The conditions that allowed the novel coronavirus to flourish and to jump to humans aren’t common in most parts of the world, yet the impact of COVID-19 has touched billions already. This is the way toxic culture works, says Sandy Erez.
Before we became “batpeople,” the solar eclipse was an event to celebrate and cherish together. Gathering outdoors in gawky groups, garbed in ridiculous glasses, we marvelled at the incandescent moon as it covered the sun’s gleaming nakedness in a robe of lunar darkness. The zenith of our ebullient star parties was a glimpse of the universe’s crowning achievement: the sun’s magnificent corona glowing against the endless black velvet sky. We held hands and gaped at the rarely seen majestic wreath, revelling in its timeless message: Our life source, the warming sun, will surely be there when the shadow passes.
Now, stranded in the twilight zone, we stand motionless and breathless before a different corona – one that symbolizes not hope, wonder and life, but isolation, sickness and death. A giant bat out of hell has spread its wide, dark wings over the globe and inculcated itself in our collective consciousness like an unexpected eclipse of the sun. Caught unprepared without any protective glasses to shield us from harm, we have no choice but to do the Darwinian thing and become bats ourselves. Hiding in our reclusive roosts, we shun the daylight and hang out alone, socially eclipsed in a world that has turned upside down overnight.
Although most of us shy away from these oft-misunderstood bat friends, we actually have a lot in common with the species: Like us jet-setting, pouch-carrying humans, they traverse the skies in large groups – the only mammal capable of true and sustained flight. They know how to obey traffic rules (and are probably superior in that skill to us… sorry, Mobileye) by using their built-in sonar (echolocation) to track objects and avoid bat mobile collisions. In fact, they are such masters at mid-flight maneuvers that next-generation drone engineers are probing the intricacies of their aeronautic skills in order to emulate their prowess.
However, on a strangely comparative note, the powerful and versatile wings of bats are not designed for take-off. In order for bats to fly, they have to first fall from a tree or cave perch to begin their ascent. Kind of like the human race, which every century or so teeters on a tipping point, bringing us down low before we can rise back up. Picture a whopping Boeing-like fall from grace, leaving a runway scattered with shards of hubris in its wake.
In case the millennials don’t understand that analogy, how about this: a totalitarian toppling of the 21st century money-back-guaranteed, Ubered-to-your-house pedestal known as COVID-19.
The Dark Knight Rises
As our cities shutter down and our globalized, up-to-its-ass-in-apps planet sputters like a dying star, we are slack jawed in a state of disbelief. An unfolding docudrama has invaded our airwaves and occluded our airways – with the only other streaming coming from our nose. Could it be that our remote control is broken and stuck on Netflix’s “Pandemic” or “Contagion?” It seems as though in the short time it took to get our popcorn from the microwave and scurry back to our seats, a pandemonium-induced pathogen has mysteriously mutated off our laptop screens and proliferated into our laps, littering our living rooms with chaotic, zootic spillover from an oversized universal bucket.
Damn, if the ever-so-thin membrane between virtual reality and reality has finally been pierced, we couldn’t have gotten stuck on Master Chef? I’m hungry.
Testing Positive: Planet of the Asses
Despite the well-known phrase “blind as a bat,” the ignorant among us will be surprised to know that a bat’s vision is three times sharper than a human’s. Perhaps that can partially explain why intelligent human beings refuse to see blatant truths even when they are right in front of their faces (or masks). Our highly evolved ability to believe only what serves our individual self-interest has been the bane of our existence. Apparently, we will continue for some time to test positive for being jackasses. I certainly don’t see anyone racing for a cure to that…
In fact, in the course of just the recent weeks, we were witness to rampant “herd immunity to stupidity” on a global scale: Eastern world leaders muffling their whistleblowers to death in order to falsely maintain their country’s image as pristine (did they really think we believed them?) while putting the rest of humanity at unfathomable risk. Western leaders strutting around like peacocks proclaiming business as usual until their citizens started dropping like flies. Blithely sacrificing thousands of lives in order not to expose their country’s failing health systems and/or unpreparedness in the face of disaster, politicians spread “spin” around like a lethal disease. And finally, other clods, either in positions of power or just plain citizens, dare to debate whether it is democratic to put people in lockdown despite the clear and present danger.
I guess they realize that keeping a stiff upper lip is easy if your constituents are dead.
A Captive Audience in Captivity
To be classified as a virus, an organism must be an obligate parasite – meaning they are dependent on their live host for their entire life cycle. If we dare to stretch the boundaries of etymology just a bit, it could be that we, the thoughtful caring human race (!), could be classified as a virus – feeding off our host, the living planet. Tragically though, we have ignored the obligate part and are incrementally destroying natural habitats as we madly criss-cross the globe to fulfill our appetites for the riches of the earth not offered on our Amazon food chain. Unfortunately, foregoing the long-term for short-term gratification seems to be a dominant gene in our genetic makeup.
So, although this deadly COVID-19 outbreak seems to have been traced to the horseshoe bat (potentially in cahoots with a pangolin), some zoologists and disease experts are pointing their sterile-gloved fingers at a different culprit (SURPRISE!!!): us. It’s not the stock market’s bubble-bursting this time, but the wet markets of Wuhan upsetting the delicate balance between human and animals.
Wake up, sleepyheads and jailbirds! The planet earth has launched its biggest viral revenge yet: the transfer of disease known as zootic spillover.
Toxic Cultures Kill… Everybody
When we talk about toxic culture, most of us think about Frankenstein executives bullying their workers to yield profits until they jump off the corporate ledge and fall to their demise. But a toxic culture can be applied to any environment where immune systems are challenged by stress or poor conditions – bats and other wild animals that are hunted or held in captivity in close quarters are more vulnerable to infection. In this particular case, the coronavirus is thought to be so deadly because the bats’ high body temperatures enable them to harbor pathogens that will survive a human fever.
So as our viral footprint (ouch) continues to expand and the profits from the exotic-animal-derived medicines and delicacies grows, we should expect an increased risk of these kind of deadly outbreaks. But let’s be real, folks, mankind has a very short memory and a unique capability for selective vision.
Sadly – yet predictably — fear of a pandemic pales in comparison to the fear of lost profits and sunken economies. The loss of sunken hot tubs or profitable wet markets apparently is too hard for fat cats to comprehend.
The Joker is on Us
When the long shadow passes and the corona disappears, the bats will go backstage. People will come out to a different world, blinking their eyes, with their perception altered in regard to what matters in life.
And, if we are lucky, a light will penetrate deep into bat caves, where policies and laws are seeded, germinated and disseminated to the global winds. Humanity will get whiff of the fact that natural resources are not endless, people are not expendable and nothing is worth anything if we cannot meet on the street without endangering our species or any other.
Maybe by then, our universal remote control will come to life with a new agenda: the welfare of the people. Then hopefully, I can go back to my real life, watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”