Updated: Sep 18, 2020
COVID-19 is – or should be providing people with the opportunity for introspection about core values, or ethos, as well as how these come about, i.e., process. Often, it takes exemplar and traumatic events in these times of complexity and distraction to concentrate one's attention to what is drastically wrong in society. A problem arises, followed by thinking on how to solve it. However, this simplistic stimulus-response ignores the framework thinking on how the problem came to be in the first place. Problem-solving by itself goes through several phases – recognition of the problem and what it takes to solve it, the will the solve it, the means for doing so, and actually carrying out the actions. Yet, if the context of the problem is ignored, it often just returns, possibly more severe than before. A very large problem looms enveloping the present one, and if we do not take the current environment seriously and realize this context, our outcome will not be favorable.
Overall, Mother Nature has challenged homo sapiens sapiens (supposedly a wise sub-species) with COVID-19 to examine and treat its own health condition and the means to deal with it. Humanity has had many pandemics before, but aside from learning a few medically effective responses, the total social environment has changed little, at least insofar as mounting broader preventive and pro-active measures. Witness among other events the failure of governments to heed warnings about pandemics, the anarchic responses to virus outbreaks, selfishness in vaccine development, prioritization of material well being over the pressing need to address physical health, and failure to be critically reflective upon how these events occurred in the first place. A hallmark of science is not only does the future resemble the past, but we extrapolate from the past to project to the future, thus enabling us to better manage our destiny. The quality of our destiny depends upon our core values, our ethos. Select examples should be ample wake-up calls challenging us to re-think our situation.
This morning I read about the US, UK and Canada screaming about supposed Russian hacking of COVID-19 vaccine research and development organizations to "steal valuable intellectual property", according to "… an advisory published by the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)". In a self-serving bold-face utterance of hypocrisy, the complaint said further, "While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behavior, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health,". Be reminded vaccine development in the capitalist world is spearheaded by.... well, capitalists, whose interest is centered on property. It is all about profit, material gain, and power over others. Animals eat or are eaten. Having written hundreds of provisional applications for patent in one of my "former lives", I very well know all too well the meaning of "intellectual property". Such runs counter to the World Health Organization's effort to coordinate research under the 75-country COVAX programme [https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/15-07-2020-more-than-150-countries-engaged-in-covid-19-vaccine-global-access-facility]. The US is not one of them. Instead, the US has Operation Warp Speed (OWS) ... a collaboration of several US federal government departments including Health and Human Services and its sub-agencies, Agriculture, Energy and Veterans Affairs and the private sector. Within OWS, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has partnered with more than 18 biopharmaceutical companies to accelerate development of drug and vaccine candidates for COVID-19 (ACTIV). [https://www.raps.org/news-and-articles/news-articles/2020/3/covid-19-vaccine-tracker ]
Now, we can see where "intellectual property" comes into view. That the US refuses to step up to the plate and work only with non-profits to work on a vaccine speaks volumes. Instead, we have Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and BioNTech. In this predatory political economy, we wait on edge biting our nails to learn of the almost guaranteed exorbitant prices demanded by the capitalists in holding the world hostage.
Leading the band playing the most bizarre anti-scientific tunes are the contemporary populists, like Trump, Obrador, Duterte, and Bolsonaro, whose false ethos of populism (read "demagoguery") and anti-science views appeal to the basest in human gratification, material satiation, plying on how "business" must proceed above all else. (I distinguish the classical populist- like Theodore Roosevelt and muckrakers from the modern gutter type.) Of course, without experts knowledgeable in pandemics making ultimate decisions and their voices muted in the din of self-serving populist chatter, people are conflicted. We now have Dr. Anthony Fauci, along with hundreds of colleagues with more background in epidemiology than the populists ever wanting to think they would like to have arguing about basic health measures known to a grammar school student, like social distancing, wearing masks, and using appropriate sanitizers. The populist outrage has reached the streets in the form of selfishly-motivated protests, many times violent, over denying "freedom".
