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A world without… a vaccine?

  • adam 

A 2023 update on these thoughts

Well, its a new year. After writing the last update I got covid and was incredibly sick for a solid week, then pretty sick for another month. And not quite right for some more months after (maybe still not quite right). I don’t want to ever catch it again. I’d also like the opportunity to not have to catch it again! I still think we leave a lot on the table in terms of strategies for not letting people catch covid. I also think we let slip a chance to evolve. We haven’t fully realised the community of care, we’ve rushed back to a crappier version of life – we didn’t fully take the opportunity to do better.

A 2022 update on these thoughts.

Well, we got a vaccine – lots of vaccines, and I got vaccinated. Reviewing my thoughts from 2 years ago, I think I managed to avoid trite bullshit – mostly. A lot of people have died of covid, a lot of words have been spewed about how to manage a pandemic. We still haven’t seen the uptick in community and care that we need, we’ve seen a neoliberal hypercapitalist minimum effort.

My family and I also moved internationally at the height of lockdowns in August 2020 – performing an incredible feat of logistics to thread a needle between three state governments and two national governments to move from Victoria, Australia to Norway – while also managing our stuff stored in Canberra (long story). It was a lot of paperwork, and a lot of stress on the family.

I write this from a position of immense privilege – despite multiple exposures, I have not yet tested positive to covid. I’m very lucky, it’s not due to anything I personally did that is special.

So what does it mean in 2022 to talk about hope and herd strength and all these things I wrote about two years ago?

I hope it was clear enough that I think covid is a step change. The confluence of covid, ecosystem and climate crises, social crises – it is insane to think we can tweak some knobs and go back to how things were. So herd strength and hope lie in supporting each other.

Its been amazing to see how much progress has been made, how people have supported each other, showed kindness and bravery. It’s been less amazing to see that we, as a society, still talk about ‘back to normal’ – we have not broadly accepted that what was before can never be again.

While things seem pretty bleak now, I personally have a lot of faith and hope – that we will become stronger as a global community. Small, and highly significant changes are happening.

I think that’s it for now.

Original story starts here

It’s May, 2020. As I write this the world has been living with a novel virus for 6 months. Many people have died, many more have been ill, and almost everyone worldwide has been affected by travel restrictions or other impacts on whatever life was before. No doubt life afterward will be different – it has to be different! If anything, the ‘old normal’ is exposed as pretty much a terrible way to operate a planetary society.

A lot of hope hinges on developing a vaccine for COVID19. And yes, it’ll help a lot of people if/when it happens.

…but what if it doesn’t?

This isn’t an antivaxx story – nor is it a herd immunity story. It’s something quite different! It’s a vision of hope in a future where we may not always have a vaccine right away for whatever new variations of disease we come across. I want to break the philosophical models of ‘holy shit if there’s no vaccine then we’re doomed to live inside forever’, and ‘holy shit we need to let Y people die to save the rest

This is a post about human potential, aiming to think about multiple aspects of ‘herd strength’ if you will…

In 2050, 3 pandemics later…

…people live outside. We do obvious things like washing our hands and not coughing at each other because we’ve learned from the past. We work differently, we’ve de-stressed ourselves and our systems a lot. We also maintain ourselves and our health, and have invested massively in public health support infrastructure. We have pivoted as a society from seeing health as ‘body mechanics’ as in ‘oh something is wrong we better go fix it’ to seeing health as a lifelong personal practice of maintenance and prevention.

In 2050, people who have no underlying genetic or other issues get to 70 or 80 or whatever and beyond with zero or at least far fewer chronic underlying illnesses masked by multiple medications (I’m setting a goal for myself here!). We clear our health baggage on the way as much as we can. We adopt responsibility for our own health in a far more personal way. We invest in a support system which helps us sooner, faster, better. Anyone who needs help gets it, without barriers.

We do this with kindness, to ourselves and everyone.

We invest in helping others – we see lifelong health as a necessity for all, not only those privileged enough to enjoy material wealth. Some humans will just get issues. Arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer, dental issues, whateveritis. We avoid a weird able-ist Gattaca vision – we know that however hard we work, sometimes we just need help. And when we need it, help comes faster/sooner/better.

We nationalise biomedical research and drug development everywhere.

Removing profit motivation from the equation we develop vaccines, educate people about them, offer an informed choice, and use them. We stop treating people like idiots! We also become far more informed about our own health, and we slow down. We re-envision the entire philosophy of the medical education system away from dualism and body-mechanics to ‘lifelong, whole health support’. We look at ancient systems as well as modern medicine, we integrate as many approaches as we can.

