Updated: Jan 1
Covid invites us to project upon it our own experiences and expectations, our fears and hopes, providing the perfect template to experiment with the far reaches of our collective dreads and dreams.
The renowned Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov wrote of The Inquisitive Man who visits the museum of nature, relishing its exhibits, but failing to notice the great elephant in their midst. Is COVID19 our “elephant in the room,” so vastly obvious to be seriously noticed and discussed? Surely not, we’ve all been reading so much about it in the past couple of months, and Sapienism has certainly had its share of that. But learning about the virus is not really getting to know it, is it?
What if there was a way to do just that? Suppose, for example, that the Coronavirus were a person – what would you ask him?
“Can you please tell me about your parents?” is one interesting line of inquiry. “So how exactly did you start your global business?” is another. But considering how busy Mr. Covid must be these days, we might as well cut to the chase: “Any specific plans for the future?” Still, for some, myself included, when it comes to humans, no question is more intriguing than the good old fashioned “Why?” After all, only humans contemplate the causes and reasons for what they see around them, and inside them. I will thus go with a blunt “Why on earth have you been doing this?”
Unfortunately, since Covid, however metamorphosized, has yet to anthropomorphize itself, we will likely get no answer. We have seen it before, of course. The universe too is silent; it gives us no reason, no meaning to hold on to – just a starry canvas on which to paint our own passions and purposes. So does the Covid veil.
Perhaps then Covid is a different sort of elephant… Do you recall the Indian parable about the blindmen and the elephant? Standing around the huge animal, each blindman touched another part – and came to a different conclusion about what they faced. The trunk felt like a snake, the ear like a fan, the leg like a tree-trunk, the tusk like a spear. The elephant, however near, remained far from their grasp.
So it is with the pandemic, huge but hidden in plain sight.
Like the elephant in the room, Covid too invites us to project upon it our own experiences and expectations, our fears and hopes.
Shall I start with mine? Here’s a troubling thought I have: Do we wear mask to bask in fear so we can mask a deeper anxiety?
If you’ve been worried, it makes much sense, and you’re definitely not alone: disease and death are at our doorsteps, perhaps – I so dearly hope not – have already entered yours. Still, for most of us, the horrid realities are mediated by media, conventional and social. And we know, from many studies, that reading about it, especially in social media, makes us more concerned – a bummer in and of itself, and all the more so when we recall hypertension may make us much more susceptible to our nefarious silent interviewee. Since following constant stories about the virus helps it attack us, shouldn’t we opt to know less?
We rarely do. Why? Being humans, we might be able to answer this one. Do we secretly wish to nurture our worries – but what on earth for? Perhaps we sometimes use fear, about how and when we may die, to mask a deeper dread, wondering why we should stay alive.
When it is harder to dodge this disquieting question, we sometimes answer by seeking a higher cause: “I live to help others achieve/become…”. The virus provides the perfect template to experiment with the far reaches of our collective dreads and dreams. That is exactly what is so exciting about “the end of the world as we know it”; the potential to have a clean social slate is both terrifying and exhilarating. Whether it is old ideas or new technologies, each can offer a bright utopia or a bleak dystopia, and many shades in between.
But of course, sometimes a mask is just a mask 😊