David

Entrou: 10 de ago. de 2019 Última vez ativo: 20 de out. de 2021 iNaturalist

I periodically delete and rewrite this page, depending on my mood at the time. Sometimes I have random ramblings here, or quotes, or youtube videos. My profile page is very protean and unpredictable, much like nature and life in general. You never know what you'll find.



Today, I have the complete "opposite" message from the one I had a few days ago. If you didn't see it, the message from a few days ago was about the vastness of the universe and how inconsequential our individual lives are. This edition of my profile, however, is about how even the simplest actions can have unimaginably large consequences.

I think that really is one of the most important messages to be gained from the covid pandemic. If you think about it, the entire pandemic- millions of infections, 4.55 million deaths and counting, trillions of dollars spent, countless hours of work, stress, and effort- ALL of it started as a result of the actions of a single human. The SARS-CoV-2 virus DID NOT EXIST prior to 2019, and every single one of those virus particles are descended from a SINGLE virus particle which infected a single individual and experienced one or more key mutations. That single virion (virus particle) was the one that infected that first person and started this global pandemic. Had this first person (I'll call them patient X from now on*) done something different on the day, hour, or minute that were exposed, NONE of this would have happened. We will probably never know exactly who patient X was or exactly how they got infected, but what we can be sure of is that preventing that person from becoming infected in the first place by that single virion would be incredibly trivial if we had a magic time machine and could go back to that fateful day. Preventing further infections would be a little less trivial, but it would probably still be relatively easy. All it would take is for patient X themselves or the people they come into contact with to wash their hands, wear a mask, or take a few days off, and millions of deaths could be prevented, trillions of dollars could be saved, etc.
The same logic applies to all of the variants, and to local outbreaks. While a global pandemic can seem like an act of god (an event outside of human control, such as a natural disaster), some external force that humanity must just suffer through, the fact is that it isn't. A pandemic starts, spreads, and is either ameliorated or exacerbated as a DIRECT result of individual human actions and individual "small" and "insignificant" choices, such as whether to wash one's hands, whether to go to the store to buy a bag of chips one day, or when/whether to wear a mask properly.

It is often incredibly disheartening to live in such a massive, highly globalized society, as it is almost impossible to see the consequences of most of your actions. One can work for an entire lifetime and never see any significant changes being effected by that work, but COVID reminds us that even the largest and most consequential effects are often invisible. Patient X will probably always remain an abstract idea, even to themselves, as they will likely never have any inkling that they were the original case that started it all. However, that one person, whoever they are, did something one day that affected almost literally** the entirety of the human species.

The key thing to remember is that Patient X in the SARS-CoV-2 story is just an example though, and there are patient X's for each of the individual variants, for each individual outbreak, and for all other infectious diseases- as well as other phenomena. As influential as Patient X was, they are probably just a totally normal, random person. There is likely nothing exceptional about them... other than than the immense power they ended up having, completely by random chance. And this means that we are all potentially Patient X. Not in that we started the SARS-CoV-2 (I know for a fact it wasn't me), but in the sense that we could all be responsible for ineffably consequential kinds of things we have no clue of.

So, to conclude my train of thought, I just have a thought experiment. When all of human history is over, and the last descendant of the human species finally dies, who was more influential or powerful- a famous, celebrated (or infamous and hated) person like FDR or Hitler, or a forgotten and "unremarkable" person like the Patient X of a global pandemic? In a similar vein, who did more good- your famous historical person of choice, or the potential Patient X who decided to wash their hands that one time they would have otherwise become infected by a novel disease and completely averted a global pandemic?

Society often tells us that we should strive to make a difference by being rich and famous. I think more of us should strive to make a difference by washing our hands.

*The term "patient zero" actually refers to the first individual that is recognized by the medical establishment to have a particular disease/condition, it doesn't necessarily refer to the primary case- which is the person in which a disease originated. The term "Primary case" is even more abstract, impersonal, and less known than "patient zero", so I'll go with "Patient X".

**There are still a few uncontacted tribes in the world that could plausibly not have been affected at all by the pandemic, although who knows how long that will last. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will almost certainly be something that remains with the human species for centuries or millenia, so it's likely that it will eventually reach even the uncontacted tribes. It's certainly possible that all of the uncontacted individuals alive today will live out their lives completely oblivious and untouched by any of the effects of covid though.

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