The coronavirus pandemic in perspective

Over the weekend, I read an insightful five-part on-line series of articles on the coronavirus pandemic by Prof. Maximilian C. Forte of Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, on his Zero Anthropology Project web site.

He doesn’t think the pandemic is a temporary emergency that will soon blow over.  He thinks it is a major turning point in history.  So do I.  Of course we both could be wrong, but I don’t think we are.

Here is an excerpt from the first article.  Links to the full five-part series are below.

Max C. Forte

The plain fact of the matter is that until a vaccine is developed, and everyone on Earth has been vaccinated, the struggle against the virus will not truly be won.

Anything less than that is merely a temporary, selective and fragmentary means of approximating an end—something that is better than nothing, with each decrease in lives lost being something that is heroically gained by front line workers risking their own health.

Otherwise, anything short of total vaccination boils down to a way of indirectly apportioning the virus to some, while managing it for everyone else.

Unnecessary deaths will not be rendered any less unnecessary, they will simply be confined and reduced in number, for a while.  In other words, without vaccination it is absolutely inevitable that what comes next will be worse.

The main issue now for public officials appears to be how to ensure that what comes next will not be as bad as it could be—making worse less worse.

To be clear, the most recent estimates are that a vaccine for COVID-19, which has not yet been invented, would—to be optimistic—become available within the next year to 18 months.

Not only has a vaccine never been invented for any prior coronavirus (with previous research prematurely shut down), even discovering a vaccine before five years would be a record-breaking pace when compared with other vaccines.

Experts think it would be unprecedented.  Plus the coronavirus is apparently mutating profusely, which complicates efforts to develop a vaccine.

Without a vaccine or effective therapy, the assessment from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022,” and that there could be a resurgence of the outbreak as late as 2024.

Instead, from the UK to the US and Quebec, an understanding that is prevalent among officials involves foggy, even dangerous ideas about “herd immunity,” which assumes—with little conclusive evidence and despite some contrary evidence—that (a) immunity against COVID-19 can be acquired and (b) that the immunity is permanent or long-term.

To make matters worse, some researchers think a vaccine for COVID-19 may never be found and that the virus is likely not to be containable.

No matter which decisions governments take—whether to continue mass confinement and a closure of most of the economy, or to gradually reopen economic activity (though it was never fully closed) and loosen restrictions—it will seem like the wrong decision will have been taken.

It’s not even a matter of choice between the “economy” versus “health.”  Without health, there can be no economy.  Without production, distribution, and consumption, health may be undermined.

It’s not just that the U.S. and other governments had ample warning of the possibility of a deadly pandemic.  Movies and novels show this has been at the back of the public mind for many years.  Yet it caught us completely unprepared.  Here is a link to Prof. Forte’s first article.

From 9/11 to 2008 andCOVID-19: Signs and Wonders of a Collapsing Global (Dis)order by Maximilian C. Forte for the Zero Anthropology Project.

We say the coronavirus does not respect borders.  But what are lockdowns and quarantines but a way of creating and enforcing boundaries?  It’s not a coincidence that the virus spread outward from the centers of the world economy.  In the second part, Prof. Forte reflects on risks and borders and some of the impacts of what has transpired.

Globalization in the Widening Gyre of COVID-19 by Maximilian C. Forte for the Zero Anthropology Project.

The coronavirus pandemic is changing the world balance of power.  The world is coming to perceive China as strong and beneficent and the United States as weak and selfish.  Not that Chinese world power is necessarily a good thing.  In the third part, Prof. Forte reflects on U.S. and Chinese power and how both are built on globalization.

Goodbye “American Greatness” by Maximilian C. Forte for the Zero Anthropology Project.

In the fourth part, Prof. Forte shares some personal reflections on the crisis, and how a false division in our thinking between the natural world and the social world can lead to some really bad decisions.

The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer: Nature vs. Culture in a Pandemic by Maximilian C. Forte for the Zero Anthropology Project.

In the final article in the series, Prof. Forte discusses possible alternative futures, which he calls the Restorationist-Denialist, the Liberal Reformist and the Revolutionary Transformationist.  In the future, there probably will be less globalization, more stockpiling of essential supplies and more automation (computer viruses don’t infect humans).

Pathways for the Post-COVID New Old World by Maximilian C. Forte for the Zero Anthropology Project.


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One Response to “The coronavirus pandemic in perspective”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Oh, we’ll get past this. Just as we got past the 1957 Asian flu. No vaccine back then and it killed 70,000 Americans and millions worldwide. Scaled up to today’s population and it would be 150K Americans. And 99.9% of the people are either unaware or have forgotten about it.

    For that matter what did the 1918 flu pandemic do to the world? Over the short term it might have looked like an apocalypse but over the long term? Not much.

    China is not being viewed right now as particularly beneficent. Neither is the US for that matter. A new leader in the White House could change all that very quickly. OTOH China’s leader is not about to change. I honestly wish the EU would get its act together and start acting like the global power it could be. Imagine a world with 3+ superpowers. Not likely though.

    Herd immunity is a real thing. If catching COVID-19 didn’t confer some degree of immunity it would be unlike any other virus ever discovered. Convalescent plasma wouldn’t be able to help people recover. Problem is that without a vaccine, there’d be a million people dead in the US before we got there.

    The problem is that previous epidemics DIDN’T change anything. Not the Hong Kong flu, not bird flu, not swine flu, not SARS, not MERS, not Legionaire’s, not methicillin-resistant staph, and not Ebola. They popped up on our radar screen but didn’t cause enough pain to be worth putting virological and bacteriological research on the front burner long enough for a real breakthrough. Classic spike and decay interest pattern.

    At least the Ebola epidemic lead to the creation of Remdesivir. Not useful against Ebola it does appear somewhat active against coronaviruses in general. The thing about a coronavirus is that while it may mutate easily, the human cells it has to attach to does not. That gives us a fixed point of attack.

    Research continues but on a subdued level. Fortunately, we do have better tools to work with than even a couple years ago. And better understanding of the mysterious ways of viruses, bacteria, and how they interact with human cells.

    The popular media presentations probably made it LESS viable to propose billions for infectious disease research. Nobody wants to be accused of being spun by a Hollywood fantasy. Now that US fatalities look headed for 6 figures and the acute crisis is becoming chronic, we may finally start to put up the resources the problem deserves.


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