Lessons from the Corona moment of Humanity

The First Lesson

Human life exists in a plenum/fullness. When we are born we are immersed in this fullness.  At that point, we are unable to divide ourselves from anything.  The world exists seamlessly with us and to us.  The pillow, the bedsheets, our mother or other caregivers are not separable during this time.  But we cannot stay in this cocoon for long.  We come to know the world as we begin relating to it by separating it from us. It is the mOther that calls us into being. Mother or the other becomes the mirror that seems to ‘hey there’ and we respond saying ‘here I am’. 

Jacques Lacan teaches us that a child between 6 months to 18 months begins to identify itself with the image in the mirror.  This image introduces the infant in the imaginary which is a fundamental register of our experience.  This event splits the plenum. It is only through this split that an infant begins to separate itself from the pillow, bed sheets, mother and other caregivers.  The infant is now born to its self.  It will invest in this self all its life by splitting the plenum.  This split reaches a new height when the child acquires language and joins the symbolic order (symbols, rituals, laws, customs, etc.)  of the society. A symbolic order gives us the feeling that things are in their place.  This, of course,  is not the case. Pandemic like one that we are facing today is making this fact amply clear to us. 

Our symbolic order and the imaginary world that enable us to build our institutions and society does give us a temporary sense of wholeness.  This sense of wholeness is fragile and it collapses no sooner than our society faces an evasive disruption.  There are several factors that are responsible for the sudden collapse. But we seem to look for one signifier that stands as the other and blame it all on it.  We may remember how the Jews were scapegoated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. Closer at home, we can also spot how minorities like Muslims are demonized and projected as the reason for all the problems of Hindus by the Hindu right-wing.   Zizek teaches that humans need a sublime object that is ambiguous as it is heterogeneous to the reigning ideological field but necessary for the disrupted field to achieve its closure. This means the demonization of the Jews in Germany or the Muslims in India provides closure to a sense of dislocation caused by evasive disruption of life.  

The eruption of Covid-19 has disrupted our ideological field.  Things are no longer in their place and death has begun to rule our life.  We are again searching for our sublime object, the anti-signifier that somehow is both within and outside our system.  This is why maybe we in India could not give up our habit of construing the Muslims as blameworthy.  An irresponsible public event conducted by one Muslim group was enough to provide fodder to several loose cannons to rant out their hate.  But this anti-signifier could not last for long. It, of course, cannot become a sublime object in the context of covid-19.  The social order that is disrupted cannot be made whole by communalising our situation.  This is why the loose cannons immediately went silent but not without the fear of theft of something we came to enjoy. Maybe along with the fear of covid-19, we are also afraid of losing our sublime object, the object of hate that we came to love. 

 Covid-19 is robbing not only the life of a huge number of humans but is also robbing the enjoyment of every one of us by locking us into our home.  It has robbed us of our sublime objects.  All kinds of hate ideologies that several humans loved to enjoy are fading away. But  covid-19 is actively shattering our life and we have no one to blame except ourselves.  No community can be made into a sublime object of hate today.  We have to save even those we hate to save ourselves.  It has indeed taken away the sublime object that we enjoyed hating.  But will we be able to live without our sublime objects? It does not seem so. Life is always out of joint. Things are never in their place. We will still look for someone or group to scapegoat our frustration.  But if we take our lessons from this covid-19 moment of humanity, we might be enabled to set ourselves free us from our enjoyment of hate. 

 We can indeed get ourselves out of this utterly dark corner that we have pushed ourselves. We can unlearn our enjoyment of hate. But this unlearning is not easy. We require a wakeful awareness that offers us an insight into the world as it is. Things are always in their place. Reality continues to be in a relation of fullness/ plenum. But it is we humans who cannot enjoy its fullness at least on this side of the grave. We have to split it and invest meaning, emotion, and destiny into things. It is we who need the imaginary and the symbolic systems to register our experience of things. In the plenum, we cannot experience the world. We have to cut it and paste meaning, emotions, and destiny into it.  

