What do Viruses, Climate Change and our Mental Health Crises have in Common?
Each is trying to make us better, stronger, smarter.
Each is helping to improve our species long term survival – IF we change and learn.
The bad news is that each does so at the expense of a lot of pain and suffering.
The good news is that IF we change and learn the species lives better and has a better chance for long term survival.
Viruses are a case in point. We think of them as “the enemy” who causes death and disease, which of course they do. However, viruses and bacteria both descended from an ancient cellular life form. But while – like humans – bacteria evolved to become more complex, viruses became simpler. “they are not agents of destruction,” Caetano-Anolles says. Life on Earth would look very different without our viral co-inhabitants. “We wouldn’t be here without them,” says James Shapiro, a University of Chicago microbiologist. For example, researchers speculate that more than 100 million years ago a viral infection in a primitive mammal uploaded a gene that helped the placenta evolve.
The plain fact is that life is tough. Very tough. And, unfortunately, it has to be that way for us to survive. Simply put, viruses help us survive by making us tougher. More adaptable. To have more variation in our genetics so that some of us survive when there is change around us. Here is another story from the world of biology to reinforce this point. When we have a species “perfectly” adapted to a given environment it can only survive in that perfect environment. The Koala are perfectly adapted to eating Eucalyptus leaves, a leaf toxic to all other animals. There is no competition and there are no predators. What’s the problem? Well, what happens when there are no more Eucalyptus leaves? End of Koalas. It turns out that this kind of perfection is a dead end. The idea then is not to have a perfect environment “out there” but rather to have a perfectly adaptable animal that is tough to change when life around it changes.
Climate change is sort of like that. Rather than seeing it is the threat that it is – also see it as a “nudge” to change, to make life better, to become even more human, a better human race. This crisis is such a wondourful opportunity to change and learn. The bad news is that if we don’t a lot of us will die. The good news is that if we do change and learn life gets better, not only for humans, but especially for the plants and animals around us that have suffered because of our self centred ignorance.
All of which brings us to mental health. In many ways this crisis can be seen as a sign that we way we live in our “modern industrial society” is destructive and damaging to us humans as social animals. The isolation and competition and stress it inculcates into our lives is clearly not how we were designed. For example, the covid-19 virus, besides killing those with weak immune systems, has also hurt a lot of youth through things like increases in depression, anxiety and illnesses like anorexia . Thus this virus is ‘telling us’ that being alone and isolated is deadly, as deadly as the physical aspects of the virus on some people. It is ‘telling’ us we need to change how we see society – to strengthen the bonds between people and not allow technology to further erode the social ties that bind into a people.
So, there you have it folks. Life is never safe. Life will never be safe. All we can do is give each other a helping hand and use our emotional and intellectual intelligences to change and learn. Then we do not merely survive – we thrive. Together.