The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the reality of the fragility of natural defences of human beings. We are not as strong as many of us think we are. The venoms (antibodies) our cells spit out in fierce response to foreign invaders against our bodies can be readily overpowered by attacks from invisible microscopic lethal foes, à la novel coronaviruses.
Science by and large, shines beams of light into our otherwise often twilight world and thus has profoundly informed the health and wealth of nations.
Throughout the ages in the course of Western civilization, sometimes, few eminent scientists have faltered. The Greek physician Galen asserted that a rete mirabile (wonderful net) was an anatomical structure located in the human head even though he never dissected a human cadaver. Furthermore, he interpreted it as a vital organ which extracted the spirits from the blood of the animals he dissected and his assertions were extrapolated to humans.
Because Galen’s total body of work was so revered, this falsehood and other misleading claims about the structure of the human body were believed. Furthermore, they became the curriculum for medical students for centuries.
Thanks eventually to the Italian anatomist, Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) and his monumental work De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) (1543). Galen’s mistakes were eventually corrected.
Despite other occasional similar cases, thankfully often less egregious, the positive consequential role of science in the course of human history is unquestionable, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries and today.
The real toll to human lives of Galen’s errors may not be completely known, but they were due to people’s trust in a distinguished physician’s “expertise”. In this American tragedy, the reverse is the case. The science is authentic. The recommendations of the scientists save lives. Wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and washing hands frequently do prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Sadly, it is the political leadership especially at the federal level that has faltered profoundly, ignoring science, thus resulting in so much human misery.
Clearly, the morbidity and mortality from the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA would be much less if leaders at the federal and state levels trust and follow the advice of the best infectious disease experts in the world available to them 24/7.
So why did things turn out this way? Pundits and commentators have opined and would continue to speculate on various reasons. I have labelled my own view: the toxic intersection of freedom, — freedom to live “my” life the way I deem fit — disregard of science and rigid political ideology. You can certainly expand on the trio in anyway you deem appropriate.
Suffice it to state that exercising freedom without the thirst and hunger for true information putrefies human imagination and collective well-being. In a similar vein, powerful ideological leaders who ignore science fly blindly and thus lead their flock astray, sometimes to their demise.
Disinformation In The Age of Information Overload
The explosion of information in our age brings with it an inherent danger that the pace would outrun our capacity and/or willingness to understand and process the information with veracity.
Although this situation may look bening on the surface, it can easily become a major fuel for violent social eruptions when powerful leaders dangle misinformation repeatedly before their followers.
Rather than researching information, some people believe their leaders including those with no expertice in the subject matter. The exceptional American spirit, the indomitable belief in the idea of “chatting our own course” makes it even more difficult to dissuade the followers of such leaders who are peddling disinformation.
Politics and Science In Tension
The propensity for the minds of leaders to succumb to rigid political ideology during severe crisis affecting the lives of their fellow citizens is captured susccintly by Albert Einstein.
Indeed, as the deep division among political leaders in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States of America has revealed, in times of national crisis, politics is much more difficult than science. It takes extraordinary courage and humility for a leader to overcome this tension in humanity’s social scene.
Outside the USA, the large COVID-19 pandemic morbidity and mortality remains a head-scratcher. More so, given the dominance of the United States in the sciences, medicine, research and technology.
Who could have predicted this very unfortunate degree of morbidity and mortality from SARS-CoV-2 for the world’s only superpower? But predictions, whether optimistic or pessimistic are inherently fallible. Predictions sometimes turn out to be noises far removed from the impending reality. Unfortunately, the reality of COVID-19 pandemic in the USA is so heart-wrenching for hundreds of thousands of families.
Lessons For The Developing World
The pivotal lessons of the Coronavirus pandemic spread, infection rate and mortality in the USA are clear. The wealth of nations is dependent on the health of nations and the health of nations is dependent, inter-alia, on the leadership’s fidelity to authentic data from science.
Fortunately, the dire predictions of the experts about the decimation of African nations by the novel Coronavirus has not materialized. Nonetheless, for developing nations especially Sub-Saharan African nations, the lessons of the American experience are multiple.
- Empathetic political leadership matters. That is why the omnipresent corruption of the leaders of most of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa must abate. The region will remain stuck at the basement of human development as long as the leadership is saturated with self-centered, corrupt, visionless dark souls.
- Truth matters. In this instance, it is the truth of science. Even when a developing nation exits the third world pool, availability of the physical features that characterize a developed society does not guarantee the health and well-being of the citizens. Honest leadership, pragmatism and fidelity to truth are paramount.
- Information is not Knowledge. The milieu in the USA is full of information. However, when political leaders display lack of discernment, available information looses its value and utility.
The word knowledge translates the Greek word, Episteme, from which we get the English word Epistemology, the study of how you know anything, how you understand anything. So, despite all the information available to some leaders, it is still possible for them not to know or understand the subject matter and events.
Development assistance and transfer of information and technology from the West and East (China) to the nations of the third world are ongoing and will probably continue for the foreseeable future. However, not much will change in these nations unless the leaders and the citizens make a strong commitment to pursuit of knowledge. First, the knowledge of God and then the knowledge of man via science and other forms of reasoning. De facto development in these nations can only originate from within.
The post-Coronavirus pandemic world will be different. How profound the changes would be is a matter of speculation. The wild card in this unfolding event in the 21st century is the degree of negative or positive influence that Africa, the continent with the largest number of young men and women will have on the rest of humanity.
Although Africa may not be the center of military power, its influence may loom large in the arena of the health of mankind and in global security. For instance, we do not know where the next pandemic will originate.
Even though the Ebola virus epidemic of 2014–2015 with epicenter in West Africa was eventually contained, still thousands of life were lost. A more virulent virus originating in any region of Sub-Saharan Africa may not be amenable to taming and would bring the whole of mankind to its knees again.
The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the need to judiciously and persistently nurture the fragility of mankind’s existential reality and respect the co-inhabitants of our only abode, the earth.