What are we learn­ing from the coro­n­avirus?

Orlando Sentinel - - Opinion - By Grant Corn­well

Through the mas­sive tur­bu­lence and tri­als that COVID-19 is pre­sent­ing, what are we learn­ing?

These re­flec­tions are not con­clu­sions but sup­po­si­tions, ten­ta­tive and in­com­plete be­cause we are in the mid­dle of some­thing re­ally big. I of­fer them in a spirit of col­lab­o­ra­tion and en­cour­age read­ers to add to the list, or mod­ify it, or elab­o­rate on it, be­cause this is a fe­ro­ciously dy­namic pe­riod of hu­man learn­ing — not about the virus, but about the global econ­omy, the state of civil so­ci­ety, and about the hu­man con­di­tion.

■ We are learn­ing that our thor­oughly glob­al­ized econ­omy is also thor­oughly por­ous and in­ter­con­nected. In­for­ma­tion and mis­in­for­ma­tion travel at the speed of the in­ter­net; viruses travel at the speed of planes, trains, ships, and au­to­mo­biles. We are learn­ing that our re­liance on travel car­ries with it not just busi­ness trans­ac­tions, the shar­ing of knowl­edge, cul­tures, and ideas, but also the se­ri­ous risks. Per­haps, on the other side of this, peo­ple will choose to travel more pur­pose­fully.

■ We are learn­ing that hu­mans are es­sen­tially so­cial crea­tures and that so­cial dis­tanc­ing is sim­ply and com­pletely for­eign to our na­ture. It is not good for us. It pro­duces anx­i­ety, sad­ness, and de­pres­sion. From An­cient Greek to African philoso­phies, thinkers have elab­o­rated on our so­cial na­ture as that which makes us hu­man; the Bantu term “Ubuntu” refers to hu­man­ity, the mean­ing of which can be trans­lated as “I am be­cause we are.”

■ For all our propen­sity to fo­cus on so­cial ills, we are learn­ing that, in fact, we do have a global civil so­ci­ety. Peo­ple the world over, for the most part, are do­ing what they are asked, not by rule of mar­tial law but just be­cause it is the right thing to do. Cur­tail­ing per­sonal free­doms for the com­mon good is the def­i­ni­tion of civil so­ci­ety, and we are see­ing it in prac­tice.

■ We are also learn­ing that, even in the con­text of glob­al­iza­tion, na­tions mat­ter. Na­tions can mo­bi­lize co­or­di­nated action in ways that no in­ter­na­tional body can. Na­tion­al­ism can be highly cor­ro­sive, but co­he­sive, well-gov­erned na­tions can be a source of sol­i­dar­ity and col­lec­tive will to do im­por­tant things.

■ We are learn­ing that hu­mans are crea­tures that make plans. Maybe this is what is most es­sen­tially hu­man: we plan. We have ideas, vi­sions, and as­pi­ra­tions for our fu­ture, in­di­vid­u­ally, as or­ga­ni­za­tions, and as na­tions. We pur­sue them with great vigor and pas­sion.

■ And yet this pan­demic has been an awein­spir­ing les­son in hu­mil­ity. We are learn­ing that, plan as we might, we are sub­ject to forces we can­not con­trol and these forces smash plans be­neath their feet like giants walk­ing among ants. Is it more cruel or less that this virus has no in­ten­tions? It is do­ing noth­ing on pur­pose, which is to say it is ut­terly in­dif­fer­ent to the havoc it is wreak­ing on our plans.

■ We are learn­ing that science and ex­per­tise mat­ter and that science pro­gresses through un­fet­tered ex­change of re­search, data, and ideas. Even as there are move­ments to close bor­ders, sci­en­tists have been shar­ing their work to solve prob­lems ir­re­spec­tive of na­tional bound­aries. What can we learn from the global cul­ture of sci­en­tific re­search that might help us col­lab­o­rate more ef­fec­tively in other ar­eas?

■ We are learn­ing that na­ture is ut­terly in­dif­fer­ent to our trou­bles and still ra­di­antly beau­ti­ful. Spring has ar­rived, the birds are go­ing about their busi­ness, and the sun rises and sets daily with all of its majesty. We should re­flect on the irony that this dis­ease that is quelling hu­man ac­tiv­ity is, there­fore, help­ing na­ture flour­ish.

■ Through­out the en­tire ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem, from pre-K through univer­sity, so essen­tial for the re­pro­duc­tion of civil so­ci­ety men­tioned above, we are learn­ing that on­line learn­ing is a poor sub­sti­tute for the class­room, the stu­dio, and the lab. It does not have the rigor, ac­count­abil­ity, en­gage­ment or depth of the learn­ing that takes place in the con­text of hu­man relationsh­ips. We have a na­tion of stu­dents who are telling us that they sim­ply do not learn as much or as wellat a com­puter screen.

The prob­lem with dystopian science fic­tion is that it some­times comes true. This pan­demic has cre­ated stress on ev­ery so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in historic pro­por­tions. We are in the midst of learn­ing hard lessons, but also good lessons, with great ur­gency. We would do well to take note of them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.