I haven't yet heard anyone yet say that Swine Flu means we must abandon the acquisitive society and all learn to live more simply, but I have no doubt at all that I will. I anticipate this because the mantra is used every time anything of significance happens, and even when insignificant things do. There are always people who yearn for a simpler life when people were nicer neighbours and the Hovis boy pushed his bike up that sepia cobbled hill. Things were under control more in those days.
Now they wail that everything has gone manic with people pushing and shoving and trying to improve themselves. The spread and speed of our interaction with others has led to a world which cannot be controlled and which occasionally seems to run wild.There are just so many interactions that no directing brain can hope to slow it down and make it behave as some idealists would like it to.
In despair over these developments, and over their failure to persuade the world to behave differently, they clutch at each new development as a sign of the imminent collapse of the modern world, and the emergence of a quieter one in which people have more limited ambitions and know their place. They rather parallel the environmentalists who hail any weather that happens as evidence of coming catastrophe.
It is true that the world faces a series of challenges and shocks; it always has. It is also true that modern speed and interconnectivity can highlight and intensify some of those challenges. But there is another side to that coin: it is that the speed of scientific and technical advance, and the rapid transmission of information, mean that humans can respond more quickly and more effectively. Our ability to deal with crises has increased, too.
It is unlikely that Swine Flu will overwhelm us. Humankind will rise to its challenge and emerge from its threat, just as it does from the others. And no, it will not abandon its quest for self-improvement, or the speed and range of its reach. But its success will not prevent some people hailing the next crisis as the one to curtail our unlimited ambitions.