The coronavirus is the worst virus most of us have encountered in our lifetimes. It has killed more than a million people worldwide; it has brought entire economies to their knees; it has changed the everyday lives of billions.
Even as we thought we had a grip on it and managed it and flattened its curve, here it is again, rearing its ugly head. Many countries are now experiencing their second waves of widespread infection. Just as we humans were hoping to resume a semblance of normality in our work and family lives, we are staring at another round of restrictions.
Why is it that we, the most evolved creatures on this planet, cannot tame this tiny creature, this bit of DNA that barely has a body and certainly has no brain? Why does all our science and all our history not help us in countering this nasty little pathogen?
There’s a reason for that. It is because there are two more viruses that infect humans that are interacting with corona and making it even more dangerous. These viruses are not new; they have been with humans since the dawn of time. They lie latent in all of us; they are easily transmitted; and they are often fatal. Unlike their newfound friend the coronavirus, these two do not originate in other species; they are endemic to humans. Right now they are working in cahoots with their new buddy to multiply the havoc.
What are these two viruses called? Stupidity, and selfishness. Let’s consider them one at a time.
The first, stupidity, lies latent in all of us. It pops up from time to time to befuddle and confuse us. Some humans carry a huge viral load and, therefore, have limited processing power. They have no choice in the matter, and they do not pose massive danger to others as they generally accept their lot and are rarely put in positions of power or make decisions on behalf of many others.
The second variant of the stupidity virus is the more dangerous one. It is present in low quantities and often lies low. It tends not to show up in the usual (flawed) tests we have for this virus. There are many false negatives.
This variant is called wilful stupidity, or sometimes, intelligent stupidity. People infected by this variant have the brainpower and the education to suppress the spread of corona — but they choose not to. They are not unable to think and learn deeply; they refuse to do so.
Unfortunately, many infected by the second variant are able to manipulate others, win arguments, triumph in elections. They are given great power, and they misuse it extensively. They start fights, act boorishly, ignite conflicts - and fail to manage pandemics. They transmit this stupidity to their supporters, who swagger around parroting their leaders and refusing to abide by common-sense rules.
The second virus, selfishness, is even more virulent. It burrows deep into its human carriers and stays with them for life, marring their behaviour patterns. These carriers start demonstrating grotesque self-regard and whiny me-first behaviour from a young age. When older, they always put their own interests first and even make this a virtue, often constructing entire philosophies that extol self-love and lack of communal spirit as values to be admired.
Those infected by the selfishness virus are the ones who scream about their rights to be free and infect others at will. They put their personal desires and cravings above common restraint. They place their own financial interests first, and public health last. They protect their own safety and leave the devil to take the hindmost. Those with the worst viral load of selfishness are to be found not just maximising their own gains, but engaging in active plunder during this pandemic. They are those politicos and wheeler-dealers all over the world who have shamelessly exploited the crisis to steal funds, equipment and supplies that would otherwise mitigate corona’s impact.
Corona often makes its victims lose their sense of smell and taste; selfishness makes them lose empathy and compassion. These carriers are zombies whose essential life functions — kindness, pity, humanity — have long been dead. They exist only to accumulate, and then to die, pointlessly, with nothing.
Right now the coronavirus is doing high-fives with its new bros, the stupidity and selfishness viruses. They are aiding and abetting one another at every turn, nullifying most efforts to contain them. The only successes against corona have been in societies where the other two viruses were not widespread. Those communities have shown the power of applied intelligence and collective concern.
The rest may have to deal with this deadly trio of pathogens for a long time yet.
Sunny Bindra is a management consultant, writer and teacher based in Nairobi. www.sunwords.com