18 March 2020
I’m fascinated by the impact this viral pandemic is having on societies the world over. The daily activities of hundreds of millions of people is being affected, and any habit which pertains to unhygienic behaviour is being socially altered.
In cultures where physical touch forms part of daily greetings, viral spread is much more intense: hugging and kissing, shaking hands and arm gripping are all potential sources of infection. Where cultures do not pay much attention to public cleanliness, such as on trains and busses, and how people cough and sneeze, infection rates are also higher.
The death rate is largely focussed on the elderly and those who have a weakened immune system focussed on the lungs. Almost everyone who has died from Covid19 are over 70 years of age. The elderly must be kept isolated from any and all potential carriers.
In Japanese culture, touching someone else is considered inappropriate, unless someone is harassing a foreigner or people are drunk at a party. Many people wear masks whenever they have a cold or suffer from hay fever. Only business people shake hands. No one ever hugs or kisses.
In Italian culture, hugging and kissing and touching hands are all standard greetings for every and anyone, even in hospitals. There is rarely much thought of masks, until corona, and many people use a hand kerchief or tissue for coughing or sneezing.
This pandemic is already altering daily greeting and interaction styles across the globe. The elbow bump and foot tap are becoming more popular, yet a return to nodding one’s head may be more culturally normative than using gun signal to shoot, or appropriating a different culture’s greeting.
With the closure of businesses and thence the termination of salaries, there is no income or tax for economic functioning. As one thread is pulled from the tapestry, so others become lose and yet others are pulled.
As the global economy unravels, the real issue is the actual value of global trade. In the short term, not just global, but national and local economies must contract significantly simply due to the reduction in business activity.
Once people have adjusted their behaviour to avoid transmission, businesses will reopen, at which point the banks will be invoked to provide a flood of new loans and credit to restart business.
The huge reduction in productive output shines a light on how desperate our environmental situation is: reducing energy consumption to 1/6th current levels is being achieved indirectly via this pandemic.
If we as a global population of people could maintain shutdown-level output and energy consumption, we may have a chance at avoiding the worst that climate change is bringing. We may be able to preserve something of our civilisation for future generations.
Over the coming decades as CO2 continues to rise, 2019-2021 will mark a significant alternative in the historical development of globalised consumerism, offering a counterpoint to unlimited growth at the cost of the planet upon which we all depend.
There is no denying that many families will be decimated. Losing elderly loved ones is traumatic at the best of times, but these are not even bad times. Many families and entire countries will not recover from this pandemic.
By recover, I mean the ability to re-enter the global economy without selling citizens to the banks in the form of socialised debt. With the rising cost of climate change-related losses in productivity, it is unlikely that even current national debts can be repaid.
As for the panicked reactions in industrialised and commoditised nations, the data collected on social management will surely allow new methods to be developed. There are also enormous opportunities.
The massive destruction of production through 2020 is simply the inhumane way of measuring the vast losses of peoples’ lives and livelihoods. How nations and businesses with resources respond to those without certainly shall gauge our collective humanity.
As people begin to try regaining what has been lost, many will turn to sources of both food and money. How these are meted out must be noted by all to see, yet we may make general assumptions based on trends.
Wiping debt and ending trade sanctions on non-functional economies would be a huge step forward. Wiping all socialised debt would prove that those who manage the IMF are human after all. There are many countries who are more than capable of providing interest-free loans.
Tourism and international travel are the first industries to collapse, and although re-infection hasn’t been broadcasted yet, tourism is the vehicle of transmission. The complement to international travel is sovereignty, a concept that has been targeted and greatly weakened over the past several decades.
Yet this pandemic is highlighting the fact that each nation is responsible for those living within its borders. How each country manages their citizenry is already quite illuminating.
Nations with well-managed healthcare systems accessible to all are seeing low mortality rates and reduced infection rates. Nations with privatised health care have been allocating funds, not to more hospitals and health services, but to banks and businesses. Those with poorly funded and managed health care systems are experiencing terminal destruction of society, business and culture, incapable of maintaining a minimal response in care for people with severe symptoms.
‘Those fittest to adapt may survive.’ This is scientific theory supported by over a hundred years of observation. How international business, nations, cultures, attitudes and individuals adapt to this new environment provide clear insight into what is fittest in our global age.
Japan and Germany, with detached interaction styles and a focus on order and cleanliness already have a vastly different experience of the Covid19 phenomenon, yet India which has already socially adapted to viral outbreaks also demonstrates a significantly smaller infected population.
Will cultures where touching is socially normative adapt? Will the citizens of privatised health demand the funding for socialised health? How will those with help those without? How is the general human immune system adapting to this virus, many of us who are infected do not even know?
Doing a simple Internet search (I use DuckDuckGo only) results in a plethora of American-centric information, even though I am not even in that part of the world. Typing in ‘flights from Tokyo to Rome’ results in a large amount of misinformation, let alone ‘corona virus death rates for Italy’, most of which has no connection to Italy.
Let’s hope that reliable sources of information, i.e. NOT blog sites where most responses begin with ‘I’m not sure but I think….’, which are worse than useless. The main media outlets such as Aljazeera and even SBS World News are rife with American-centric perspectives regardless of topic or context.
In any case, how we individually, socially, culturally, nationalistically and humanely respond includes a great deal of stress. For many in the less-developed nations, food and water remain the most important; for highly-developed, mobility and consumerism.
Regardless of the focus, people under stress may respond in unpredictable and illogical ways, and the emotional forces behind them may not be immediately apparent or observable. As the isolation and financial burden continues to increase our resourcefulness, we may need to step over boundaries to provide interpersonal assistance in the months, and years, to come.
There is no rule book or established code of conduct, or even a vague protocol, for how we ought to manage this phenomenon, but we do have our internal sense of morality. Balanced with this is our genetically-based sense of survival.
As these two aspects of ourselves inform our decisions, we may wish to keep in mind that cooperation has always been and still is the key to survival and adaptation. From the cells of organisms to the complex interplay of the natural environment to political and economic systems, there is always a system of cooperation.
Perhaps we can each create a more adaptable, fitter and more humane society, wherever we may be.