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Hate in the time of coronavirus

March 25, 2020

Lives around the world have ground to a halt. 

People across society — politicians, priests, executives, businessmen, office workers — are self-isolating for fear of spreading, or contracting, the coronavirus.

Businesses have been closed indefinitely. Workers face layoffs. Students are out of school, set on a path to nowhere. The aging are confined to their spaces, unable to meet loved ones, afraid of risking their vulnerable immune systems. 

Economies are shrinking. Uncertainty looms. All we can do is tune in to the news and watch ourselves drowning in a rising tide of infections. With no vaccine in sight, prospects of surviving this catastrophe appear slim.

How did we come to this point?

Here’s a guess — hubris and hatred.

For thousands of years, mankind had shared the Earth with other species of flora and fauna. With the advent of civilization, we embarked upon a path to self-destruction by developing weapons that can wipe us out several times over, and by waging war on Nature and upon ourselves. We called it science, statecraft and capitalism. Only the fittest would survive. 

And how did that work out?

We ignore a fundamental truth: Life on this planet is interdependent. Humans are part of a delicate ecological balance that depends on the elements, flora and fauna to survive, just as rich humans need the services of poor humans to exist. 

When Neil Armstrong saw the Earth from outer space, he beheld a breathtaking sphere — one world in all its beauty and splendor. Unfortunately, that iconic vision in 1969 had no impact on our lives. We have persisted in our genocidal ways, continued to bomb each other, and violate Nature, driven by avarice and hate.

Now, as a result of our cruelty, we face a common foe that defies science and threatens to wipe out entire populations — a mysterious zoonotic virus that jumped to humans from wild animals being slaughtered in an illegal meat market, and is spreading unchecked.

In one fell swoop, Nature seems to be extracting its price for aeons of pillage and arrogance — our inability to share space with other animal species, our delight in caging and exploiting them for entertainment, our plunder of elements that have sustained life for millions of years.

Suddenly, we are told, the smartest way to beat the virus is through the old-fashioned values of good citizenship, a la South Korea and Singapore — display a social conscience, self-isolate, show consideration and self-control, delay gratification.

As New York faces a mountain of cases, our patience will surely be tested like never before. All of us aggressive drivers and hostile commuters will have to learn to hit the brakes and slow down, cherish our time with loved ones, engage our minds in positive ways, watch and read the news, introspect and be humble. 

And dial down the racism and animosity.

We might have set foot on the moon and we might be hurtling toward Mars and the sun, but we could still be wiped out by a sneeze.

Things might have been simpler had we not been clueless about living together in peace.

If anything, the coronavirus is a reminder that divisiveness and hate will destroy civilization as we know it. Calling it a Chinese or an Arab virus misses the point. We are one human race, afflicted by the same scourges. A virus that infects one nation can infect us all — and a vaccine that saves one life can save us all. 

We must treat the coronavirus, and other such viruses that emerge in the future, as an existential threat to the dysfunctional family that we are.

Either we face this onslaught together, or forfeit our planet and become extinct.

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