Why Societies Are Resilient to Disasters Like COVID-19

Why Societies Are Resilient to Disasters Like COVID-19
Volunteers distribute food to hundreds of families in Benton Harbor, Michigan, April 2, 2020 (Photo by Don Campbell for The Herald-Palladium via AP Images).

In times of hardship and uncertainty, many people tend to assume the worst-case scenario—or at least plan for it. Followers of the Survivalist movement have taken this idea to an extreme, creating a lifestyle from the perceived inevitability of disaster—be it nuclear war, natural disaster or global pandemic. Inherent in this worldview is the idea that in times of extreme duress, our treasured social bonds break down and we revert to a kind of Hobbesian state of nature, competing with other humans for scarce resources.

Dan Gardner, a journalist, author and senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, has a different take. He argues in a recent op-ed for the Boston Globe that the idea that disasters bring out the worst in humankind is not borne out by the evidence. “When life is at its worst,” he writes, “we are at our best.” For this week’s interview on Trend Lines, Gardner joins WPR’s Elliot Waldman for a conversation about the resilience of human societies and how our penchant for prosocial behavior will help us overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

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Relevant Articles on WPR:
Building Trust, Confidence and Collective Action in the Age of COVID-19
A Rough Guide to Getting a COVID-19 Lockdown Right
Planning for the World After the Coronavirus Pandemic
Will the Model of an Interconnected World Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Trend Lines is produced and edited by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focusing on security and resource politics in Africa. You can follow him on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.

To send feedback or questions, email us at podcast@worldpoliticsreview.com.