Nature answers only when she is questioned – Covid-19

The world today is under attack. It is being assaulted by a vicious microscopic creature that can barely be called a life form. Our world is being attacked by a Coronavirus, which is the same virus that causes Influenza A: Covid-19.

Covid-19. The face of mortal danger.

A few years back, I was watching a TV show called The Walking Dead (TWD). It is a zombie series, whereby a cop gets shot, wakes up in a hospital room many days later, only to discover a world taken over by the living dead.

Like any other good citizen, he tries to go back to his family. And… he can’t find them. The house is empty. He resolves to look for them. He finds them. And then the storyline becomes one where he leads a group of survivors who are being threatened by the zombie hordes from one refuge onto the next, while having quasi-philosophical chats about the nature of survival. All this against a very hobbesian backdrop of famished zombies devouring one of his crew, every so often. I know riveting, riveting stuff.

At some point quite early into the narrative, the main characters begin to wonder as to the nature of the disease that turns any person who dies into a living dead. One overcome by the propensity to devour the flesh of the living. It is a nightmarish notion of the highest order. A simple yet effective way to ally reality and myth. After all, zombies are quite real … in African and Caribbean folklore. It is said that some folks who are cursed do not die. They return from the grave to consume the flesh of the living.

Anyway, such tales are neither here nor there. What matters most is the idea that a virus had started it all. So, in the beginning there was a… tiny virus, which infected the world, condemning the living to an agitated death. No Rest In Peace for the dead, I guess.

Coming back to the metaphoric virus infecting the TWD universe, one cannot cast away from one’s mind how the show’s metaphysical aspects actually make sense and explain the story-line to a tee. In these troubled times of ours, with a pandemic threatening our way of life, the story of the TWD virus, which infects everybody, without their knowledge even, and which makes dead people to come back to “life” as zombies, is perhaps too authentic for some tastes.

The Walking Dead franchise (2010- and still going strong)

But this is not a story about TWD. It is a story about human survival and the need to be prepared.

Knowledge is the best tool in the arsenal of our survival. And our survival is now as always in the hands of those people with the wherewithal, capacity, and inclination to take the fight to the enemy. Finding a cure becomes paramount. Pandemics are scarier than anyone thinks they are. And the current pandemic is one of the scariest our generation is very likely to live through.

But before we delve in let us go back in time to 2005-2006 and to a seminal book written by John M. Barry: The Great Influenza. This book was one of former US President George W. Bush’s go to authorities. Many people, including yours truly, have hold a preconceived view that good old W was a political nullity, a histrionic shadow, meant to amuse the crowd. I have personally misjudged Bush.

For the longest time I considered only his gaffes or many moments of temporary lapses in judgement and political sense, while ignoring that the man, while clearly flawed, might also have had some positive attributes, like the rest of us. I feel prisoner to the easy jokes that the leftist media was making at his expense. For this I must declare make amends: Mea culpa. I was not alone though.

What we did not stopped to consider was that which I’m about to tell you. George W. Bush was a visionary President. Not because he is smart. Many people claim he isn’t. Not because of his presence. Many people cannot forget how easy he ducked when an Iraqi journalist called him a dog and launched a shoe at him during a press conference. The man has excellent reflexes.

No. It is not for these mundane reasons that I call Bush a visionary. In truth, I make this bold claim because he saw Covid-19 coming, and wait for it… because he did something about it. He ordered the Cabinet to prepare a strategy to combat a potential virus, by earmarking funds and expertise, as well as making up plans that would have helped any subsequent government in the event of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, none of its successors thought of fought to keep those plans. The money was reassigned and nothing came of it. So, 14 years later, this happened.

Covid-19 has officially killed almost 100,000 people in 2 months. That figure represents deaths caused by this coronavirus in excess of those caused by seasonal influenza and other major causes of death. And while I am not saying that the stats are inaccurate, I am saying that they can only capture people biometrically processed by health professionals. As for all other people who are dying outside the official channels, their numbers will only be captured in the years to come, maybe.

It took us 100 years to arrive at the 100 million death toll for the Spanish Flu. For the first 25 to 50 years, the world assumed that 25 million people had died in 1918-1920. And it took statisticians another half a century to figure out that the toll was much higher. Thus, statistics are easy to find. Accurate statistics however are quite hard to come by.

World population through time – ad urbe condita so to speak.

After reading Barry’s book about the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, which killed 100 million people or 5.6% of the world population in under two years, the former President made it his administration’s priority to have a plan and financial resources to be able to fight a pandemic of that size, should one read its ugly head in America.

The man is not a genius. He is not Nostradamus’s. He cannot, and it is safe to say, he doesn’t think he can tell the future. But the man can read. And more importantly, he’s got his priorities right. There is only one thing on the face of this Earth that can threaten man’s dominion over it. And that is a virus. Nothing else comes closer. And W. saw the writing on the wall immediately after reading Barry. After all, Barry makes it crystal clear in his extremely well-written book. You have to be willfully moronic to argue against it.

Bush understood the grave warning and he realized that pandemics strike humanity at least a few times per century. Every 100 years or so, a Big One strikes. It is almost pre-ordained. It is Malthusian. It is inevitable. He accepted that nature has the potential to reset human population growth at any given time. A virus is nature’s ultimate malthusian eraser. Covid-19 is one of those wicked little things that can evolve in the space of a few hours, can jump species in a few days, and can decimate populations in a few months. It can and perhaps I should say it has already allied itself with an extant virus already inhabiting a human host, becoming twice as morbid, and a few times as fatal as the original strain.

Barry dixit:

“AN INFECTION is an act of violence; it is an invasion, a rape, and the body reacts violently. John Hunter, the great physiologist of the eighteenth century, defined life as the ability to resist putrefaction, resist infection. Even if one disagrees with that definition, resisting putrefaction certainly does define the ability to live.”

A very interesting take on life. I would say a very Hollywoodian definition of life even. After all, what are the zombies inhabiting the TWD universe, if not living dead who are resisting putrefaction, infecting the living, but not fully dead either. They must be in Dante’s First Circle of Hell. They are in Limbo, neither dead, nor living, always coveting the flesh of the living but never satiated by it.

Jean Le Noir, The Three Living and the Three Dead, folio 322r, Psalter of Bonne de Luxembourg (c. 1348–49, New York, The Cloisters, Inv. 69. 86.)

Jean Le Noir was a great French manuscript illuminator, whose career was informed and inspired by the great pestilence that we have come to know as the Black Death, the mid-14th century bubonic plague.

Read this book and you will understand exactly the situation we are in.

Science is the answer to our single most important epistemological question: will we survive and how? We need to formulate the right questions and we need to understand that nature is the repository of all knowledge. All we need to do is ask nature the truly important questions. But to quote from an Indiana Jones classic: We must choose wisely our questions… or perish from this Earth!

We need strong scientists with robust research skills and absolute freedom of action in their fields of expertise. We need people with major scientific talents who can scan the vast literature and select only those few articles that are both correct and important, and ignore the rest. We need intelligent, dedicated people who can then build a theory by choosing the right set of premises, the data that matters. And we need to empower them to pursue it vertically and connect it horizontally.

We need to reignite the spark that will fuel the rocket of science allowing it to take off into a new era of scientific discovery. And we need that to happen now. Our resilience depends on it. Our lives too. I do not want to contemplate the depths that the human spirit can sink to if we don’t. But I know a few people who could contemplate such depths and were not afraid to immortalize it for posterity.

Christ in Limbo, by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch – (cca. 1575).

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