Faisal Abbas, Editor in Chief of Arab News, writing from Dubai -- one of the world's most modern, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan enclaves -- said this, "In just four months, this virus has wiped out thousands of years of social traditions and customs, forcing us to hide in homes that have become more like the caves that sheltered the first human beings . . .”
Wow. He's right. For several weeks, I've lived in a cave; albeit as he notes, one that is ". . . safer, air-conditioned, and equipped with electricity and wifi."
His comments brought to mind the ugly word English has for cave dwellers: troglodytes; a word that carries the connotation of brutish, reactionary, and primitive.
Is that my fate?
As Thomas Hobbes observed, a life without society, at its worst, would be one of, "continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of [humans], solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
While there's reasonable data suggesting this is a possible outcome for us, I'm more optimistic than Hobbes. I'm brought back again to a summer visit within a deep and cold French cave; nonetheless, full of vibrant drawings tens of thousands of years old; one -- the outline of a small hand: my co-human, no doubt short lived, but for the time, modern, sophisticated, cultured, and elegant.
For this, what does cognitive science offer?
We have a highly adaptive process to allow us to almost instantly register threats and opportunities. The brutish, reactionary, and primitive response to these are fear and greed. Fear and greed are scalable. Like viruses, they multiply.
However, our cave-dwelling cousins tell us they had another response to opportunities and threats: courage and curiosity. Deep, deep in the fearful darkness and hungry cold, they created light, then wonder.
As they were the same humans we are, subject to the same human condition: no doubt they were drawn out of those caves to develop modern, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan enclaves by some combination of fear and greed, courage and curiosity.
Courage and curiosity aren't as easily scalable as greed and fear. They do act as antibodies to it. Courage and curiosity absorb greed and fear and slow their spread.
If you find yourself as I do, somewhat overwhelmed by the continual messages of fear and danger of death, activate another of our adaptive human processes: the one that allows us to pause, assess, and plan. We can take ourselves out of the information flow for a bit to allow us to assess our resources -- what my grandmother would call counting our blessings. We have means; we have relationships and opportunities; we have access to reliable information; we have time.
In English, we have two words from old French to support our task. The romantic in me hopes those words, courage and curiosity, come to us directly passed down from those cave dwellers, our cousins who faced challenges we can no longer imagine.
Take heart and spread light, my friends.
Cousin: from yet another French word for our mother's sister's children