The other day signs seemed to show that the coronavirus outbreak was dying down. Death rates seemed to be dropping and Chinese citizens were heading back to work. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as feared.
This optimism, it appears, was unfounded. More recent headlines feature news that the virus is alive and well.
From CNBC comes news that China has over 15,000 new cases.
Yahoo! reports that the death toll is much higher than thought after authorities “changed their criteria for counting cases.” The chart below shows just what a dramatic increase this change has caused. Perhaps China wasn’t as truthful as the rest of the world trusted them to be?
Perhaps one of the most disconcerting aspects of the situation is the question of the virus’ origin. Given that China’s “only declared site… capable of working with deadly viruses” resides in Wuhan, suspicion is rising that the virus may have come about through “China’s covert biological weapons program.”
Only time will tell if this surmising is correct. But the possibility of a pandemic caused by man’s own scientific powers is disconcerting. It is also reminiscent of observations C.S. Lewis made in The Abolition of Man.
According to Lewis, all of our scientific advances and abilities make us feel powerful over nature, and may lead us to actions we would otherwise avoid:
We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them. We are always conquering Nature, because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain.
But as Lewis goes on to explain, “The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature.” If this goes too far, there are sure to be consequences:
[A]s soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same.
Lewis goes on:
It’s the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. … The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners. [emphasis added]
We may never know if the coronavirus was caused by some scientific experiment gone wrong. Regardless, the coronavirus shows above all else that man is fragile, not the all-powerful, indestructible being that he often thinks he is.
“Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man,” Lewis explains.
In the event that the coronavirus continues to spread and becomes a greater problem, we would do well to remember these words… and in humility, our own frailty.
[Image Credit: U.S. Air Force-Senior Airman Cody R. Miller, public domain]
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.