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Jonah, Cassandra, and the Doom-Sayers — Reading Lewis Mumford During the Pandemic

“If we would conquer the hell that now threatens to engulf us, we must not seek merely for a little less hell, we must not content ourselves with a sort of modified hell, with the brimstone deodorized and the heat made tolerable to us by a little asbestos insulation.” – Lewis Mumford


In the last week of January 2020, a graphic from Forbes magazine began circulating on social media. Based on information from the 2019 Global Health Security Index, the graphic presented a yellow, orange, and red map of the world. It purported to show “The Countries Best And Worst Prepared for an Epidemic.” The United States (appearing on the map in bright yellow) was ranked at the top of the list of “Best Prepared.” The United Kingdom was awarded second place, Canada fifth, and Switzerland (the last country to earn the colour yellow) thirteenth. Most of the map was filled with orange, the colour selected for the countries that, although somewhat “prepared,” were unworthy of being deemed “most prepared.” This was the hue selected for fifty-first-placed China. And some of the map featured an ominous dark red, selected for those “least prepared.”  Equatorial Guinea placed dead last on the list.

Published by Forbes on 27 January 2020, the graphic came as cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the US reached a grand total of five. Nearly 3,000 cases of the virus had been recorded in Wuhan, but in the US “health officials” had “stated that there is little risk of the coronavirus spreading due to precautions being taken.” Thus the graphic, at least for those who found themselves living in one of the yellow countries, presented a reassuring message amidst the early flux of news about COVID-19, namely: don’t worry, you are living in one of the “most prepared” countries for an epidemic.

On the basis of such reporting, many in Europe and North considered themselves secure. Some might have spotted the Global Health Security Index report for 2019, which noted that “collectively, international preparedness for epidemics and pandemics remains very weak.” Yet the overwhelming consensus, in North America at least, aligned with the Forbes visual representation of the world.

Forbes provided its readers with a reassuring picture of a world that has now ended.

This piece was originally written Syndemic Magazine’s sixth issue on “Imagining and Remembering the Pandemic” the full article can be read at the Syndemic website


About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

One comment on “Jonah, Cassandra, and the Doom-Sayers — Reading Lewis Mumford During the Pandemic

  1. Pingback: Singing About the Dark Times – Theses on Doomerism | LibrarianShipwreck

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