Covid-19 and the ET Group’s ‘intelligence conversation’.
The pandemic: A dead end - or an invitation to rediscover the Good, the Beautiful and the True.
The near exclusive focus on finding external means to combat the corona virus is a double-edged sword:
The Covid-19 virus of this mind-bogglingly disruptive pandemic, is seen as diabolically clever. Consequently human intelligence and ingenuity is being desperately applied to find a way of containing its spread and a vaccine to counteract it. With the world essentially in lock-down with the social distancing that is so anathema to human nature we are told that we will not ‘return to normal’ until an effective antidote has been identified.
This is why the ET group has organised a series of intelligent conversations to help ordinary folks make sense of this strange experience.
Of the +- 3 million cases infected by the virus globally, over 200 000 had already died, whilst significantly an estimated 840 000 had already recovered.
Of the 960 000 + cases in the USA with 55 000 deaths, 118 000 had already recovered.
In the UK there we’re approaching 150 000 cases with official figures of 20 000 deaths, but some estimated looking closer to 35,000.
Given the devastating history of the Spanish flu (1918 - 1920) where 50 million people died, the key question put in the Intelligent Conversation was: ‘How should we respond?’
The politicised nature of the response to the pandemic makes it difficult for ordinary folks to take the most appropriate ‘stance’. This has compromised constructive debate and conversation.
In the face of the unknown threat, anger somehow feels stronger than fear, and having a defined enemy does seem to provide surety in uncertainty.
Consequently from the political ‘left’ government response is regarded as potentially being a rightwing plot to perpetuate neoliberalism. From the political ‘right’ it is a potential leftwing plot to install socialism.
Against this ‘conspiracy‘ mentality, any response is considered either ‘overblown’ or ‘underestimated’.
Given the ‘unknowns’ of the spread of the virus, the quest to acquire sufficient hard and reliable facts on which to base response remains compromised. For some countries, like South Africa, ‘caution’ takes precedence and calls for apparently draconian measures, whilst in others, like Sweden’, response is regarded as lax and even irresponsible.
Whilst the official response in the UK was seen as muddled, in the USA it apparently remains controversial and confused.
For many the debate in this crisis focuses on a simple choice between ‘saving lives’ and ‘saving the economy’. But, to those who study dynamical systems, such binary and linear thinking is incapable of dealing with the complexity of the situation.
Around the world, guided by the WHO, governments’ response is generally aimed at limiting infection through hygiene and social distancing whilst gearing up the national health capacity. The debate about how to contain the pandemic ranges from the opportunity to control (finding a vaccine) to containment (social distancing).
Tragically largely ignored in the discussion at the formal policy level is the effect of human self-regulation and the natural adaptive capacity of the immune system. This factor has inevitably accounted for all those who had already recovered. The potent opportunity of applying the insights of psychoneuroimmunology has not been raised at any serious public level. Neither has the complexity-science based insight of the impact of imitation (path-dependency) in human nature. This simply refers to the potential power of leadership by example.
The hope in certain quarters that ‘things will go back to normal soon’ ignores the fact that in any highly energised system (a dissipative structure) disturbances can lead to tipping points. Such a cascading event can result in fundamental disorganisation but also potentially in deep reconfiguration. But also clearly identified is the feature of irreversibility. This simply means that circumstances cannot go back to where they were. However herein also lies an opportunity - which we explored.
As will be shown below the so-called biomedical model of health still struggles to escape the bounds of Cartesian materialism and thus confines medicine to technological responses. Conversely the bio-psychosocial model of medicine and health includes human psychosocial responses to strengthen adaptability.
After the above introduction was shared as a context setting, an opportunity was provided to break up into discussion groups for fuller participation. In preparation for the conversation three questions were offered for consideration:
1. What is the meaning and significance of carrying the Covid-19 virus whilst not showing any symptoms?
2. What aspect of our collective thinking, our worldview, needs to be revised in the light of lessons drawn from the pandemic?
3. With the world generally still in lockdown, what is the most useful attitudinal stance to adopt?
Subsequent to this discussion we have revisited the many and on-going urgent attempts to develop an antidote to the virus. This is our current meta-perspective:
The essential failure in our approach to this pandemic and specific management of the Covid-19 virus seems to be the continued materialistic and reductionistic myopia of the prevalent biomedical model of health and healing.
