* Plague in an Ancient City, Michiel Sweerts (1652–1654). This perceived impact of the Athenian plague on collective social and religious behavior echoes accounts of the medieval pandemic best known as the Black Death, although scholars have disputed its objective veracity in both instances, citing a historical link between epidemic disease and unsubstantiated moral panic.
By James Sirois
Vast swathes of humans becoming infected by a micro-organism such as a virus is what we call “an epidemic”, and it is important to notice that it shares a very strong parallel with epidemics of a political nature, which are ideological movements or “Revolutions”, in a word.
There is quite an interesting link to be made between the psychological impacts of biological phenomena, and the sociopolitical, economic and cultural trends of our modern era because we have entered a revolution in world-wide communication, which seems to amplify such impacts.
In the interest of making sense of the statement above, it would require that we take a look at each element mentioned in a more raw manner by giving them categories: the mind-body duality (psychology and biology), the individual vs societal relationship (Sociopolitics) and technology (Communication and economics).
These categories set up a better avenue for understanding the inter-relationships we require if we are to solve the very complex, abstract and consequentially difficult problems that arise from epidemics of any kind, therefore it is much more so important when the biological kind- such as Corona, finds itself coupling with the political kind.
The mind-body duality
Beginning with this more fundamental category, it is strange to resume it right away with a mere maxim however doing so sets the pace in a way that allows us to derive more information about what it means; Dr. Carl Gustav Jung wrote: “People do not have ideas, ideas have people”- a very profound insight into the psyche of the human mind and very telling of the connection between our thoughts and our actions. Here I refer to the relationship between how we behave with our bodies as a result of our ideologies, which most people all-too-often consider abstract and perhaps inconsequential, yet nothing there could be further from the truth: what we believe determines the outcomes of entire nations, the course of history and the future reality we all must come to experience.
Bringing in a more concrete example here, I do not wish to be too cheap by using the “toilet paper craze” but it does give us a baseline for extrapolating future predictions by asking: if people believe that hoarding necessities will preserve their physical well-being, what kind of impact will the belief in needing to preserve their ideologies cause?
About 2 months in to an epidemic like this and we have already begun to see the political impacts of ideologically possessed groups (Meaning all people) moving towards action to preserve either mind or body. Here I will set up a caricaturization only in the interest of not opening up a digression, but in short we can say that people on the left tend to push for the preservation of life whereas on the right we find a push for preservation of the necessities for life (businesses, freedom etc) and so clearly, the same old political struggles are now motivated by a much more primal reason because we have come face-to-face with our existential reality as human beings: we must survive. This is a stark contrast to the usual desire to preserve our way of life, and yet both go hand-in-hand, especially if one considers how life will start to look after an event such as this.
Therefore we can definitely expect greater dangers in all things due to our nature and tendency to be ideologically possessed, and now that we have a strong biological motivation behind such possession, the consideration of who and what we are as human beings, how our minds work and how our bodies influence us is not a matter to be taken lightly and should always be considered first.
I want to diffuse the impending sense of doom a little bit here by mentioning how ideologies do not just drive us towards dangers but also towards prosperity. Religions after-all, are traditionally what have engendered massive architectural feats, sublime works of art and greater cohesion of vast empires, so as the wisest of rulers do, we should also see ideology as a potential tool as much as it can be a weapon or destructive force.
The individual vs societal relationship
In so far as some want to be free and independent, they still need to rely on societal means to support such freedom and independence; conversely, those who want to be free and dependent on each other, they still need to rely on their own individual skills, innovation and labor to participate in the exchange of society. Seeing how both “sides” here share the same fundamental value at the end of the day, the question and difficulty is always to define this value: Freedom.
If it were not for our differences in tastes, needs, aspirations, ambitions and desires, there would be no sides, as we would all secure ourselves the freedom of having the same things. On the one hand, to believe this is achievable because we are all fundamentally the same yields the atrocities of 20th century communism and on the other hand, belief in the opposite (that individuality is fractionated on a 1:1 ratio where people have no similarities in needs) causes anarchic dismantling of structures, leaving power vacuums for more tyrannical ones.
How does this tie into the epidemic? Clearly we have failed to understand the needs of our population when it comes to medical staff, who require a certain amount of political power to properly allow health systems to communicate vital information, the individual health conditions of various demographics, the economic needs of unions, nations, communities and individuals with different statuses and more. Such problems stem from the cold truth that we have had difficulties in stabilizing a better political relationship between individual vs societal needs when it comes to the global scale.
Any way we slice it, the individual versus societal paradox of sociopolitics will always remain a challenging balancing act until the supply/demand dynamic shifts from the current human-to-human production/consumption cycle to a more futuristic and anticipated scenario of fully automated machine-to-human cycle, although there are arguments for why politics would largely remain the same then.
The intention here however is only to state that we are in such a transition. We see it because governments are needing to place their citizens in a kind of universal basic income and businesses are optimizing their workflow structures to accommodate online work. Surely these events will change how people see the possibilities and indeed, the necessities afoot when it comes to re-tooling our economic means of production; it certainly would not be surprising to see a greater push for A.I and robotics in the market when we re-boot.
This all gives way to the fact that technology is the primary driving force behind political trends- we have already seen this happen before this epidemic, as with scandals like Cambridge Analytica and the increasing C-Span congress meetings between CEO’s of tech giants and the U.S government, who seem to either be cooperating or negotiating to shape policy which best suits the future of humanity.
This major force behind economic development and in turn, the political outcome, is what must depend on the quality of our communication channels if we are to guide it into preserving our values.
There is an immediate and fundamental problem here: How do we establish global values for human kind? This is a good question which can be answered the same way we have always (in my opinion) answered it: culture.
This is a little tricky however interesting to notice; Our technology has led us to a system of communication which establishes a global culture therefore could eventually lead to global values as well. This is a fearful thought when one considers the kind of chaotic and dangerous cultures we see online. From the depraved acts of licking toilet seats to defy quarantine for fame to the dark web version of a silk road for drugs and other disturbing services, we can all agree that we have a challenge to create a healthy and cohesive culture for the planet.
So let’s look at it on a timeline; The growing pains of the internet went from the logistical problems such as the learning curve of users, search engines, wide-spread access and social networks, to a cultural and sociopolitical struggle involving events that only 10 years ago, we would have found very strange: Facebook and twitter becoming the political platforms. This is disconcerting because the same channels for building our culture is perhaps prematurely also becoming the political “Agora” of our day.
Conclusion in brevity
It is not to be insensitive, but we should also consider how world-wide events such as this have many up-sides. After the world wars things went great for the economy, and international relations. Now this is not to say that we must allow ourselves to suffer the casualties of a world-wide epidemic such as this COVID-19, especially being that it is more than likely not the first in many to appear as we continue to integrate global traveling systems such as hyper-loop trains, but we must figure out how to use the positive possibilities at hand to leverage ourselves out of our current situation.
Taking into account humanity’s biological predisposition to be individually reflexive in times when we have a great need to be reflective about the societal scale, we come to see how important it is to avoid a political epidemic of steadfast ideological warfare. This means promoting more thought and consideration online, where individuals can map out the landscape of their lives within the greater global context. Our future is saddled with the task of consolidating our human flaws with our technology in order to pull through the tough economic times we have ahead of us, hoping that we can build a better political culture that paves the road for a stable world.