How corona kills people, and how it can save humanity

Crises turn the unthinkable into reality. They turn drops into waterfalls. They dust off the things that we wouldn’t dare to look at. Crises are as painful, as they are useful. As dangerous as they are promising: the panic that arises during a crisis is an opportunity to carry out plans, that have long been on the shelf, for those in power. During previous crises, that ended badly.

Roanne van Voorst (PhD) is Anthropologist of the Future and affiliated to the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam

In 2001 an aircraft crashed into the twin towers: in the years that followed a war was declared against ‘terrorism’. For this war laws on privacy were amended in a such a way that governments were given much more power regarding eavesdropping capabilities. The plan for these measures had been around for years: 9/11 provided the chaos needed to allow action.

In 2004, a tsunami raged over Sri Lanka and its adjacent countries: in the months that followed, expensive hotels popped up around the coasts, on the grounds previously inhabited by poor fishermen. The development plans for those hotels had been made years earlier, but people feared protests from the poor, NGOS and human rights organizations. Now they were busy rebuilding houses, caring for the sick, and feeding their children. When they could finally return to their homes, the hotels were already built.

In 2005, eighty percent of the American city of Louisiana was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. The wealthiest residents got out of the city in fully packed cars; the impoverished, those who could not afford personal transportation, were stuck in their homes or in emergency shelters. The latter were so crowded that many people were flown out to other states to wait for the water to get away again. Because the flights were only one-way, many people were unable to return, and there might not have been much point in doing so — on their old properties with their collapsed houses, brand new homes were already built, way too overpriced for the original inhabitants. To facilitate the state’s long-standing plan to make the city more prosperous, modern, and tidy. Katrina provided the momentum that politicians and developers needed.

And now, it’s our turn.

In the year 2020, a virus spread around the globe. In the first few week thousands were already dead because of the virus, with the dead of those people the illusion of control and security, particularly in the western world, also died. Politicians declared the crisis surrounding the virus a pandemic; citizens showed their best side (by helping the elderly and other vulnerable groups, honouring professions that are underpaid but unmissable, teachers who improvise to create schoolwork for children at home, companies that offer services for free), and citizens — out of fear, ignorance or greed — showed their ugliest side (hoarding, spreading fake news on social media, ignoring others, quarrelling and domestic violence, trying to get rich abusing the fear and suffering from others).

The corona crisis turned out to be a magnifying glass. It showed the wrongs in our society: we treat animals in a way that is inhumane and destructive. The habitat for wild animals has become increasingly smaller in the last few decades — we built roads, mines and cities in nature reserves. This plays a role in the increase in zoonosis: infectious diseases that pass from animal to human. Most of these people are poor — one of the factors that made other countries, such as ours, so rich. Some thirty percent of the world’s population lives in slums, and currently 7 million people live in refugee camps. For them, social distancing is not an option; washing your hands with soap is difficult, for the 780 million people in the world who have no access to clean or safe drinking water, and the doctors who treat those people have a great lack of materials and medicines.

Roanne has conducted extensive fieldwork in slums, where Corona is now spreading fast. She has written several books about her experiences — academic (in English) and non-fiction (in Dutch and Indonesian)

Loneliness kills.

In our own country alone, tens of thousands of elderly and other singles live alone, they rarely get visitors. Many more young people who are in constant contact with others, but they do not longer know what a real connection is — both groups feel terribly lonely. This is, as it turns out, is dangerous: the loneliest and most vulnerable die first.

In recent years there have been much cutbacks in our care system. Doctors are overworked and beds are overcrowded. Children and women are abused in their own homes by their fathers and husbands — now more than ever this is because schools, gyms, and offices are closed, but the liquor stores are open — unfortunately aid agencies have been so eroded in recent years that they now have little to offer: the ‘children’s care’ phone is ringing more than ever. With so much attention and devotion, a language has been created that emphasizes false security and a sense of control, that people have forgotten how to deal with uncertainty. There was so much flying, driving and danger that the air was polluted and the water was cloudy.

Amidst all these dynamics, insights and panic, people were facing arguably the most important decisions of their generation. They could do two things. Each individual could try to protect themselves from this virus, if necessary, at the expense of others, and then return to pre-corona reality as quickly as possible. Or they could see that normality had long since ceased to exist. At most, things like greed, inequality, exhaustion, loneliness and a lack of clear information and trust were normalized. If people realized that, they could see themselves again as beings guided by biology and physics, and who depend for their existence on a liveable planet, and on human connections.

And if they would’ve opened their eyes, the Corona crisis would be an opportunity. An accelerator, of a movement that was already underway. Of ideas that were previously seen as too extreme. A movement that advocated more equality, less animal suffering, more nature, less stress, more connection and fewer return trips to Bali. Corona is painful and deadly, and perhaps just what we need to close the cracks in our society, and to finally implement the good, sustainable and honest ideas that already exist.

Roanne van Voorst is a postdoctoral researcher, writer and futurist. Find more info on www.roannevanvoorst.com or follow her on Instagram: Roanne van Voorst (Ph.D)

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Anthropologist of the Future, internationally published author & public speaker

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Roanne van Voorst (Ph.D)

Roanne van Voorst (Ph.D)

Anthropologist of the Future, internationally published author & public speaker

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