So, it’s Linz, Upper Austria. For those who have never visited this city: it is pretty small; according to Wikipedia, the population is around 200 000 people. On the coast of the Danube, picturesque landscape in a few spots, a couple of old churches, etc. It is not too scary to experience quarantine here.
I was having a legal walk, alone, keeping distance, not touching my face, not touching anything, having locked my hands in the pockets, crossing the street when I see an elderly person approaching, and a funny thought came to my mind. Pandemic situations draw the line of responsibility in a peculiar way. Hypothetically, anyone in the street can be infected, as well as any object, any package of frozen food in the supermarket etc. That’s why we try not to interact. Furthermore, I realize, there is another purpose for keeping distance: I can be infected, so I should behave responsibly and avoid spreading the virus. At the same time, it is possible, that nobody is infected. I mean, the virus exists, sure, a lot of people are in hospitals, I don’t claim it is a fake thing, but any spot in the city can also be free of the virus. Hypothetically. People are not dying in the street. We don’t particularly know, where, when and how one can become infected. Every passerby on the street is in a way a Schrödinger`s human, infected and not infected at the same time; we consider isolation the best pattern of behavior against the virus, because it covers all the possible, terrible consequences; no interaction means no infection. That’s valid logic and a valid solution to the pandemic situation. Nevertheless, dividing common sense from the psychological pattern, which is being formed by the practice of isolation, we can feel a huge lack of clarity. What is actually dangerous: interaction itself or contact with infection? Isn’t this here a huge metaphor for the essence of our contemporary world?
Let’s assume, the virus is the metaphor of faceless evil, a destructive power that doesn’t allow a chance to negotiate conditions of co-existence, that knows only the language of war; this evil is almost omnipotent, there exists no antidote, no vaccine, no cure, and luck is the only factor, that plays a role in survival, once you are infected. This evil is transferred by people, so every person you meet in the street may be your enemy. Interaction is questionable, since it is potentially an action of transmitting evil, in other words, interaction is an act of invasion or even aggression. Individuals are not considered good or bad, good or bad will doesn’t matter, it is irrelevant criteria. Interaction is restricted not because someone has a bad will, but because anyone, potentially, is a bowl of poison. To become a bowl full of poison is also out of our control, but we consider some actions prevent this transformation. This is called responsibility, and we interact more easily with the ones, who follow the rules of safety, in other words, the rules of responsible behavior. Responsible behavior, as we remember, is to avoid unnecessary interactions.
So, we feel safe and comfortable in reduced interactions, in unavoidable, “necessary ” interactions, and we trust people, who support this mode of interaction, basically, with people, who prefer not to approach, not to come too close to us. Coming close is too dangerous, since the possible damage is catastrophic, and the possible profit in a lot of cases, will be avoiding being damaged. Big risk for a tiny, miserable reward. And consequently an easy and reasonable choice; what to do? Self isolation is the answer and the solution.
We have friends, but we don’t meet anymore, because it is a smart decision. All personal characteristics become irrelevant, in other words, they stay valuable, but become paradoxically not important. The only relevant criteria is infection, as well as its consequence – responsible behavior, that means, as we said, refusal of interaction. We trust the stranger, who changes the side of the street seeing us approaching more, than the member in our household, who comes back from the supermarket and forgets to wash their hands. And it is very smart and very reasonable, since we do not live in the world, we live inside the virus.
So, basically, since we can’t open the box and see, whether the cat is dead or alive, we decide to believe it’s dead in order to avoid the consequences of a possible mistake. We also believe, obviously, it is impossible to live like this our whole life. We consider, the quarantine will end one day, we hope it will happen in May, or in June, or latest in September. We assume, this situation is exceptional, and once the danger is gone, we can get back to normal life, when valuable things will become important again, will become relevant.
We create ways of surviving during this period. Quarantine can also be rewarding, we have a lot of free time with ourselves, that we can spend wisely. We conform to quarantine, adjust our activities to the requirements of isolation and try to live the same life, that we lived before. We live partially in the past, trying to keep in shape, keep our source of income, keep the rhythm of life we used to; partially we move into the future – we think, what will we do once the quarantine ends, who will we be? We go jogging, enrich ourselves with reading and watching thoughtful movies, create and discuss projects of the future via skype. This all is also reasonable and smart. We try to reduce to a minimum the impact of the pandemic on our lives. We actually try to create conditions and environments around us, that would allow us to ignore the pandemic to the maximum extent. The activities, that were valuable themselves, receive extra importance, since we are afraid to lose the ability to perform the actions we used to perform and to live life how we used to live. Moreover, we assume, in the future we don’t want to enter the “normal mode” being harmed and weakend, we would like to enter the new-after-quarantine-world strong and content, in the best case scenario, stronger and more content, than we were before isolation.
Everything makes sense, everything is reasonable and wise. We consider the most important everyday procedures we are used to performing. We realize how tightly we are connected with our occupations, our bodies, our routines. We want to keep this under all circumstances and be ready to get back to our full mode of life. We understand, that relatively easy we can break contact with all the people we know, since it is necessary to avoid infection. Inevitable loneliness of isolation appears at some point as a bliss, as a concentration point, as a time to be with ourselves. We appreciate people, who feel the same – bliss of being with the self and dedicating time and energy to the self. We appreciate people, who appreciate the borders of people, who appreciate borders. Thus we are sharing the loneliness in joint activities, that become very significant during the pandemic situation. We share a lifestyle, understanding, that actually nothing more exists in the world, where everybody is your potential enemy, in other words – a real enemy. Nothing personal, just in the universe of the virus we can only rely on shared memories of the past, when everything was good, and joint anticipation of the future, when everything will be good. Interaction and exchange is death, who knows what we share in interaction? Probably, we spread the poison? Joint memories and hopes are the only connecting points, and shared loneliness is the only territory of being together.
And now imagine – just for a second – that the quarantine will never end. Or, better, that the tamed virus will be replaced by another one, and another one – by a third one, and so on? And then just imagine, that it is not only about COVID, but every alien way of thinking, every way of spreading behaving might be considered a virus, every unknown phenomenon invading our lives, is considered a pandemic. Let me be banal: feminism, anti-racism, LGBT-communities, refugees, sexual revolution, psychedelic art, punk music, even the small attempt to step over the limit of anything like becoming a vegan or separating garbage, everything, independent of its content, starts as a virus and brings people to quarantine. I am not discussing now, how ridiculous it is to consider the mentioned things evil. I am just discussing the mechanism of self defense, that we learned so well, remembering every line of the instruction by heart. As we see, it all follows the same scenario – a large part of people get infected and their children inherit an immune system against the virus, they learn how to co-exist with it, it becomes part of their homeostasis. Some people keep on living in quarantine, hoping it will end and life will again be normal again. For many centuries the world was one big quarantine, now becoming a parody of itself – literally closing everything on quarantine.