Some Primary Lessons from Covid-19

Some Primary Lessons from Covid-19

As we enter the eight month of our confrontation with the pandemic of Covid-19, it’s time to brush up on some primary lessons we have learnt since its outbreak, so that we can make our institutions, systems and our personal lives more robust for the future.
Small is beautiful: It was not the poor healthcare system in USA, Europe, or India which made them the worst sufferers of the pandemic, but rather their globalised economies and connectedness with other world markets. The only exception was that of China, which shut down all its external operations after realizing the gravity of the situation. The fact that the country has a centrally-controlled single-party system gives it an additional advantage. Economies outstretched for gaining higher profits and tapping newer markets but that increased risks as well. Also, higher complexity invariably means higher fragility for systems. Biological-level effects of ELEs (extinction-level events) even in the distant past on complex life forms including higher mammals were far more catastrophic than that on simple microscopic or microbial life. Biological simplicity saved microorganisms from catastrophes. Small is less fragile, therefore, more beautiful.
Be certain of uncertainty: Heraclitus’s famous saying, ‘Change is the only constant’, needs to be complemented with the ‘nature’ of change as well. Some changes are obvious and foreseeable, while others are simply unforeseeable. “What we do not know, that we cannot control” is more important to understand than “what we know, that we can control”. We consider the ‘visible’ variables of change but not the multiple invisible variables. Black-Swan and Grey-Swans are rarer than White Swan events but their effects are far more cataclysmic. The saying that ‘You cannot step into the same river twice” doesn’t merely mean that the water you step into ‘now’ is not the same as the water you stepped into a while ago, but rather that there might not even be any water at all to step into in the future. The river owes you no explanation for that.
All plans are contingent: As a corollary to the second point, we must treat all our plans as contingent or transient, and always consider the possibility of them not being fulfilled. This mental perception has two advantages. First, it will train your mind to develop parallel-alternative plans (in case the primary plan doesn’t materialise), and secondly, it will significantly lessen the frustration when your plan is aborted or collapses, the probability of which always exists as the pandemic has illustrated to us.
Lindy Effect: It may be surprising to many, but social distancing and community quarantine are not any novel methods devised by modern scientists but rather an age-old practice in many civilisations to contain the spread of viruses and pandemics. Many religious texts allude to the practice, like the Old Testament and the Hadiths. When it comes to leveraging against unforeseeable events, we must take into account the Lindy Effect, which pertains to the time period for which a particular practice or idea has endured in history. The longer it is, the better. For instance, it is estimated that humans have been doing hunting for 70,000 years and started practicing agriculture only 12,000 years ago (approximately), which means that hunting is likely to outlive agricultural-cultivation. Same is the case with meat-eating, which has allowed humans to survive in harsh climates and therefore is likely to endure for far more time than modern deviations like vegetarianism. So, pay close attention to the anecdotes of your grandmother next time. She might be making more sense than the most ‘modernised’ expert out there. Hegel’s ‘We learn from history that we can never learn from history’ is not necessarily true.
Endorse Localism: This pandemic also taught us the critical importance of prioritising local producers and markets and being appreciative of them. Just as a person knows his own body better than the most sophisticated expert of any ‘science’ out there, similarly local or cottage industries have this advantage of being more conversant with the local needs and demands of customers, besides having ‘physical’ proximity to them. ‘Brand fascination’ is costing people their economic sustainability without them even realising it. Granted, most of the local industries are small and as such aren’t able to leverage from the global economic union, but they also remain safe from its debacles. ‘Think globally, act locally’ actually has far greater positive economic impact than what the slogan seems to convey at surface.
Economic Fragility: It is not just the migrant labour crisis (which became almost a humanitarian issue here in India) but also the disproportionate asymmetry between import-exports, luxury-necessity goods, and the way all these variables collectively contribute to unsustainability, which has brought to the fore the economic fragility of the world. In future, economic policy makers need to consider unforeseeable catastrophes while formulating their policies. It’s not enough to merely have an ‘Emergency Fund’ when those at the helm of affairs are ignorant as to how to use the funds.
We Need Planet Earth, Not Vice-Versa: Always remember that humans as a species do not function as any important link in the natural ecosystem. Almost all other species are, in some way or another, indispensable for the sustainment of life on this planet. For instance, if plants cease to perform the function of photosynthesis or if animal species (herbivorous and carnivorous both) don’t counter-balance each other, then it would severely disrupt the balances of many natural ecosystems. Even microbial life, and the functions it performs, is crucial for sustaining life on earth. All species function that way to maintain the environmental equilibrium. Only humans don’t. It seems as if we are ‘imposed’ on all other species of earth. Biologically, yes, we are mammals but in terms of our collective behaviour and practices, it is very difficult to categorise our species. This pandemic has taught us that planet earth is ‘okay’ even without us. It is important to learn and practise sustainable development and make our existence harmonious with the rest of the environment and other species. That is the only way we can survive as a species in the long run.
It is not just ethical but also rational to care about others: Years ago, mathematician and economist John Nash realised that for businesses to be sustainable, it is imperative to consider the welfare of other competitors as well. ‘Best results would come with everyone in the group doing best for himself as well as for the group’, he said while explaining the limits of Adam Smith’s theory on economic competition. Covid-19 has taught us the same principle from a social perspective. Social distancing or wearing masks, for instance, is saving oneself alongside upholding collective good. A tacit realisation that our good is inevitably intertwined with the good of others is thus an important lesson to learn from Covid-19. And that all cardinal virtues and ‘golden means’ of religions have a practical worth as well.

—faizanraa969@gmail.com

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