Think of a girl you might come to love. Before she was a subject of your love, she belonged to the plenum/fullness as far as you are concerned.  You split her or cut her from the plenum and invested meaning, love, and destiny of lifelong partnership into her. This was possible in the first place only by splitting and investing in meaning and emotion. This is how you entered the relationship with the girl of your dreams at the level of the imaginary.  It can be just a fantasy if you stay only at this level.  To truly relate to the girl one has to assign destiny to the meaning infused at the level of imaginary. It means one has to follow or break the societal order of things.  This means one has to follow the symbols, rituals, and laws of the society to live with her or go against the laws with or without the consent of the girl and face the wrath of the society and the long hand of the law.  Thus, the experience of the relationship with the girl of one’s dream takes place in both imaginary as well as symbolic registers. But it does not guarantee that everything for you will be happy ever after. That happens in films and novels. Real-life is a different story.  We have to come to terms with this reality both as individuals as well as a society.

When our expectations for the wholeness of life are not met we look for a sublime object to lay all our blame.  We seem to think that if only this anti-signifier is somehow removed everything else will fall in place. Covid-19 is forcefully teaching us that all our life is a work in progress.  Things are never in a place with reference to us. We have to learn to live with incompleteness, provisional or transitoriness of life. Maybe this awareness will set us free from the love of hate that has come to put a stranglehold on us.  Maybe this is a great lesson hidden in the covid-19 pandemic.  It might help us give up the enjoyment of hate.  Indeed life that unlearns its enjoyment of hate would indeed bring peace, harmony, and love to all. 

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The Second Lesson

Lessons from the Corona Moment of Humanity 

The globe has stopped for a virus. It sounds crazy but it is real. While we are in a lockdown and practising social distancing to fight covid-19, it is also a time to think and reflect. Distanciation is special to human. We can stand out of the stream of life and still look at it. We can mark a distance without being distant to life.  Distanciation is our ability to reflect.  But we cannot stay into the cave of our distanciations. We have to return back and face the immanence  of life.  We transcend life only to return with direction and vigour.  The corona moment of humanity that we are facing is one such important time of distanciation.  It challenges us to reflect and face life with serenity, compassion, and courage.  Let begin this reflection with the basics.  Distanciation takes us temporarily apart from the world. We transcend the hustle and bustle of life and look at it with critical eyes.  Unfortunately, the transcendental mode of thinking is mostly linear and hierarchical and we begin to believe that we are completely apart from the world.  The corona moment of humanity is driving us back into the stream of life.  It is teaching us that we are not entirely different.  We are worldly and bodily and as such are vulnerable as any living organism. 

 Let’s delve into this levelling down of humanity brought about forcefully by the prevailing corona moment. It challenges us to adopt an immanent mode of thinking. The immanent mode of thinking is mostly non-hierarchical and non-linear and open possibilities in all directions.  It teaches us that we part of the world that we falsely think is apart from us. The world is not really apart from us.  Immanent mode of thing can assist us to understand our immersion into the world. Like a fish that is in the ocean but may not know the ocean as one fable tells us, we too forget that we are immersed into a world. We are beings-in-the-world and not out of it.  This is like the eyes that enable us to see the world but we cannot see our own eyes seeing the world.   Indeed, there is no line that separates us and the world. But we cannot live without this marking of distance. We need it for survival. There is a reversal of this in the corona moment.  We are firmly reminded that we cannot survive outside our world. 

 Our body plays a great role in shaping our experience of the world. We can see all bodies under a background but we cannot see our own body.   The human experience of the world is carnal. We know the world through our body.  We are present to the world through our body.  The presence of our body is paradoxical in nature. We experience our body as the most intimate, inescapable, and abiding presence in our lives.  But it is essentially characterized by absence. This means our body that essentially assist us to produce or make sense of the experience of our world stays furthest from our awareness in this entire experience of knowing the world. It is indeed strange that the body with which we live and relate to others and the world remains a stranger to us while it overcomes our estrangement to the world. We relate to the world with a body that is profoundly marked by a corporal absence. In several ways our carnally produced knowledge of the world is decorporealized. The invisibility of the eyes into its own vision illustrates this fact forcefully.  The world is known and thought to be where we are not.   This conviction guides our domination of the world.  But is the world away from where we are?  We are immersed in the world but are not mindfully aware of it.  The corona moment by highlighting the vulnerability and fragility of our bodies is bringing us back to our bodily life. 

