Coronavirus crisis or empathy crisis? An Interstellar analogy

We all know how devastating the Coronavirus has been to our lives — from having to isolate, wearing a mask all the time, stop seeing friends, not being able to be part of a lot of stuff that were making our life better, all the way to having dear people in the hospital suffering, even losing dear ones.

This is not about how bad the Coronavirus is, how we could or should handle it. This is about us as humans and our capacity to feel and be emphatic with the people around us.

Now, a very common restriction is to wear a mask. Again, we will not debate whether a mask is good i.e. protective or not because the common agreement of medical scientists is that the mask actually benefits to the defeat of a pandemic. Instead we will tackle people’s conception on one of the most powerful attributes of the mask.

This statement represents probably one of the most biggest tests that a society must pass in order to have a chance in defeating a pandemic of this size. And that test is empathy.

As long as you empathise with the people around you, chances are you will be wearing a mask when going out — regardless you believe a mask helps you or not. As long as you care for other people than you and your loved ones, chances are you will social distance and make sure you don’t harm other people with your actions.

Therefore, the first big step in getting rid of a pandemic is achieved because you care about the ones around you.

You’ve probably heard this rhetoric many times. There are some people that will basically refuse to act on the behalf of others as long as they gain no benefit out of it. Is that egoism or really just a lack of empathy?

In the endeavour of trying to answer this question, let’s talk a bit about a great movie that provides extraordinary insights on this exact manner.

Interstellar

Have you watched it? Whether you did or not, the movie features some essential pieces that denote the truth about the level our society is at right now. Watch out, spoilers below!

The movie’s plot is pretty simple. Earth’s future has been riddled by disasters, famines, and droughts. There is only one way to ensure mankind’s survival: Interstellar travel through a newly discovered wormhole to various planets in the hope that one of them may have the right environment to sustain human life. In the expectation of saving his family, the protagonist of the movie — Cooper — accepts to coordinate the whole rescue mission.

Apart from many moral struggles presented in the movie, there is one that resembles perfectly the empathy issue that we are facing once with the pandemic rise.

Eliminating different planets as inhabitable, at some point the crew finds itself in a very tough moral situation. Running out of fuel, they wonder whether they should sacrifice the people on earth for the greater good — saving humanity from extinction. Otherwise, they might risk not being able to save anyone at all.

When the main protagonist is made to choose in such situation, one of the co-leading characters — Doyle — comes with this replica:

Doyle: You can’t just think about your family. You have to think bigger than that.

Trying to build the analogy, aren’t efforts like wearing a mask or socially distancing implying the same moral dilemma? By respecting these minimal safety rules, one must care not only for him and his dearest but also for the other people around that do not relate in any way to him.

Current efforts to extinct Coronavirus show that while some of us care for other’s safety and wellbeing, there is still big share of people that don’t. Because of this and many other factors of course, we are facing right now a second wave of pandemic infection with the Coronavirus.

Now, the dilemma whether our society might or not be prepared to care for “others” has been also questioned in the movie pretty well.

Finding out that the only purpose of the mission was to save humanity from extinction and that there is no chance to save the people back on earth, Cooper realises that all the promises were actually lies. When the main protagonist decides to use the shuttle to come back home to his family, another co-leading actor — Dr. Mann — tries to justify the reasoning behind the monstrous lie:

You never would have come here unless you believed you were going to save them. Evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier. We can care deeply — selflessly — about those we know, but that empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight.

In our pandemic context, this is one of the most powerful quotes within the entire movie as it begs the question whether we are ready or not to defeat this virus.

Once we will be able to transcend this simple barrier, to extend our empathy beyond the ones we love and care for, the war with such pandemics will be considerably shortened because we will not be following rules given by our governments, instead we will be following rules given by our hearts.

As the analogy comes to an end, I think the most important questions that we must ask ourselves are:

Android Engineer

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