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The World After the Coronavirus: What a Greek-American Yale Professor Envisions

The world after coronavirus
The world after the coronavirus: Pieter Bruegel’s painting “The Triumph of Death,” showing the social upheaval and terror that followed the plagues which devastated medieval Europe. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The world after the coronavirus pandemic will look very different, according to a new book from physician and Yale professor Nicholas Christakis.

Christakis says that the peoples of the world will go through a time of unbridled consumer enthusiasm and lessened social constraints after the coronavirus releases its grip on the globe.

After having been forced to spend a great deal of time at home during the pandemic, people will feel as if they have been unleashed once they are finally able to go out and about in society freely once again.

That is the premise of his new book, “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live,” which predicts the societal changes which will be inevitably wrought across all human societies as a result of the lifting of constraints the public has had to accept during lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced all peoples everywhere to be more inward-turned, more philosophical and religious, according to the scholar — as a matter of course, since our interaction with others has been so severely curtailed in the past year.

Unbridled license of the “Roaring Twenties”

The Greek-American professor, who is head of the Laboratory of Human Nature at Yale University, believes these trends have been noted in the past as well, even as recently as the great influenza epidemic of 1918.

After those harrowing days, he says, the world turned to unbridled revelry and license in the 1920’s as people, especially the young, who had been hit so severely by the flu, celebrated their survival with abandon.

This of course was directly after World War I, however, when the world was able to take a step back and be thankful that the horrors from those days were finally over — and they also occurred at a time when the stock market was soaring to heights never before seen.

Still, Christakis’ view that the public will welcome the lifting of all the pandemic-related strictures with celebrations and serious partying might not be too far off.

Not first to face coronavirus-type threat

Christakis first paints a grim picture with the scene, taken from the Iliad, from which he takes his title.

It is a world ravaged by death: “(Apollo) sent among them an arrow, and terrible arose the clang of his silver bow… he smote (the Greeks) and frequent funeral pyres of the dead were continually burning.”

In an interview with Great Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, Christakis notes “Our world has changed, there is a new deadly pathogen circulating, we are not the first people to face this threat and a lot will be asked of us. We have to grow up with that.”

World after the coronavirus
Dr. Nicholas Christakis, of Yale University’s Laboratory of Human Nature. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The new book explores what it means to live in a time of the coronavirus — certainly not the first, nor even the worst, of all plagues — but the one that is most immediate to our lives.

Christakis posits that the experience of mass disease has even shaped human nature through the ages.

“This 21st-century pandemic has upended our lives in ways that will test, but not vanquish, our already frayed collective culture,” he says.

Christakis presents vivid examples to support his argument, ranging across medicine, history, sociology, epidemiology, data science, and genetics.

Apollo’s Arrow, he says, “envisions what happens when the great force of a deadly germ meets the enduring reality of our evolved social nature. ”

Nothing that we have experienced in 2020 is new to human experience — on the contrary, he says, many of the social trends seen globally during this past year reflect those of previous health crises.

“During epidemics, we get closer to religion, people ready themselves for the unexpected, they save money,” Christakis says. “We see all this now as it has happened for hundreds of years during epidemics.”

The Yale professor claims that, much like after the Spanish flu pandemic, the world that will emerge after the coronavirus pandemic will follow the economic and social patterns of the past.

2024 the end of the coronavirus

In the year 2024 — the year he believes will mark the definitive end of the coronavirus pandemic — all these recent trends toward religious observance and a more inward-turned life, which sprang up from the circumstances of the pandemic, will be reversed.

“People will be desperately looking for social contacts,” he explained, saying that people across the world will see this as an opportunity for unbridled consumer buying patterns and perhaps even sexual abandon.

The Yale professor believes that this all hinges, however, on how quickly the coronavirus vaccination campaigns can rein in the infection rates across the nations of the world.

Christakis notes that the anger directed toward governments ordering shutdowns and lockdowns may also be a bit misplaced. “Many seem to think that the actions of governments are causing a slowdown in the economy, but this is wrong. “The virus is causing a slowdown, because in ancient times economies collapsed during pandemics, even when there were no governments ordering the closure of schools and restaurants.”

First generation to deal with coronavirus-type threat

The Yale professor also says that hope resides in the fact that, in effect, the cavalry is indeed on the way — in the form of the vaccines now being given to millions around the globe.

“We are the first generation of people to face such a threat and can deal with it in real time with effective drugs. This is a miracle.”

However, Christakos says there are many lessons which can and must be learned regarding how we deal with such epidemics and pandemics in the future, noting that a large percentage of society still refuses to believe in the efficacy of face masks and the importance of social distancing.

“As a society, we have proved to be very immature. “We could do better,” he chides.

“Our world has changed. A new deadly pathogen is released. We are not the first people to face such a threat. We will be asked a lot and we will have to show maturity.”

The professor ends by expressing hope for the future, encouraging the public to focus on the incredible progress that has been made in fighting the virus with the extremely effective vaccines on the market now, as we continue to follow governmental guidelines until the threat is over.

But equally importantly, it is essential that society learns all it can from the ways in which we have dealt with — or refused to deal with — the realities of the past year.

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