The elephant in the room of public discourse today is obviously the Corona virus. We are bombarded with so much information about the disease, as if all the information in the world could truly give us a sense of control over this scary apparition. We don’t have either a cure or a vaccine yet for an illness that is so new in its presentation in our lives. All we know is that we are supposed to stay home as much as possible and when we have to interact with other people, to maintain social distancing. And yet the number of new cases keeps rising all over the world except for now ironically China where an authoritarian government has forced compliance with some draconian rules.
At any rate, the optimistic part of me likes to feel that there is always something to learn from events, even catastrophes like this pandemic. In particular, I am interested in focusing on the notion of causality as it relates to the Corona virus. Certain surface facts seem to be fairly well established. Some wild animal meat from different animals was comingled at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China. Some viruses leaped from some bat meat to one of the other kinds of meat, possibly pangolin, which amplified the virus. Then some people ate the meat with the amplified virus. And the rest, as they say, is history. Like an unwanted party crasher, the virus crossed into human society.
We know there is a long history of the use of wild animals in Chinese cuisine. The Chinese feel that the meat from these animals gives them a special strength and resilience that they would not obtain from eating the meat of domesticated animals. Supposedly, there are 112 different wild animals that are eaten in China. At the same time, we all know this is not the first pandemic that has come out of that Asian country. People in China have known about the connection between wild meat and dangerous disease for years. So why do people there continue to engage in such risky behavior?
I have talked in many previous articles about how people in pre-industrial times were much more connected to nature and much more immersed in organic stimuli. This is the world in which early humans evolved, and their nervous systems were geared to receiving the surge of stimuli produced in nature. Nevertheless, there were many dangerous aspects of nature against which humans needed protection: earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, extreme cold, extreme heat, famine, drought, wild animals, poisonous plants, and many other phenomena. All these aspects of nature made people highly perishable. Which is why humans from earliest times used their superior intellect to invent themselves out of vulnerability. It started with primitive tools and horticulture and continued into our modern technological society. But over the centuries, there have always been some people who enjoyed the kicks from the interactions with these dangerous aspects of nature. People who hunker down in their homes when hurricanes pass through. People who chase tornadoes. People who like to wrestle dangerous animals like bears and alligators. And then there are people who like to trek through and explore dangerous wild terrains and waterways. Taking rafting trips in rivers with lots of rapids. Climbing tall mountains. Exploring jungles.
And then there are the people who explore the world by putting it inside of them. By eating wild animals put the wild energy, the wild flowing blendable continual stimuli inside of them. People believe they get some of the essence such animals, the strength and the resilience these animals seem to demonstrate. And, in particular, the Chinese have been known to maintain this predilection for a long long time. They use elements of these wild animals not only for food but also for medicine. Much of Chinese medicine is based on extracts of these animals.
But it is one thing to desire to ingest elements of these animals. It is another thing to be able to absorb them without harmful side effects. Obviously, if the negative side effects were a certainty, the Chinese would stop ingesting these wild animals. But in most cases, nothing bad happens. Unfortunately, sometimes these harmful side effects present themselves. And yet many Chinese are willing to take the risk. They want the special organic flowing blendable continual stimuli that come from ingesting all these exotic creatures. They play with the potential natural disasters created by the viruses attached to these creatures, just like the people who chase tornadoes and the people who hunker down in hurricanes when they have opportunities to leave. All these people feel that, in some magical way, they are going to be able to control their reaction to the disaster and they are going to be able to protect themselves from any negative dangerous consequences.
Another analogy for these ingesting experiences is the addictions connected with alcohol and drugs. In both of these cases, people feel they can experience the pleasures associated with them without experiencing any negative side effects. They feel they can compartmentalize the experience, and absorb the pleasure without absorbing any pain. But for addicts, this is a risky dangerous situation. Now granted the people ingesting wild animals don’t get high from them, and most of the time, don’t get sick from them. We would all be dead now if that were the case. And there is the sense that animals are there on this earth to be used by humans, and much like the alcoholic and drug addict that want to control their reactions to the substances they ingest, so the eater of exotic animals, on a certain level, wants to control his reactions, wants to absorb the special powers of the wild animals without absorbing the illnesses they also have.
Except, of course, the ingestion of wild animals has potentially more far reaching consequences than ingesting drugs or alcohol on the one hand, or chasing after tornadoes on the other. All we have to do is look around us at the world today. And yet in spite of these horrific effects, the people in China who have sustained these risky dangerous tastes, will probably continue to sustain them. And for many of them, they see nothing wrong with it.
But there is something we can learn from them. It’s one thing to want something from a distance, something that is a defined discrete entity. It’s another thing to be able to absorb that something as a flowing blendable continual experience when we finally get it. Wanting and absorbing don’t always coincide. The wild meat situation is one all too perfect example. And one other lesson to learn from this is that if one engages in a kind of primary experience he can’t absorb, he may have to retreat to an extremely mediated level of experience in order to protect himself and recover. Today the world is relying on smartphones and computers for interpersonal communication. Thus pushing us all into a deeper level of numbness.
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow