Back in the cave we just wanted to stay alive. Then, millennia later, things got better very quickly. Unfortunately it's taken our brains a while to catch up.
The software allowing this sudden transformation from family to tribe to nation was embedded deep in our brains' physiological structure. It was, if you like, mental coding that gave us the ability to share and work together as social groups. The flaw in the code, perhaps better expressed as its essential feature, was an integral part of the same drive that brought us together as one - a suspicion of the "other", or "them".
Communities are defined by what they're not. If our shared project (Australia) is going work we need to agree on the rules by which we live; the "software" of the nation. That's the point of news - it allows us to understand what's going on around us and observe a real-time experiment that allows us to compare the program we're developing against those from other nations.
This swift progression from hunter-gatherers to world travellers apparently bypassed a few older cultural customs; such as eating bats. Somehow the virus jumped species. Our community/sharing/inquiring and intelligence gene needs to know how and why so we can protect ourselves and stop this happening again. Incredibly, China isn't co-operating with the WHO inquiry which simply kickstarts the reverse reaction; our small-tribe/possessive/suspicious (yet equally intelligent) gene. It seems so obvious. If they won't collaborate there must be a reason; they have something to hide. From our perspective it's bizarre.
The key is to find the most intelligent balance and we do that by engaging the most recent update to our embedded software code, the capacity to reason.
Unfortunately, because this is a recent addition, it doesn't come naturally. What it gives us, however, is the capacity to separate emotional baggage that comes bundled with the program. We engage with probable realities, what's actually happening and why.
Is China hiding the escape of the virus from a biological weapons lab? Possibly but, and for all sorts of reasons too time consuming to go into here, while it can't be ruled out the chances are next to negligible. Some other embarrassing reason? Perhaps, altogether, we're up to three percent. There is another possibility: an authoritarian government doesn't want to admit people eat and live with bats, in central China, in a city of nearly 12 million people, 70 years after Communist Party rule. I'd give this a 97 percent chance.
This doesn't absolve Beijing's failure to co-operate with a proper investigation at all. It does explain it.
We need to make a determined effort to shift and think beyond the software we've been given. China's leaders might like to try that too.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.