We see signs of social demise when a country's people thinks it necessary to debate whether there should be universally-accessible health care, decent schools with a robust curriculum, full employment, strong infrastructure, and so forth. Instead, debates center on affordability, all the while the US regime spending hundreds of billions of dollars on wars in countries many of its citizens cannot even locate on an outline map. Now, the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost as the already-challenged health care facilities in many locations are breaking down. Since the beginning, there has been inadequate testing, personal protective equipment, medical supplies (ads in ventilators), and staff. As to the school, a verbal war is raging over reopening the schools, virtual teaching, and related issues. Because of the lockdowns, the "economy" has slowed down to the point of record numbers of persons filing unemployment claims, many of those probably losing their jobs permanently.
How could this be avoided? Think of a comprehensive universally-accessible health care system, including the State manufacturing of equipment, medicines, and supplies. To have adequate testing and protecting the population of course you need these. A uniform school system fully equipped with technology and a robust curriculum would be able to adapt to these emergencies, rather than displaying disjointed and failed responses. Because of planning and coordination State or cooperatively-owned industries would be flexible in providing stay-at-home work situations or physical environments with the required social distancing and basic health care measures, like requiring the wearing of masks.
If warnings about the Holocene Extinction are true, clearly this subspecies has been derailed on its presumed course, if any, the COVID-19 being a mere warm-up exercise. Here are the keywords, "if any". Otherwise, our existence is on the same level as Brownian movement: random. Values through ethos provide directionality of action. We now come to the setting of contemporary human folly, ethos, what really is important.
What then is that ethos? Ethos resides in context, a quality associated with an entity, the entity, itself a dynamic being. Being dynamic bespeaks process ostensibly of three forms: destruction, maintenance, and adaptation. In humanity's case, adaptation depends upon our ability to extrapolate and project but why? Homo sapiens sapiens presumably is the only subspecies capable of doing this. Moreover, it seems it is the only species capable of asking the "why". (Note here the current inability to communicate completely with other species limits our knowledge of their capabilities.)
From the beginning of a species' ability to reflect the ultimate question has been "why?", coupled with who we are, and what "reality" means. Absent this reflection there remain only physical considerations of biological maintenance, the outcomes being those three forms. What is the nature of the environment in which such occurs?
Who are we, then, individuals only? Simple logic provides the answer. Underpinning our understanding is the simple fact that something cannot be apprehended just by itself. What we apprehend results from what it is not. In other words, difference is required. Another word for "difference" in this usage is opposite. Our context is the simplest world known, the binary, or bivalent, one, where one value exists only because of what it is not. Perforce, the two are inextricably linked (interconnected) by what is known to Eastern philosophers as the "unity of opposites". As a research exercise, search for "digital physics", and you will be taken to the sub-Planck scale of our physical world retaining its essential binary character of "particles" flicking in and out of existence (Hawking).
From our essential physical and logical binary fact, we proceed to view the interconnectedness of everything, in our case homo sapiens sapiens. A chain of being emerges as a spectrum of interconnectedness ranging from the simplest entity through our subspecies and to the Universe beyond, each "stage", itself exhibiting process and motion. Feynman's Character of Physical Law applies here. What process is true for one aspect of our world is true for another aspect.
How abstract this must seem even to the well-educated academic, but organicity it is permeating our world, each entity from the simplest existing because of what it is not through the exciting possibility of parallel universes. Ignoring organicity courts failure and disaster, not unlike flaunting the laws of physics in favor of illusion. So true does this hold for our immediate social environment.
What is the characteristic of this homo sapiens sapiens organism? Most complex animals have a focal point coordinating action, i.e., brains, in the immediate case, social ones. Without extensive discourse, I refer you to an excellent description by this nomenclature by Emile Durkheim in his The Division of Labor in Society. "Collective consciousness" captures the essence of organicity, each individual a part of the whole, and the whole framing the individual, again a unity of opposites to provide humanity its essence.
Our subspecies as an organism is not healthy, any more than its individuals are with COVID-19. Populism, racism, predatory economics, widespread anti-scientific views, environmental destruction, and failure to provide universally-accessible social services are symptoms of a social disease. Our social brain must come to the fore within structured society, the State, replacing anarchy and communicating to Mother Nature we have the will to represent the best a civilized sub-species has to offer.
We have come full circle, a pandemic challenging the very existence of the homo sapiens sapiens organism. How ironic Mother Nature knows we are an organism but we have to introspect to know we are just that, Now, our question is not how we can be healthy, but how our subspecies as an organism can be so. Let's use this time to think about it but just as important acting with collective consciousness to save the organism we are.