It has a mechanistic focus on linear causal connections, as for example illustrated in this article. https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-immune-interferon-response.html
It ignores the essential multidimensionality of the challenge we face. The biomedical model remains trapped in the Cartesian duality which considers subjective experience (thoughts, attitudes, feelings) to be an epiphenomenon of biochemical processes. Hence the critical role of subjective experience in health and wellbeing is eliminated from solution-finding, leaving it to the 'industry' to find an antidote. Meanwhile the bio-psychosocial model of health and wellbeing has already been around from the thirties of last century with deep validating research showing how subjective experience modulates immune response. Various studies identify the so-called HPA axis where emotional experience in the hypothalamus of the brain stimulates the pituitary gland in the endocrine system to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone. This stimulates, via adrenal response, the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and the interferon cascade that is so critical to the Covid-29 virus propagation.
The confusion around the emerging evidence that having recovered from been 'infected' by the Covid-19 virus subsequently does not necessarily provide immunity, might thus point to this same myopia. The issue is the effectiveness of immune response. Over 800 thousand infected people have already recovered from the effects of the virus without an antidote. Clearly their immune system did the work. Just as with our scientific laboratory research into the virus, so too Ader et al showed the immune response to be a learning system. It needs time to respond effectively. And of course the evidence is compelling that those with suppressed immune function are most vulnerable in this pandemic - see: https://www.evolutionarytransformationsgroup.com/blog
The attempt to seek genetic answers to why some people have suppressed immune response is also still limited to the biomedical model. Which stresses that its time now we look at the bio-psychosocial model. Our understanding will of course then include physical factors that compromise immune response. That includes poor lifestyle such as inadequate rest, poor nutrition (a dysfunctional food system), poor hygiene ( but also an over-sanitised environment). It includes the psychological factors impacting immune response. That includes the stresses accompanying our high-pressured and urbanised industrial lifestyle with its accompanying frustrations, anxieties, loss of meaning, and we propose, deep instinctual aversion to the wasteful consumer economy.
Human ingenuity and technology, has co-created our world and the application of science and technology has provided many life-enhancing benefits. Yes too, epigenetic studies show a dialogical relationship between the evolutionary development of the human being, including immune response, and the environment. And yes, Taleb's 'anti-fragile' concept that living systems not only grow stronger in stress, but actually require stress to remain resilience and creatively responsive applies.
BUT our predominant mechanistic and reductionistic view has blinded us to the subtle synergies and syntheses of the very living system, including the entire microbial world, 'in which we move and have our being'. The materialistic focus further blinds us to the even subtler 'spiritual' domain, the quantum fields of intelligent information, such as morphogenetic fields. Entirely left out of the approach equation is the human subjective function of meaning-making
Aaron Antonovsky's 'Salutogenic approach', identified a 'sense of coherence' to be enabled by the experience of 'comprehensibility', 'manageability' and 'meaningfulness'. The human immune function, as a key agent of the physiological maintenance of coherence, is also an agent of psychosocial responses. But in our reductionistic worldview we have tended to reduce meaningful existence to wasteful materialism. This dichotomous divide of human experience from the subtleties of the living world might thus explain why Krishnamurti declared:
“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a fundamentally sick society.”
Thus to see the virus as some terrible enemy is surely to lose the plot. There is something deeper at play here. The devastating Spanish flu which killed 50 million people from 1918 - 20 occurred immediately after the massive destruction of lives and infrastructure of the First World War. The cause of that war was human greed and intolerance, and the tragic retributive response to that in the Treaty of Versailles again exemplified human short-sightedness. So too this virus, with its immensely unpredictable and disruptive consequences, might be a further symptom of the deep systemic malaise in the way we have organised society.
But hopefully its hidden gift will be having caused us to pause and reflect. Through the noise of media hype, blame and accusation, fear and frustration, with the demand for effective biochemical responses, there is arising a new quiet chorus. There are those who are taking the pause to go inwards, to reflect on true human values, on the beauty of natural existence, and the greater spiritual subtleties that can only bring true abiding joy.
Maybe now wellbeing will also be fundamentally redefined.
In our forthcoming 'intelligent conversation' webinar on Thursday 7th May we will begin to explore how some communities of practice and other networked collectives are implementing self-organisation to promote wellness.