By way of precursor, I’ve never been good at making friends. I’ve always been good at telling brutal truth. These may be related…
The worst (best?) case scenario from the coronavirus pandemic is that 60-80% of the world’s population gets infected over the next few months. Based on Korean data, a bit under 1% will die because their systems can’t cope. The question: how few? If it is only three or four, the mortality rate will be much higher, say around 6%, because social care and medical systems won’t be able to cope with the demand, and many who could recover with adequate care won’t receive it.
Yes, that’s 450m people. In context, less than five times the number of people who pass away each year anyway simply from population turnover.
But… there are two variations on this theme. And here, things get speculative.
The world goes into lockdown. The virus’ spread is slowed, that health care systems might cope. The death rate is kept sub-1% (the same as annual turnover). The pandemic takes years to play out. There may be an effective vaccine before it’s over. The cost is that everything grinds to a halt. We are already seeing that a significant portion of the world’s economy revolves around “non-essential” activity, whether entertainment, leisure, travel, convenience-eating, socialising, wellness… And there is a double knock-on effect from all these industries: their suppliers will suffer the shortfall, and their workers will not be in a position to contribute economically. (Dig deep enough, very little passes the essentiality test.)
But… the point of the measures in place is to slow the spread; the aim to make the pain tolerable by extending it. The resultant socio-economic collapse will not be tolerable. There will be bigger issues to deal with than the increased death rates. This is an invitation to the end of society as we know it, the emergence of the dystopian future many stories are built on. If we escape with an eventual death rate below 20% – with any form of government other than despotic fiefdoms – I will be surprised.
The world reverses course; we encourage life to continue. We accept the inevitability of the situation. Yes, it will mean a massive spike in cases, and five years’ worth of deaths in months. It will be a culling of humanity an order of magnitude greater than the Spanish Flu a century ago. But, because the infection rate will be so high, we will quickly reach saturation; there will be no one left to infect. Without question, the economy will take a knock; probably not enough to dislodge the growth-is-good mentality, but maybe enough to buy us another five years to save the planet from the destruction we seem so intent on inflicting.
Of course, to accept this scenario, humanity will need to embrace a lesson that will be key to its future survival: even if we consider the very concept of life to be sacred, that doesn't mean that human life is. It certainly doesn't mean that every individual’s life is sacrosanct.
(To anyone claiming that the sanctity of human life devolves from divine edict, I remind you that those narratives include a duty of stewardship, which you have patently failed to uphold.)
We are at this point in human history not because a virus jumped from one species to another. We are at this point because of the mindset embraced by society. Tribalism, religion, and their ilk have promoted the need to protect every individual life, in order to have more of “us” than of “them”, without thought for the consequences; this has led to an excess of population. We have reached a point where we serve little purpose other than to feed a system of indulgent consumption and procreation. We have become fertile ground for the next alpha predator, however small, however self-defeating.
It is the cycle of life.
We can either face this existential threat under the influence of the same amygdalaic drivers that got us into this mess in the first place or with pragmatic rationality. (Hint: as Einstein said, We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.) Fear and panic serve only to generate more of the same, to abdicate responsibility for the future and for our complicity in creating the situation that so stresses us.
Let’s get on with living our lives – what’s left of them, anyway.
Now, to anyone who would say that I might be one of those to die: so what? If is live, I live; I would prefer it not to be in a dystopian world. If I die, I won't be around to give a damn, those (few) who might care will get over it soon enough, and the only lasting impact will be the millions who won't get to read the stories I would otherwise write… a loss about which they will be none the wiser.