The Risk Perception Paradox
It’s not a common occurrence, but a snake will eat itself — it mistakes its tail for another snake and then devours it until it essentially devours itself, becoming both victor and victim.
We are now witnessing an interesting phenomenon. Humanity has been posed with a once-in-a-millennium contagion yet has miraculously learned how to spare itself by way of sheer intellect, observation, and perseverance. Science. If we did not have science and only knew what we knew a century ago, COVID would have wiped us out by now. But, of course, science also invented the means to our own demise — for instance, the airplanes we use to spread this contagion to every corner of the planet. We have seen the enemy, and it is us.
Yet, even more, we eschew the science. Anti-vaccine and anti-mandate brigades have won the battles. We are currently flying headlong into another wave, yet you would not expect that given what you see all around — maskless people, relaxed protocols, vaccines expiring on the shelves.
Successful mitigation of a pandemic begets something called the Risk Perception Paradox — as a risk is reduced (e/g COVID), the perception of that risk lessens as well, even though this perceived safety is a risk unto itself. The SARS-CoV-2 virus still exists and, in fact, has become more dangerous, not less. Simply put, the risk remains and is made worse by our nonchalance.
Many people seem to have adopted the belief that diseases come and go. The prevailing theory seems to be that humans are kings of the world and nothing can beat us. Apparently, as this story goes, viruses do this thing where they get weaker and weaker until the day, proverbially speaking, they’re “just like the flu.” The motto etched on the tomb of modern civilization.
The fact of the matter is that humans have practically zero knowledge of what will happen next. We can’t even predict the weather with much certainty, and that’s for what happens tomorrow, not a chance for next week. Almost all diseases in existence today don’t have an origin story — we don’t even know when they started, and we’ve been recording our history for thousands of years. COVID is not different from these nor special in any particular way. As far as we know, COVID could be the end of us still, just not yet. This is only the end of Act II. Or is it Act I?
We are like that snake eating itself. We won’t know until it’s too late if we are the victor or victim.