Recap 2020: This long haul year has almost come to an end. What will you take with you from this year?
Note: This is a personal essay reflecting upon what I believe to be some of the philosophical consequences of the global upheavals, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It contains my thoughts on how this can potentially change us, and the hazard of that change. Adult conversations ought to contend with these topics in an honest and courageous way. Even though it seems too much to handle at times.
A dreary day in March, everything turned upside down, at almost every corners of the world. It was like a gigantic tsunami wave, cascading over us, country by country. Everything we thought we knew was suddenly thrown out the window. Lockdown official became the new word in the whole world. This roller coaster was one most people would never have imagined.
In the beginning, fear broke loose. We didn’t know how this story would end. Every horrible scenario was suddenly possible. To an extent, competent leaders managed to create fellowship, solidarity and trust in democratic countries. We came to understand that we were all in the same boat, and a shared fear of the unknown became uniting.
Fast forward a couple of months and the story is slowly changing. More knowledge about the virus helps us better predict and understand the consequences, which inherently is a good thing. Nevertheless, in our modern, technological world, everything can turn political. Even things that we ought to keep out of the political sphere to be able to properly navigate the way forward.
In an attempt to continue to unit and create solidarity, leaders started infantilizing the citizenry, promoting a special-pleading narrative – the perfect justification for the “comfortable” misery we’re living through. And without a doubt, slowly the sense-making apparatus wipes out.
Collective actions are indeed always required in global crisis like our current pandemic. But as the American philosopher, Eric Hoffer, puts it;
«Competent leaders, like Gandhi, knows how to gain support during crisis and make the citizenry follow zealously. Nevertheless they are not tempted to use the slim of frustrated souls as mortar in the building of a new world. The self-confidence of competent leaders is derived from and blended with their faith in humanity, for they know that no one can be honorable unless he honors mankind.»
2020 has created worldwide upheavals in terms of health, politics and economics to say the least. As well as a palpable, psychological crisis. At the risk of sounding present biased, I would argue that during my life time, a meaningless existence has never seemed so precarious in the modern world.
Trade-offs are inevitable in global crisis. We have to prioritize the impossible. Save lives over the economy. Might seem like a no brainer, but that’s never the case in complex systems. In many cases, we don’t know what the best solution looks like. We just have to try our best. Still, what we do know is that we need constant conversations about what it might mean to risk something of crucial importance over something equally important.
In the global crisis we’re living through, we are forced to contend with the feeling of a meaningless existence. From the naked eye, it’s easy to evaluate a meaningless existence as a simple trade-off, compared to everything else we are forced to contend with. It’s part of showing solidarity, they say. But as stated above, the complexity of the situation tells us otherwise.
As the influential, existential psychologist, Rollo May states:
“The experience of meaninglessness, generally comes from people’s feeling that they are powerless to do anything effective about their lives or the world they live in. Thus people get the deep sense of despair and futility, and soon gives up wanting and feeling. Apathy and lack of feeling are also defenses against anxiety. When a person continually faces dangers he is powerless to overcome, his final line of defenses is at last to avoid even feeling the dangers.”
The human brain is constructed in a way that’s both a blessing and a burden. Consciousness can be both the best thing and the worst thing about us. In times like the one we’re living through, the burden of being conscious is often heavy to bear.
We find ourselves between two valleys. On the one hand you are an individual who creates meaning through constant exploration of life, but at the same time you are part of a huge collective, that is society. That often creates dissonance. Who are you? Who are we as a collective? How does our society function? What happens when everything we thought we knew suddenly collapses before our eyes? What is the best way forward?
I don’t claim to know the answer. How could I? We are living through something that will continue to feel upsetting for many years to come. What I do think though, is that we need to discuss the issue with obedience in a democratic society, without the disclaimers.
Freedom can be described as living in a democratic society that recognize the value of each individual, and where people live autonomous lives. That freedom can be unbearable at times, like when you have a contagious virus on the loose. Then it might be tempting to make a trade-off and free yourself from the freedom.
In times when collective action is needed, the trade-off is called obedience. It is necessary, but it is a classic short-term solution. And it comes with a high price when done with ignorance. What historically happens to populations that fails to recognize the price to pay for self-pleading short-term solutions? They often end up tether to an totalitarian authority, stripped completely of their individual value, freedom or autonomy. I would strongly argue that willful blind obedience is the worst enemy when collective action is required.