As I write this in mid-March of 2020 America, Europe and other parts of the world are going in to lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

This could get really weird. Did you know that the 1918 pandemic of a century ago killed more people than WWI and WWII combined? Hopefully we are not headed for a repeat.

So how could there possibly be a benefit to the coronavirus, and what’s it got to do with nuclear weapons?

A Psychological Revolution

One of the many things that’s changing right now is a deepening realization among the broad public that big bad things that shake the foundations of modern civilization really can happen.

Ok, sure, so everybody presumably already knew that, or so they will say. But there are different levels of knowing, and the coronavirus is taking us to a deeper level. And that could be a good thing, a very good thing.

Different Levels Of Knowing

As example of different levels of knowing, imagine that I read in the paper that crime is up 18% in the county where I live. I read that headline, frown a bit, skip the article, turn the page, and head for the sports section. I have the information, but I’m still complacent.

Now imagine that the headline reads that crime is up 18% in my neighborhood. Now I’ll do more than frown and turn the page, I’ll read the article.

Next, imagine that my neighbor’s house gets broken in to. I’m really starting to pay attention now, and am doing more than reading, I’m talking to the neighbors and maybe calling the police to see what’s going on.

Finally, imagine that my house gets broken in to. Now I’m FREAKING OUT!!! and spending lots of money on security upgrades.

Crime has finally become real to me, and as a result I’ve made the leap from abstractions to action.

This little story illustrates how a shallow understanding of some information can be transformed in to a deeper understanding. First my knowledge of the crime rate was a pure abstraction, so it had little impact upon my behavior. But as the crime came closer to me it became more real, and my knowledge was translated in to real world action.

Chaos Becoming Real

Pretty much everyone has known about nuclear weapons their entire adult life. But this knowing typically has no impact upon our behavior because we experience nuclear weapons and the chaos they can generate as merely an idea, a fact, an abstraction held at a safe distance. We know about nukes, but the knowing is a shallow experience which is easily discarded.

And so we set nuclear weapons aside. Yawn, nukes are boring…

What the coronavirus is doing is bringing our knowledge about the possibility of global chaos to a deeper level. For the first time in most of our lives our relationship with chaos is becoming more real. Before coronavirus we intellectually knew global chaos was possible, but we didn’t really believe it emotionally. Now we’re starting to believe it, because we can see it happening.

The Coronavirus Just Might Makes Us Smart

We typically ignore discussion of nuclear weapons, even in a presidential campaign, a remarkable act of mass stupidity, because our relationship with these weapons of mass destruction is a shallow intellectual understanding. We experience nukes as abstractions, words in a book or on a web page. They aren’t real to us emotionally, so we do nothing about them.

The coronavirus pandemic has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, except that it is making the fragility of modern civilization more real to us.

Sooner or later the pandemic will pass, and there’s at least some chance that we will bring our new deeper understanding of society’s perilous fragility to other existential threats like nuclear weapons. If that should happen, we could then say that the coronavirus crisis has come with an important benefit. Our young species just might start getting a little bit smart.

The pandemic tragedy is already underway, it’s too late to prevent it now. But it’s not too late to prevent a nuclear tragedy, if only we will allow ourselves to see, in a deeper more emotional way, how real the danger truly is.

Yes, sadly, nuclear chaos really can happen too, just like pandemic chaos. For those brave enough to be smart, here’s a video that shows the impact of a nuclear detonation on a city.

Or, check this section of the site which shows the impact of a nuclear explosion on each of America’s 50 largest cities. If you’re really brave, find your city and face the horror.

The good news? It’s not too late to get smart about nukes. Facing the horror, and allowing it to be real not just in our minds, but also in our hearts, is the first step.

We could be smart. We could be sane. We could survive.

Maybe the coronavirus will teach us how?