 The objectification of the world is possible and is sustained by distanciation that stands between our body and the world. It is only through an internal negation of the body that we can come to know the world. It is the ecstatic nature of humanity that lets the body become absent from the world and lets us know the world.   Perhaps, this gap that we experience in this process has paved a way for the construction of a disembodied lifestyle that is amplified by our technology.  It is important, therefore, to listen to our bodies and respect their message. All bodies speak.  They have a message for us.  The corona moment brings this message loud and clear. We can be really engrossed in the daily routines doing several things but can forget the body that is enabling us to do those things. Maybe we have to listen to the signals and the cries that our body and that of our loved ones are emitting and find adequate responses. 

There are other lessons that we can learn from this corona moment in silence and intense attention.   It has truly levelled down humanity.  The global lockdown has open possibilities for animals and birds to reclaim their rightful spaces.  In the silence that has come as a consequence of lockdown, we can now hear the chirping of the birds, dance of the leaves and flow of the river.  Human activity seems to have drowned every other voice on this planet earth.   Maybe the corona moment of humanity might arouse eco-concern in us. But there is another important lesson in this levelling of humanity.  The dangerous coronavirus does not know all the distinction and divisions that humans have introduced among themselves.  The divisive politics, casteism, racism, and marginalization of all forms are seemly crumbling under the attack of this minute virus. Humanity today is left with a simple option. To save itself it has to safe the poor.  If the poor are left in lurk to suffer the onslaught coronavirus without adequate food and medicine, it will be suicidal for the rich and the powerful.  Coronavirus is here to change the way be live as humans.  It is for us to learn our lessons and bring the required change individually and collectively. I stop here not because there is nothing more to say. Immersive thinking in the mode of immanence is not stand-alone thinking. it is a collective thought that brings us back into the stream of life and offers tremendous possibilities to be humans in the world. This thinking has to go o. But it cannot do it without you. 

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The Third Lesson

New Lessons from the Corona Moment of Humanity 

People are missing. They are under lockdown.  The lethal covid-19 has sent them out of our streets, schools, and religious places.  To a large extent our market empty. Our buses, trains, ships and flights are not moving.  The silence raises disturbing questions.  When will the people come back? Will they be the same people? Will this global pandemic change humanity forever?  These are some of the questions that might be crowding our mind space.  The question of people is indeed important. It seems that coronavirus is also addressing it in a profound way.   Down the lanes of time humanity has invented different types of people in  its struggle for power. pelf and pleasure.  These people may be constructed around ethnicity, caste, race, religion, colour, culture, nation etc.  In recent days globalisation had converted our world into a global village and as a direct reaction to this, we can trace global reassertion of nationalism and identity politics.  Hence, a kind of ‘glocalism’ has taken shape everywhere.   With the pandemic becoming a global calamity, we can see that that world that had somehow come together is thrown apart and it may be indeed difficult to return to the same borderless world again. This means tomorrows travel around the world might become difficult. Governments may initiate what is called under the skin surveillance wherein they would want to be satisfied medically to grant visas that a traveller is not a carrier of any lethal sickness that may be contagious. We may have body parameters like the temperature being checked on arrival to set apart possible carriers of the disease.  Coronavirus is changing our world and we are becoming new people even as we are locked inside our homes. 

