WE ARE most naked in our humanity in times of disasters. Human reason reaches its limit whenever institutions are ruptured. The beauty of our designs and the elegance of our plans all become senseless in the face of uncertainty. We are then awakened to our own obliviousness to our real state in this world: ephemeral and contingent. Appropriating the philosopher Immanuel Kant, we can say with greater conviction that “no matter how much you look at the world, you will never know the world-in-itself.”
Apparently most of us are afraid of the virus. This is actually puzzling because we have not even seen the real face of our enemy. I feel however that what we are afraid of actually is not the virus but of other things that are of our own making. We are afraid of city lock down, of crashed economies, of panic buying, and of the man-made chaos and riot that may erupt due to crisis.
Because of our anxiety, the clarity of our direction is lost. Our government officials, local and national, are busy declaring emergencies. I am not sure though whether they have secured the status of people’s survival before making pronouncements using technical terms that cause misunderstanding and panic. The term “state of emergency” are not just three harmless words. They are words that may increase the blood pressure of people who are surviving merely on a day-to-day basis.
It’s not the virus that will kill us but man-made disasters. Poverty and starvation may even fast track the death of some even before Covid-19 would possibly infect them. As days run, resources deplete. Production is slowing down because human activities have been stopped abruptly. Now we are asked to move back to our caves without the assurance of available long-term nourishment.
If there is something that will make us survive it’s not just our alternative economic and political strategy. In the very first place I am doubtful of the extent of efficiency of whatever strategy our government has made or will make. But as I’ve said we should not just rely on our strategies. We need solidarity. People need to be encouraged not just to survive for one’s self but also for others. In desperate times, hope and charity are most needed.
I am afraid that amidst all questions regarding cancellation of events, imposition of bans and quarantines, we have forgotten to ask the most important question: what will keep us going. If this question remains unanswered, we will be running here and there like headless chickens. We will be striking an invisible enemy, trying to kill something that cannot be killed. In the end we will get exhausted and exasperated. We will exterminate our own race even before the virus could.
Let’s pray for fortitude and courage. Without these we will not survive despite our plans. May each person keep in mind “the other.” Times of deep crisis require us to go beyond partisan divides. Charity is most needed by all those who are contained in the concentration camp. In the words of Emmanuel Levinas, “morality is opposed to politics.” May we emerge after this pandemic more courageous, reflective and thoughtful as people.