What's Tony Thinking

Is There an Upside to the Corona Virus?


I write from the U.S. epi-center of the epidemic, Seattle, on a day when the number of confirmed cases of the Covid-19 illness stands at 650 in the U.S. and rising. And the stock market has just taken its greatest one day loss since 2008. All sorts of consequences are rippling throughout society.

Is it insensitive or “incorrect” to ask, are there upsides to this situation?

I can think of several. While the President and his administration’s handling of the pandemic have been a focus of news and analysis, the corona virus has otherwise managed what nothing else has — to sideline Donald Trump and his on-going show. He is not now the center of all attention.

People are focused on a disease we don’t understand very well, on those who are sick and dying, and on how to keep as many people safe and healthy as possible. These are real concerns, not like so much of the glitz, pettiness and foolishness to which we have become accustomed.

Second, there’s a biblical verse, Acts 10: 34, that in the King James Version goes, “God is no respecter of persons.” In more recent translations it shows up as “God shows no partiality.” The meaning is that God is not impressed by the distinctions that mean so much to we human beings — who has lots of money and who doesn’t, which are the “right” neighborhoods to live in and which are not, who is to be privileged and who is not. God is not impressed. Neither, apparently, is the virus.

Today’s news carried word that the head of the Port Authority in New York City and the rector of “prominent” Episcopal Church in Washington D. C.’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood are sick with Covid-19. Also ill are key leaders of the Iranian government. At least five members of the U.S. Congress, exposed at the Conservative Political Action Conference, are in “self-quarantine.” Our sympathy and best wishes go to them and all others who are ill. Though the virus is the greatest threat to those with compromised immune systems, it does not discriminate on the basis of age, income, liberal or conservative, whether you are important and powerful or unknown and ordinary.

In this age of celebrity, obscene inequities of wealth. and a tendency to sort and judge everyone into their
identity group, the fundamental equality — and dignity — of all people is often wholly forgotten. This virus reminds us of a biblical truth, “God is no respecter of persons.” Our common humanity is more important than all those distinctions in which we place far too much trust.

A third possible upside, is that national boundaries are no defense against such a virus nor a guarantee of safety. This is also part of the message of climate change. While money and power may buy some short term protection from the effects of climate change, the real truth is that we’re all in this together. And we’re all in it with this virus together.

I’m not globalist in the sense that I believe countries or nations are only a negative to be transcended in some new esperantist utopia. I think it’s great that we have many different nations and peoples, with our different stories and qualities. But there’s a tendency to imagine that some nations are invulnerable, others vulnerable. Too bad if you’re in the later category. But the corona virus is unmasking that illusion.

Oh and one more plus, traffic in Seattle isn’t bad. People are staying home more.

It is a time of terrible worry and concern. We don’t know what will happen. But we never do. Perhaps this crisis will help us see what is truly precious and what is not.

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