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.