21 Questions for 2020: #13

#13. How can we strengthen our individual and collective immune system in the face of radical destabilization, uncertainty and fear? 

We are living through one of those moments in human history that will—if we survive—become a treasure trove of material for historians to parse, seeking answers to the big question: how the hell did we get here? 

One observational point that seems incontrovertible for the moment: the virus has taken hold most quickly in the cities of the most developed countries: from Wuhan to New York City, with stops in northern Iran, Italy and Spain. What do these places have in common? 

Obviously, cities have high concentrations of people who use public transportation and/or spend a lot of time in public places (houses of worship, restaurants, crowded markets). Some of these places, though not all, are international travel hubs—but then so are many other population centers that have not been hit as hard so far, like California. 

There are theories circulating on the fringes of the Web about the impact of 5G on people’s immune systems. Wuhan and New York City were early 5G adopters, as you can see on this map. Of course I’m not suggesting that 5G causes the virus. But perhaps it added a tipping point of pressure on our already-weakened immune systems?

As Charles Eisenstein says in his recent essay on the coronavirus situation, “For a long time we, as a collective, have stood helpless in the face of an ever-sickening society. Whether it is declining health, decaying infrastructure, depression, suicide, addiction, ecological degradation, or concentration of wealth, the symptoms of civilizational malaise in the developed world are plain to see, but we have been stuck in the systems and patterns that cause them.”

Like me, Eisenstein sees both the heartbreak and the opportunity of our global health and financial crisis. “The crisis could usher in totalitarianism or solidarity; medical martial law or a holistic renaissance; greater fear of the microbial world, or greater resiliency in participation in it; permanent norms of social distancing, or a renewed desire to come together.”

Which way will we go? No one knows at this point, as the crisis unfolds with astonishing, mind-blowing speed from day to day. 

A few things do seem clear to me. 

1. We have to stop ignoring the toll the current capitalist economy is taking on the vast majority of ordinary people. How long did we imagine we could go with stress, unhappiness, uncertainty, lack of purpose, loneliness and fear dominating our individual psyches and collective social climate? In such a social landscape, combined with the constant barrage of toxins on our physical bodies, of course we are all getting sick. 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu said it beautifully, in a memorable quote from her book Crossing Borders (I am paraphrasing): ‘we are all kernels on the cob of humanity. If one of us is sick, the whole cob is unwell.’ 

And this is not just about humanity. All life on Earth is struggling now, after a century of assault from the extractivist corporate capitalist economy. If things don’t change radically, the entire unsustainable structure created by global corporate capitalism is going down, and will pull a good portion of humanity and our fellow Gaians on the planet down with it. Planetary events like the coronavirus pandemic, the Australian wildfires and the heightened Atlantic hurricane seasons show us in no uncertain terms that this is already happening

2. Like cancer, the marauding coronavirus is a symptom of the real illness besetting human individuals and society, which is imbalance. Humans are both the cause and the victims of the multiple imbalances currently destabilizing our planet. 

For starters, there are too many humans. As Jeremy Lent points out in a recent article, humans regularly overshoot the carrying capacity of Gaia by 40% each year, and yet the human population continues to grow. Perhaps, if we began to live in a more consciously sustainable way (ie, eating crickets instead of cows, using solar instead of oil, etc), we could bring our burgeoning population into harmony with Gaian support systems. If we continue on our current trajectory, the planet will have to take her own rebalancing measures—like pandemics, or natural disasters. We still possibly have time to choose: will we shift towards what David Korten calls an “ecological civilization,” or will we continue to march blindly towards the lemming cliff of planetary reset?

3. In the absence of trustworthy leaders, each of us has to reach within for guidance on how to proceed in this moment of radical uncertainty. In what may perhaps be the most important point of his long essay, Charles Eisenstein invites us to recognize the danger of succumbing not to COVID-19, but to fear

 “The virus we face here is fear, whether it is fear of Covid-19, or fear of the totalitarian response to it, and this virus too has its terrain. Fear, along with addiction, depression, and a host of physical ills, flourishes in a terrain of separation and trauma: inherited trauma, childhood trauma, violence, war, abuse, neglect, shame, punishment, poverty, and the muted, normalized trauma that affects nearly everyone who lives in a monetized economy, undergoes modern schooling, or lives without community or connection to place. This terrain can be changed, by trauma healing on a personal level, by systemic change toward a more compassionate society, and by transforming the basic narrative of separation: the separate self in a world of other, me separate from you, humanity separate from nature. To be alone is a primal fear, and modern society has rendered us more and more alone. But the time of Reunion is here. Every act of compassion, kindness, courage, or generosity heals us from the story of separation, because is assures both actor and witness that we are in this together.”

We face a choice: will we retreat into what Jeremy Lent calls “Fortress Earth,” based on trauma, fear and scarcity? Or will we work actively, in our own backyards, to build an ecological civilization based on generosity, kindness and cooperation?

I am reminded of Starhawk’s prophetic novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, which imagined a future America as a bleak militarized industrial wasteland, with a small pocket of ecological and social wellbeing remaining in the former San Francisco: a beautiful, happy garden society led by wise women. 

Which way will we go? Can we transform this terrain of uncertainty into a seedbed for positive radical change? Will we succeed, each in our own sphere and with our neighbors, in choosing love over fear? 

4. Managing our own fear is essential now. Remember, our animal bodies are wired for fight or flight. Living in a state of constant anxiety about something we can neither fight nor flee from saps our strength and weakens our individual and collective immune system. 

To manage fear and anxiety over the uncertain future, work on living in the present moment, focusing on gratitude for whatever makes you a little happier now. Rather than obsessing over everything you can’t control, focus on what you can do today to make life a little better for yourself and those around you. 

In this way, one step at a time in an ever-unfolding present, we will build a positive psychic and physical bridge to a better future for us all.

Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. Given the evidence to date, I tend to lean on the side of homo fatuus brutus continuing to march blindly towards the lemming cliff of planetary reset :/

    Reply
  2. Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

     /  April 4, 2020

    It really could go either way. What’s happening now in the US certainly is not encouraging. But other places in the world are managing things better, I’d say–being a “hope springs eternal” kind of person….

    Reply
  3. Beautiful. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  April 4, 2020

      Thanks for your feedback, RachelAnne! I’m glad to know that my 21 Questions series is reaching you….

      Reply

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