A Letter from Quarantine

Dear 2120,

 

Here’s one for the history books. Maybe the year 2020 is part of the curriculum in your schools and educational institutions? I’m wondering if you’ve been reading my letters thinking: ‘When is he getting to the global pandemic? I bet that’s gonna be something else.’ If that sort of vicarious thrill-seeking floats your fusion-powered hydro-vessel, you’ll be interested to know that coronavirus is upon us, and that it’s toying mercilessly with our tiny minds.

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A photo from 2020 taken in Toronto, Canada.

It’s the strangest thing. A virus that predominantly preys on the vulnerable and the elderly. The rationalistic part of me is reluctant to admit this, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re being tested. Tried on our moral convictions and collective ability to adapt and find common ground in the face of a rapidly proliferating challenge. Maybe the overlords running the simulation have unleashed a black swan event to see how we measure up with new upheavals thrust upon us. Or maybe this was bound to happen in one way or another as an inevitable by-product of our failure to engage with the world in a meaningful and sustainable way. It’s the latter, of course. Quarantine has made me go off on a slightly unhinged, quasi-spiritual nerd tangent. I guess that entertaining the fantastical sci-fi fantasy makes it less real and scary for a split-second or two. It’s been very real and pretty scary.

Whenever coronavirus hits a new country, the onslaught consistently induces the same behavioral pattern: indifference; followed by jokey comparisons with the common flu; and then, when it finally lands that this unstoppable viral phenomenon has the very real potential to upend living as you know it, shock and varying degrees of panic begin to set in.

As of April 8, 2020, 82.000 people have died amid nationwide lockdowns, far-reaching restrictions on social interaction and a global economy brought to its quivering knees. Here in Denmark, a generation with little to no experience in collective hardship or adversity are holed up in their homes, frightened and #alonetogether, moods swinging like brittle chandeliers on the Titanic, with dubious, personal information-stealing media as their primary source of connection. In the midst of fear-inducing pandemonium arriving on our doorstep and proceeding to seep into our sheltered home like a highly contagious, invisible ghost, It feels as if reality itself is in some sort of flux. We’ve been shoved out of our comfort zones without a moment’s notice into an eerie precarious existence that grief expert David Kessler calls ‘anticipatory grief.

 

‘The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.’

 

As a learned friend of mine rightfully pointed out, that shitty feeling of uncertainty is the rule and not the exception for two-thirds of the world’s population. The unfairly balanced distribution of wealth and resources means that some of us have gotten free passes up until now. To a certain extent, we’ve been living in a wilfully oblivious fantasy world. An old-world reality, which is now coming to an abrupt, unceremonious end. Some people are calling it the end of globalization. We’ll see. In any event, I hope that doctors and medical experts don’t stop sharing new findings and knowledge across borders. If that positive side-effect of globalization ceases, we’re truly done for. It’s the neoliberalist part of globalization that needs to die, not the part where we collectively get more intelligent.

The deficit of hindsight
We should have seen it coming. Many ominous articles have been written on the dangers of multi-resistant bacteria. Countless warnings have been issued by people we should have listened to. It’s possible that we’ve been too busy lamenting our spiritual poverty in flights of self-absorbed navel-gazing. One thing is clear, however; the world has changed overnight. It’s a fairly unsettling thing to watch.

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Distancing existences
Certain forms of distancing are required in this virulent, new reality. Social distancing, the preferred protective measure of the world’s governing bodies sounds fancy and academic, but it really just means staying at home to avoid spreading or contracting the virus. Then there’s emotional distancing, the act of removing yourself from reality because it sometimes becomes too heavy and too much to bear. People are dying in droves. Your parents are categorized as being in the ‘at-risk’ group. Jobs are being cut on a massive scale and you can’t be completely sure if you have one in a month or two because the future has never looked more uncertain. You need to keep reality at bay to keep your head above water.

Apparently, this disengagement from the real world means embracing eco-fascist ideas for some people:

In my book, widening inequality, the handful of corporations killing the planet, and the military-industrial complex are the culprits here, not humanity.  We all have our coping mechanisms, I guess.

It’s also been suggested that Mother Earth has sent us to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. To me, it feels more paralyzing. More vindictive and severe. More like a mean-spirited, older sibling kneeling on your chest and writing  ‘dickhead’ on your forehead with a permanent marker – and then proceeding to shove you into your room, quickly maneuvering to hold the door shut while you bang on the other side filled with impotent rage and despair.

Grounds for optimism
Still, it’s not all bad. There are actually positive stories to be found beneath the mounting rubble of this world-toppling crisis. Glimpses of what the world might be like if we finally decided to get our act together. C02 emissions have taken a drastic downturn, pollution levels are plummeting and the sky is literally clearer for it.

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Maps show drastic drop in air pollution after COVID-19.

Screen Shot 2020-04-08 at 16.30.37 The Himalayas are visible for the first time in 30 years as pollution levels in India plummet. 

The word ‘solidarity’ has been mainstreamed within the space of a week or two. Collectivism seems to be growing stronger as people are robbed of social contact and realize how much they depend on one another, and prominent voices from across the political spectrum are calling for unified action on climate change.

Don’t fuck it up
This feels like one of those pivotal moments. With the global population being jolted out of their daily routines and comfort zones, comes fear and anxiety, but it also produces a range of opportunities. The chance to change our common mindset and with it the collective trajectory, which is currently set for unimaginable hardship if business as usual continues. The course we’re on has been altered for a moment in time and we’re all scratching our heads in collective reflection and wonderment. New things – things that seemed far-fetched to most people a month ago – are suddenly viable options. And so, what we do next will have significant implications on how we live in the future. As Indian activist and author Arundhati Roy writes in the Financial Times (of all places):

 

‘Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.’

 

As an optimist by choice, I have to believe that this historical event, challenging and grief-riddled as it undoubtedly is, can steer us in a direction that recalibrates our systemics, repurposes the way we organize ourselves, and reimagines how we engage with our natural surroundings. But that’s for you to know and me to find out, I suppose. For now, I guess I’ll just keep going a little cray in the quar. While we’re on that topic, I, for one, hope that the unpredictable whims of the benevolent Simulation Overlords don’t take us too far over the edge.

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