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Monday, September 21, 2020
AMSTERDAM/ROME, Jun 8 2020 (IPS) - As the COVID-19 virus spread rapidly around the globe, so did various theories about what caused the pandemic. According to the standard scientific theory, the virus originated in bats; crossed over to humans, probably via another intermediate host; and then spread rapidly across the globe.
While the mainstream scientific theory sufficed for some, a large number of people saw the pandemic as the work of cold-hearted military or industrial strategists. An equally large number of people saw it as some kind of divine or natural retribution for an increasingly recalcrinant human race. It’s interesting to look at these various alternative theories and to speculate why they have such a strong hold among the public.
In the first of this two part article we looked at the main conspiracy theories – the CIA, the Chinese, Big Pharma, Big Finance, Bill Gates. We suggested that a major factor underlying the popularity of conspiracy theories were primordial fears – fear of illness, of death but, above all, of the unknown.
Given the extent of this fear, which was fanned by the mainstream and social media, many people felt reassured having someone to blame. It meant that someone was in control; that there was a plan; and that once the pandemic had served its purpose, those in control would bring it to an end.
The most radical of these theories is that Gaia – the primordial mother earth of Greek mythology and the self-equilibrating super organism, postulated by James Lovelock in his seminal book – is rebelling against humans.
Rebelling against the pollution and the poisoning of soils, waters and the air; against the plundering of forests and minerals; and against the tens of thousands of aircrafts buzzing around her day and night, and the hundreds of millions of cars constantly crawling all over her. According to this theory, the virus is Gaia’s revenge and marks the end of the age of humans.
It may take a few cycles while the virus retreats, mutates and returns, but in few years or at most in a decade, we humans will be extinct and the planet will flourish again. The Gaia theory is well captured by some beautiful videos on social media showing how plants and animals are taking over urban areas.
Other apocalyptic theorists feel that the pandemic is not a punishment from an ephemeral mother goddess. But rather it is a punishment from an angry and vengeful deity who is seeing his divine project going off track. Mankind is progressively turning away from religion, from morals and traditions, and from family values.
The pandemic is God’s admonition to us to return to the righteous path. And, for this reason, it has focused more on the godless and materialistic west, where among other misdeeds, old people are sent to nursing homes rather than being kept in the family. In these theories, humankind may survive, but in order to do so, they must rediscover their moral compass and return to righteous way of life – whatever that means.
For those who subscribe to these theories, it is anathema to suggest social distancing and the closing of places of worship. In order for humans to survive, we must do exactly the opposite – gather together, preferably in temples, mosques and churches to seeking collective forgiveness from an angry god. This is despite the fact that mainstream religious leaders, from the Pope to the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar, have not said a word about Divine Will playing any role in the pandemic.
A more modest version of apocalyptic theories is that humans have overstepped a few boundaries and all we need to do is make some tweaks to our lifestyle to get back on track. One such theory relates to the waves emanating from the 5G telephone systems.
Proponents suggest that these waves facilitate the spread of the virus while also weakening human immune systems. The fact that Wuhan, where the virus originated, is one of the places with the highest densities of 5G networks, apparently provides clear proof of the link between COVID and telephone waves. So all we need to do is take a step back and decommission all the 5G towers. And since the telecom companies will not do this, activists in some countries have taken it on themselves to set them alight.
So why are apocalyptic theories, even the most bizarre ones, so common? If primordial fear drives conspiracy theorists, what drives the apocalyptic theorists? In our view it is collective guilt. We have been warned, and warned again, and warned yet again about continued misuse of resources and lack of attention to planetary health.
We have been admonished time and time again about superfluous consumption, about waste of food and other essentials, and of the over use of fossil fuels and plastics. We all know that our lifestyle is unsustainable and that that we are causing irreversible climate change. But despite this knowledge, and despite thousands of words written, documentaries screened, learned scientific conferences convened, and hours of speeches by political leaders, we have failed to take the clear and drastic actions needed to make our lifestyles more sustainable. Knowing that we have been collectively misbehaving, it is almost a logical conclusion that a global disaster is a consequence of our bad actions.
Similarly, collective negative sentiments have quick and direct effect on our collective wellbeing and actions. Conspiracy theories or apocalyptic views of the world create anxiety, fear and depression among millions of people and cause immense harm and pain. More worryingly, this fear, anxiety and depression does not seem to go down as the pandemic abates. It seems it’s here to stay and poison our life for several years, if not decades.
Equally worrying is that there are plenty of local situations where such fears and worries can be easily manipulated as is happening in the USA, where President Trump continues to stroke these fears and uses this to apportion blame; or in India, where Prime Minister Modi is blaming Muslims for deliberately spreading the virus to damage the Hindu nation.
Daud Khan is a former United Nations official who lives between Italy and Pakistan. He holds degrees in Economics from the London School of Economics and Oxford University where he was a Rhodes Scholar; and a degree in Environmental Management from the Imperial College of Science and Technology.
Leila Yasmine Khan is an independent writer and editor based in the Netherlands. She has Master’s degrees in Philosophy and in Argumentation Theory and Rhetoric from the University of Amsterdam, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of Rome (Roma Tre).
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