Some Hopes for the
Aftermath of COVID-19
by Robert Winter

I’m hoping, odd as this may seem, that in addition to all its horrible destruction, the corona virus might also have some positive effects.  The most important of these could be in how we perceive and evaluate reality.

Not too long ago, any number of credible experts told us that lots of people were going to die horribly and needlessly, if we didn’t socially distance ourselves and take other reasonable precautions against COVID-19.  In response, millions of Americans, led by no less a personage than the President of the United States, chose to simply wave these warnings aside and pick a more agreeable story to believe.  (Among these was a conspiracy theory that the corona virus was just another hoax on the part of those awful Democrats, trying once again to undo the leadership choices that had been made at the ballot box in 2016.)

Presumably fewer people are calling the COVID-19 pandemic a hoax now, after they’ve seen footage of victims’ bodies being forklifted into the backs of giant refrigerated trucks serving as makeshift supplements to overwhelmed morgues.  Maybe it’s not excessive to hope that the decrease in scoffing will be accompanied by a corresponding increase in respect for science and facts, and for the people who promulgate them.  COVID-19’s invisibility to the naked eye may have given many people a useful reminder that scientists can often see and understand things the rest of us don’t.

Possibly with this newfound respect for science, some of the people who took COVID-19 lightly will also have second thoughts about all the scientific warnings and evidence they’ve dismissed up to now about climate change.  Is it too much to hope that maybe, just possibly, we can finally get enough Americans facing up to this challenge to enable solid, decisive action to be taken before it’s too late?

I’ll take it one step further:  what if newly science-acknowledging people can develop a broader appreciation for how far removed from demonstrable facts we’ve gotten when it comes to other areas of contemporary life?

We live in an age that’s awash in “stories.”  Whether in the form of TV or web sites, movies or books or blogs, there’s always a glut of narratives we can choose from.  If we don’t like one (possibly we find it too depressing, or maybe merely boring), all we have to do is change the channel or click someplace else to replace it with another tale better suited to our mood of the moment.

We’ve become so accustomed to this behavior that, with barely a thought, we’ve carried it over to forms of stories that are meant to convey actual facts about the real world.  If a news story or magazine article doesn’t please us, we tend to treat it exactly the same as any shoot’em-up or romance:  simply pressing the remote or tapping the device to move on to something more in line with what we’d prefer to be told (typically, something we already believe).

These habits have put us so badly out of touch with what’s actually going on in the world that we might as well all be driving down the highway wearing virtual-reality headsets.  It’s an approach to reality that’s inherently unlikely to prove (forgive the use of an annoying tree-hugger term) “sustainable.”

We’re long overdue to open our eyes to actual reality in any number of areas of contemporary life.  If we can do so, we’ll enormously expand our chances of finding solutions to some of our most troubling current problems.

Moreover (and this is important), we won’t have to all hold the same opinion of what to do about these problems.  A diversity of viewpoints is a rich and valuable resource—provided they’re based on the facts of what is, and not merely reflections of what we hope is so, or what we just enjoy being told.

If we can collectively get our heads out of those proverbial places in our bodies where it’s too dark to see, there’s no telling how much better we might be able to make our world.

Could a development this significant and positive actually come as a result of the otherwise ruinous corona virus?

Some might consider it an irrational hope—optimistic out of all proportion to the near-term devastation COVID-19 is certain to cause.  But those same people might not be aware that the Black Death, a far more deadly pandemic which, in just one of its waves, killed a third of Europe’s population, was not only a precursor, but also a significant causative factor, of the Italian Renaissance.

If we can just keep up our heads up and out of unhealthy places, and re-learn how to work together for the common good, we may well surprise ourselves with how much better we can make our world.