Ancient societies were transformed into people under the charismatic power of the gifting economy and ritual sacrifice.  Our society appears to use violence of all shades and colour to include and exclude and convert us into people. The politics of identity has exclusionary side.  It includes excluding. We are peopled by de-peopling some other people. Who we let in and who we let out into the people is already foreclosed. Even our thinking is constrained by these boundaries. Our land and geographies across the world are infused with stains of inclusion and exclusions.  This means an innocent-looking simple concept like people/ community is deeply political and is marked by identity struggles.   We are living a tyranny of a constructed ‘we’.  Some among us complain that the ‘open we’ inscribed into ‘we the people of India’ of our constitution is steadily hollowed out by a politics of identity and sameness in our country.  We are increasingly becoming aware that attention and preoccupation with origins and sameness legitimate power and eventuate horrific practices of exclusion and violence. This is why maybe it is important to think about what these notions like people, community and nation do to us.  We have to deliberately shift the question. We do not so much ask the semantic question that raises the meaning of these terms. What we need is productive hermeneutics. We have to ask: what do they do? This may manifest how these innocent looking terms provide cover to oppression and violence.  Let the corona moment of humanity be one that is productive and emancipative. 

 There are several thinkers who have already initiated such a question.  George Bataille, for instance, thinks that people/community life that is based on the regimes of sameness is becoming a hiding place for deviant behaviours.  This is why he proposes transgression to come on the ground rather than be pushed underground. He proposes an alternate way of being people or community based on transparency, openness, and freedom  His followers like  Jean-Luc Nancy and Maurice Blanchot advocate open and transgressive communities rather than closed and ‘insincere’ ones.  The fact that these thinkers question communities based on sameness of identities, cultures, nationalities, and religion does not mean all communities and people of these type are really hypocritical.  They only alert us to their degeneration and lead us to new thinking.  This new thinking is thinking of communities/ people who remain aware of their vulnerabilities and do not have to hide their monstrosities. While this thinking of the people anew is interesting and we can be open to this thought in different degrees, we still have to overcome other constraints that pull us back in the thinking of people/ communities. These type of thinking communities/ people have become political capital today.  This thinking has to do with determining what is ‘proper’ for people or communities.  Martin Heidegger taught that it is a proposer for the people to return to the primordial or the original identity. Such thinking sets in lost and recovery dynamism and mobilizes us to recover what is deemed as golden sameness into the present and the future. We all know the dangers of this kind of thought but its power to mobilise us into a people on a clear mission has to be understood and adequately responded to.   This type of thinking connects to the purity/pollution worldview and is associated with another constrain that has to be identified here. This mode of thinking is called autochthonous thought. It thinks that those who have common blood links, cultural, religious, caste or racial links form a people and community.  

We are all enslaved by oppressive modes of thinking about people and community. The coronavirus is actively destroying these and other boundaries and discriminating hierarchies that we have established across centuries. It has simply chosen the one-ness and vulnerability of us humans. This is why any victory over coronavirus has an important lesson to us.  These lessons teach us that we are human first. Often we seem to forget this fundamental way of being human. Before we become anything say Indians, Christians, etc, we are simply human. We cannot cover our humanity under the constructions of peoples that de-people us as well as others.  Our thought can produce people. There are always people yet to come.  Will the people who come out of our victory over coronavirus forget their humanity? Maybe this lesson of acceptance of our humanity is forcefully coming out of this coronavirus.  Let us accept our own and that of others.  Compassion at this time will be the best way of being human.

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The Fourth Lesson

Other Lessons from the Crona Moment of Humanity 

Truth has fidelity to inconsistency.  It has a disruptive character.  It often derails our comfort zones. The eruption of coronavirus in the world brings this hard lesson to us.   Everyone among us is displaced by this minute pathogen.  As we have become azad kaidis of our own homes, maybe it is time to ponder on some home truths about humanity. Humans are fascinated by truth. We enjoy all its flavours and may live our entire life without asking the famous question posed by Pontius Pilate to Jesus: what is truth?  The silence of Jesus to this question can be linked to the silence of Buddha where silence itself does the answering.  Although this silence is disturbing, it has a (dis)articulative power. This is how truth has a way of distancing from all established opinions and positions. Truth is not faithful to us and our structures as well as institutions. It has a way of turning around all that we hold as sacred and beyond question. It is faithful to inconsistency. It is a censura.  It cuts us away from the shadows of habitual comforts of everyday life. It acts as a sensor. It challenges our assumptions and presuppositions about life and opens new vistas to see the world again. When faced with the truth of our life, we feel challenged and all that we thought was solid melts in the air.  Truth gives us a new insight that subjects us and we become subjects of the true living out our fidelity to that truth. 