We draw on whatever means we’ve developed over 300 000+ years of evolution and observation to make ourselves stronger.

We evolve.

We see planetary health as integral in human health. By 2050 we have been are actively restoring planetary biodiversity for 30 years. Our cities are green, our air is clean all the time. We grow a lot of local food, our large scale farms are managed regeneratively. We still travel internationally and use technology daily – we work mainly from home and gather with friends in wild green spaces whenever we can. We have restored vast tracts of uncurated wild space and consider them immensely valuable. We have reimagined our place as an intrinsic part of a greater whole. Being stressed out is unheard of in 2050, one of those ‘whatever did you all ever let yourselves do that for?’ things…

We’ve learned to make footprints that we want to leave behind.

In 2020 we can…

…start by asking questions!

2050 is a ways away, and all kinds of visions for what a future might look like are abounding. For ourselves, what vision do we have to make 2050 a time where we can confidently say that we’ve re-built a global society which leaves no-one behind? What trajectory can we each plot for ourselves and our planetary society to a future in which it hardly matters if a global pandemic arises again? Because this will happen again…

How will we vote? What values will we transmit into the echelons of power? What should the echelons of power look like? What will we choose to consume as ‘news’ and what will we ignore? How will we shape ourselves into the humans we need to be?

How will we map our own evolution? How will we build systems to support that process?

Nobody can answer that for us. I can’t answer for you, only for myself! And I’m still learning my own answers – which invariably lead to new questions. I have a ways to go, which is maybe the real reason I started this website – maybe it was never really about bikes at all… those were the tools I needed at the time (and still need today).

By 2050, we need to have evolved – one way or another. We each need to find our own tools to help with that; and share things we find useful. We may need to undo centuries of pattern building – it will be hard!

Starting patterns of change

Many years ago I gained a degree in psychology, learning all about neurophysiology, linguistics, cognition and how we learn / acquire patterns. And also, how we continually acquire new patterns. We are all capable of change at any moment – since we rebuild our patterns over and over all our lives. We begin to acquire patterns the moment our senses switch on in the womb, and at any moment in life we can change them. I also studied medical anthropology, which showed me how narrow the predominant western view on what means ‘healthy’ can be.

I write this because it’s a key driver for every part of my existence now. Yes, I get stuck in patterns that are not helpful, focus on the wrong things, drink too much alcohol or coffee or both, get depressed. I can also break right out of those – not without work and not without help! My partner Bel has also been hugely influential, revealing the Ayurvedic medical system and how we can design rhythms for our lives adapting to seasons and cycles – if we choose to do so (yes that’s a shameless plug, go check it out).

Asking questions – the thing we all can do in 2020 – is a revolutionary act. We all can see that whatever was before is broken, and we need to reset our patterns – weaving parts of old ones which have been neglected and parts of new ones into something that makes sense for a future which sustains our planet, and all of us.

It is really exciting to see that I’m way behind the curve here, and so many people are asking all kinds of useful things. What answers will turn up? Well, I’m also excited to see! Once we’ve started asking, we can’t un-ask. We can never go backward once we’ve set a path in motion by the simple act of looking at what we’ve been doing and asking ‘what was that for?’ We’ve already stepped into something new that didn’t exist before.

…none of which is great for most existing power structures, which mainly benefit from stasis. So once we start asking we may well be in a long game – to reimagine away from what is into something else. We may also be surprised! When we need to, we’re able to reorganise both our selves and our systems in a real hurry.

To try and wrap all this up into the headline topic – what does all this have to do with a pandemic to which no vaccine exists?

Repainting my vision: In 2050, I want us all to watch pandemics come and go with zero deaths, zero panic, and support for everyone who needs it regardless of their personal material resources, position of power, or location on Earth. Whether we have vaccines or not. How can we achieve that? How can we get as close as possible?

I don’t know yet and it would be crazy for me to say I did. It’s statement of aspiration, a vision of what I want to be possible and what might actually be possible if we worked at it. We each need to find our own recipes. Some of the ingredients are social responsibility, large scale altruism, and looking after our planetary health. Some others are using all our knowledge about what we’re capable of in a society which sustains us rather than stresses us out; and how we can work together to ensure that everyone – and our planet – can thrive.

The pseudo-sales-pitch

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