High atop the Acropolis in Greece is the Parthenon, a temple to worship Athena. Athena was not only the goddess of war, but also wisdom. You can often find her adorned with a spear or an owl. Great heroes like Perseus and Odysseus succeeded with her favor, while her ire contributed to the legendary Trojan War.
Human history is packed gods and goddesses as an explanation for victories or defeats, feasts or famines, love and loneliness. The common thread in theology is that humans knew things happened outside of their control. Man and woman’s journey through time was dangerous, awful, unpredictable, and larger than them.
So, we created explanations. Rains or droughts required a sacrifice to the gods. An unexpected snowstorm or hurricane was due to the anger of the gods. The crops that we tended to so diligently fell victim to pests. Nature was in control and we needed all the help we could get.
Then science began to challenge these very notions. The Scientific Revolution was viewed as a direct threat to the religions of the time, so much so that many famous scientists spent their final years in exile. Galileo was formally charged with heresy by the 17th century Church. Man was challenging thousands of years of history. By this time, gods had become God, but the premise was still very much the same, humans were not in control.
In the nearly three hundred years since Galileo pled his case against the Church, he seems vindicated. Many mysteries like agriculture, weather, and planetary alignment are now well understood. Scientific knowledge is also still growing exponentially with new computer algorithms and satellites. Musk and Bezos are the new heretics exploring the edges of unknown scientific frontiers.
It’s quite possible though, that this shift went way too far. As a species we have gone from explaining everything outside our control to explaining that we control everything. We’ve replaced the gods with ourselves.
Last winter was warmer? Forget the power of planets and nature, it’s in our control. That hurricane was more powerful than the last, we did that. The price of bread is a little high or a little low, let’s tweak the levers of the economy. We are now the masters of our universe.
Until we’re not.
Enter stage left, the novel coronavirus discovered late 2019, cleverly named COVID-19, a.k.a. SARS-CoV-2. In one fell swoop, the hubris of man took a back seat. While just weeks before we were adjusting Fed interest rates and private jet emissions, we are now in the midst of an international pandemic.
No one knows how this act will play out. It may be the defining moment of a generation, or a public health crisis that will earmark history. Either way, it should absolutely remind people that we are not in control half as much as we would think we are. Of course, technology and science have us better prepared to handle the situation, or so we think, but we aren’t in control.
In the blink of an eye the headlines changed from man controlling every aspect of society to being completely helpless to the spread of a new, unknown virus that could potentially kill millions. Our God Complex has been challenged.
Jurassic Park, written by Michael Crichton, like many of his seminal works, focuses on an idea called the Chaos Theory. For the sake of simplification, let’s describe Chaos Theory this way: bad things are guaranteed to happen. Graphically described, an individual has 100% chance of dying. It is not if, it is when.
Apply this across every concept. No one is immune to sickness, poverty, or disasters. There will be another hurricane, volcanic eruption, and earthquake. A plague or famine will strike. A coronavirus will jump from an animal to human and spread like crazy. Bad things are guaranteed to happen.
Now this might seem like a doom and gloom view of life but actually it’s the most positive outlook possible. Imagine this, if you expect to have a bad day, won’t you be ecstatic when it’s a great one? If you go through winter avoiding the common cold, despite expecting it, isn’t that a great winter?
Our ancestors knew this concept. Life was extremely rough, and they treated it that way. They prepared storehouses for famines and thanked their God/gods for health and happiness. When things went well, they were grateful, because more times than not, things went very poorly. We could learn a lot from them.
The major aspect we are missing in society by ignoring the Chaos Theory of our ancestors is preparedness. This is on full display internationally as crowds have lined supermarkets for basic necessities. When you aren’t mentally prepared for a disaster, you aren’t physically or financially prepared either.
In mere weeks, the world has been brought to its knees through a viral infection. Modern technology and scientific advancements are no match for an overwhelmed medical system at the mercy of a pandemic. Perhaps it is time to take a page from human history and appeal to a power larger than ourselves. It should be extremely clear that we are not the masters of the universe. The arrogance of our God Complex is doing us no favors.