The gap which makes these paradoxes possible is that between knowledge andbelief: we know the (ecological) catastrophe is possible, probable even, yet we do not believe it will really happen. Slavo Žižek (2011): Welcome to the Anthropocene, in Living in the End Times, pp.327-336.
There are two entirely unprecedented characteristics of the Coronavirus CoV-2 Pandemic. First, is the speed and reach of the epidemic expansion and second, the unification of experience of most people around the world in a continued domestic seclusion for a yet undetermined number of weeks. Whereas past pandemics have been either more contagious or more deadly, no other recorded event in human history has affected so many people, so fast. The globalization of economy, telecommunications and to a large extent of the whole liberal capitalist culture provided the means for the first phase of propagation -imported cases, to unleash the second, self-sustaining phase: that of community propagation. The global spread of Covid-19 had as carriers not bats or pangolins, not birds, not cows, nor pigs. The world transport and trade networks provided the most efficient means for the novel coronavirus to spread with dazzling speed and implacable efficacy around the whole planet. The advent time of local outbreaks in different regions of the world is inversely proportional to the global connectedness of those regions. Thus, while many countries watched the early outbreaks of the disease in China with a degree of complacency and deprecation, the virus was coming home and quietly finding its way throughout unsuspecting host countries. The ‘Chinese virus’ suddenly became the Pacific, and Middle-Eastern and European and American and African virus. Today is a planetary virus.
A second unprecedented circumstance caused by the sudden global spread of the Coronavirus Cov-2 is the nearly universal establishment of home containment, either voluntary or compulsory, in some cases even enforced by the military. As a result, all members of each household are suddenly and in a vast majority of cases as never before, closely and continuously coexisting within their home confinement. Family members come to realize the otherness of their very kin, probably the first close confrontation with each other’s diverse identities. The inescapable coexistence unleashes all the angels and all the demons hidden at home closets. Single dwellers find themselves under social seclusion, unable to establish physical contact with other human beings for weeks. As a consequence, 90 percent of the world students are forced to do home schooling of sorts, the vast majority of the workforce has to quickly acquire home office skills and the amount of forced “family time” raises just as exponentially as the virus infection. Coming to terms with this unforeseen global reality, we increasingly realize that the life we lived until the day before will not come back, certainly not soon, certainly not completely. Having experienced the first local outbreaks, Hubei province and China at large are cautiously and gradually beginning to re-establish some high-impact activities fully aware that a second wave from imported cases or a rebound of incubating cases may break out at any time. Until a proven treatment is readily available and above all, until a vaccine is fully tested and widely distributed, the Coronavirus Cov-2 is here to challenge our resilience. Even then, new Cov-2 virus streams or altogether new coronaviruses or infectious diseases will continue to breed changes that breed change. Exponential disruptive change becomes the new normal. Deep, blistering, ghastly, stunning, pervasive change.
Even if details are surfacing by the day regarding subsequent unrealized effects of this pandemic, many aspects of the global society, economy and culture are bound to experience a number of radical transformations. Rather than synchronous changes, these may take place over months or even years. But even if, as it were, the Covid-19 crisis was eventually to settle down, we are facing a much more profound, menacing and transcendental change in the years ahead. Actually, we are already engaged in the dynamics of potentially the more significant change process in the whole of the human history, one that may make Covid-19 pale in comparison as it may bring the collapse of the entire civilization and probably even the annihilation of the whole human species.
Yes, I am referring to the existential threats posed by the state shift in the Biosphere being caused by human activity on Earth. The term Anthropocene, designating a sufficiently significant human impact on the planet so as to be discernible over a geological scale, has provided a convenient umbrella concept to designate the changes that might happen as each of the nine Planetary Boundaries is overcome and the associated existential risks unfold.
It is said bad circumstances, even terrible ones, always bring out some good. We still don’t know just how bad the global Coronavirus Cov-2 pandemic will end up: how many deaths, how much human suffering, how profound an economic recession, how much unaccounted social cost. But compared to the potential impacts of the Anthropocene – and as un-sensitive as it might sound now, the Covid-19 Pandemic might eventually be remembered as a blessing so long as it became a last call humankind heard to redefine its terms of relationship with Planet Earth, a last blessing call that was listened to and effectively acted upon. If that was the case, blessed would be this terrible global experience that, however painful, however distressful, woke us up to the far more devastating threat of the Anthropocene: the ultimate threat of the annihilation of everything human on Earth save its geological ootprints. A lasting testimony that we were here once here, that we developed and abusive relationship with our hosting planet, that after at least thirty years of becoming aware of the suicidal path we were in, we choose to ignore the overwhelming signs. I wish we are able to acknowledge these signs in the multiple expressions of the current pandemic: the abatement of the dead, the anguish of relatives, the puzzlement of children, the despair of the jobless, the exhaustion of healthcare personnel, the uncertainty of all. If so, Covid-19 might become a much welcome influx of hope, a terrible yet opportune glimpse of things to come.
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