The Only 2 Truths the Coronavirus Pandemic has Revealed About Humanity
Forget what the experts have said about what we have learned from the latest global pandemic.
Despite being nearly two years into one of the worst pandemics certainly in U.S. History, let alone the world, it’s surprising that I’m still seeing articles written by people (I’m assuming they mean well) who can’t wait to tell us what this pandemic has or is teaching us about ourselves. Most articles and opinion pieces from publications like Forbes, The Washington Post, AARP, Business Insider focus on superficial changes like finding new daily patterns, how we interact with people or emotional re-calibrations surrounding subjects like fostering resilience and dealing with tragedy. Out of all the publications I have managed to read, I think Wired has come the closest to sharing something that resembles a global lesson, namely that we humans aren’t learning from our history, especially clioepidemiology.
The problem though, is that I don’t believe the opinions from these varying outlets to be major revelations. Rather, most of that stuff, in my opinion, is always inside people, but it just takes a significant global or national tragedy to bring it out. It shouldn’t, but that’s a different discussion for another time. My point however, is that given the right circumstances, I believe most people would learn these lessons anyway. So, they are not really surprising, let alone a genuine revelation. Not to mention most of the “lessons” are rather vague and don’t necessarily have the same impact on everyone. They aren’t big picture enough.
However, there are two truths I believe this pandemic has revealed to the majority of people on this planet, if not everyone.
The first truth the pandemic has revealed is about the precarious nature of Capitalism through it’s rusty supply chain. The other major truth revealed to us during the pandemic is the divide between those who espouse individualism vs those who champion collectivism.
By now, most have probably at least heard of the ongoing supply chain crises because many media outlets mentioned they thought it would to affect the holiday shopping season. Oh no! Forgive my sarcasm. I just find it funny how in reality, cracks have been starting to show in the supply chain for a while, but it only became a real issue in the eyes of the media once there was a chance for it to affect holiday sales.
Regardless, the global coronavirus pandemic has turned those cracks into gaping holes bleeding time and money, revealing the fragility of the the western financial philosophy of capitalism. In an earlier piece, I explored capitalism’s relation with production (one of its fundamental tenants) and how automation will fundamentally alter the lives of workers, potentially widening the already large pay gap between billionaires and everyone else. Ah, the good ‘ol days and simpler times! My purpose for mentioning this article again is because, as mentioned before, it examined one of the core tenants of capitalism; production. Despite predictions by many of the incoming automation crises and how that will displace workers, nobody could predict that the supply chain would be rocked by a global pandemic.
While ports on the west coast have garnered much more of the mainstream media attention, that hasn’t stopped some rare backlogs in east coast ports as well.
But again, it’s not like alarm bells weren’t already ringing due to working conditions and an an alleged short supply of truckers. I say alleged because of a superb piece on Medium by Lil Bit the trucker chick, a trucker who explains that it’s not so much a “shortage” of truckers, but rather how the pandemic, has given drivers in trucking and other transportation industries a moment of realization that maybe they don’t need to put up with the conditions that many are forced to deal with. In this piece, she reveals that
“There are thousands of valid class A CDL holders, across the United States, who have elected to not drive a truck anymore… These people have not relinquished their credentials. Instead, these valuable people have been forced to seek alternative forms of employment in order to be able to provide for their families."
She goes on to describe in her piece that the nasty reason many truckers are choosing to seek other employment is partly due to the fact that most drivers are not independent owner operators, but instead beholden to trucking companies that often find a way to cheat drivers out of much of their wages.
But she isn’t the only trucker on Medium who doesn’t entirely buy into the whole trucker shortage. Another writer and trucker, Ryan Johnson, writes in their piece about the trucker shortage and supply chain problem on Medium that
“…when the coastal ports started getting clogged up last spring due to the impacts of COVID on business everywhere, drivers started refusing to show up. Congestion got so bad that instead of being able to do three loads a day, they could only do one. They took a 2/3 pay cut and most of these drivers were working 12 hours a day or more. While carriers were charging increased pandemic shipping rates, none of those rate increases went to the driver wages. Many drivers simply quit.”
The pandemic has only exacerbated an ongoing problem in the making for the trucking industry as drivers are finding other jobs during the pandemic because it is a job that can hurt social relationships and one’s health. This is leading some in the trucking industry calling this time period a “shipping armageddon.”
But the trucking industry is essentially a microcosm of a macrocosm within the capitalistic supply chain. While the food and beverage industry worker shortage has gotten the most media attention, the meat industry is also continuing to feel the effects of the supply chain crunch as well, thanks in part due to a shortage of workers at meatpacking plants. The omicron variant of the coronavirus also strained the food supply chain again, just like the chain was destabilized for many in the first year of the pandemic.
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Despite these shortages of workers, it is still the supply chain that is now catching the brunt of this stress. But it’s not just Americans seeing problems in their supply chain. Britons are also starting to see troubles in their shipping industry that some experts say could be a sign of things to come in Europe. Some industries in Japan are also affected by supply chain disruptions as well. More recently, even the ports that organize and transfer goods from overseas are seeing some major issues and extreme bottlenecks as well, so much so that the Biden administration took drastic steps because “…with the holidays coming up, you might be wondering if the gifts you planned to buy will arrive on time.” But it’s not only the Biden administration that was worried about the holiday shopping season, many media outlets stoked this fear about the holiday shopping season too. The more conservative media outlets went so far as to blame President Biden for ruining the holidays (even though in the end, the holidays were far from ruined).
Up until this point in my lifetime, I don’t recall these areas ever having major problems before. Based on what I’ve read in the past, it was clear there was potential for there to be a crises years in the future due to shortages of workers/drivers and also based on the rising demand of everything year after year. But coronavirus pandemic exposed a weakness in one of the major arteries at the heart of capitalism. Now certain countries that really rely on the monetary blood flow are starting to feel palpitations. And these palpitations have been felt by many in the last year, as the supply chain crises has created a domino effect, causing higher grocery store prices, higher prices for electronics, cars, and much much more.
While it goes without saying that the pandemic has caused many revelations to people personally, the increasing failure of the supply chain is something that has and continues to affect many people around the world in some way, exposing a failure in the capitalistic system due to low wages for workers in key supply chain occupations and a low number of workers in key supply chain occupations who have begun wondering why they continue to put forth all this effort for very little growth and compensation.
2) The Philosophical Face Off
The only other idea the Coronavirus pandemic has exposed to everyone all over the world is something I admittedly had not thought much about. I do my best to not perpetuate the “us vs them” duality that the media and many leaders over the world try to propagate. But I also see what’s happening all over the world. I’m not blind.
The second truth the pandemic has revealed is the stark contrast of those who tend to favor a cultural philosophy of individualism versus those who tend to favor a social philosophy of collectivism. For the sake of time, I’m not going to go into much detail of what each philosophy stands for. For those curious, look it up.
I mention this kinda, sorta philosophical standoff because these tensions may have been simmering between people around the world for a while now. But, the pandemic has dutifully illustrated these stark contrasts like nothing most of us have seen. It’s gone so far creating strange bedfellows of certain antithetical groups and people one might not ordinarily see together. That very reason alone illustrates that this divide goes beyond one’s political ideology (though at this point I acknowledge it is extremely hard to separate politics from the dueling philosophies).
In other words, perhaps the pandemic has made it much easier to tell where people fall on the scale of collectivism vs. individualism. Hell, in this last year it seems as though there has been a rise in families not only being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic itself, but also this proxy war (showdown, divide, chasm or whatever you want to call it) between those who favor individualism vs collectivism.
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Some feel the divide has become so tenuous in the United States, they are beginning to question whether the country might slide into another civil war. But I think those people are missing the larger point of what’s happening around the world.
The pandemic has emboldened many who champion individual liberty, not just in the states. While America has seen it’s fair share of anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests by those claiming they are protecting liberty and freedom, it is certainly not alone. There have been anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests all over the world, from Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Guadalupe Island, Italy and Israel to name a few countries. More recent and violent protests took place in the Netherlands and Vienna.
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A common theme within many of these protests around the world is that those protesting feel their individual rights of bodily autonomy, travel and just overall general liberties are being taken away by “draconian” mandates. In some cases, they may have a point since the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (also known as International IDEA), published a report that found Democracies are backsliding across the world during the pandemic.
Now, regardless of how one feels about those protesting (or in some cases their questionable methods and messaging), it should at least be acknowledged that these people care enough to show up to protest. Granted, it should also be acknowledged that a protest does not signify the thoughts and feelings of everyone protesting are the only ones who tends to lean more toward individualism.
To a small extent, I understand where some of these people are coming from. In the past, I definitely prided myself on my own oddball tendencies (in 8th grade I won an award for being the “most unique” student in Ms Kann’s English class).
Some might say it was my individualism that propelled me to travel the world and around the United States. At that time, I was in no mood to follow the path that my parents or society had paved for me. On my journeys, I met many interesting people. Most proselytized living in community, but more importantly, heavily emphasized being yourself. One thing so many of these people had in common was that they were tired of living with and in the same social norms and cultures of what they considered to be mainstream society. I understood that, and to a certain extent I still do. I think a lot of these people, the ones I know and even the ones I don’t, tend to emphasize individuality and individualism due the upbringing a most of us went through. I myself was not a fan of the conveyor belt life society tried to push on me; spending 17 or 18 years in school, getting a job, finding soulmate, buying house, having kids, etc. etc.
So to a certain extent, I understand the plight of those who champion individualism in these times because they feel that their government, and society in general, has suddenly created all of these “new” rules and regulations that they feel have “come out of nowhere” and see it as an attempt to neuter the “free thinking” individual.
Hell, I would probably still favor the individualistic side of things if it weren’t for one major problem I feel some are either blind to see or simply unwilling to see.