While truth has fidelity to inconsistency, humans have a need for consistency and logicality. We like to assign things their place.   Our society enjoys its patriarchy, casteism, corruption and every form of status quo. We signify meaning, inscribe order, morality and happiness into it. This is why disruption that rocks our boat increases the decimals of anxiety, anger and violence.  We have a habit to be faithful to the statusquo and we consider it as truth of our life. Those that do not observe these Lakhsman rekhas are demonised and viewed as traitors.  Today we are faced with a disobedient virus. Like every pathogen, this virus does not follow our Lakhsman rekhas.  It breaks all political, ideological, religious, caste, racial as well as geographical boundaries.  It breaks all human barriers.  Indeed, this virus has lessons about truth and what it does and what we do with it. It has a disruptive character and is bringing a new insight into the truth of our life. Inconsistency with our everyday life has disrupted our life. We are indeed facing the truth of our life.  We do not appreciate this habit of fidelity to inconsistency that truth manifests. It literally upsets our life and we feel exiled and lost in front of this truth.   Maybe we have to ask: why are we not ready to embrace the fact that the truth of a situation is in its inconsistency?  The inconsistency that is let loose by the corona moment of humanity is summoning us to the truth that has a habit of being always inconsistent with the established order.  

Truth does not rely on consistency but inconsistency.  There are several inconsistent lessons that are exploding from this corona moment of humanity.  Let us, for now, delve on the inconsistency of truth and think about other lessons later.  Truth has fidelity to inconsistency. This literally means truth is illogical.  The illogicality of truth can make it inconsistent with our established institutions, beliefs,  positions, assumptions and views.  Truth is not simply an orderly manifestation of the stable. Truth is highly unstable and can bite us.  This is why one who knows the truth is set free.  Humans operate with several theories to the truth.  Almost all these theories are inconsistent with each other. The common-sense theory that we submit to is so-called the correspondence theory of truth.  The correspondence theory of truth is that which says that we can picture reality as it is. Our eyes for instance, can picture reality as it is.  This may not always be true for a person afflicted by colour blindness or other disabilities.  The correspondence theory of truth gives us consistency and it becomes the main foundation of the establishment of the status quo.  This theory is important but its scope is limited to the picturable reality.  There is another side to the truth.  This is its logicality.  We call this theory as coherence theory of truth. These truths are mainly inferential and intuitive by character. At this time of human distress, our correspondence theory of truth is showing that life is being disrupted but our fidelity to the coherence theory of truth does not accept this illogicality that has infested our life. 

Life is complex and so is truth.  We are facing a dissident face of truth. This truth disagrees with us.  We may think that truth has a consensus-building character. It does have this power. But consent is freely given by humans and it is not easy to get. This is why some even manufacture consent in societies through manipulation tactics.  Real consensus can arise only when we agree to disagree. This is the reason, we may think that dissensus or inconsistency is the fundamental character of truth.  It brings us closer to the divine nature of truth as Jesus and Gandhi taught us.  We seem to be facing a dissident God in the wake of the Corona Virus. Our God seems to be disagreeing with our established ways of being human. A dissident truth that shows the dissident face of God is certainly inconsistent with our life.  This dissident truth of a dissident God is challenging our anthropocentric thinking that believes that God only agrees with humanity. We are facing the truth that God is disagreeing with us and is redrawing new space that makes room for nature and it living beings along with the poor and the marginalised humans.  Our fidelity to this face of truth can bring new ways of being human in our world that is emancipating to both humans, nature and all living beings. 

