A “civilizational cure” for coronavirus

Worldwide synchronized lockdowns could be a prototype of an embryonic civilizational circulatory system — and beyond — as the first application for merging science and theology to design the body of Christ and embed it in human civilization.

In principle, a synchronized worldwide lockdown for one incubation period could purge the novel coronavirus disease from the human population …

The huge loss in lives, human potential, and outright economic depression that are anticipated from coronavirus disease and prolonged lockdowns provide enormous motivation to find some simpler, more direct, and more elegant path to a “civilization-level cure” — which probably wouldn’t take more than a couple months, plus a little mop-up time to handle further propagation among healthcare workers and breaches in lockdown.

We have seen the economy-crashing effect of coronavirus, which make us wonder if our entire civilization will be crippled if we leave it embedded in its structure. These issues rise to the level of a theological dialog that our entire civilization must have. Science and theology have used different languages that have never mixed, so I will bring these two worlds together over the course of this essay. 

  • In principle, a synchronized worldwide lockdown for one incubation period could purge the novel coronavirus disease from the human population. Of course, asynchronous transmission would occur in medical facilities and homeless and/or displaced populations (those in extreme poverty, prisons, concentration camps, refugee camps, etc.) who lack the facilities and resources to hunker down for 14-30 days.
  • The huge loss in lives, human potential, and outright economic depression that are anticipated from coronavirus disease and prolonged lockdowns provide enormous motivation to find some simpler, more direct, and more elegant path to a “civilization-level cure” — which probably wouldn’t take more than a couple months, plus a little mop-up time to handle further propagation among healthcare workers and breaches in lockdown. 
  • A worldwide synchronized lockdown would obviate the huge morbidity and mortality that would be incurred during the time required to control the pandemic, either by running its course, finding an effective vaccine, or slowly building up herd immunity under sporadic lockdowns. 
  • Given the enormous impact that this coronavirus pandemic is having on the world economy and permanent adverse effects it is likely to have on the future of human civilization, we should seriously consider synchronized lockdown, not least because it could conceivably rid all of humanity of the infection within a matter of months. I wonder if a push to provide separate tiny houses and stockpiles of food, water, and all other necessary living supplies to every person on earth, sufficient to last for several synchronized incubation periods — even including special provisions for incarcerated populations everywhere in the world — might actually be a practical solution to this pandemic. 
  • Because some healthcare providers would be exposed during the designated lockdown periods, a few more cycles would be necessary, possibly narrowed to successively smaller populations in ways resembling vaccination containment strategies. 
  • Then, too, prolonging the pandemic by keeping the infection rate low also correspondingly prolongs the duration of social distancing and economic suppression — likely for many years. Nobody has yet faced what a lonely world this virus would create for us if we resigned ourselves to it as a new fact of life. 
  • Worse than the effects on our economy, educational system, and lives, letting this virus continue to spread in the background would create evolutionary incentives for it to escape our social distancing interventions and become even more efficient and pathogenic. The risks of even more explosive exponential growth and greater virulence put great pressure on successfully purging the virus from the human population on the first try, lest even more virulent strains might emerge.
  • Of course, any of the currently envisioned control paths would incur risks of further mutation and seasonal recurrences, possibly in even worse forms of the disease. As the virus continues to propagate and mutate around the world, new strains will emerge, so infection with one strain may no longer confer immunity to others. The longer we postpone purging this infection from human populations, the more likely it becomes that new strains will gain capabilities for circumventing the proposed synchronized lockdown intervention. 
  • Barring dramatic medical breakthroughs in infection prevention and/or outpatient treatment of SARS-CoV-2, the costs and difficulties of performing this intervention would have to be weighed against the opportunity cost of keeping the world economy in a deep recession until vaccination and/or herd immunity suppressed transmission chains. That opportunity cost could be calculated as the difference between expected economic conditions without freely circulating COVID-19 infection versus those under the best productivity that could be mustered with social distancing sufficient to keep transmission bubbling at a low enough rate to avoid overwhelming medical facilities.
  • The exposure of healthcare providers and first responders represents an especially tragic toll on those most willing to put their lives on the line to treat victims of the disease. The medical community has special interests in curtailing the burden of disease as quickly and surely as possible. 
  • The key commitment that’s required is providing poor countries and communities separate shelter accommodations, safe water, food security, and electronic technologies appropriate for shelter-in-place demands for the duration of the lockdown. Although that might have seemed a daunting proposition in the pre-coronavirus era, the alternative of a massive economic depression for years could really make a two-month “civilizational cure” look exceptionally attractive! 
  • Quite a number of other communicable diseases could simultaneously be eradicated this way through isolation lasting more than their incubation periods. 
  • Whole industries and services that seem destined to collapse under coronavirus, like airlines and public transportation, could come (literally?) roaring back to life within months. 
  • The technologies we would provide to poor communities and nations, like cheap cell phones and/or tablets with special features for monitoring deviations from lockdown, could leapfrog over current limitations and jumpstart their economies. The world economy could thereby rebound even more quickly by preferentially boosting the poorest regions most! 
  • Investment in the distribution network required in the short term to allow everyone in the world to hunker down through synchronized lockdowns could coalesce the movement for social justice as the scaffold for an embryonic circulatory system by which we might envision forming the body of Christ. Minorities, progressives, and progressive theologians seem well positioned to enter into such a Trinitarian resonance, but fundamentalists have not assimilated humanity’s historical experience into their worldview. The notion of social justice is a profoundly Christian principle, and the resonance of minorities, scientists, and theologians could generate a life force far stronger, more resilient, and more forward-looking than our “bean-counting” economic system ever could! That’s what Christianity has always envisioned as “the body of Christ”. 
  • Some people have expressed concerns that electronic tracking capabilities could enable dictators to intensify totalitarian controls over their populations. However, there’s a remedy to suppress or even prevent that weak point: Allow those harmed by dictators to sue them personally in civil courts for damages! When dictator wannabes deviate beyond democratic norms, the laws that ordinarily protect officeholders from personal liability become null and void. Putting authoritarians’ fortunes in such jeopardy, with no statute of limitations, would put the kibosh on their ambitions to “enter” government “service”!!
  • This approach could, both in principle and in practice, end all pockets of the disease everywhere in a very short time, during which few additional cases would need to be treated. If any recurrences emerge, one or more similar lockdowns, possibly in more localized regions, could take advantage of the equipment, delivery systems, and logistical infrastructures put in place during the first lockdown. 
  • The equipment and infrastructures put in place could be used to suppress future outbreaks and pandemics. Further improvements could introduce these disease suppression capabilities as a permanent feature of human civilization. 
  • As always, nations wracked by conflict, civil war, anarchy, and severe poverty would present special difficulties. However, the expected mortality and acute morbidity of coronavirus transmission might be orders of magnitude greater than most, and perhaps all, existing manmade and natural catastrophes, especially if the virus races through the world population in rapid, unregulated fashion — as might be the case in developing and war-torn nations. On that basis, not only might this spectacularly disastrous pandemic persuade people everywhere to drop their tribalistic conflicts and pull together against a common microbial enemy, it could actually force our hand to try such an intervention. 
  • The intervention I’ve proposed could benefit other public health initiatives. For example, it would require accelerating provision of safe water throughout the world, so people don’t require medical attention for easily preventable diarrheal diseases during the synchronized lockdown. Water could be stockpiled in bottles or other, larger, containers, and those water vessels could later be used in subsequent point-of-use antimicrobial water treatment. Therein lies an opportunity to refine the design of containers for safe water programs and disseminate them widely, in light of the resources that could be mobilized for the synchronized lockdown intervention and further opportunities that would follow. 
  • The ramp-up of technologies and production facilities used to provide modular homes, safe water systems, food production, delivery systems, etc., could be repurposed into a kind of “circulatory system” after the virus is purged from the human population. 
  • We can learn from the fact that some kind of recurrence of the Spanish flu was overdue and highly anticipated. Putting in place civilization-level interventions could be spectacularly cost-effective and easily implemented over long timescales when there aren’t worldwide pandemics forcing us to implement them with a gun to our collective head. 
  • What this means is that we, all of humanity, have an interest in taking care of ourselves, especially bolstering the weakest links anywhere in the world. Nationalism has arisen to expose its ugly underbelly, that we might slay that dragon once and for all. This world is irretrievably interdependent. 
  • By contrast, think about how the laissez-faire system has undone every so-called (but really self-serving) “principle” it has ever “stood for”: free trade, individual initiative, unfettered capitalism, and every-man-for-himself got instantly morphed into disease-induced requirements for a system of bailouts, subsidies, and handouts that are more socialistic than communism!! Life doesn’t tolerate regression to unicellular structures once it gains multicellular capabilities. 
  • My theory of civilizational design predicts that as a civilization becomes more technologically capable, the corresponding amplification and streamlining introduces dynamic instabilities that must be addressed preventively. Simultaneous lockdown is a civilizational capacity that can forestall such turbulence. 
  • Obviously, this intervention wouldn’t “eradicate” the coronavirus pathogen and its cousins, which have animal reservoirs, like bats, in this case. After all, the coronavirus we will have purged will still remain in zoonotic reservoirs, lurking and available for release if encroachment pressures reopen the Pandora’s box. To deal with zoonoses like this on a permanent basis, human civilization needs to change its relationship with natural ecosystems and wild animals. We need to interpret HIV/AIDS, Ebolavirus, coronavirus, and other zoonoses as nature’s shots across our bow — which actually haven’t been missing us lately — to stop encroaching on the natural world and eating wild animals. 
  • At a civilizational level, the novel coronavirus has inserted itself into the global human economy at the civilizational level just as persistently as it does into the human respiratory tract at the individual level. 
  • The stresses that governmental and corporate policies are inflicting on ecosystems and communities have elicited feedback that is protecting the planetary life support system from collapse. Accordingly, getting rid of this pathogen is not enough; we must also remedy the excesses in our behavior that induced such feedback mechanisms, lest nature attack again with more resilient and persistent countering strategies (e.g., chronic carrier states and extremely long incubation times). This is a cautionary tale for regarding quarantines as a panacea without taking responsibility for addressing the underlying imbalances. 
  • Compared to the cost of letting COVID-19 linger indefinitely and continue to mutate as it suppresses the world economy in different ways — even if vaccines help tamp it down in one form or other — this modest investment in a public health distribution network would be immensely practical and cost-effective. To work in developing countries, it would have to be environmentally sound, and progressives could modify it for developed countries as a green enterprise. This could be the project for new economy based on our civilization’s pressing needs, which can grow organically, starting like a circulatory system and developing all other organs along the path of embryological development. 
  • In Christian terms, we need to think of what we’re doing to our entire civilization with our thoughtlessness, but also to understand how it was destined to reach this impasse when technology made our world interdependent. We are following the path of an embryo, which only can function like a unicellular organism for so long before its internal multicellular program becomes toxic. We now face a juncture where we must develop a resonant life force that sustains the organism over the rest of its existence. This is actually a very good and life-affirming state of affairs! However, as long as our civilization lingers in this selfish, self-indulgent unicellular form, we will be toxic to ourselves. 
  • As I see it, humanity is retracing its path through a new orbit, this time with knowledge and technology, as it goes back to its civilizational origins. The resonance we seek as a life form was envisioned as the Trinity, in which minorities, progressives, and conservatives can keep each other honest as they fulfill different roles in the emerging body of Christ. 
  • Thinking of humanity as the prodigal species over long timescales, fundamentalism have played into God’s plan in a contrarian way, exacerbating the inevitable technological meltdown by denying natural laws and projecting the Bible into a role it could not fulfill — guiding humanity, at our collective level, to know God’s will in the future, so we can steer our civilization as a whole in real time. The Bible is way too ambiguous and too slow to fulfill that role — in large part because it is not even in a language interpretable in terms of dynamic systems. Fundamentalists were right to deny that anything like the brutality and aimlessness of biological evolution should guide the course of human evolution, but not to deny its reality. It makes more sense to think of civilizational development as being God’s higher calling. Over the course of nearly two centuries, fundamentalists have become so entrenched in the defense of their positions they have manufactured layer after layer of artificial realities. The leaders they have chosen have continued to deny reality and incurred what past generations of believers have always recognized as God’s wrath, which we now also understand in terms of nature’s corrective feedback for bad decisions. Now we see a leader chosen by fundamentalists who has so much contempt for God’s kingdom that he would deny God’s will by dismantling voting infrastructures and denying the people their rights to vote. The Bible is rooted in ancient perceptions and cannot provide guidance about the salient features of human civilization in our time — the scientific development of the twentieth century and the pervasive civilizational design meltdown we are experiencing now, as technology and society intermix in toxic ways and media. It is fundamentalists who are the prodigal son, having strayed from awareness of the role that science and technology must play in the next chapter of humanity’s participation in God’s kingdom. 
  • I draw a distinction between fundamentalism, which is theologically flawed because it denies reality, and evangelism, which has always played a critical role in the development of human civilization. Evangelism relates to saving souls. Traditionally, a conservative evangelism has been cast in terms of proselytizing Christianity. In the early days of Christianity, the imperative was to convert as many believers as possible, to allow the fragile new faith to reach critical mass so its ideas could not be extinguished. What’s involved in salvation has been ambiguous, because there has been only a vague sense that the salvation of individuals depends on the health of the whole, consistent with the fates of cells within a multicellular organism. However, we can now see the emergence of a progressive evangelism, which uses understanding of physical and biological sciences to surmise what God is asking of human civilization to make the body of Christ healthy, as a matter of the collective component of salvation. A mathematical model of civilizational dynamics, developed on this website from first principles to show how our legacies propagate through the active medium of human civilizational over vast (e.g., historical) timescales, establishes the basis for understanding how to make our civilization healthy in the same sense as a multicellular organism, given that the mathematics of lifelike systems are scale invariant from the individual to the civilizational levels. Under that new and broadened perspective, we will see ancient biblical prophets as having foretold the future from a limited context, which the revelations of our era now expand to see the roles of other faith and nonfaith traditions, whose purpose was to seed the emergence of different organs in the body of Christ. When all people see that the doctrines of early Christianity played an early and remarkably prescient role in conceptualizing the dynamics that will make our civilization function as well as, or better than, our own bodies, conversion will be straightforwardly obvious, as a matter of intuition. The rest will hinge on individual and collective responsibility, which are the purviews of conservative and progressive evangelism, respectively. 
  • The salient issue we must realize at this critical inflection point is that our technological civilization must make the transition from a unicellular to a multicellular mode of existence. Progressives and minorities have positioned themselves well to enter into a Trinitarian resonance with conservatives — once all three factions learn what God’s plan is for humanity — the embryonic emergence of the body of Christ embedded in human civilization. 

Thank you for considering these suggestions. Spread ideas, not viruses! Take care and stay safe. 

1 Comment

  1. Ray Gangarosa

    Add a category “Everything we’re doing wrong”


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