(First in a series of articles on the implications of the coronavirus for our times, for human history, and for the fate of the earth.)
The social, economic, and political turmoil around the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic presently sweeping the world is unprecedented in modern history or, more precisely, in the last one hundred years. Before we can even begin to understand its manifold and still unraveling ramifications, many of which are bound to leave their imprint for the foreseeable future, it is necessary to grasp the fact that there is nothing quite akin to it in the experience of any living person. Fewer than 5500 people have died so far, and of these just under 3100 in the Hubei province of China. There have been hundreds, perhaps a few thousand, wars, genocides, civil conflicts, insurrections, epidemics, droughts, earthquakes, and other ‘natural disasters’ that have produced far higher mortality figures. About 40 million people are estimated to have died in World War I; in the Second World War, something like 100 million people may have been killed, including military personnel, civilians, as well as those civilians who perished from war-induced hunger, famine, and starvation. Weighed in the larger scheme of things, the present mortality figures from COVID-19 barely deserve mention. And, yet, it is possible to argue that what is presently being witnessed as the world responds to the COVID-19 is singular, distinct, and altogether novel in our experience of the last one hundred years.