21 Questions for 2020: #14

#14. How will World War III, the Coronavirus edition, play out?

World leaders are comparing the global crisis of 2020 to a war, requiring a mobilization not of guns and soldiers, but of ventilators and medical personnel. The fact that most of us are just civilians on the sidelines, watching the action unfold from afar, has added to the sense of surreality that has engulfed us this spring. All the majority of us can do is stay home, wash our hands, and try to stave off panic. 

I know there are those, myself included, who have tried to see the opportunity in this moment. Look at how the pollution clears up as soon as all the planes are grounded! Maybe now people will see the folly of the industrial capitalist machine and embrace new forms of eco-social community! At the very least, this crisis should upend the regime of the destructive parasite that got us here, Donald J. Trump! 

Maybe. Or maybe it will go the other way entirely. The EPA has already used the crisis to suspend pollution regulations, and Native Americans, the frontline environmental defenders, are getting sick in record numbers. The logging of the Amazon is expected to reach a record high in 2020, and despite the wildfires of January, the giant Adani Carmichael coal mine in Australia is going full steam ahead

On the societal front, we are all forced to submit to a “lockdown” that takes away our civil liberties in the name of “staying safe.” The U.S. Treasury is working overtime to come up with trillions of bailout money, but who is in charge of making sure the money is allocated fairly? 

Meanwhile, the Trump political machine has pivoted nicely to take advantage of this new twist in the reality show presidency. On principle, I don’t watch his news conferences any more than I’d watch Fox News, but his usual crowd of supporters continues to cheer him on. What will happen when they all come down with coronavirus? That chapter remains to be written.

To be fair, there are also some positive developments to track. Communities are coming together to help each other out. People are, good-naturedly, staying home even when they feel perfectly fine. The work of newly recognized “essential workers”—from farmers and truckers to meat packers and grocery clerks—is being appreciated and lauded more than ever (if still not fairly remunerated). 

In the absence of Federal leadership in the US, some of the state governors are stepping up—Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsome, I salute you. Globally, biotech scientists have been truly amazing in springing into collaborative action to understand and find treatment and a vaccine for this “novel” virus. 

We will come through this war wiser and warier. As with 9/11, which left us with permanent security check-lines in airports, I foresee that new standards of transportation hygiene and border health screenings will be a lasting result of the pandemic of 2020. 

It seems ironic that the ultimate border-crossing bug, a virus, should have the effect of solidifying the artificial and imaginary lines we call national borders. My optimistic side hopes that the lesson of COVID-19 is that we are all one—everything is interconnected and any tear in the web of life hurts us all. 

It sounds good in theory, but in practice, the war metaphor continues to dominate, and we are all hunkered down in our bunkers, hoarding TP and hogging the wifi, waiting for the all-clear signal. 

Who could have predicted that our civilization would end with such a whimper? Sometimes I think I’d prefer a bang.

Leave a comment


  1. Gerry

     /  April 11, 2020

    Whimper or Bang? I don’t know. I prefer neither. I guess I don’t get to choose.

    For now, it seems important to me to push for putting a higher priority on saving lives than on restoring the economy quickly. I hear more about getting the economy moving again, not so much about what could be done to get the virus under control, (aggressive testing and contact tracing). And I can’t prove it, but I suspect that in the long run saving lives will help restore the economy (a mixed blessing to be sure).

    For more bad news, look at what has happened recently to his approval rating:
    (Head shake)

  2. Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

     /  April 12, 2020

    Yes to aggressive testing and contact tracing, Gerry, but I do also worry about the surveillance factor in this. We are losing whatever autonomy we might have imagined we had–giving it up willingly in the name of protecting the social body. In a weird way, we are becoming more and more “hive creatures,” like bees. Shards of a greater unity. Maybe this pandemic is just making us more aware of something that has always been true. We are One.

  3. Gerry

     /  April 12, 2020

    Well, as far as I know, bees do not need enforcement, they just do what is best for the hive. If people were more like bees and did what was best for the community (at whatever scale, local, state, national, world) we would not need surveillance. Yes, the surveillance bothers me too. One reason I don’t have a cell phone.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  April 12, 2020

      You are so right, Gerry! We need to be more like bees, perhaps!

  4. I am so enjoying–well, maybe enjoying is not quite the right word–your question series. These are the Big Questions that have no immediate or easy answers. Their value lies in our trying to answer them. I wish everyone, and certainly everyone in a position of power, could be enticed (forced?) to contemplate them. Keep the questions coming!

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  April 12, 2020

      Thank you for the positive feedback, Audrey! Yes, I will keep them coming, all 21! I do think that the idea of “living the questions” (Rilke) is taking on new meaning these days. That’s ALL we can do!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: