It took a microscopic organism, a bat and a weird scaly anteater to remind humans that we aren’t as smart as we think.
I don’t have to tell you about the coronavirus that is bringing the entire globe to a screeching halt. Stock markets are crashing, millions of people are being confined to their homes, schools are closed and even March Madness has fallen prey to the virus.
There isn’t any agreement on how it all got started, let alone how to stop it. A number of conspiracy theorists believe a mistake in a Chinese lab set the virus free. This conjures up images of Fu Manchu in a room full of smoking test tubes when — oopsie daisy! — one crashes to the floor and noxious liquid leaks out a drain onto the unsuspecting streets of Wuhan. All the experts say this didn’t happen.
The other prevalent theory is that bats tend to be loaded with coronavirus and one bat or a bunch of bats pooped as they flew over the forest (and without washing their little bat feet), leaving the ground contaminated. Along came a pangolin, an animal most of us here in North America know nothing about, and he sucked up some of the virus while eating ants and termites.
Pangolins basically are anteaters with scales made out of keratin, which is the same thing that makes up your fingernails. They also are the most trafficked mammal in the world. They are endangered because so many are illegally poached. The reason? Certain Asian cultures value their scales for medicinal purposes and their meat is considered a delicacy. I know eating a scaly anteater sounds disgusting, but a culture that sucks down raw oysters has no room to criticize.
Anyway, the story goes, the virus eventually was transmitted to humans through illegally pilfered pangolins. If so, it would only be justice. The revenge of the pangolins! But the experts now say that a pangolin probably wasn’t to blame, although they don’t know who should be blamed — well, other than the Chinese, who wasted valuable time trying to cover up the initial outbreak of the virus.
Everyone in the U.S. snickered for a little while until — wait a minute! — the virus showed up here. Now we’re all scrambling around closing down schools and canceling sporting events and watching our retirement accounts disappear. It’s like being in a bad action movie, only without aliens.
I was at Kroger Thursday and it was a mob scene. If one person there had been exposed to the virus, half the town would have picked it up because we all were there buying everything we could throw in a cart. If we’re going to have to be confined to our homes we’re at least going to eat well (and have enough toilet paper).
It now is serious business and we all have an obligation to do what we can to help prevent the spread of the virus. But I can’t help but think that there is one lesson we should all learn from this pandemic — and it’s not just to wash your hands.
Twenty-first century humanity prides itself on its ability to control its destiny. We put a lot of trust in scientists and doctors and yes, even politicians. If there’s a problem, they’ll find the answer!
But this little microscopic coronavirus has brought civilization to its knees. Maybe we’re not so awesome after all. As it turns out, we’re all just little specks of sand on a giant cosmic beach, part of a vast interdependent system and not nearly as important as we think we are.
All the little bits of sand feel secure until a wave shows up and then panic sets in. We think we know so much that we don’t know what to do when something shows up that we don’t understand. It seems to me a little more respect for microscopic things, strange scaly anteaters and all parts of God’s creation would be a good idea.
I imagine mankind will weather this particular storm, but there are no guarantees. And what if someday something shows up we can’t figure out?
I’ll tell you one thing, the pangolins won’t miss us.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.