This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be

It's not precisely relevant (bacteria/virus isn't quite tomayto/tomahto, although they're both very small), but this line came to mind recently nonetheless:

Because we humans are big and clever enough to produce and utilize antibiotics and disinfectants, it is easy to convince ourselves that we have banished bacteria to the fringes of existence. Don't you believe it. Bacteria may not build cities or have interesting social lives, but they will be here when the Sun explodes. This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be.

—Bill Bryson. A Short History of Nearly Everything. (2003)

This is still one of my favorite books, though I haven't read it in ages (not bad for someone from Iowa). It's really easy to believe that humans are The End of Evolution—The Pinnacle. Don't you believe it. We're only at the top of the food chain (sometimes) because the things that are smaller than us need us to be alive to feed them.

The one main thing I remember about the book is that the entire premise was something like: I don't know how the universe or the things in it work, so I'm going to start at the top (or the bottom, I don't remember which direction it goes) and ask "what is this—and why?" That's a good approach generally but also specifically, in This Time of Virus, when the loudest and most interesting voices on the internet are epidemiologists (NARRATOR: they are not epidemiologists), to take The Road of Curiosity towards problems. It's so much better than The Road of This Opinion I Have Based on My Tribal Alliances Which I Will Now Justify. Right? Pick one aspect of the situation that interests you (what does the virus look like, how long can a virus live on a railing, what is the optimal way to work from home, how do infections spread across a network (my personal favorite ("favorite")), what are good historical analogs to the current problem, etc.) Much better to think about the thing and learn something from it than to just bray your tribe's war cry.

(Wash your hands and stay away from crowds for a while. Don't be a jerk.)


Another line comes to mind... this time from Hocus Pocus (1990) by Kurt Vonnegut:

Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.

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