.  Many of those who've recovered are faced with likely-permanent damage to their bodies.  Many governments have done far worse jobs of handling the situation than the one where I live (I'm a citizen of two countries, and the one I don't live in is doing far worse).  I appreciate that I've been sheltered from the worst of it so far.

 

Given the high infection rate of SARS-CoV-2, the serious danger COVID-19 poses to all its victims, and the lack of evidence that survivors develop resistance to future infections, it seems unlikely to me that any stable semblance of the previous "normal" can be restored without either effective vaccines or methods of treatment.  As such, chasing what was lost is foolish and short-sighted.

 

That said, I think it's important to break away from the negativity and look at what positives can be taken from these days of change.  What follows is a mixture of blind guessing and wishful thinking, but I believe there are ways to grow from our experiences with COVID-19.

 

This crisis has helped show what the people around us are truly like.  I'll admit that I have a stunted sense of empathy and my difficulties connecting with other people make me tend towards being a loner, but even I'm baffled by the naked selfishness, irrational hate, and willful ignorance displayed by large numbers of people.  For all the derision that used to be heaped on cartoon supervillains for being unrealistic exaggerations that could never happen in reality, unfortunately, we're seeing that cults can operate with brazen openness if their leaders are willing to shout louder than their opponents.  I realize some of it comes from desperation and fear rather than intentional malice, but actions still matter.

 

Think about what the people around you (whether in real space or virtual space) are saying and doing.  Think about what you yourself are saying and doing.  Does it make sense?  Would you want to be on the other side of it?  Would you be proud of people reading about it in history books?  I'm being light on explicit condemnations because I'm mostly a moral relativist, but I'll say this: COVID-19 is a deadly and highly infectious disease, and I see taking actions that increase the risk of infection unnecessarily for people around you as tantamount to attempting murder.  What falls into "unnecessary" is a matter of circumstance, but it's your responsibility as a human being with Internet access (in order to read this post) to educate yourself and make choices accordingly.

 

This crisis has also helped to set the stage for reshaping society.  We're seeing what jobs really need to be done in person, what jobs are luxuries or conveniences, and what jobs can be done remotely.  Even assuming a vaccine or cure does come along, I'd imagine most people who used to be office workers won't want to go back to daily commutes to a building of processed ventilation and standardized corporate decor (myself included).  Companies should see more opportunities to hire the best employees rather than the best employees who happen to live nearby.  Stores should provide more support for deliveries or curbside pick-ups.  People should be more open to using online interactions as a way of forming communities and keeping in touch despite physical separation.

 

Actual face-to-face time will still be important, but I'd expect to see an increase in leveraging the Internet as a means of reducing time lost in commuting/travel while increasing personal mobility at the same time.  Many small businesses are closing now, but new ones will open to suit the new forms of society.  I believe there are new opportunities opening up, and given that the difference for an online company between working in shouting distance of their home base and working across the globe is just a bit of lag, they'll be the sort of truly global opportunities that have seen the likes of Facebook or Twitter take off.

 

Finally, this crisis has helped set new expectations for what people should expect from the governments and humanitarian organizations.  Some have acted with remarkable efficiency, transparency, and clear concern for the actual people that they work for.  Others have reacted with divisive bickering, self-serving blame games, and clear agendas of protecting themselves at any cost.  Corruption and dictatorships have never acceptable evils, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to call them "evil".  As I do talk about D&D fairly often on here, it was set out in 1979 that good and evil are quantified largely as selflessness and selfishness, respectively.  Whatever you may think of Gygax, that alignment system ended up very similar to later approaches to psychology.  To circle back to another quotation of apocryphal origins: "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".

 

These are trying days.  The crisis will continue for now, but it will end eventually, and what happens between then and now will be key to deciding if this pandemic ends up being a tragedy or a painful transition to a better future.  When you can, learn from what you're going through, and use that knowledge to improve on the present.

 

Lastly, as a surprisingly wise man was known for saying: "take care of yourself...and each other".

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