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If COVID-19 has taught us one thing, it's that physical distance is great medicine for deadly viruses. Maybe even the best medicine. Ancient too.

The ancients, simple tribes-people as they were, included physical distancing as a deadly serious part of their culture. Groups were consistently small, insular, often nomadic, and violently skeptical of outsiders. All the ancients we've met introduced themselves by viciously attacking us for violating their physical distancing rules. In hindsight, they weren't enthusiastic enough.

Now, I'm not saying the ancients knew exactly why they enforced physical distancing with capital punishment. They didn't need to know why; the fact they survived was all that mattered. An attitude of "we'll kill you now for violating the rules so your behavior doesn't wipe us out later" seemed wise at the time. And it worked.

The reason it worked it simple. If every tribe who relaxed the distancing rules was soon cut down by disease, all that survived were the tribes who revered the rules. No virologists needed. No doctors, nurses, or politicians either. Just tradition and a thoroughly stoned medicine man.

I think it's surprisingly useful to view every cultural tradition -- including the kind we've roundly rejected -- through the lens of physical distancing. Is a culture traditionally opposed to promiscuity, bestiality, prostitution, and drunken escapades at the local watering hole? Well, I hear from friends that those activities aren't much fun at a distance of 2 meters or more from your co-conspirators. Tribes without rules against such activities would have a harder time dodging the next virus outbreak.

Perhaps traditions that seem to be about morality are actually reflecting the fact that tribal survival depends on a decentralized strategy to limit the impact of deadly contagious viruses. That we humans were tribalistic xenophobes for many millions of years could give us a hint as to what it will take to survive on Earth for another few million years.

I'm not saying what we should do or shouldn't do. Nor what you should do or shouldn't do. That's on you to figure out for yourself. But I will predict that cultures which survive beyond the 30th century will strictly enforce physical distancing, one way or another, even if they don't have a clue why they're doing it.