Many human tendencies are at odds with the behavior of the systems that govern our lives. Natural systems are complex and have lags that trick us humans.
Even when we think that we have figured something out for sure, it may not be the case. We tend to confuse correlation with causality. We let our biases, beliefs and assumptions rule our thinking.
Take the current COVID-19 situation. I recall saying to my wife a few weeks ago, “The media makes a big deal of everything because their goal is eyeballs. Bad news sells and they desperately need good ratings, especially at a time when they are losing to the Internet.”
While that may be true, it does not mean we ignore their information altogether. There could be some truth in it.
I then assumed that it was like the flu, based on what I heard. That assumption was proven false very soon. I was still confident a couple of months ago that having tackled the Bird Flu, the Swine Flu, Ebola, we could handle this.
While that helped keep my confidence high, it also prevented me from learning more about the novel virus. Only yesterday did I learn the added meaning of the word “novel” in this context. In addition to being a new virus, it meant that no one has developed any immunity to it as of yet.
Some of the key differences between the Ebola virus and COVID-19 is the time period when it is infectious and its ability to spread far and wide as a result. By the time someone with Ebola was contagious, they were too sick to travel.
We failed to comprehend the consequences of the fact that you may be fully functional, have absolutely no symptoms for several days AND be extremely contagious. This could be the primary cause for its widespread impact.
Next, what do humans fear?
Pain, suffering and a loss of status.
Given this, would our leaders, many with high egos, want to accept such bad news and failure readily?
In addition, what do we care about? Success and recognition.
Therefore, what would our choices be geared towards? The larger good at our personal loss OR to protect ourselves first and not think about the holistic impact. We make such choices either unconsciously or in some cases even consciously (isn’t that scary?)
Bill Gates prophesied with scary accuracy about this outbreak in his TED Talk in 2015 (5 years ago), and we paid no attention. This is a must watch if you haven’t already.
My question to all of us is, “What are we going to do now?” Are we going to take steps as soon as we can or ignore it again and wait for another pandemic because precautionary steps cost money and require effort?
People question the ROI of investments towards unseen problems but never question the ROI of the zillions of dollars spent when we are in the midst of the crisis.
To make matters worse, Larry Brilliant pleaded with the TED audience in his 2006 Talk (~14 years ago), “Help me stop pandemics.” Please watch his talk, it’s informative and powerful. But, even the Who’s Who present in his audience failed to grant him his wish. They gave him a standing ovation but didn’t follow-through with the required action.
As an evolving human race with bright individuals inventing self-driving cars and discovering amazingly cool things, why can’t we do something as a collective to preserve and help our species thrive?
My blood boils when I hear our leaders tell our fellow citizens something like, “Nobody warned us about something like this being a possibility.” Thanks to recordings above, we can prove that we have been warned for years, if not decades. We simply chose to ignore their warnings, a display of epic irresponsibility.
Isn’t it time for us to band together; instead of politicizing every possible issue, only to stay divided and be at a stand-off? All this behavior accomplishes is INACTION which results in a LOSE-LOSE for all.
Please wake up! Let’s come to our senses and realize that we are at a precarious point as a species. We have the ability to destroy ourselves unless we take a global view of the system and foresee the impact of our choices beyond ourselves.
Let’s acknowledge the power of an invisible microbe and the devastation it has caused. My sincere hope is that we will learn from this pandemic and pay more attention to people who warn us with good insights.
Our job going forward would be to organize ourselves to take action after gaining a better understanding of the entire ecosystem and visualizing the impact of seemingly simple policies and behaviors that can ensure the well-being of our species.
Be well, be safe, be courageous.
Originally published on https://krishnapendyala.com/system-failure/