The Alchemy of Coronavirus

Alchemy is a great metaphor for what’s going on right now. The epitome of creative destruction.

Firstly, the reduction of the familiar into a mass, then the extraction from the mass of what’s needed, and finally the synthesis of that into the new. Base metal to gold.

Coronavirus is a catalyst. It’s started the process. We don’t know how long it will last, but rather like Chris Whitty, our chief scientist said, “it won’t be weeks”.

It appears that the Grinch has now joined the Cabinet. Some time in 2021 is now being eased into the time frame as expectations are managed.(I’ve always had something of a soft spot for the Grinch and think he gets a bad press. Railing against excessive consumption is part of the Zeitgeist, and he had a point). Now, it appears, he’s gone all respectable. I’m sure he and Dominic will get on like a house on fire.

Let’s have a brief look at the alchemy of Coronoavirus:

Stage 1. Nigredo.

A long hard look at the way we live and work. Some questions to add fuel to the process:

  • Just how much value does the daily commute into an increasingly unnecessary office really create compared to the direct costs levied by an enormously expensive means of travel, and the indirect costs of carbon and environmental degradation imposed by rail lines and roads?
  • How sustainable is the hunger for cheap holiday travel in order to relieve the boredom and stress of that commute when it adds so requires so much more carbon based energy to achieve it?
  • How do we reconcile pandemic levels of obesity and diabetes with the environmental degradation needed to give us the junk food that fuels it?
  • When we make money, which has no intrinsic worth the lowest common denominator of value do we acknowledge the vitality of things that bring us joy?
  • Just why do we seem to reward in people in inverse proportion to the service they provide to their fellow human beings and the planet?

None of these things have been done on purpose, but like any form of stupidity, the biggest stupidity is doing nothing about it.

Stage 2 – Albedo.

Extracting from the mass that which is valuable for the next stage.

We are the most creative species ever to have walked the planet. We have developed levels of capability that have fuelled remarkable inventions from the wheel to industrial warfare to space travel and levels of understanding the universe that precipitate aww and wonder, and increasingly the damage we have done in getting to now.

We get to make conscious choices. We can, if we choose, reinvent economics. We can mitigate the damage we are doing today to our planet, and over time reverse it. We can use technology to help, not hinder.

Right now, we have everything we need to start. we can develop the rest along the way.

Science Fiction always had it that it would take an alien invasion to bring us together. Maybe a pandemic is altogether less imaginary and more immediately available. It has no intent, doesn’t care what we think and can’t be frightened off. That makes it worth paying real attention to.

Stage 3 – Rubedo

The creation of the new out of the remnants of the old

When needed, we have a remarkable ability to work together across boundaries. It has normally happened in the aftermath of war. This is no war, no matter what rhetoric Politicians may find convenient to apply, but the impact is noss less destructive.

Approaching a million dead, with unimaginable amounts of treasure thrown at it, no end in sight and the absolute certainty that the unintended consequences of our economic growth have yet to manifest with the same immediacy and intimacy as Coronavirus.

And we can handle it.

All it takes is for each one of us to commit to it, with continual small actions,every day.

  • Consume less of better.
  • Pay attention to what things really cost.
  • Look after ourselves
  • Look after each other
  • Look after this planet.


We can do this.

Letting go of the old will hurt, but nowhere near as much as hanging onto it.

Embrace your inner Grinch.


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