Some time ago when the pandemic first began, there was a debate over whether the virus jumped from animals to humans via animals in a traditional “wet” market (where live animals of different species are densely packed), or, alternatively, from a laboratory experimenting with viruses. For some time now the wet market explanation has apparently been the accepted one while the laboratory theory has been derided. Now, it seems the laboratory scenario explanation is making a comeback. If it (the lab scenario) is true (hereinafter “IIIT”), there will be hell to pay. Here are some speculations:
- n During the not-yet-over pandemic, scientists were in the vanguard of castigating the lab explanation. IIIT, these folks and science itself will be in the dock for a cover-up. How sad and ironic! Science — the creation of a vaccine — has provided the means of escaping the disease but, IIIT, it will be a case of we — the general public — requiring the help of those who created the problem in the first place.
- We are living in a time in which every significant event is quickly politicized and then weaponized. IIIT an argument will soon arise over which political party is to blame. In fact this probably should be an apolitical question, but given the reality of polarization, cooler heads are not likely to prevail.
- Even if the lab scenario is true, it is nevertheless also true that vaccination provides the way out. But, for many, this view will not be acceptable. The anti-vaxxer resistance — worldwide — will likely harden. If this happens then influenza and other scourges may become worse than they otherwise would have been.
- As everyone not living in a cave knows, political polarization has tracked racial polarization. Heretofore this involved two races — black and white. Of late Asians have been brought into the fray. IIIT that it was in a Chinese lab that COVID arose, then racial polarization will likely take a new and ugly turn. Even if COVID did escape from a lab in Wuhan, China, it seems (as of now, anyway) almost certain that the escape was an accident — after all, everyone the world over has suffered. But there is no question in my mind that doubt will be cast on the accident scenario.
- The USA and most developed countries on the one hand and China on the other, are now in an economic and political contest similar to the Cold War era when the contestants were communist USSR along with communist China. This contest should, in my opinion, take place in the arenas of commerce and education. Many countries now have nuclear weapons. Enough said.
- As if this COVID-from-a-lab question were not enough, science is presenting us with other potentially problematic powers. Two of these are genetic manipulation (using the CRISPR computer program), and artificial intelligence (AI). The former may lead to questions involving eugenics while the latter may engender mass structural unemployment. Both of these themes are explored in an extraordinary new novel, “Klara and the Sun.” Klara, a very intelligent and very empathetic robot, lives in a world in which most humans are genetically improved (“lifted” in the vernacular of the novel).
In sum, while the world is still reeling from COVID and the possible squali explored above, new challenges are appearing. I have no doubt that some in this period of turmoil will turn to the Book of Revelation for guidance. My hope, however, would be that most would turn to Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”.
John Palmer, Ph.D., is a registered independent voter and non-victim living in Huntington.