“The Machine” is a metaphor that was recently used in a hilarious yet painful Honest Government ad to resemble the mindlessness of our national economies worldwide.
Much remains to be studied regarding COVID-19, from the most basic biochemistry to its unique epidemiology. So much remains unknown, including the therapies that will provide humankind ultimate relief. But one theme has clearly emerged with increasingly stronger evidence: COVID-19 hit humanity hardest where human life was treated mindlessly - as "a machine":
In homes for the elderly where confinement prevented their wellbeing but did little to isolate them from exposure to the virus.
In overburdened healthcare systems suffering from years of inadequate resources.
In modern-day sweatshops, such as distribution centers and meat manufacturers.
In the crammed quarters of migratory workers.
In the industrialized jail system where budgetary efficiency and ill-will conflict with minimal humanitarian responsibility.
In regions where chronic air pollution compromises respiratory and cardio-vascular systems of broad populations, increasing their vulnerability to viral disease.
In urban food deserts where “preexisting conditions”, namely diabetes and obesity run rampant.
In backwards governments that attempted swapping science with spin.
This realization was pointed out by Naomi Klein in a podcast following the above-mentioned Honest Government ad on restarting the global economic machine. And indeed, the pressure is now on to “return to normal”. But is mindlessly returning to the high-speed global consumption hype that essentially got us into so much trouble in the first place an attractive proposition? Setting aside the irony of this automated mode of action, we should first recognize that this was not necessarily what occurred following previous pandemics, nor should it be in this case. In fact, post-pandemic eras are hotbeds of social change. For example, so many of the dietary practices, vacation activities and physical education that we take for granted today were born during the collective global recovery from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. What is it that we should be adding to our wellbeing following the COVID-19 pandemic? Eliminating the vulnerabilities listed above are obvious first candidates for disruption. But are there more systematic frameworks that could guide policies, investments, innovations and our public discourse on this matter?
I would suggest the following: if COVID-19 hit hardest where life was treated as a machine, we should consider restarting the machine (with similar intensity and opposite force) using life’s underlying principles. It would be the surest way to avoid repeating our mistakes. Biomimicry 3.8 suggests that “Life has evolved a set of strategies that have sustained over 3.8 billion years. Life’s Principles represent these overarching patterns found amongst the species surviving and thriving on Earth. Life integrates and optimizes these strategies to create conditions conducive to life.“ In summary, they suggest Life’s Principles are:
Adapting to Changing Conditions
Being Locally Attuned and Responsive
Using Life-Friendly Chemistry
Being Resource Efficient (Material and Energy)
Integrating Development with Growth
Evolving to Survive
In our work with businesses, we have been building quantitative metrics that relate to the underlying strategies behind the Life's Principles framework. Though they remain a work in progress, these metrics serve us well at ECO-OS to evaluate and score various products and especially business processes. We plan to continue adding benchmarks and stress tests so that clients can fully explore this intriguing approach while we continue identifying the metrics that best reflect the success of these strategies, inspiring innovative planning and action.
But for now, Life's Principles, forged over many millions of years of evolutionary biology, could serve every decision-maker and policy planner as a guiding framework for restarting “the machine”. In this context, Life's Principles could provide a radically different approach to our new normal and an important glimmer of hope that we will be smart enough to create conditions conducive to life.