A few thoughts and a drawing
“There are more ideas on earth than intellectuals imagine. And these ideas are more active, stronger, more resistant, more passionate than “politicians” think. We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them. Ideas do not rule the world. But it is because the world has ideas (and because it constantly produces them) that it is not passively ruled by those who are its leaders or those who would like to teach it, once and for all, what it must think” Paul-Michel Foucault
As we’re moving into May this phase of enforced lockdown in my part of the world is hopefully completing its cycle in a week or two. Like many people across the planet we have been doing things around the house like pulling weeds out of the garden, clipping dead branches, using up old pots of paint, airing and washing winter clothes, sorting through paper, mostly within the spirit of spring cleaning, which we engage in every year. There is a lot of advice circulating on the net about making the most of these days in quarantine in terms of decluttering and organizing our homes, and this is all good and well, but taking time to also explore what might be really going on right now is also essential.
It is important to keep an open and critical mind during these unsettling times because there is a lot of conflicting and complementary information competing for our attention, and it might be difficult for the lay person to discern the truth of information presented as scientific facts, and also, to distinguish between facts and theories, real news and fake news. Also, statistics are not necessarily comparable. In many cases people are measuring different things and using different tools. I don’t watch TV so I am spared certain sources of information. I try to selectively read or tune into something for a short period every so often. There are diverse narratives out there and people have their own agendas. Some support a virus explanation and some search causality in diverse sources of environmental toxicity. This could also explain why certain areas of the world seem to have been more afflicted than others. Some are questioning the germ theory and the deeper causes of the deaths that are being reported. Some countries like Sweden and Germany with more robust national health systems are doing things differently. It is also suggested that after a forced lockdown of this length we might be more susceptible to falling ill in general, and of course, there are serious concerns around the world about civil liberties and rights and the greater reach of government control into our personal lives. In some countries this risk has been taken more into consideration than in other places.
Going through old papers and things this spring I found past medical results and X-rays. I even found my childhood vaccination card and remembered my pediatrician… and this gave me the chance to reflect on my health across my lifespan and the type of health care I have received or not. Past essay papers reminded me of Paul Michel Foucault’s notions of power and the need to resist subjectification. Some of his ideas feel very relevant in these times. Foucault discusses how human beings are disciplined and turned into subjects through medicalization (the process by which diverse human conditions and issues come to be defined and treated as medical conditions), since available discourse, institutions and social practices reflect power relations.
What is certain is that we will emerge changed after this experience. There is a possibility that we will experience each other as potentially hostile carriers of contagious viruses and become more separate than we already are. There is the danger of more fear permeating our lives, but stress and a revved up sympathetic system cause long term health issues and impact our longevity. Fear is also the most effective tool of oppression. Poverty and financial stress also negatively impact our overall health. Many people will come out poorer and more insecure in terms of their financial standing. Unemployment has risen in many places. There are many newspaper articles and people talking about the tragic impact that this lockdown will have on national economies and individual lives. In a podcast I watched a few days ago, hosted by Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Gabor Mate referred to research that has explored the link between increase in death rates in past austerity period in Britain, for instance. But we don’t really need research to understand that poverty and isolation wreak havoc on our general well-being.
There are also narratives that suggest that this health crisis; however one may conceptualize or understand it, is to some extent an equalizer and a pointer to the necessity of positive social changes. In that sense it might awaken us to more reality and to the possibility of doing and choosing better. We cannot continue to plunder and contaminate the planet and strive to control and manipulate others without repercussions. This experience might make more salient the need for a more collaborative and less antagonistic society, as well as, the need to put holistic and respectful national health systems in place, to create structures to support those in need and to protect hard earned civil rights and liberties. At a personal level self care, healthy eating, exercise, meditation, tapping, nature and gratitude can help us navigate these times and feel safe, one moment at a time, and also reclaim ourselves and minds, one thought at a time. Maybe it will shake us out of cynicism and passivity and urge us to strive for more agentic and informed choices and more compassionate and loving actions and connections.
Wishing everyone physical and psychic resilience and well being.