Corona Infodemic and My 10 Takeaways

As I am not of medical profession, I will try to avoid interpreting this virus that the whole world is plagued with. Whether it is really so dangerous or not, whether it is a conspiracy or just a coincidence... I really don't know and I have absolutely no firm stand about it.

These questions seem to be unanswered by the greatest experts. And so the fear and concern have enveloped the planet. I have observed lately that even extremely smart, educated and reasonable people succumb to panic, stacking food, disinfectants and putting their families to safety.

Scientist are still in the dark about some vital features of this virus which could help hack the same to make a vaccine. It is mutating, adjusting to the body of a new host, we are still getting used to each other.

Corona as infodemic

I will try to address this issue from internethics perspective, and above all a human one. Because it seems to me that corona has revealed all frailties of our civilization, a consumerist and capitalistic culture and a networked globalized society.  

This virus has introduced a new term, infodemic, as the panic that swept the world with a devastating speed, emptying the shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies in most of the countries.

empty shelves

I really don't believe that this threat is a child's play, nor the "funniest virus in the history of mankind". But this unprecedented panic is really strange and it reflects all weaknesses of our culture and civilization.

Compared to some previous pandemics, apart from the way it is biologically transferred in, Covid-19 also differs in the speed and width of information spreading.

The last known pandemic (H1N1) took place in 2009. Back then, we also had the Internet and Facebook and Twitter and electronic media... Yet, social networks were not used in the same manner.

Today they have become the global hotbed of fake news, unverified information, hysterical announcements of people yearning for instant fame, likes and shares, but also those truly scared.

How to separate the wheat from the chaff in these circumstances? How to find credible information when we need them most? How to behave when we are not sure what kind of danger lurks for us and our families?

How to remain sane and reasonable in such circumstances, when our actions are commanded by emotions and existential fears. It is even harder to demonstrate humaneness and empathy towards the ones who are much worse off, to whom corona seems like a child's play.

It seems natural that under the threat of incurable and deadly disease the man is turned into a selfish animal ready to do anything to ensure survival for himself and his offsprings. He will do anything to preserve at least a semblance of control.

Fear-induced concessions

Fearing for their own lives, people rearrange their priorities. They have temporarily pushed aside low-priority threats. These threats will get back, with increased intensity, once the primary fear is dissolved.

In such state of mind, people are not only susceptible to manipulation, but they are also ready to cede their human and civil rights to higher goals - preserving life and health. The right of free movement, freedom of speech, free movement of goods and capital, border crossings, are restricted and people voluntarily opt for self-isolation.

The fact that the US closed its borders for Europeans for the first time after the Boston Tea Party may not appear that strange, but for Africa to say no as late as in the 21st century, that is a true irony of fate.

EU de facto exists no more, at least some of the fundamental principles it is founded on. Its members turn into nation states, introducing their own rules. Common market and Schengen zone are virtually abolished.

While some states seal their borders (to deter both migrants and corona), others still hesitate, but not for long. Some ban the export of basic provisions and hygiene products, others frantically buy and import the same. The situation is pretty chaotic...

Healthcare systems are choking up, educational institutions are wound down, sport and cultural events are being massively cancelled, everything is brought to a halt, just like in an apocalyptic movie.

The western world that is wired to have full comfort and control is facing something it can control no more. It creates immense frustration and anxiety for its citizens, unaccustomed to the images of ravaged stores and empty streets, save in a TV coverage coming from a third-world country.  

The prospective consequences on economy look appalling. The most developed countries are already shaking, the poorer ones have been in agony for a long time, they will experience cascade effects of the depression once it spills over.

Any good prospects?

I have to note that besides fear I notice yet another feeling among people these days - relief. A sentiment shyly emerging from beneath the surface, but an apparent one.

As if everybody was relieved to take a break, as if they had all waited for this hasty world to stop, at least for a day.

To pause and consider everything from a realistic perspective. The man should slow down its hectic rush, arrogance, megalomania. We should retrieve our basic values, the nature we run away from, which is showing its sharp teeth now.

We got carried away in our anthropocentric mythomania. Trapped in our belief that we are the last link in the evolution chain and that there is nothing after us. We believe this world would not exist without us. Even though it actually disappears under our feet.

I am not trying to say that panic is ungrounded, but we seem to have some red herrings here. The whole world stopped for a virus whose death rate is measured in permilles. If only we could show such empathy to other living beings and the eco-system in general.

Technology helps a lot at this moment, people can (dis)inform themselves, online education is staged in developed countries, remote work from home has been enabled, one can order food and groceries online, pay bills by e-banking, it is also an excellent source of entertainment and important information, etc.

Nevertheless, these are strange times which can serve as an acid test for the values we aspire to. People in quarantines are detained in their homes, with their devices and technology which had already thrown them in shackles long time ago. Yet, it proved insufficient and freedom is still worthier than all material possessions.

Robbed of culture, sports, socializing, life is pretty dull, isn't it. You cannot have everything online after all.

We are isolated from social contacts (alienation finally formalized) and we are forced to organize a quality time with our families. Isn't it what we have been missing all this time? And now that we have it, it seems somehow awkward and exasperating, when we are forced to reconnect and communicate again.

An optimist in me wants to believe that this is a chance for humanity to change its perspective. But, unfortunately, numerous past experiences show that once the reasons for fear are gone, all streams return to their beds and the river continues to flow with even more intensive force.

As far as I am concerned, these are some takeaways I have personally drawn from this pandemic:

1. Humans have strayed from nature too much and we should get back where we belong as soon as possible.

2. We are no more industrious, better nor clever than other living beings.

3. Our current form of government is unsustainable and humanity should pave the way for new standards and norms.

4. It is not before we are faced with misery and fear of death that we realize that we are all actually the same - rich or poor, famous or anonymous, Christians or Muslims, women or men.

5. Life exists even when the wheel of capitalism is stopped for a while.

6. Life is possible, even desirable, outside major cities.

7. Animals should not be eaten, killed, nor grown for food.

8. Fear is a stronger driver than love, but only love can conquer fear.  

9. The most powerful weapons and the most advanced technology cannot fight a single-cell nano organism.

10. Cooperation among states and nations is possible.

People can be pretty well organized and systematic and they can overcome even the greatest hardships with joint efforts, if they have a proper incentive. Globalization is not necessarily bad if put to good use.

Provided that we live to see it, I hope I will comply with these 10 commandments, that is why I jotted them down. Lest I forget.