Why the Coronavirus Panic
One characteristic that distinguishes humans from other living creatures, that makes us unique, is the need to understand.
Other living systems have an organism that guides the what, how, when, and with whom of action, but none have philosophers or scientists who try to explain what is going on. Similarly, none have a house of prayer, a place to worship a mystical entity that provides us with an answer to what we cannot explain or control, how the world was created, for example, or why someone dies. So, when you run out of explanations, you might say “it is God’s will” or “the Devil made me do it.” Religion provides our souls with answers: if you follow your religious prescriptions, you will go to heaven and your suffering will end.
We humans have a need to understand why. There must be an explanation for why we experience anything. Some of those explanations are true—whatever truth is—but some explanations are based on prejudice. Prejudice like racism: “the Jews did it” or “African Americans are causing it” or “it is white people’s fault.”
Other ways to satisfy this need to understand are rumors, fake theories, voodoo rituals, and anything else that gives us the illusion that we can influence outcomes like with a prayer.
Sometimes neither God nor prejudice can provide the answer. So we need to exaggerate the phenomena we do not understand. The more exaggerated the picture, the clearer it makes us believe it can be. When we exaggerate, we panic. We behave extremely. We shoot in all directions, believing it might somehow hit the target.
How come there is no panic about influenza? More people die from the flu than the coronavirus. How about malpractice in hospitals? In the US alone, medical errors kill about 500 people per day. People do not panic about these things because we think we understand what causes them and what we must do to avoid them.
The coronavirus, however, is new. We have never had COVID-19 before. We do not know what it is but we seek to understand nevertheless; Rumors fly all over the place. Conspiracy theories of a hidden plan to destroy humanity are floating around. China accuses the US. Iran exploits the opportunity to claim that Israel made the coronavirus happen. Dozens in Iran died from drinking a toxic alcoholic concoction sold by corrupt people claiming it will save peope from the virus. And soon, I have no doubt, this will also be labeled an effort by Jews to take over the world. We need an explanation at any cost.
The fact is that we do not know much about the coronavirus and should act accordingly. Take measures that are obvious and true for any infectious disease: wash your hands, avoid large crowds, eat healthy food, sleep well, keep a good attitude, and wait until you know more. In the meantime, there is no need to panic. Calm down. Live with uncertainty for a while. Panic generates fake explanations that lead to fake therapies that could have much worse side effects than the disease itself.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes