Column: Some things to ponder at home
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Column: Some things to ponder at home

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Don Wooten

More than you want to hear about the novel coronavirus pandemic, but things that you might not have read or thought about:

As you have heard, covid-19 is not a form of the flu virus. In fact, the technical term for it is SARS-CoV-2. Yes, it’s a relative of SARS, so it packs a bigger punch than influenza.

Because it is a new form, we really don’t know much about it. We will learn as we go along, fighting it all the way, but not with anything designed to stop or mitigate it. It takes time to develop such things: about a year, and we are off to a slow start.

Ever since Jefferson, we have complained about big government. You don’t have to look very far to find someone with a complaint about a bloated bureaucracy. But there are some things that require the kind of coordinated action that only a large, experienced, long-established government can handle. This is one.

Which is why sound and fury about big government, and subsequent moves to shrink it drastically look pretty foolish now, especially the 2018 dissolution of structures designed to deal with the kind of trouble we are in now. Our current scramble to assemble such a team is not only an embarrassment, but a cautionary tale for the future.

One of the great advances in modern civilization is the means we have developed for the ease and speed of movement of people and goods around the world. The explosion of covid-19 from a single wild animal market in China to all corners of the globe is a reminder that every such change in human life comes with a price. One that is implicit in the beginning, but always takes the general population by surprise when it comes due.

So, is globalization a bad thing?

It has caused changes that we anticipated and some that we hadn’t carefully considered. The flow of industrial jobs overseas and the subsequent loss of union strength to protect workers and secure well-paying job have been keenly felt. The impact has shrunk the middle-class and stranded the unskilled. We still don’t know what to do about it.

It was all done to drive the cost of goods as low as possible and drive up profits for corporate leaders and investors. It also enabled the rise of big box stores and the withering of small local businesses. Everyone loves a good bargain and buyers gravitate to the lowest price. Where money was once spread more generally through the population, it now pools at the top.

Now that covid-19 has interrupted the steady transfer of parts and goods, how do we handle resultant shortages? What China doesn’t make for us, Korea and southeast Asia do. So far, the disruption has been handled, but what if this growing lock-down runs on?

Sociologists have commented on the fact that that some of our inventions have broken down familiar bonds between people. First television, then computers, the iPhone, and the internet have made it easier to stay home and mix with others only by choice. Now that crowds are being discouraged, we can lean on these linkages, but they are not the real thing. What you exchange face-to-face is more real and honest than anything you get remotely. Covid-19 may damage us in ways we can’t anticipate.

Some of the advice you have heard bears repeating, with some precision. Remember, the virus is spread by droplets. A sneeze carries a good six feet, so you must control your own and keep your distance from others. Since the traffic between your hands and face is almost constant, those droplets can be transmitted by and on anything you touch. No handshakes or kisses may make the world a less friendly and loving place, but a safer one for the present. And keep washing your hands.

Finally, some idle speculation. Perhaps you have heard of the Gaea Theory. Gaea is the personification of the earth as goddess and some have imagined her (and it) as a living organism. Thinking along these lines, we inhabit her skin as trillions of microbes inhabit ours. Even as our body’s inhabitants sometimes threaten our health, we may — and in fact are — threatening hers.

Could it be that Gaea is mobilizing her earliest inhabitants — bacteria and viruses — to eliminate a particularly irritating, and perhaps deadly, creature? One that wounds and scars her; that threatens all other life forms?

Could it be that these simple life creatures have volunteered to assist her in eliminating — or at least sharply reducing — humanity’s increasingly negative presence?

Nonsense, of course. But is it? Something to ponder as you sit patiently at home.

Don Wooten, of Rock Island, is a longtime broadcaster and former Illinois state senator; donwooten29@gmail.com

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