Fears about coronavirus are growing.
As of today, there are more than 30 countries have 10+ confirmed cases. The CDC notes that "current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic." In the Bay Area, where I am currently located, it looks reasonably likely that we'll see many more cases over the next few months.
The virus appears to be more viral and more deadly than the flu. The risk is most salient for people older than 40 while it is relatively low for younger age groups. It is crucial that the elderly are protected.
At this point it's likely that, especially for those of us in densely populated areas, our ordinary life will be broken up and disturbed by the virus at some point this year.
How should the Stoic respond?
There's a lot to say here, but I think there are two key points.
Before that a disclaimer: I am not an expert on these topics. If the CDC says one thing and I say another, the CDC is likely right. If you think I get something wrong below, tell me and I'll fix it. Moreover, I am in the US, what I have to say is more relevant for fellow Americans. I do not know the state of affairs for other countries.
First, remember that most of this is out of our hands. How quickly the virus spreads, how bad things get, is out of our control. Repeatedly checking dashboards, being glued to the play by play, and letting the issue dominate our thinking is likely not helpful. Instead, we can continue to focus on what is good during these times.
For Stoics, what is ultimately good is virtue. Act with wisdom, courage, self control and justice. Be kind, be excellent.
Second, we can be prepared. Stoicism is not a philosophy of passive acceptance. We're able to take steps to combat the virus. If you haven't already, it would be prudent to take small steps to prepare in order to help yourself, your loved ones, and community. The best lists I've seen include things like:
- Stockpiling up on a months worth of food and three months worth of medication.
- Learn to wash your hands properly and then do it regularly. Don't touch your face.
- Avoiding travel, to the degree that you can.
- Avoiding high density and crowded areas to the degree that you can.
- Regularly apply hand sanitizer when you are out of your home.
Stoicism sees human beings as rational and social animals. Due to our social nature, Stoics argued that we should be concerned with more than ourselves. The good life goes beyond our own narrow concerns, we should be concerned with the good of the whole. Marcus Aurelius expresses one this larger social perspective when he says:
"What is not good for the beehive, cannot be good for the bees."
Preparing for the coronavirus is not just something you do for yourself, it's something you do for your community. Doing so is a civic duty.
There's a lot of uncertainty here. Coronavirus may peter out like many past fears or it may be "the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about."