It’s that fact that many far-right and alt-right groups promoting conspiracy theories have co-opted the messaging of those who favor individualism as a way to potentially recruit more to their ranks. The problem is that for all those who claim to do their own research, they shockingly (sarcasm again) do very little when it comes to noticing that some who organized or supported the insurrection in Washington D.C. have also been organizing anti-vaccine protests as well.
On the other side of the spectrum are those who favor Collectivism. One of the main criticisms they face is that while they believe they are doing their part in ending the pandemic by social distancing, masking, getting vaccinated, but they are simply just following the ever-changing advice and guidelines of the various scientific bodies and alphabet agencies without their heads exploding.
But I need to be honest; I don’t think anyone who favors collectivism enjoys living this way. I sure don’t. It’s understandable then that some who favor collectivism might from time to time get a little miffed at the confusing and inconsistent guidelines. But it’s understandable to see why, since this group is trying their best to end the pandemic by trusting those with a little more knowledge than them. It should be no secret then that those who favor collectivism are also sometimes getting upset at those who are choosing to not get vaccinated or wear a mask, because the collectivists perceive those actions as perpetuating the pandemic.
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I think one of the major philosophical differences between the two sides is a matter of who or what they trust. As it appears to me, people who favor collectivism tend to trust those who are highly educated and also have experience in the field in which they talk about. On the other hand, those who favor individualism tend to be more wary of so-called experts as they prefer to trust their gut/instincts and other individuals they know well (or have been following a while on social media, or if other individuals vouch for someone on social media).
There is inherently nothing wrong with how either side approaches life, in theory.
The unfortunate thing about this ongoing battle between those who espouse collectivism and those who champion individualism is that, I think because of the cudgel known as mainstream media (but especially social media), both sides seem to feel like only highlander rules apply, meaning “there can be only one.” Personally, I feel there are times one might emphasize individualism over collectivism, but there are also times when collectivism should rightly be emphasized over individualism. People on both sides of those participating in this philosophical showdown have frustrated me.
Those favoring individualism have frustrated me because they appear to be blind to the fact that a pandemic is a once in a lifetime event that requires people to work together in order to stop it from becoming endemic while conservative leaning hucksters are co-opting their messaging. This co-opting of messages even happened during the Canadian Truckers protest and within the ranks of the “Freedom Convoy.”
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On the other side, those who favor collectivism have a hard time fathoming why many who champion individualism have such a lack of empathy (rightly perceived or not) and why they wouldn’t trust the science of the CDC, FDA and others who are experts in their field.
For me, the reason why I tend to side with the collectivist mindset during the pandemic is because of something that Dr. Anthony Faucci recently expressed, saying
“…we understand that people don’t like to be told by anybody to do something that they may not want to do, but there is something that people need to realize when they just think about it. You are not in a vacuum when you are in the middle of a pandemic, you are part of a community.”
What Fauci said is the biggest critique I personally have of those who lean more toward an individualist philosophy; because they are either blind or choose to ignore the fact that their decisions to not mask, not get vaccinated in this particular instance are having a ripple effect throughout their neighborhoods, throughout their country. If this wasn’t a pandemic, I would probably more inclined to side with them to a certain extent. But it’s frustrating when their actions are clearly having a negative impact on others, especially in regards to shortages off hospital beds and staff, where people who don’t even have COVID can’t find adequate care.
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Even the results speak for themselves as Robin G. Nelson wrote in Scientific American,
“This pandemic exposed the fragility and faults in each layer of our lives — from our innermost circle of family and friends to the nation state at the periphery — and the differential risk experienced by any individual’s core community. Communities that were already heavily invested in social safety nets with measures such as paid sick leave were able to lower COVID rates. Those invested in the ideology of self-sufficiency and individualism prolonged suffering and loss of life.”
I don’t see this divide being bridged any time soon. The pandemic has created an event where both sides of this philosophical face-off feel emboldened, and even righteous, making it harder to find common ground (but not the common ground where one side gets most of what they wanted and the other side gets barely anything in return. Progressive democrats know that feeling all too well). The problem, at least as the media is making it appear, one side of this ongoing debate may be starting to take more hostile actions than simply protesting.
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If some event were to actually happen, I am fearful that this would simply embolden and escalate things on both sides, which would be a shame because this is a rightfully important debate between individualists and collectivists that must find some sort of common ground. The fractures and chasms that would open due to such an event would be too much for the people all over the world to bear.
I very much want to be right about humanity, that it has the power for greatness and coming together in times of difficulty, especially because all of us are going to need to work together in the future to combat climate change and a whole host of other issues (like the continued rise of automation and displaced workers). But I don’t see us as a collective coming together if we don’t allow ourselves to come together during this confusing, frustrating whirlwind of a time. It would be great if we could all move forward together, and not in the tribes we currently find ourselves because the future of our survival depends on us coming together. Maybe it’s good the pandemic has highlighted these tensions, as it allows us to see where the divides are and attempt to come to together to find solutions. Yet I fear most people will see these divides and choose to erect walls instead of building bridges.