Coronavirus: We Are All Interconnected

Vox did its usual excellent job of reporting and analysis in the above video about the origins of the coronavirus. Now that the WHO officially declared the virus a pandemic—and since I live in Seattle, one of the epicenters of the virus—here are a few philosophical lessons that we might relearn.

I know it’s simplistic, but a major lesson is that we are really “all in this together.” I know this cliché is trite but it still points to an important truth. If you watch the video above you will find that, because there’s a market for consuming exotic animal meat among the wealthy, we’re all threatened with a pandemic. Halfway around the world, someone had a taste for exotic animal meat and thus you might die from a virus. Talk about the butterfly effect!

Yes, there is a sense in which we live together on spaceship earth! I don’t mean to deny the competitive struggle for existence that characterizes both our evolutionary history and the world today. When others are buying all the groceries in the stores we may have to modify our own behavior. But the solution to this example of a prisoner’s dilemma is to recognize that we all do better and none of us do worse when we all cooperate. We are often in non-zero-some games. (Non-zero sum games describe situations where both parties involved in an interaction can gain something. Zero-sum games are when one party’s gain is the other party’s loss, that is, the sum is zero.)

The other lesson is how much we depend on each other. When people get sick they clamor for help from health-care workers—acting as if their lives depend on it! Where would any of us be without the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, researchers and others trying to keep us healthy? You may think that you are an independent individual. But you are not. Your life depends now, as it did in the past and will do so in the future, on others. This should humble us all.


Since my post, this Washington Post op-ed expressed similar ideas.

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5 thoughts on “Coronavirus: We Are All Interconnected

  1. The profound nature of our interconnectivity is so well explained in this and its hotlinks. Really thoughtful and thought provoking.

  2. Thank you, this was excellent. My wife is a professor of green criminology who has specialised in studying the trade of wildlife and endangered species for over a decade. It is extremely frustrating to us that this has been allowed to go on for so long. Ironically, she was invited to attend the UN Crime Congress in Kyoto next month, which only happens every five years. We decided to extend that trip into a personal holiday of a lifetime, but now that is very likely to be canceled….by the very thing we have dedicated our lives to fighting.

  3. Florida universities yesterday migrated online until further notice. But Florida’s colleges, under a different board of regents, did not. However, last week already I encouraged students who are ill to stay home and I have set up online assignments for them so that they do not lose attendance credit. A reflection on issues surrounding this video is one of the assignments.

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