Links and Comments: Living in History

People have a tendency to feel pleased they are living in history, experiencing the thrill of witnessing grand, momentous events. This partly explains I think the ever-recurring belief by some that they are living in the “end times.” How special one must be to witness the end of history! Instead of just one among another generation of humanity, a million-year old species of hundreds of thousands of generations who’ve lived and died and who are mostly forgotten. As most of us will be.

Of course people have been thinking the end is near (that aliens will arrive to save us; that someone who promised his followers that he would return in their lifetimes, 2000 years ago, might eventually reappear), forever, perhaps. Prophecies of doom, often tagged to specific dates, get explained away when the date passes and we’re all still here.

But one can make a case, on two or three counts, that we are now living in very unusual times. First, that the United States has never had a worse president, and the concern about whether enough people will realize this, without slavishly behaving like a cult whose leader can do no wrong, when the election comes in 10 weeks or so. Second, the global threat of climate change, the perfect example of the frog-boiling-in-water slow motion change that human nature isn’t equipped to perceive or understand, except by the minority who have been educated to understand the implications of slow-moving, long-term trends…

CNN: Greenland’s ice sheet has melted to a point of no return, according to new study

And third, the relatively near-term threat of the current pandemic, a global plague such as occurs every century or two, and will happen more and more often as humanity expands into previously untouched wilderness — a collateral effect of the “sixth extinction.”

Thinking big, my take is to realize that, should some existential threat really occur, most people won’t notice. Or care. Some who notice will deny it’s happening, or refute the claims from smarty-pants who think themselves better. Human nature.

The communities who deny the virus will die at higher rates. Evolution in action.

So just a few links on this theme today.


Rolling Stone, Wade Davis: The Unraveling of America. Subtitle: Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era.

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.


The New Yorker, Howard Markel: America’s Coronavirus Endurance Test. Subtitle: To defeat the virus, we will have to start thinking in years, not months.


The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang: The Coronavirus Is Never Going Away. Subtitle: No matter what happens now, the virus will continue to circulate around the world.


The Atlantic, Ed Yong (author of the well-received I Contain Multitudes): How the Pandemic Defeated America. Subtitle: A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.

Slate’s Mike Pesca comments about this: “We Should Absolutely Expect More Pandemics”. Subtitle: The Atlantic’s Ed Yong on what we need to learn from the coronavirus to prepare for the next global health crisis.


And here’s a bottom line. Contrary to those (conservatives) thinking the coronavirus deaths overstated, indirect evidence – the typical death rate month to month, year to year – suggests they’re vastly understated.

NYT: The True Coronavirus Toll in the U.S. Has Already Surpassed 200,000.

You just have to look at the counts of *all* deaths, over the past few months, compared to similar months over the past few years. If the increase in deaths isn’t due to Coronavirus, what else could it be?

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