Opportunity and the Coronavirus

Toward a New Solidarity

Mary Catherine Bateson cultural anthropologist

This is a moment of opportunity.  While we confront a wide range of uncertainties and possible dangers connected to the Coronavirus right now, if we make the right choices now, they may represent a precious investment in knowledge of how to respond in the future.  Here are some guidelines, that can be applied to many perils:

      1. Rely on the best available science. We already have the case of a dread disease virtually eliminated by a well-coordinated global effort, infantile paralysis or polio as well as the more recent SARS and Ebola.  We know how to develop protective vaccines and we know a lot about how to distribute the vaccine in difficult environments.
      2. Cooperate, cooperate, cooperate. To avoid spread, nations must work together on efficient quarantines and tracking of affected individuals, as well as making sure that the needs of those under quarantine are met, and ways found to deal respectfully and safely with the bodies of the deceased, while necessary trade continues.

All of this may seem obvious, except that we are currently observing two global trends that could make both impossible.   One is skepticism and denial of frightening scientific findings.  The other is the erosion of international cooperation in the face of national danger.  Both are very human and understandable.   Both are potentially fatal.  Both are visible in reactions to other dangers such as global warming and nuclear armament.

Our knowledge of the scientific issues is greater than ever before.

Collectively, we have the skills and experience to deal with a lethal pandemic.

All of the nationalities and races on the planet belong to a single species, with similar vulnerabilities.

The only good solutions depend on learning a new level of international cooperation.  In this period of resurgent isolationism, we have the opportunity to discover and live by a new solidarity.