The dominant news story of the last few weeks (aside from the American media’s obsession with the Democratic primaries) has been the spread and effects of the new coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19.
Medically, it’s a relatively minor illness -- far less fearsome than, say, cancer, heart disease, or obesity. As I write this column, in midweek, COVID-19 has spread to 46 countries, but resulted in only 3,100 deaths worldwide. The whole U.S. has had only 135 cases, with just 11 deaths; Canada, only 35 cases in total, with no deaths at all. (Figures depend on the source and date.)
There are times when our collective reaction feels like a tempest in a teapot.
By comparison, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused 12,500 deaths in the US alone. And that figure is annually surpassed by the ordinary, common, garden-variety flu which will kill about 18,000 people in the U.S. every year, or about 650,000 worldwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. To put the risk into perspective, cancers in general have a mortality rate about twenty times higher. The Ebola virus, which caused more than 11,000 deaths, is about 50 times more deadly.
Yet COVID-19 seems to have seized control of national economic and social policies.
· The U.S. Federal Reserve dropped its interest rate by half a percentage point. The Bank of Canada followed in lock-step.
· Stock markets crashed. The New York Stock Exchange plunged over 2,000 points in four days. Canadian Press described the Toronto Stock Exchange as a “bloodbath.” Asian and European markets had no immunity. In the U.S. alone, more than $2 trillion of wealth just vanished.
· Donald Trump threw $8.6 billion -- and his vice-president -- at treatment and prevention.
· Washington, Florida, and California all declared states of emergency.
· Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau created a new cabinet committee to talk about the coronavirus crisis. Even though he admitted, in a press conference, “This is not a situation that Canada created.”
The world seems to be suffering a panic attack.
It makes me wonder how investments might have tumbled during the Great Plagues of 1347 to 1351 when the so-called Black Death -- bubonic plague -- killed one-third of Europe’s population. If they had stock markets back then.
But I gather that the Spanish Flu pandemics in 1918 had minimal effect on New York’s Dow Jones industrial averages, although it affected one-third of the world’s population, and killed an estimated 50 million people. Because, I suppose, it was happening somewhere else.
If you ever doubted that we have become what the late Marshall McLuhan called “a global village,” COVID-19 should prove convincing.
It started in a city that few Canadians have heard of, although it’s a keystone in China’s transportation system. It probably also originated in a custom that most Canadians consider repugnant, a street marker for live wild animals sold for food.
It reached Canada through dozens of other countries, mostly South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran. To date, all Canadian victims got infected elsewhere through global travel.
As various astronauts have noted, there are no boundaries when they look down at earth from space.
And viruses are not citizens of any country.
A late friend -- at my age, an increasing number of friends are “late” -- gave a personal example of global repercussions. Former classmate T.Z.Chu told me that during the 2008 recession, a woman he knew in China went out of business. She had a small, specialized market for fine handmade paper. Which she made from cloth fibres. Which she got from Thrift Shops in America. Which received fewer donations of used clothing. Because Americans discarded fewer suits, jackets, and slacks.
A decline in prosperity in America had ripple effects across the Pacific.
The COVID-19 situation might actually have one long-term benefit. It might force us to recognize that no one, and no nation, is independent. We are all connected, like it or not.
The climate crisis, for example. No one nation can solve it. But by the same token, no one nation can be absolved from it.
Our human bodies offer an analogy. Each of us has our own unique DNA. But less than half of the cells in our bodies carry that DNA. The rest of the cells are, loosely speaking, bacteria. In our gut. On our skin.
In a sense, we humans are a cooperative enterprise.
As with individuals, so with as nations and species. No one stands alone. No country can erect walls -- legal, technological, or economic -- to protect itself from COVID-19.
We are in everything together.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week’s column on the revelations about Jean Vanier was painful to write and obviously painful to read – especially if you hadn’t heard about it already.
Stella Majic: Like so many others, especially among my Catholic friends, I was disheartened to hear about Vanier. Lots of questions. My takeaway? No more heroes. Just people with some awesome virtues. (Loved the tidbit on feet of clay.)
Pat Whitton asked, "What do you see as the difference between the stories of Weinstein, Cosby etc., compared to Vanier that leads you to not want to see them in the same light as Vanier? I wouldn't want to dismiss all the good done by any of the aforementioned but I don't think we should overlook their clay feet.”
Tom Watson also wondered about my distinction: “I understand not wanting to cast Jean Vanier in the same light as the other, seemingly more unholy sexual predators you mentioned—and I'm inclined to do likewise—but I have to wonder whether the women Vanier were any less traumatized because it was Vanier and not Cosby or Weinstein or Epstein.”
Sharron Simpson wrote, “I too ‘don’t know how to react.’ I have Vanier’s books which have given me solace as they modeled compassion. I had a brother with Down Syndrome and I learned a gentleness and acceptance from Vanier’s writing. I couldn’t read the news about his ‘downfall’ earlier this week – but I too don’t want to wipe out his legacy of gentle grace and acceptance and your comments recognizing ‘feet of clay’ may, in fact, be the reality check that expectations of perfection, regardless of who they may be about, are unrealistic. This doesn’t however, lessen the profound sadness this news brings with it.”
Steve Roney came to Vanier’s defence: “The accusations against him were accepted as true by L’Arche ‘on the balance of probabilities.”’ This, to begin with, is not sufficient. One has the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty. This is especially true for the deceased, who cannot defend themselves against such charges.”
Steve wanted to shift the blame: “There is also a certain class of women who are drawn to celibate priests or married ministers, on the premise that, if they can get them to ignore their vows, this is a significant conquest, proving their desirability. Failing that, claiming to have done so is almost as good.
“This means that we have every reason to expect charges of sexual impropriety against Vanier without their being true. Six, over a long lifetime, would be a reasonable expectation. And we also have reason to believe that, if he was ever inclined to engage in sex, he would have no need to use compulsion or exploit his position to do so. His real experience was more probably having to resist attempts at seduction.
“The accusation that he was exploiting an ‘unequal power relationship’ is also unjust. Given his international stature, any possible relationship could be depicted as an ‘unequal power relationship.’ Nobody of his generation would have thought of such things in any case: bosses marrying their secretaries used to be a typical romantic tale. Or patients marrying their nurses. To make this retroactively immoral is a violation of natural justice.”
Doug Linzey made an important distinction: “The organization stands on its own as very important in many towns. For most of the people benefiting from L'Arche, the history is probably irrelevant -- it's how L'Arche relates to them and to the community that counts.
“I think we have to separate the foibles of the founder from the goodness of his legacy.”
Nenke Jongkind assured me: “Your charisma is not recognized only by dogs!
“I found this news very sad. I had not assumed he never missed the mark, but I was disappointed he had such guile and would abuse others. When first heard the headline I was shocked. When I later heard that this stemmed from L’Arche’s own findings and report I was impressed with their openness, transparency, and bravery as an organization.”
Bob Rollwagen mused on the concept of “hero”: “Humans have created heroes so they can lift someone they admire to a higher than natural level of respect in their community.
“There are so many people whom have accomplished things I admire. They are not my heroes. My mother is a hero. Power is a dangerous commodity that moves outside reasonable controls when heroism is allowed. All the people you listed likely gained power that led up to hero status and they were unable to manage it. Glad I have little power.”
I’ll give the last word to Cliff Boldt: “What struck me was that I didn't feel shock when I first heard about it.”
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