Pandemic Reflections


While sheltering in place (including daily walks about our neighborhood), I’ve been doing some reading about viruses, pandemics and such, from sources other than the sensationalized media. There’s an increasing amount of critical thinking about the reality and meaning of the coronavirus and it’s impact on humans and our societies.

As it now turns out, the so-called novel coronavirus, Covid-19 or, as it is now called, SARS-CoV-2, is a coronavirus similar to the SARS virus that created a pandemic during the 2003-2003 flu season. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is the name for the result of our bodies’ immune reaction to a new virus, creating fever, lung congestion and coughing as our antibodies attempt to neutralize the newcoming virus and keep it from overwhelming us.

Viruses are fascinating bits of life, tiny bundles of DNA that live to propagate in the bodies of warm blooded animals, including warm blooded humans. Viruses need a supportive environment to quickly multiply and pass themselves on to other warm bodies to continue the process. Humans are ideal for this purpose, since we are large animals who live in crowded settlements and who travel extensively around the world, spreading ourselves and our viruses everywhere.

The secret of virus success is in this rapid multiplication and dispersal. This allows the viruses to mutate as they multiply, increasing the diversity of their genome, so that, when their host develops immunity to the interloper, the mutated virus can continue on apace.

In essence, humans help viruses speed up the process of their evolution by serving both as hosts for virus population explosions and by providing natural selection for the survival and success of the virus as it mutates.

In return for this service, viruses support human evolution by contributing parts of their DNA to the human genome. About 8% of the human genome is made up of viral gene sequences that have become a permanent part of the human lineage after they infected our ancient ancestors. (

The take home message of yearly virus pandemics is that viruses, as well as bacteria and other natural animacules, are an integral part of the natural world that flows through our bodies as we live, grow, multiply and die. Viruses are not a force of Nature outside ourselves that we can fight or control. Viruses and bacteria are essential parts of our bodies, responsible, at least in part, for our evolutionary success over millions of years of our species development.

We cannot control viruses and bacteria in the world, any more than we can control climate or the weather.

It would be a good idea to acknowledge this basic reality and recognize our close connection to the natural world as we make it a part of the way we live. We will always experience yearly virus pandemics (call them flu, coronavirus or whatever), so why not admit to it and organize ourselves such that these periodic natural epidemics don’t threaten to destabilize our cultures and economies.

If we are now restricted to essential activities, and getting along just fine, why should we attempt to revive and maintain non-essential activities?

Let’s make these recent accommodations to SARS-CoV-2 a permanent part of our cultures. Let’s give up the nonessential parts of our cultures, extensive global travel and tourism, international political and economic gatherings, just-in-time delivery of food and necessities, and excessive accumulations of unnecessary stuff to fill our homes and garages.

Let’s live as a part of the natural world, not apart from it.

Let’s live simply that all may live.

This is a learnable moment. Our grandparents and great-grandparents learned these tough lessons through past world wars, depressions and pandemics.

Now its our turn.


3 thoughts on “Pandemic Reflections

  1. Interesting perspectives, Michael. If the DNA of viruses are part of the human genome, are vaccines consistent with this model? Or do they impede the evolution of the genome? I recall reading some time ago that labs were trying to create a vaccine that would attack a common feature of all or most corona viruses so that if they mutated, the vaccine would still be effective. Can you verify this in your research?
    Regarding a simple lifestyle, I’m all in favor of it. I recall learning in Social Anthropology 101 that Native Americans spent only a few hours each day hunting and gathering as well as building tools and dwellings. The rest of the time they could pursue such things as art and music, religion, love and war. Sounds a lot better than commuting to a 40-hour a week job.


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