Academics warn that the COVID-19 pandemic is a symptom of systemic issues in human society
- Published: Tuesday, 07 April 2020 07:43
While the world is focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists from the Singapore University of Technology and Design are warning that it is important not to lose sight of the causes of the pandemic. They suggest that COVID-19 is ‘more than just a virus, but rather a symptom emerging from something much deeper - a nonlinear dynamical system of coupled pathologies underlying a veneer of progress in an increasingly fragile, volatile, hyperconnected world.’
A new paper by Kang Hao Cheong and Michael C. Jones published in BioEssays describes the convergence of four broad, but easily identifiable systemic, pathologically networked conditions, or ‘Four Horsemen’, that are ‘hurtling civilization towards potential self-destruction in which a pandemic is only one of many possible triggers’.
The Four Horsemen of overpopulation, globalization, hyperconnectivity and increasingly limited and centralized supply chains ‘are the broad parameters underlying the probability space of catastrophe’.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed critical pathologies lurking within the dynamical global system of commerce, governance, and public health," said Cheong. “From this heuristic framework a pandemic can metastasize into other vital domains, such as economic and geopolitical stability and other 2nd and 3rd order, multiplicative effects that could snowball into unprecedented catastrophe.”
"Even if Covid-19 is not the proximal cause of global catastrophe this time, like the rogue iceberg that slashed the Titanic, it is a blow sufficiently unsettling to awaken us to the fact that we are sailing into a dangerous sea that is increasingly crowded with icebergs," said Jones, a co-author of the article.
In this increasingly complex and chaotic landscape, manoeuvres such as colossal financial bailouts to avoid ruin by the COVID-19 iceberg can turn the ship straight into a bigger iceberg, or, more likely, into a chain of collisions to the point that catastrophic failure is virtually inevitable. From the standpoint of decision making, as long as these conditions are not resolved, catastrophe should be considered an inevitable endpoint from the nonlinear dynamics.
"A proper understanding of this explosive risk landscape points towards a solution: a massive change of global course based on the precautionary principle and informed by biological principals," observed Cheong.
"Biological theory and complexity science will play a major role in guiding the paradigmatic transformations required to defuse the time bomb. We will have to construct sustainable social institutions and behaviours that imitate life, rather than systems that defy the principles of the living state, in which living things both anticipate and avoid ruin to achieve persistence," said Jones.
You can read more about the paper, ‘Introducing the 21st Century's New Four Horsemen of the Coronapocalypse’, at https://doi.org/10.1002/bies.202000063