Nature rebels against humanity

Opinion: Man, the virus and humility before nature

Travel restrictions, distance rules, lockdown, home office, contact restrictions - these unreasonable demands have been determining everyday life for people in Germany for many months. A huge vaccination campaign has started, it is jerky and is progressing slowly. Much too slow. Politicians make mistakes, and all of this is discussed with great excitement in the public bubble, which includes politicians, experts and journalists.

If you talk to normal people, there are two rather surprising statements: People can no longer bear the daily flood of Corona news and usually switch off. And even more astonishing: the vast majority of people adhere to the restrictions and would in principle even be prepared to endure even more unreasonable demands. The main thing is that there is finally an end in sight. A contradiction?

We don't know everything about the virus by a long way

Not at all. This rather speaks of a healthy humility towards the forces of nature with which we are dealing here. We know a lot about the corona virus, but not everything. The virologists note that the much-discussed mutations, for example, are also of great concern to them because it is not foreseeable how strong the danger they really is.

DW's capital correspondent Jens Thurau

Nevertheless, the debate is characterized by great excitement. It follows a logic of political debate that goes something like this: We have a problem, politics must eliminate it in conjunction with science. In any case, the following applies: The people are masters of what happens! They either succeed or they can fail and will be held responsible for it. We all think so, and there is a lot of hubris in that.

Even the corona deniers move within this logic on closer inspection: They are against the restrictions, brand them as inadmissible encroachments on civil rights. So either the virus does not exist at all or its danger is exaggerated. There is no evidence for this, the number of deaths is there objectively. But from the point of view of the so-called "lateral thinkers" it is logical to simply ignore the danger. Otherwise there is no reason to reject the restrictions. That too is arrogant.

Numbers become political figures

The actors are meanwhile desperately trying to put what is happening in a comprehensible framework: the incidence (infections among 100,000 citizens within seven days - even that is quite abstract and difficult to understand) has long since become the general goal. It should drop below 50. Before that, according to the government, easing the situation is out of the question.

This is strongly reminiscent of the efforts to get man-made climate change under control: the internationally widely recognized formula that global warming should not increase by more than two degrees compared to industrialization, or even better by only 1.5 degrees, is a political one Size, not scientific. Even before that, the damage caused by climate change is considerable. But humans, here too, the yardstick of things, trust themselves to be able to control global warming at a maximum of two degrees.

Not everything that is possible makes sense

In both cases, with the pandemic as with climate change, the desire is to preserve the world as we know it: With a globally networked economy and science, with the high speed of digitization, with almost eight billion people.

Seriously, there is no alternative to this. Man will continue to determine the fate of the world, he has already shaped it far too much according to his ideas. But the pandemic teaches us that not everything that is possible makes sense. Many of the countries involved have put people and their individual survival at the center of their efforts to combat the pandemic. That is a good thing and right, a democratic constitutional state is inconceivable without such an approach.

But on closer inspection, this approach is also limited. How long can we endure the restrictions, when do the economy and society collapse? How many victims are there then? All of this needs to be considered and it is up to us what we do to what extent. But in the end we are at the mercy of the forces of nature, including the virus, even in 2021. To meet this with more humility may open up completely different approaches to redesigning our togetherness.