With all the talk about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other relief packages in the U.S. and other countries, you could think that the vanishing of COVID-19 is just around the corner. It is not. It will be with us for a long time coming. Temporary relief packages that are not accompanied by nationwide job restructuring programs are as good as throwing that money down the drain.
Just look at what the National Institute of Health (NIH) writes: “There are hundreds of coronaviruses, most of which circulate among such animals as pigs, camels, bats and cats. Sometimes those viruses jump to humans — called a spillover event — and can cause disease.” Such spillovers caused the SARS epidemic in 2002, the MERS epidemic in 2012, and now the second SARS epidemic, known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). That last one has become a pandemic, paralyzed the world, crushed the world economy, made tens of millions of people unemployed literally overnight, and is still wreaking havoc all over the world. Worse yet, we have not found a vaccine to even one of the strains of coronavirus.
Yet, a vaccine isn’t the only way to deal with the virus. In fact, it is the least efficient since, as it happens nearly every year with the flu, new strains of the virus are appearing all the time, and it is likely that a vaccine will not be effective against all of them.
It is no accident that spillovers from animals are happening so frequently in recent years, as we have cultivated a mindset of exploitation of human resources and natural resources that has become so invasive that it is ravaging the planet and destroying society. Now it is finally backfiring against the perpetrators of these wrongs: humanity, and Western society in particular.
Therefore, we need a deeper transformation. Eliminating COVID-19 is like blocking the flow of sewer out of one hole in one place only to find it is flowing out of another. We need to stop the flow altogether, the flow that is caused by our behavior. And the only way to permanently change our behavior is to change ourselves. However you look at it, the root cause will always be human behavior, and human behavior can be changed only by changing humans.
As long as we continue to cultivate a culture of ruthlessness, alienation, and destructive competition, we will end up losing. We will lose to nature as we are losing now, and we will lose to our own nature as we are seeing in today’s skyrocketing violence, suicide rates, and substance abuse mortality. We are competing ourselves to death, very literally.
The coronavirus is a force of nature, but we can decide whether to take it toward the positive or negative direction. It has set us apart, deprived us of our favorite occupation of hurting one another. In separating us, it has shown us that our connections are the problem. If we transform our connections from abusive to supportive, we will find that we are treating not only each other in this way, but all of reality. In return, reality will transform its attitude toward us and the world will become a welcoming home once more.
The hiatus from the rat race of consumerism that was destroying the world is our chance to block it before it drives us off the cliff. It is an opportunity to reeducate ourselves on life, on the things it has to offer, such as love, friendship (real, not the social media kind), and mutual responsibility. We should use this time to cultivate new jobs and occupations, ones that strengthen our society and not divide it. In today’s job market, there is no justification for ruthless capitalism and senseless competition. Only those who dedicate their time to others will find success in what they do.
The mind of a caring person is infinitely more open than the mind of one who sees nothing but his or her own interest. Caring for others is a chance to learn, experience what others’ lives are like, feel what we did not know exist, and do it in the baby steps that the virus is allowing us to take, one video chat at a time. When we are ready for more contact, the virus will leave and let us meet in person, this time with all the good intentions.