Coronavirus I – The Arrogance of the West

There is an elephant in the room.

In East Asia, where the coronavirus first appeared, taking most countries unawares and a few unprepared, they dealt with it, suppressed its spread, and in just two months have almost gotten rid of it completely.

In Europe and the US, where they had almost two months to prepare for the virus to reach their shores, where they could have observed and learned from what was happening in Asia, the rampaging virus is now killing people by the tens of thousands and destroying the very fabric of society.

We now know that the Asians, who dealt with it fast and effectively after the virus had spread outside China, have had insignificant casualties – as of today (April 14), all of the industrial countries of East Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore) have had a total of a mere 380 deaths! One of them, Taiwan, a country of twenty-three million people, counts six deaths – half the number of those in my own tiny country, Cyprus, with a population of less than a million. Surprisingly, these countries never experienced full lockdowns, and their citizens went on with their normal lives.

What’s the elephant in the room that nobody is talking about?

This is no tsunami or earthquake or hurricane; the death toll, the mayhem and destruction we see in Europe and the US is manmade!

The coronavirus is killing us en masse because of our own inaction. Our governments, our incompetent politicians, but also our bureaucrats are the creators of this catastrophe. The catastrophe is not the result of the inane virus – a chemical compound that is not even alive; a nonentity.

Why isn’t anybody discussing and writing anything about it? Most importantly: Why is this happening? Why is the West experiencing a full-blown catastrophe where Asia did not?

The answer is simple yet striking:

Because of the arrogance of the West.

Why haven’t Europe and the US imitated the Asians’ successful handling of the crisis?

Because of the arrogance of the West.

Why haven’t the Europeans and Americans brought in any experts from East Asia to help them first prepare and now fight this war successfully?

Because of the arrogance of the West.

Why, still now, in mid-April, when we know that the virus has run amok in the general population and that the only way to stop it is a strict lockdown (as they successfully enforced so early on in Wuhan, China), are there still buses running in London and people haplessly moving about in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Little Rock, Arkansas?

Because our arrogant rulers cannot admit publicly that they have made a mistake, change their failed policies, and apologize – as Asian rulers so often do, even for minor things, such as arriving three minutes late for a meeting.

We are the know-it-alls. The smart alecks of the world. So that in the very midst of the crisis, we pompously announce the reinvention of the wheel: how the great British scientists are going to follow a wiser path than that of the Asians, by renaming the coronavirus “just another flu” and striving for “herd immunity” – a synonym for doing nothing! Or by announcing that “it’s going to be just fine” in the US, and “we have it totally under control,” implying “because we are a superpower and nothing can truly touch us”!

Arrogance in deeds and words. Arrogance in how we think, how we view the world and our place in it, arrogance in our relationship to others.

This is no Act of God, no Divine Punishment, no Apocalyptic Destruction descending from Heaven. What we are witnessing is the result of the pure arrogance rooted in the very makeup of our Western civilization. An arrogance that has led to criminal inaction, bad judgment, and unwillingness to learn from the experience and knowledge of others during this pandemic. Again, the elephant in the room: the mayhem is manmade.

Yet still, if we were to symbolically adopt the myth of some Divine Punishment, none is more pertinent than the one referenced by Winston Churchill in his famous Memoirs of the Second World War. In the chapter titled “The Soviet Nemesis,” he wrote about Stalin’s Soviet Union having been punished by the Ancient Greek goddess Nemesis for its utter unpreparedness to meet Hitler’s invasion: “Nemesis personifies the Goddess of Retribution, who brings down all immoderate good fortune,” he wrote. And he continued: “[the Soviet leaders] supinely awaited, or were incapable of realizing, the fearful onslaught which impended upon Russia … so far as strategy, policy, foresight, competence are arbiters Stalin and his commissars showed themselves at the moment the most completely outwitted bunglers of the Second World War.” Replace the Soviet Union with the US or Europe today, and the same lack of policy and foresight in the current war against the virus must now be acknowledged. The West is experiencing this avoidable suffering because for almost two months it passively watched things from afar (just as Stalin watched Hitler conquer the rest of Europe), thinking the mayhem would never reach it.

The Arrogance of the West that has made it see itself as superior, wiser, more worthy than other nations, was for at least the last five centuries responsible for the colonization and destruction of the indigenous civilizations of the Americas, Africa, Australia, and many parts of Asia. We thought we could only conquer, rule, preach – therefore we never listened.

But if there is one thing the coronavirus can teach us, it is that we are neither wiser than many other nations, nor superior, nor are we any longer “the rulers of the world.” Actually, we never were. There were always many other civilizations existing in parallel to our own – the Persians, the Indians, the Chinese, the Japanese, and more – that contributed just as much to the advancement of humanity, but which we never truly studied. Some of these civilizations were more advanced than the European and its recent offshoot, the American. Some are more advanced today: the industrialized countries of East Asia, and now I include China in the list, have just proven that they are superior to us in so many fields.

How, in less than a century, did East Asia manage to overtake the West?

Because, unlike us, they are willing to learn from others. Nothing illustrates the difference between the mentality of East and West than Japan’s 1871 Iwakura Mission, which was instrumental in transforming Japan from a feudal society into a modern one in just a few decades. The newly formed Meiji government tasked a group of about one hundred elite government officials, scholars, and university students with traveling to the US and Europe so that they could learn from the then more advanced countries. The Mission, lasting two years, investigated all aspects of Western civilization – the political systems, industry, communications, infrastructure, culture, and religion. Their impressions were recorded in five volumes that officials studied carefully upon their return to Japan. This newly acquired knowledge was then applied to catapulting their nation into the modern age. Just three decades later, Japan would become an advanced industrialized nation, who even dared to confront Russia, one of the five big powers, and come out victorious in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. The “yellow monkeys,” as the Russians insultingly called the Japanese, had shown the Russian Empire that all you need to advance is determination and the open-mindedness to learn from others who know more than you.

May this coronavirus catastrophe lead to our own Western Iwakura Mission, traveling in the opposite direction from West to East – it is time to learn from our best pupils. May this catastrophe bring about the end of the West’s arrogance. May it make us open to learning from other cultures and civilizations. May it make us modest and humble, less aggressive and more cooperative. May it make us, yes, let’s say it, more Asian – just as the Asians became more Western over the last century!

If not, I’m certain – absolutely certain – that this will mark the beginning of the end not only of our Western arrogance, but also of our Western civilization.

© 2020 Nicos Hadjicostis