The Covid-19 pandemic has created a unique moment in the history of our species. Something so small it takes an electron microscope to see is disrupting millions of lives and threatening the world’s economy. Frontline workers risk their lives trying to save patients who may die alone without friends or family at their sides. A virus, a strand of nucleic acid that highjacks the functioning of a cell to reproduce its unique viral form, is bringing our species to a near standstill. Despite the wonders of science, technology, and economic systems we can still be humbled by nature, indeed, by a strand of nucleic acid. It is crucial how we respond to the situation. What can we learn from it and how do we go forward?
We start with an adequate framing of the issue. This is a matter of life and death, which means it is in the most fundamental archetypal realm and requires an archetypal perspective. The fear of death from the pandemic is bringing a sense of immediacy and urgency on a planet-wide scale. Death cannot be separated from life, death makes us aware of the preciousness of life, and death confronts us with questions about the meaning of existence and our place in the bigger scheme of things. Death can bring an end to systems and beliefs that no longer support life and a healthy existence, and that could be the most important outcome of the present crisis.
The virus is demonstrating to what degree we are interconnected and how much we need each other. The forced social isolation and six-foot distancing has cut us off from intimate contacts and group experiences making us aware by absence how important we are to each other. The ghostly empty streets in otherwise bustling cities are eerie reminders that our systems are in shock at all levels. Like a nightmare that wakes us in the middle of the night, this shock is meant to shock us into a new awareness.
Our species needed to be shocked into an awareness that we have been barreling towards the edge of a cliff for many decades while showing no signs of being able to halt our “progress”. Well before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and the first Earth Day in 1970, environmentalists have been warning us about overpopulation, destruction of natural habitats, loss of biodiversity, mining our lands with modern agricultural practices, collapsing ocean fisheries, etc. Greta Thunberg rallied millions of young people to demand action on climate change but powerful oil lobbies and vested political interests have been unmoved. The long term consequences of climate change will make any losses from a virus seem inconsequential, making this a moment for us to re-examine our fundamental relationships with each other and with the environment.