by Ubaidullah Pandit

Italy is in pain right now. Rome has fallen to its and world’s enemy. Italian physicians were the first in history to come up with the idea that diseases might be caused by invisible contagious agents. They were also among the pioneers of the germ theory. But today the country has been brought to its knees. Why? Human failings and human stupidity are to blame.

Officials bidding adieu to the fourth batch of people who left for their homes after a fortnight-long stay in a quarantine facility in Srinagar on April 3, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Not knowing their exact nature, the French microbiologist Andre Lwoff defined viruses in negative terms and negative statements. By that, I don’t mean that he issued a value judgment regarding them, but described them in terms of lacking some identifiable characteristics.

In a somewhat similar vein, I’ll say a few things about the Coronavirus outbreak vis-à-vis human stupidity.  In that connection, I want to mention here another Italian called Carlo M Cipolla, an economist and historian, who has written a humorous essay on Human Stupidity. He has drawn up a list of the Laws of Human Stupidity which, I think, might serve their purpose in the present context of Coivd-19. Among his five laws of human stupidity, the first and the third are most important and must always be kept in mind:

1 Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

2 A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons, while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

The first case in Italy was reported in February, and within a month from having a couple of cases to tens of thousands it even surpassed China. Today as I am writing this, Italy, along with the United States, tops the sick list. What can we as a people and you as an individual learn from it? Perhaps we can ourselves avert the plight Italy is currently going through. Applying Law 1 of Carlo, let’s assume that every person is a potential carrier and the infectious people are preponderant. Given the fact that human stupidity is inimical and we always tend to underestimate the number of stupid individuals, let’s be extreme in being cautious, and avoid any such human contact that might jeopardize the lives of thousands of people including our families and friends. There are many ways we can avoid being stupid, hence sick. We can avoid being stupid by revealing our travel history if we have come from abroad. We can avoid being stupid by taking a fortnight’s quarantine. We can avoid being stupid by not going to human gatherings and by not collecting in any place. We can avoid being stupid by conceding the fact that we may be one.

Any person who’s infected or may have been infected must look at this issue from medical, ethical and social perspectives. First, if one is asked to reveal one’s travel history or to remain quarantined, one must not take it as a stigma. It’s in no way ostracism or incrimination. It’s just a caution, a cure and a way out of this disaster. Remember, exposure doesn’t necessarily result in an infection. So by being quarantined, you’re not declared sick. It’s just to keep you, your family and society safe. It’s for the greater good.

As to the greater good, here comes Carlo’s third law which he considers the golden and basic law. A stupid person is one who’s a threat to society in quite an unexpected way. By putting others at risk, a stupid person doesn’t gain any monetary or other benefits himself. But quite the opposite, he even puts himself into loss:

“Our daily life is mostly made of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm. Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does. In fact there is no explanation – or better there is only one explanation: the person in question is stupid.”

Virus of Stigma

It’s exactly the same with Covid-19. By refusing screening, hiding travel history or fleeing hospitals or quarantine centres, one gains absolutely nothing oneself. But what’s worse is that the whole of society is put at risk.

Now what to do?  Well, two entities which we must follow during these times are the State and Health. Both human body and human society need law and order. If either deviates, disasters strike. Whatever laws, regulations, orders or circulars the government comes up with must be followed by each individual during these times. Those who are at the helm know better how to deal with such situations. So it’s no time to question the policies and intention of the government at this juncture.

Ubaidulah Pandit

Whatever the administration is doing in this matter is for the good of the people. Similarly, doctors spend decades studying, researching and treating people. They know way better than the man in the street. Whatever guidelines and precautionary measures they ask us to follow, we must. We’ve no other choice. The law of the land and medical guidelines from doctors and international health organizations are the only antidotes to both the virus and our stupidity in these times of crisis. Follow them root and branch. Don’t let human stupidity spread the virus. Let rationality and health prevail.

(The author has studied Law and Information Technology. He is preparing for higher studies. Ideas expressed in the write-up are personal.)  


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here