Why the Rhetoric of “We Are the Virus” Misses the Mark

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts calling out “we are the virus” rhetoric and saying it is an unacceptable eco-fascist sentiment, but nothing actually detailing why this is faulty thinking. So in this article I am going to give it a shot, since it’s important.

Most of the 7+ billion people on our planet don’t have all that many resources. Even people in the upper middle class in wealthy nations are mostly only able to maneuver their lives within existing economic and political systems / paradigms rather than having the agency and resources to pioneer new options. So while we can look at how almost all human beings are actively participating in unsustainable paradigms, there is really only a small fraction of individuals who have the influence to prop up these inequitable systems and ensure other options are not made available.

The single mother working two low-paying service jobs to support her family is not the virus when she takes the choice to go into work while feeling ill. The politicians and business leaders who have continually propped up a system where lower class people have to make these kinds of difficult choices in order to ensure the baseline livelihood of themselves and their loved ones are who are at fault. It is self-centered, arrogant, uncompassionate thinking which has allowed the virus to spread so readily, especially in America. This is the virus.

Many have pointed to so-called over-population as interrelated issue. What this rhetoric misses is that human beings are already producing enough food to feed the entire world population, and both the efficiency and sustainability of this project have significant room for improvement. So it is not a population issue — it is a logistical, distribution issue. Once again we are seeing the roots of evil not in human beings as a collective, but in the paradigms which have been forced upon us by those with power.

As an aside, once we slip into over-population thinking, we are implicitly admitting that we think some people shouldn’t be alive. This type of anti-natalist sentiment is what leads to humanitarian disasters such as the Chinese one child policy and even genocide. Of course, the person engaging in this type of thinking never views themself as part of the over-population problem, so once again it is always the disenfranchised who are seen as “contributing little to society” that will be at the receiving end of any anti-human policies stemming from these sentiments. This thinking is the virus. This is what must be systematically opposed through this crisis and onwards.

The good news is that pandemics are democratizing experiences — we are all experiencing this, and we are all vulnerable to suffer as a result. This is the perfect breeding ground for greater solidarity, making political and paradigmatic progress all that much more accessible. But these efforts will continually be thwarted so long as we hold tight to any rhetoric which allows us to set ourselves against our fellow human beings. Even much of the “evil” which perpetuates the inequitable systems of our world is ultimately based in distain for the Other based in ignorance. We must take this crucial opportunity to reinforce an ethics based on a deep understanding of the common humanity and interconnectedness of all people. Only then will we be able to construct the paradigms and systems of our world free of the virus of ignorance.

Independent academic specializing in 20th century religious philosophy, Islamic studies, and interfaith dialogue based out of Madison, WI. Founder @alifreview