Covid and Complexity

Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Glendale, California

Covid and Complexity

We human beings struggle mightily with the endless complexity of our world.

It arouses anxiety.

To cope, we tend to categorize, i.e. Democrat versus Republican, Black versus White, Theism versus Atheism.

The Covid pandemic painfully exemplifies wrestling with our complicated worlds.

What are the truths?

Covid-19 is caused by an identifiable virus, individuals’ immune systems may over-react to it, those with pre-existing medical conditions are more vulnerable, it spreads between humans and, rarely, from surfaces.

Now, consider these variations on the theme of just one person contracting the illness:

  1. Some are exposed to high viral load and show no symptoms;
  2. Some inhale small amounts of the virus and end up dying of Covid;
  3. Some with pre-existing conditions contract the virus and never get sick;
  4. Some healthy 28-year-olds can die from Covid-19.
  5. A 90-year-old with multiple medical conditions can contract Covid and develop only mild upper respiratory infections.

Threatened by the complexity of the world making us insane, we humans simplify.

Consider how many people seek refuge in binary poles of the Covid controversy:

Some haven’t left their homes since March, wash their vegetables for hours, cook their parcels in microwaves, and wear masks even while alone outdoors on a windy day.

Others eschew mask-wearing, and they pack cheek-to-jowl at protests or Trump rallies or crowded restaurants.

Embracing complexity requires immense anxiety tolerance.


Wanton flight into categories is a terrifically dangerous tendency, responsible for much of the evil in the world, the tribalism, the us versus them thinking.

Almost finished with slogging through James Joyce’s Ulysses (speaking of complexity), I end with this wonderful excerpt from the 17th chapter entitled, Ithaca:

the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

Joyce, it seems, embraces complexity with ease.

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