Christopher Fry, Henry Lieberman, Joshua Van Zak
Mar 31, 2020
Lot's of press tells you what to do now about the Coronavirus.
This essay tells us what to do about the next disease.
Coronavirus won't be the last pandemic of the decade.
And certainly not the last crisis. If we waste our precious
attention fighting fires, we'll always be fighting fires,
and a lot more people will get burned.
What's so usual about Pandemics?
The course text for our MIT class:
"Why Can't We All Just Get Along?" provides solutions
to the world's big problems
(war, poverty, authoritarianism, climate change and a few others)
as we foresaw them in 2018.
We didn't consider pandemics (much). But it turns out
that many of the solutions for the other major problems
humanity now faces are applicable to widespread disease as well.
You might say "we got lucky" on this score, yet
each of our solutions help mitigate a rather diverse set
of problems. This is not an accident. Problems that are easily
solved by point solutions have mostly been solved. The remaining
problems are deeply intertwined with each other, making them
so difficult to solve that they haven't been to date.
Many of humanity's big problems have the characteristic that if
you don't solve every one, you don't solve any one.
Few people understand that if someone is poor, we're all poorer.
And that's a big problem.
Grams of Prevention
When your house is on fire or your world is disease-threatened,
it makes sense to grab the most expedient mitigator available.
But this is expensive and often not effective.
A gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.
Furthermore, in a truly run-away feedback loop, there may
BE no immediate cure, regardless of the effort applied.
Let's stop being so selfish and in the moment.
Let's expand the scope of our actions.
Here's how humanity can deal with the next pandemics:
- Makerism is fundamentally a hyperlocal self-sufficiency kind of economy
that strives to overcome the deficiencies of Capitalism.
You make the things you need to live a good life, meaning you
don't have to get them from others.
This includes food, water, clothes, energy, houses, and health care products.
The seed of these personal factories of the future are in today's 3D printers.
Since they'll be able to make their own parts, they become essentially free.
There's less trade, making it far easier to isolate
people without serious problems, while drastically
decreasing the speed of disease transmission. Prolonged isolation may
decrease overall community immunity, but at least in the short term,
during a pandemic, isolation can help decrease the speed that
a disease spreads.
- By giving everyone the means of production, poverty is solved without
wealth transfer. Poverty is an underlying cause of disease.
It is the poor who will suffer most from pandemics and pretty much
every other major problem because they don't have the resources
(health-wise or financially) to fight it.
Frequent international travelers (the rich) may contract a disease
quicker, but the poor are likely to ultimately suffer more.
Makerism will greatly reduce the number of poor.
- You can't buy hand sanitizer in much of the US now.
Shortages of needed medical supplies will be less likely under Makerism,
since people will be able to make even
sophisticated supplies themselves. But the ability to print is not enough.
We need vetted designs that work, as opposed to being counter-productive.
Then those designs need to come with proper testing processes
so that a maker can know they've made it property. Furthermore,
accurate instructions on how to use these devices will likely be crucial
to their success. As usual, knowledge is crucial.
- A personal factory is controlled by software. That means that for the
most part, it can be controlled over the internet. This applies both
to "canned" production processes, as well as processes that require
real-time human intervention via "tele-robotics". Decreasing travel
and congregation of workers at factories helps keep production up
despite the need for social isolation during a pandemic.
- The USA now has false information about disease propagated
by our president. Other countries are not immune from this political disease.
Our new form of government, Reasonocracy, doesn't concentrate power
in a few. The decisions made by the decision makers are much less capable
of increasing the individual power of the decision makers, so we don't have the
conflict of interests inherent in Democracies.
The government will be based on reason, not power. We expect
scientific consensus to be more pervasive in guiding policy than
it is now. Power interests like status quo financial institutions
won't have power, so their vested interest in lying and buying government
won't cause the problems they do now.
- Too many voters (at least in the USA) tend to vote against their own
self interest. By "too" we mean, too many to make voting
truly representative of citizens' self interest.
The last few Democratic primaries have
been ironic. People are seriously concerned about Coronavirus and t
he US government's response to it, yet the candidate who's the most
concerned about health care of the citizens isn't getting the most votes.
