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Linda Schuyler Horning: Worshipping ants

Linda Schuyler Horning
Other Voices

When my son was 5 years old, he told me God must be an ant. Why would God look like us, he reasoned, when there are so many more ants, and they are smarter than we are in many ways? He went on to enumerate the ways, which I found to be very interesting, but still wasn’t convinced. Since then, he’s moved on to other wonders of the universe, but never again returned to worshiping ants. I never gave it much thought again — until the age of COVID-19.

The novel coronavirus continues to dazzle me with its awesome power. It has grounded whole fleets of airplanes and cruise lines and shut down entire nations and economies around the world. The death toll in the United States now exceeds that wrought by World War I and the Vietnam War combined. As we face our next presidential election, I wonder if this tiny virus will alter the course of human history.

The polls have failed to show Trump to be ahead at any stage of the current campaign, but after his poor debate performance, no legitimate election would be likely to find him the winner. Nevertheless, foreign interference in the 2016 election and recent tampering with the U.S. Postal Service still leaves the eventual outcome in doubt. I had all but given up hope of a change in administration until COVID-19 flexed its muscles again. Now, all major players in the current administration have been infected, including the president, and defeat is possible again.

You may wonder how I can be so cavalier about a plague of such vast proportions. I wonder, too. While I watch at an isolated and masked distance from the suffering of our nation, how can I be sure that I and my loved ones won’t be the next to fall?

I cannot be sure, but I do believe that paying the ultimate sacrifice might just be worth it.

The fact is, our nation is suffering from more than COVID-19. It is suffering from a direct threat to our democracy in the form of a tyrant who would be king. It is also suffering from the polarization of our population that has fueled hate groups and emboldened their behavior. Large swathes of our population are either ignored or disenfranchised. Horrific stories of children in cages and uteruses being harvested lead us relentlessly toward Hitleresque outcomes, and over-shadowing it all is climate change that may result inevitably in the destruction of all life on this planet.

So, the question remains whether God is an ant or a virus. Does it really matter? If God, or some other supernatural force yet to be named, may be working through COVID-19 to address some of the world’s most pressing problems is not for me to say. We’ve seen how the mishandling of the pandemic has led to increased and unnecessary suffering and death. Perhaps in better hands, we could actually learn from it. What can a deadly virus teach us, you ask?

It can teach us:

That we can limit our carbon emissions. A tentative estimate is an annual drop in CO2 emissions for 2020 that is 5.5% of the global total of emissions in 2019. This is greater than during any other economic crisis or period of war.

That we should treat our people more equitably. Persons at higher risk of contracting the virus tend to be of races and ethnicities of lower socioeconomic status or with less access to health care and at increased exposure to the virus due to occupation. Addressing these types of issues and disparities should help us to fight disease going forward.

That we should use mail-in ballots. The safest and most secure way to vote during a pandemic is to vote-by-mail. If this practice results in a higher election turnout, it could become the new normal.

I look forward to a time when COVID-19 no longer poses a threat. It will come, eventually, but I hope in the meantime we don’t miss this opportunity to reflect on what this pandemic has meant to us. Never again should we underestimate the potential of a virus to change the world, and we should never lose sight of the fact that it is often the tiniest inhabitants on this planet that wield the most power. Vote as if your life depends upon it, because it does.

Linda Schuyler Horning lives in Nevada City.


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