Bangkok. Pandemic Journal. Day 1. 22 March 2020
Updated: Mar 24
Emporium Shopping Mall Bangkok, Thailand
I’ve returned from a look around at my city. Bangkok. I want to share thoughts and ideas, rational and emotional, at this stage in the pandemic. I’m starting a journal. There isn’t a lot of structure to what I have to share at this point. But I don’t think we should assume that anyone has a blueprint for the structure for the world that is birthing before our eyes.
The Ministry of Public Health and its Department of Disease Control in Thailand on 21 March confirmed 89 new cases of the COVID-19 virus. A day later, 22 March 188 new cases were confirmed. It was only a week ago that Thailand reached a 100 confirmed cases. In a pandemic, time warps and a week is no longer an accurate time measurement to gauge what is happening on the ground.
It’s time to pay close attention to COVID-19. Not to do so is a mistake. Not to understand this virus in a larger context is a grave mistake. I’m not a scientist. I’m not an expert. My obligation to myself and others is to go back to school and learn about the world we now inhabit with a virus that will touch every life around the world.
We’ve been living for a very long time inside an artificial ecology: consumerism, celebrity worship, hyper capitalism, self-identification by job, and 19th century political, problem-solving and educational structures. All of it is unravelling. People find themselves barricaded behind the walls of two camps: the spiritualist and the materialist. We never got the balance right. There is a reckoning, an audit of what we believe and who we are. The materialists are beginning to realize the fantasy of placing so much of our self-worth into objects and things. The religious are beginning to understand that no god is going to save them. All the gods are dying now. They’ve been dying since the 19th century. Now they are being dumped in a mass grave.
I have examined the progression of my information and knowledge since the pandemic has started. I want to reveal what I’ve concluded after some reflection. Until early March, I was making assumption based on the information then available, and on the knowledge that was slowly bubbling to the surface of human consciousness. I thought I had made a reasonable judgement on how the COVID-19 virus would impact all of us.
I was wrong. I operated on low information, and low knowledge. It was as if I looked at the first three months of our universe after the Big Bang and used that information to project what the universe would look like 13.8 billion years hence. It was that level of ignorance that led me a stray.
I’m wiser now about the level of my ignorance. My information, all of our information, remains in fragments; some are coming together to form a picture. But that picture is incomplete and filled with gaps. Our knowledge is growing but there is a great deal of uncertainty.
Like the singularity, we don’t know what happens at that point of time and space. All we know is that it is radically different.
I’ve been examining the ways of seeing the pandemic.
Through the lens of fear and panic.
Through the lens of accelerated change and uncertainty.
Through the lens that it is a good thing.
What? How could a pandemic that kills millions of people be a good thing?
Think of COVID-19 as a short trailer to the movie called Climate Change.
That slow-moving ecological change brought about by the changing climate will change our ecology of thought, the ecology of our social, economic and political relations in profound ways. COVID-19 is a wake-up call of how we must understand why our institutions were unsuited for the moment.
They’ve been irrelevant for a long time. Take the military. We have an ancient mindset about the need for a strong military to repel hostile outside forces that might seek to dominate and control us. Alternatively, we need a strong military as an arm of an economic system that needs to feed itself on a vast number of scarce resources. The military secures those resources, protects them, allows the private business class to process them into products that define our sense of self and well-being.
It turns out the military way of problem-solving is irrelevant. The frontline aren’t soldiers. They are medics, doctors and nurses, truck drivers, supermarket employees, food delivery, pharmacies, retail clerks, and garbage collectors. These are our special forces.
But here’s the problem. We’ve left out special forces out to dry. This is especially true with the healthcare professionals. We haven’t put in place the resources to protect them and allow them to do their job. We are sending them into battle without equipment. Imagine sending an army into war without guns and ammo. Insufficient hospital supplies such as masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, insufficient ICU beds, inadequate access to testing kits. In other words, we’ve sent them into a battle with inadequate supplies, little support, and no one to come to their rescue.
We didn’t see it coming.
No one thought of doctors and nurses as special forces deployed along a very long frontline against an invisible enemy. They are under attack. They are urgently requesting aircover. We are telling them we have no planes available. They are on their own. We have generals who don’t have the knowledge or skills to fight this war.
Our artificial ecology miscalculated how these professionals were all that kept us from being overrun in a pandemic. There had been studies, simulations, prior epidemics and pandemics, but those events didn’t cause us to question the artificiality of our social, cultural, economic and political ecology.
That old ecology is in the process of being blown away. What will replace it? We simply don’t know. We can’t know. We aren’t gods. Our information and knowledge is flawed, limited and contradictory. That’s always been the case, but we’ve not been willing to face reality.
That’s why we’ve created this manufactured, dream-reality. We are waking up. We’ve been asleep a long time. The world has fundamentally changed. Our social and cultural landscape is shifting at great speed. We are trying to find something to hold onto. That’s difficult because we’ve been living in a false reality for so long that we realize that our collective delusion has brought us to this juncture.
What have learned in the last three weeks? Humility comes to mind. For specifically, I’ve learned a major flaw in the old artificial ecology was the absence of value placed on preparedness. The pandemic has got us unprepared. This is a trial run for climate change. Can we learn the lesson that our highly valued private enterprise and the free-market system that optimizes for efficiency would see preparedness as inefficient. Keeping medical supplies, hospital beds, and personnel in reserve for an uncertain event like a pandemic would hit the bottom line.
Long term preparedness for the public well-being is not part of the capitalist deal. Profit-driven executives would find themselves out of a job if their annual report showed a large reduction in profits as revenue was being spent to prepare for a pandemic.
The pandemic is a teaching moment for the much large climate change crisis. The scientists who are being listened to about the pandemic are largely ignored by the political and economic classes when it comes to climate change. Again, we aren’t prepared.
Again, we are living in a false ecology sustained by the belief and hope that technology can rescue us at the last moment. We are finding, we won’t have time. Covid-19 is teaching us that the world doesn’t march to our timing, what we want, to honor our needs, to stick with our agenda. We are in the midst of a destruction of the old false ecology which has exposed itself for all to see.
Yes, many remain in denial. Many want to know when this will end so they can resume their lives in the dream. The answer is that dream is gone. It’s morning of a new day and we have to find a way to remake ourselves, a way of being, and way of self-awareness.