Why do so many vote against their own self-interest?
Probably the number one reason is that the issues facing us are too complex
to understand via campaign sound bites or what's called "debates".
Throw in false information by candidates, parties, certain media outlets
and even foreign groups hoping to sway elections, and our poor voters are
at a loss.
Second, we humans (err, most of us)
tend to be short term optimizers instead of long term strategists.
Our big problems including public health, typically are not practically solvable
with short term solutions. But the US economy and election cycles
(and, I'll wager, much of the rest of the world) demand short term solutions.
Furthermore, let's face it, not all long term plans are GOOD long term plans.
Even with the best of intentions, it is hard to get this right.
Third, we humans tend to have, to put it politely, misguided "mental models".
One of the most common cognitive biases is the "confirmation bias".
We try to prove to ourselves that our mental model of any given thing
is correct, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
A couple examples are in order:
1. Markets are the most efficient way to produce goods.
2. A few tweaks to health insurance and it will be perfect.
Since our educational systems reinforce unrealistic mental models,
it is no wonder that voters vote against their own self interest.
The US health care system has intelligent, well motivated researchers and
practitioners. Unfortunately their efforts are impeded by larger government
enforced policy, which itself is impeded by big-pharma and big-insurance
which is impeded by uninformed voting. To defend against harmful models
and cognitive biases, we need compelling educational strategies.
Reasonocracy does not use voting to select legislators nor
does it use voting by legislators to select government actions because,
time and again, voting makes way sub-optimal decisions.
Exhibit A: Remember eons ago when the US Senate (who's members were
chosen by voting) voted that the executive branch can do whatever it wants?
Observe how well that's worked out.
Reasonocracy selects decision-makers at random (like jury duty) but
unlike jury duty and democracy, the decision-makers take a mandatory
year or two of learning how to reason, how to cooperate and
what a long term solution looks like. Democracy appears increasingly
incapable of selected decision makers with these characteristics.
- In addition to overhauling the economy and government, we need an
education system that helps students reason about today's world, not
score well on a standardized test written last millennium.
- The innovative transit system described in our book
won't consist of large vehicles that carry lots of
people in close proximity, a key mechanism for disease transfer.
The pods of Personal Rapid Transit will contain one or two passengers at a
time. PRT is significantly cheaper, faster and safer than cars, making
it less necessary for people to live in, and very close to, cities, decreasing
the high densities that cause high infection rates.
A given pod will be used by more people a day than a car,
but with careful management and automated cleaning, we can keep their
capacity as a "vehicle of disease transmission" to a minimum. Boeing has
prototyped an airplane bathroom disinfected by flashes of Ultra-violet light
that looks promising for pods. We can also redirect potentially infected
pods to cleaning stations that air them out or spray them down.
Like other means of killing pathogens, we have to take care to not
select for, and strengthen, those pathogens that can survive and thrive
our best efforts to defeat them.
Private cars also do this well, but since they cause 40K deaths a year in the
USA, cars come at a cost well beyond their high purchase price and operating
expenses. Additionally, with Makerism, your NEED to travel will be greatly
Since PRT is all electric and far more efficient than electric automobiles,
PRT generates much less air pollution than cars. This helps keep the lungs of
urbanites healthier and thus more capable of dealing with diseases
that infect lungs like Covid19.
- With fewer people having to do menial jobs, that frees humanity
up to work on research. Previously we've articulated
a hope that many will choose to work on one of our
toughest problems: mental health.
But physical health is just as important. Our solutions
facilitate more people contributing to research, biological and otherwise.
Humans are great at cooperating during crisis.
The usually competitive NYC changed for a few weeks after 9/11.
The World Health Organization has made a plea for all countries
(China, Iran, and the US to name a few) to cooperate in meeting
the Coronavirus challenge. Just like 9/11, this may be effective...
in the short term. But cooperation in the short term won't stop the next
pandemic, or war or dictator or climate change.
Please browse the details of our long term solutions at whycantwe.org.
We innovate or we die.