Since President Joe Biden directed the US intelligence agencies to investigate reports that the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, commentators have been arguing about how the theory will be different if it proves to be correct.
This is why the answer is important: the discovery that the virus originated from humans will bring to the coronavirus legend what it lacks: a villain, if it is a virus that has killed nearly 600,000 people, it is a problem.
According to reports, the fear that has made most parts of the world immobile in the past year and a half has finally determined the goal and may turn into anger. And anger, when shared widely, is difficult to control. Don’t get me wrong. Knowing the truth is important, and a certain degree of anger is good for us. One of the many tragic features of this pandemic is that public dialogue efforts regarding the causes, remedies, and whether the virus itself may have originated in humans are largely forced and lost, and people are almost moved by anxiety. To be sure, we did our best to find the villains: the entire chaos was Donald Trump’s fault, the shutdown was the takeover of the blue elite, and the real problem was bureaucratic incompetence. But this is mainly a manifestation of pain without correct information.
We can include claims by scientists that Covid-19 is not of human origin and that those who make other recommendations are dangerous lunatics. The veteran science writer Nicholas Wade’s detailed report in an article published in the “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” in May shattered this illusion. Wade’s convincing case of the new coronavirus escaping control at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has reignited a debate that we should continue to have. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is conducting research to change viruses so that they can be more easily transmitted from animals to humans. Biden’s order is a result, but this is where people may be concerned. Research on risk perception shows that we are more afraid of man-made damage than natural disasters, even if natural disasters are more likely or more serious.
Some studies have shown that human injury can also make us angrier, but generally speaking, anger is not good for us. Some people think better when they are angry; most think it is worse. In addition, there is a well-known discovery in the social sciences that anger can cause us to be too optimistic about our ability to solve problems. As suggested by Ross Douthat, confirming the escape of the Covid-19 virus from the Chinese laboratory could bring a huge propaganda advantage in the hearts of geopolitical battles. Such a victory is very important. But they are unlikely to satisfy the overly straightforward American minds. When they are angry, they always seek more specific satisfaction: invade this, regulate that, and send someone to jail. Anger seeks catharsis, usually out of the urge to “do something”. In this way, many bad policies have been promoted.
The 9/11 incident provided a way of catharsis because the country was able to fight back. On the other hand, the intensity of national fear and anger created an atmosphere in which it is difficult to hold serious public debates on the pros and cons of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. What about supervision? Perhaps the evidence that Covid-19 is man-made will produce an international consensus that all virus experiments that may affect humans should be conducted at a higher level of biohazard safety. However, as Wade pointed out, the problem is often not required by the rules, but convenient for researchers. (This is not to say that a deadly virus has never escaped Western containment.)