Tim Weiskel, “A Chapter in an Ongoing Crisis,” a contribution to the forum After the Pandemic: Which Future?, Great Transition Initiative (July 2020), https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/pandemic-scenario-weiskel [PDF Version of essay]
GTI Forum – A Chapter in an Ongoing Crisis [from] — Forum (Round 1) on After the Pandemic: Which Future?
Tim Weiskel, July 2020
There will be no “post-COVID” world simply because we are all now in a global disease pool. We always have been, of course, but we did not fully realize this because our common anthropocentrism blinded us to the fallacy of our underlying belief in hominid exceptionalism.
Somehow—we told ourselves—we would be exempted from the destruction of one ecosystem after another around the world. We would remain—we thought—“exceptions” to the system-wide degradation of habitats and the extinction of all other life-forms. We were, after all, an “intelligent” species, an “inventive” species, and for that reason a “privileged” species above all others in our capacity to foresee and plan with scientific insight and technical skills. Surely, these capacities would save us and our civilization.
Well, perhaps not. This comfortable and widely shared narrative is now seen to be what it was all along: a grand illusion. As biologists have long pointed out, in evolutionary terms, intelligence may not prove to be “adaptive.” It is no guarantee of survival, especially when our capacity for intelligence is deployed to kill ever greater numbers of our own species and fundamentally destroy the key elements of our species-wide life-support systems (topsoil, biodiversity, potable water supplies, sustainable agriculture, etc.)
As we learn more about COVID-19, it appears that it will not go away. It may well settle into a pattern of behaving like a “seasonal flu,” but largely because it will migrate between the Southern and Northern Hemisphere as the seasons change. In addition, there are a range of coronaviruses to which humans are exposed, each of which can mutate and thereby change its virulence in reference to the human populations in the future. For this reason, there is not likely to be a post-coronavirus period in human history from now onward. We will have to adjust in radically new ways, shifting our understanding about ourselves, our behavior, and our assumptions about our role from that of a “dominant species” to that of a “participant species” in a complex ecosystem.
This is not a trivial matter. The reason is that although we know this is necessary, we do not believe it. Our knowledge systems are far out of sync with our operative belief systems. This is frequently the case in human history—especially under conditions of radical systemic transformation. Belief systems drive our behavior—not, generally speaking, our knowledge systems. We will need to transform some of our core beliefs if we expect to change our behavior in ways that can help us survive beyond the COVID-19 crisis.