Electron-microscopic image of SARS-2-CoV virus

The Chemical Blob That Changed Humanity

Introduction

It is crazy what an invisible fat, protein, and RNA particle has done to humans in a few months, despite not having a nervous system, consciousness, or intent. The SARS-2-CoV virus causes the CoVID-19 illness. It is an inert blob of chemistry. It does not ‘stay alive on surfaces for days’ when coughed or sneezed out — it just falls apart. It is not alive or dead, it just is or is not. It strictly adheres to the laws of Nature including chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics.

Humans are the perfect host to infect. The virus follows very predictable natural laws. Instead of understanding science, humans prefer beliefs and rules we make up in our heads and share, or force others to believe. In the case of this virus, early alarms in China were suppressed by political hierarchies — human created structures. Authoritarian politics does not tolerate the unexpected or being embarrassed. Other government leaders, including the USA, defended their fragile, jittery economic belief systems, promoting calm and ‘business as usual’ despite the virus biology and its simple exponential spread. People in many countries around the world were supposed to be reassured by our leaders, who could negotiate a better ‘deal’ versus the one offered by Nature.

But Nature does not negotiate. Therefore, in order to survive, we need to change our belief systems.

Viruses and Humans

The elegant simplicity of fat, protein, and RNA is like counting using five fingers on one hand. Our human complexity is that of a super-computer, with millions of complex interdependent chemical reactions, specialized organ systems, feedback loops, and a barely understood collaborative relationship with ‘good’ bacteria on and inside our bodies. Despite the incredible sophistication and complexity, our biology also follows the laws of Nature.

Viruses and humans are driven to make more of each other. Humans make highly complex near-copies of themselves, one or a few at a time, over nine months. Viruses make more of themselves, in millions every few hours. Humans have built in on/off switches. Viruses are like cancers; they have an ON but no OFF switch.

As viruses and humans multiply and spread, they injure their hosts. When SARS-2-CoV infects humans, the immune system triggers a series of responses, in some cases leading to death. When humans and their corporations multiply, they disrupt the planet, which can also lead to early death, not only to humans but many other species as well.

SARS-2-CoV’s near infinity viral copies around the world are a monoculture — everyone identical. It spreads among us so effectively because we too are a monoculture. Sure, we are different colours and shapes, but we share far more sameness than differences — a fact the virus appreciates, but in non-pandemic times, we should appreciate too. What we have in common far exceeds our superficial differences.

Human Belief Systems and Fantasies

Ultra-sophisticated humans (complex chemistry, physics, biology), in addition to amazing bodies, have amazing brains. Those brains, over millions of years, realized that we are safer and better off staying and working together, as a highly social species, than we are alone. Almost every other species found the same strategy before us — schools of fish, flocks of birds, packs of wolves, etc. Sharks are an interesting exception.

The other really interesting brain development was basic story telling — sharing experiences for the benefit of others. Those stories became more and more complex over time and developed into whole complicated belief systems. The shared beliefs provide order and comfort in the uncertainty of life on this planet. The belief systems used today are shared broadly — religions, politics, economies, money, social hierarchies, all made up in our minds. They are all ‘software’ ideas or fantasies that have resulted in hardware creation like countries, religious structures, economic mathematical models, currency, partisan politics to list a few. They have become fixed and have been followed relatively unquestioned over decades or centuries. We learn or are told to accept inequality, accept precarious work as better than nothing, and are blasted with biased information. We are so busy reacting and surviving that we rarely stop to question where it is all going.

That was life as we knew it before late December 2019.

CoVID-19 and a Revision of Human Values and Priorities

Then along came the novel SARS-2-CoV. Ultra-basic inert chemical blob versus ultra-sophisticated humans. It is attacking our fragile bodies AND our fragile belief systems. It revealed leaders who prefer fantasies over science. The ECONOMY, our invented god,

is the shared belief system at the root of almost everything. It, like the viral particle on the tabletop is rapidly falling apart. It is revealing who the most important people are in our society. It is not the millionaires and billionaires — uber successful in the former economic fantasy — who, like sharks, are hiding alone on super yachts and bunkers around the world, including one in the White House. It is not many of our political leaders. A few have stepped way up, and many have withered.

The important people in our day-to-day society are basic front-line healthcare providers and first responders, care workers in elder-homes, grocery store clerks, supply chain truckers and warehouse workers, local bankers (not investment bubble criminals), farmers, essential government service workers, and others. The ‘viral’ collapse of the economy, created by elites, revealed its fragile underpinnings — the huge number of casual and part-time workers. They gave up security, benefits, and the ability to save for retirement or cushion events like this, so corporations could maintain profits. Those workers immediate needs are highlighting another false belief, that government is bad, the unregulated free market good.

Where is the free market as federal, state and provincial governments support all people? While the rich can afford to fall and survive, the poor and middle class cannot. Past corporate bail outs have never ‘trickled down’ to workers. Instead, we are perhaps seeing the beginning of a ‘basic living wage’ as governments distribute money to those in need. Many want to return to pre-virus ‘normal’; but it was not normal. It was unjust. As taxpayers, WE are the government. We can decide what role government should have and what a well-regulated inclusive capitalist economy will provide.

Human Fantasies vs the Ecosystem

The virus revealed another fact: we share the planet with millions of plants and animals. The global shutdown cut pollution and waste almost overnight! Decades of climate meetings in Copenhagen, Kyoto, Paris and others have been theatrical debates between politicians, economists and scientists fantasizing acceptable timelines to change our habits. Nature however follows the unyielding laws of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Despite our fantasies, Nature decides on the timing of earthquakes, floods, continental fires, and the reactions to the imbalance of carbon in the atmosphere. This is a magical moment for an actual and metaphorical ‘clearing of the air’ to align our perceived needs with a sustainable ecosystem. There are no options.

Conclusion

Nature does not negotiate.

Hubris: excessive pride or self-confidence. The chemical blob SARS-2-CoV has revealed our collective hubris. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Sadly, many humans have died and will die. Hopefully, as we rebuild our strength, we will remember that humans are just one little piece of Nature’s complex puzzle. We cannot gain dominion over Her. We share the planet with millions of other species. We are part of a complex adaptive ecosystem.

Human ingenuity is immensely powerful when focused. In non-pandemic times, it is the essence of human activity and production, organized into a trading and sharing economy. The pandemic has also revealed the protective, inclusive and distributive role of strong government. It supports fair business and regulations that enable human imagination, creativity, productivity, safety, and inclusivity.

Let’s advocate loudly for a very different new normal that is consistent with our place in Nature. We want to return to work, but cannot go back to precarious jobs that under-value fellow humans. We want a strong economy, but not one that is unjust, exclusive, and wasteful. Human created social/organizational beliefs must better align with reality and the basic laws of Nature. We are the government. Make your opinion known.

A timely simple lesson from a simple chemical blob.

Dr. John Ross

Medical Director PRAXES Medical Group

Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine

Dalhousie University

Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
John Ross

John Ross

Emergency Physician, Prof. Dept of EM @ Dalhousie University, Halifax. Medical Director PRAXES Medical Group — Telemed for global remote workers and adventurers