What a Pandemic can Teach us About Human Existence

We’re all stuck on this same planet. There are no teams. There is no us versus them. We are all human. We will survive together or die divided.

Think about it this way.

The Earth as a Village

Instead of 7.5 billion people on the planet, there are only 75 people and they all live in the same village. Barren desert that cannot support life surrounds the village.

Seven of these 75 villagers own 85% of total wealth in this village while 27 live in extreme poverty. The rich make their money by extracting value, labor, and resources from the work of the poor and by keeping the wages of the poor low. This is not illegal and is, in fact, promoted as the best economic system.

Right now, the village is dealing with a plague that could kill one to three of these people just in the first round of contagion. The rich houses have better access to the village doctors and medical treatments while the poor struggle just to have enough food for their households. Though the rich have better care, they are still at risk as the plague circulates through the village.

At the village level, it makes the most sense to ensure as many as possible have access to preventative health measures, adequate nutrition, and medical treatment. Disease tends to kill and spread among the weakest of us.

However, the village system is set up for each person to only care for their own household. Each man an island. So, we instead hoard and hunker down in our houses caring only for ourselves as the plague spreads unabated …

Where do we go from here?

Throughout history individual humans and families were driven to hoard to survive winters, famines, and other catastrophes. This made sense when resources were scarce, and our understanding of risks was limited. Today, we no longer live in a resource and information constrained world. This idea is called post scarcity.

The village, today, produces enough food for 100 villagers when we only have 75. The 27 villagers who live in extreme poverty can’t get food, not because it’s unavailable, but because they can’t afford it given the village’s economic structure. Healthcare is scarcer with 38 villagers (50 percent) without access. Profit favoring patent laws and manipulative drug pricing increase that scarcity.

Yet, what if we looked at our problems differently? What if we realized that we’re all on the same team? Team village. Team Human.

Each human has the potential to create the next idea that will save humanity. It seems wasteful to squander the talents of 36 percent of our village’s population who spend their days struggling to feed themselves. We need to find new ways to produce and distribute the critical resources of food, water, medicine, and education to maximize human potential. Maximizing human potential in these ways is a proactive, defensive measure we can take regardless of future threats. Then, we also need to look at specific threats to the whole village in the long term instead of only threats to our houses in the short term.

Future pandemics, climate change, global war, and space-based dangers all threaten human existence. We must, for the survival of our species, redirect our resources to address these threats in sustainable ways.

The current crisis shows, to a limited extent, what happens when we don’t.

I truly hope we use the period of enforced reflection to realize how fragile our position in the universe really is. There exist so many threats to continued human existence, but we squander our energy and, most importantly, our time trying to hoard individual or national resources. How much better prepared could we be for the next pandemic, or climate change, if only we stood in solidarity with our fellow humans?

Let us not waste this crisis. We must remember we are all human, and therefore, force our systems to change to better serve humanity.

Andrew Caulk