When saying Nature is beautiful, we are focusing our eyes on her serene face, while ignoring her dark and eerie bowels. We like pretending we have tamed her. But she cannot be tamed.
She is a wild woman who gives birth only to indifferently watch her offspring suffer and die, and she then gives birth again and again, for all eternity. She is the ouroboros, the serpent or dragon that feeds on itself, stirring up primordial chaos with each gentle move. Viruses are a small but significant aspect of her arsenal of brutal beauty.
The speaker standing tall on a podium like a prophet, lecturing mankind on how we are destroying Nature, walks off the stage and collapses. Who is destroying whom?
This is not to say we can’t harm the ecosystem of our planet, which we have obviously done. But we should not overestimate our importance in the eyes of Nature.
Yes, we have destroyed vast forests and forced other species out of their habitats, just so we could shape the Earth according to our cruel vision. We have created an artificial world seemingly separate from Nature. This world functions magically well, allowing us to go about our daily business and chase petty ambitions – until Nature whispers in our ears:
“I’m still here! Have you forgotten about me?”
All she needs to do is move a finger of the hand in which she holds our fate, and all Hell breaks loose. From time to time, earthquakes, storms and pandemics remind us that we are still very much at her mercy.
The carefully fine-tuned infrastructure of our mighty world economy can collapse from one moment to another, just like the green warrior may collapse after giving an inspiring speech. He thinks Nature and he are on the same side, but Nature doesn’t agree.
All this mayhem has been caused by something so tiny, we can’t even see it. A virus, whether biological or digital, is like a faulty nail in an enormous machinery, all of which breaks down as a result. Man-made systems have proved almost comically vulnerable when forced to look Nature in the eyes.
People often refer to natural disasters as manifestations of Nature’s wrath. But she’s not angry – this is just what she does. We’re no more than microscopic ants running around on her glorious surface. We should be cautious to assume that she even notices us. We’re too tiny to even slightly tickle her, let alone hold her attention – we’re not here yet; she blinks, and we’re gone. Our 200,000-year history is an insignificant fraction of time for our 4.5 billion-year-old Mother. Even a virus, a pathetic piece of primitive RNA, is more powerful than us. Viruses had been here long before us and are going to be here long after we are gone.
It is no coincidence that the first woman in ancient Greek mythology, Pandora, is portrayed as beautiful yet reckless. She is the personification of Nature herself, whose darkness she unleashed on the world when she opened her jar (or box). It wasn’t her choice, just like Nature doesn’t decide she wants to wipe a million people out all of a sudden. She just did what she did because she could, and COVID-19 is here not as a punishment, but just ‘cause.
We have a tendency to ask the wrong questions when philosophising over the apparent cruelty of Nature. Asking “why did this happen now?” is an erroneous approach. What we should really be asking is, “why doesn’t this happen more often?”, and “why does anything ever work the way we want it to work?”. The fact that we’re able to lead a reasonably normal life 99% of the time is what should really be shocking us. We shouldn’t take order and peace for granted, because chaos and war were the status quo for most of history.
Viruses are just one little category of the immense potential for destruction constantly lurking around the corner. The new coronavirus is a challenge that will hopefully unite us all behind a common cause. World leaders and healthcare professionals have already been forced to make some difficult decisions, and the rest of us can only hope that those who get to decide know what they are doing and have our best interests in mind.
It’s a cold and scary world out there, beyond our little towns and cities. Yet, many of us want to get away from it all and immerse ourselves in the beauty of Nature every once in a while. Next time you’re hiking in a forest, climbing a mountain or looking at a vast body of water, make sure to thank her for not being any more savage than she already is.