Some of us, including myself, would secretly love to be in China’s Wuhan right now, experiencing a real-life, post-apocalyptic movie set. The city’s empty streets provide the image of a non-consumerist world at ease with itself.
Coronavirus is all over the news, and I don’t pretend to be a medical specialist, but there is a question I’d like to raise: Where do facts end and where does ideology begin?
The first obvious enigma: There are far worse epidemics taking place, so why is there such an obsession with this one when thousands die daily from other infectious diseases?
Of course, an extreme case was the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, known as Spanish flu, when the death toll is estimated to have been at least 50 million. Around this time, influenza has infected 15 million Americans: at least 140,000 people have been hospitalized and more than 8,200 people killed this season alone.
It seems racist paranoia is obviously at work here – remember all the fantasies about the Chinese women in Wuhan skinning live snakes and slurping bat soup. Whereas, in reality, a big Chinese city is probably one of the safest places in the world.
But there is a deeper paradox at work: The more our world is connected, the more a local disaster can trigger global fear and eventually a catastrophe.
In the spring of 2010, a cloud from a minor volcanic eruption in Iceland brought to a standstill air traffic over most of Europe – a reminder of how, regardless of all its ability to transform nature, humankind remains just another living species on the planet Earth.
The catastrophic socio-economic impact of such a minor event is due to our technological development (air travel). A century ago, such an eruption would have passed unnoticed.
Technological development makes us more independent from nature and at the same time, at a different level, more dependent on nature’s whims. And the same holds for the spread of coronavirus – if it happened before Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, we probably wouldn’t have even heard about it.