Sometimes, after I take a nap, I wake up, and wonder where I am, and what’s happening. It takes a few moments for memory to kick in.
I feel like that with Covid. I blurrily try to work out what’s going on now, as the scene shifts again. Right now, in the UK, we are back in national lockdown.
Anxiety levels are rising, and mental health concerns are increasing, as people feel tired after the stress of this past year.
New acronyms arise: WFH, added to the others – WTF, TBH, OMG – an aphabetisation of thought, which serves to distanciate us from our emotional reality in a fug of false lightheartedness.
At popular level, neo-stoic philosophy is surfacing to help us cope with worry. Donald Robertson has written in The Guardian about how Marcus Aurelius can help us navigate these times.
But Coronoavirus may also cause a loss of faith in absolute meaning.
From Left and Right, for instance, Slavoj Žižek and Bernard-Henri Lévy have written in nihilistic terms.
Both of them eschew any sense of meaning, or higher lessons to be learned from the virus. Everything exists at a brute physical level.
Their only response is to concentrate on the immediate practical needs: of PPE, health care, essential workers.
Their fine words, respective ideologies, melt into thin air, as the requirements of, what Giorgio Agamben terms, “bare existence” take charge.
For Žižek, this means supporting the State, as the only institution capable of commanding resources to fight the scourge, in a version of Soviet “War Communism”.
From the Left, Christoph Schuringa, writing in The Philosopher’s Magazine, advers that only a radical participatory democracy can solve the problems of Coronavirus.
Lévy, however, while recognising the necessity of stringent government controls, limitations on spontaneous behaviour, also laments the loss of liberties, the joy of life. The élan vital (athough he doesn’t use the term, it is suitably French for this aged nouveau philosophe) is squeezed out, he asserts, by the fear conjured by this plague.
Connecting, as it does, with other ecological crises (loss of bio-diversity, global heating, plastic pollution), Covid-19 poses a threat which is simultaneously acute yet chronic.
Alvin Toffler, the futurist, in the 1970s, termed this inter-linked crisis an “Eco-spasm”. His company, Toffler Associates, still exists, and has produced a timeline to help businesses plan for the future.
The initial phase of 0-3 months forms an “Acute Response”. Then follows the stage we are presently in, of 6-30 months: an indeterminate, uncertain, period, they call “The Great Wait”.
During this time, we take remedial measures, but are essentially powerless, waiting for a vaccine to be widely distributed.
Afterwards, however, is a period of several years, before the consequences of the pandemic are worked through: economically, psychologically and socially.
This is the future we face.