Map #50: An Urgent Pause on Pandemics

Chris Kutarna
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As I write this, I realize we are entering an extraordinary moment.

A wave of uncertainty is paralyzing the planet, community by community.  It’s never been more urgent to stop, step back, and spend an hour to reflect on three questions:     

  • How did we get here?    
  • What weren’t we seeing? What were the blind spots on the “maps” we navigate by?    
  • How do our maps need to change? 

As food for your urgent reflection, I’d like to offer you this essay from my previous book. The title of the essay is:

The Pox is Spreading, Venice is Sinking

How the age we’re in magnifies dangers and makes it harder to see them coming

I wrote it a few years ago, and it was published as Chapter 7 of my book with Ian Goldin, Age of Discovery. Today, the title leaps out at me with fresh meaning. So do paragraphs like this one:

“It is a biological certainty that pathogens will relentlessly assault our increasingly packed and interconnected populations and seek to turn our global shipping and transport infrastructure against us. Nature never gives up…”

I hope it helps you generate new, urgent wisdom.

Stop and see our blind spots

We live in an age of flourishing risk for two reasons: complexity demons and concentration dilemmas

These two factors amplify risk in different ways. The coronavirus exposes both. 

Complexity breeds blind spots. If we could see the cause-effect relations at work, we might protect ourselves — but we often can’t, so we often don’t. Can you hear the demons snarling, just outside the range of your vision?

Concentrations of human activity breed genuine dilemmas between what’s good for me and what’s good for the many. Concentrations are the aggregate consequence of all our individual choices — choices guided by my free will, by my ambition, by my duty to loved ones. What do we do when our private actions, added up together, cause societal shocks we never intended?

Individual wisdom, collective wellbeing​

In the midst of this latest crisis, we each need to accumulate wisdom to handle the next one better.

If you do decide to pause and reflect on these questions, let me know. I’d be happy to seed some solutions.

I ended the above essay with the question: “Is our inability to change before it’s too late simply the tragic human condition — or can we rise above it?”

In these moments of crisis, we discover the answer.

Questing together,


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