The howling wind against my window reminds me of the coronavirus. Ruthless and breathtaking, neither storm nor plague has a master. Mindless and amoral, they go about their business with a fury and a shuddering indifference. If ever there was a time that revealed that humankind is not the center of the universe, it is now.
A minuscule virus is running riot through our lives — and taking too many lives. Viruses themselves are not even alive, strictly speaking. They are just bits of nucleic acid and protein that invade cells, take control, and explode into more virus. Mysterious, purposeless, devastating. They will not destroy human civilization, but a great leveling is taking place. Viruses are a part of nature and always have been. Scientists theorize that they are responsible for quite a bit of evolution as they transfer genes from organism to organism. But theories are little comfort to us now. We are humbled in the face of this devastation.
Humility can be valuable if it informs action. Experience, too, informs action. So, what have we learned at this turning point in history?
First, we rely on our government. There is no such thing as going it alone. Libertarians and small-government Republicans should walk away from that debate — there is no debate. We need the assistance of local, regional, state, and federal governments. We need a strong president (would that we had one!), joined, and sometimes countered, by a robust Congress, informed by a wise judiciary, and watched by a free press. Moreover, as the world becomes a smaller place in the face of a pandemic or the threat of climate change, we need more international governance. The United Nations should be what it sounds like. Call me a globalist, call me a socialist, but we need more government — good government — in our lives.
Second, we need science. The complexities of the challenges we face can be dealt with only by using the tools of science. While any human enterprise is flawed, science is the best approach we have for determining the true nature of rising threats and the options for countering them. The objectivity of the scientific method, the cooperative sharing of information among scientists, the testing and retesting of hypotheses, the reliance on proof: these constitute the best weapon we have to survive in a changing world. Whether they be epidemiologists or medical researchers, ecologists or climate scientists, they need to lead the way and be listened to.
But without a substantial rise in the level of understanding of the general public (and some of our leaders), science will not be given its due. A 2017 poll found that twice as many people believed in creationism (38 percent) than in evolution (19 percent) as an explanation for our world; roughly 90 percent of respondents believed in angels. We need an emphasis on enhanced education, so that we can understand the explanations that our scientists provide.
And one more thing: Science can provide data and information, science can lay out options and alternatives, but the choices we make, whether on an individual or societal level, must be our own. For guidance in these choices we must turn to the moralists and philosophers in our midst, be they religious leaders or secular, humanist thinkers. The religious institutions of the world have been remiss — with some notable exceptions — in adequately addressing the moral and spiritual dangers we face. Ultimately, though, we must turn inward and commune with our true selves, to find the answers for moving forward.
What do you truly stand for? Are you contributing to a world you believe in?