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The Fifth Lesson

More Lessons from the Corona Moment of Humanity

Being locked down and immobilized has its upsides. One can spend quality time with oneself as one is free from the myth of Sisyphus that has set the clock of our life from morning to night. Now that we have time on our side and no concern about deadlines of the jobs to be accomplished, we might be confused with the frightening prospect of doing nothing.   But we don’t have to feel debilitated. There is a lot that one can do with this new flourish of free time. There was a time when we complained about not having enough time when we felt constrained by the things that we had to do and the time that we had at our disposal. Today things have reversed. We have all the time and fewer things to do.  But this new condition that finds ourselves is imposed from the outside.  It has come in a sudden disruptive mode. That is why it is difficult to accept and we all find it to be a great challenge to stay at home and do little or nothing.  While there are several things that we can do creatively to wile our time and boredom, it is time to take on the phenomenon of boredom head-on.    We have applied our minds attention to several things but may have not given sufficient attention to this phenomenon that is all around us.  This may be another important lesson that we can learn from the corona moment of humanity.  To hold our heads with calm serenity, we have to deal with boredom. 

Although no one is dying of boredom, everyone has his/her share of boredom.  Boredom is not something that has befallen on us at this time of human distress. It has been there amidst us for a long time.  We live in a culture of boredom and at this time we feel it acutely due to this general lock-down. Maybe we have an opportunity to consider the philosophy of boredom.  Boredom is human and has to be critically studied.  Today when we have all the leisure in the world and can enjoy the luxury of relaxation and do nothing, the prospect of having nothing to do is producing boredom. Hence, this corona moment of humanity is an opportunity to reflect on boredom that is eating into our life. We really do not have an exact concept of boredom. It is simply a blank label to everything that fails to hold our interest.  It might surprise us to know that the boredom that afflicts us today is a recent human invention.  It is a product of over rationalization of our society.  We are indeed living in a rationalized society that rations us time for everything.   We seem to be living always catching up with time to board a bus,  train or flight. Some of us are fighting time to reach our office or an appointment with a doctor, engineer, lawyer etc.  This sense of catching up with or fighting the running time has it benefits.  It brings efficiency and productivity into our society. It also has its costs. Boredom is one important price that we pay to live on side of the linear notion of passing time. 

Inability to catch up with time is one important triggering factor of boredom.  Boredom is complex, it is not just lack of mastery over time that produces it there are other factors too. They have to do with the repetition of something. Routinized repetitions produce familiarity and hence there is no novelty, we have to face boredom.  Maybe we are facing this situation for now.  There is nothing new. Everything seems to be the same.  Time today is running slow. We do not have to catch up with it. We have a desire to escape it.  We do not like fixations of any kind.  But fixations are never abstract.  They are different to different people.  Boredom, therefore, is an aesthetic condition.  It is a matter of likes and dislikes. One can get bored with the same taste of food.  Thus, boredom is dynamic, plural and complex and is felt differently by each of us. Here we may have to consider how the desire to see is the mother of all our desires. All desires are scopic.  This means all desire is a desire to see.  Even a desire to taste a food item is actually a desire to see how it tastes.  The desire for sex is also a desire to see how it feels.   This is why when we are angry we say ‘I will show you or I will see you.’ This desire to see is complex and operates differently in different people.  We face boredom when our desire to see cannot animate or likes and dislikes.  This is a time when what we like or even dislike begins to become a source of our boredom. 

 We are not condemned to boredom.  We can do something about it. Boredom being an inner state of mind which shapes our moods can be dealt with effectively.  Awareness of what triggers boredom is one way of overcoming boredom.  We also have other ways of reframing our mind.  Mostly when we are bored, we feel that we have to kill time.  This sense can give us signals that we are heading into a condition of boredom. The corona moment of humanity has brought us to the prospect of having to kill time.  When we are trapped in this condition, we are not only bored but we bore others.  Awareness that we have spoken of can come to our rescue in this situation.  Such awareness can ignite an understanding that time is a powerful resource but we do not have to catch up with it or fight it when we feel we lack it or have to kill it when we feel we have it in abundance.  A reframed mind then can creatively imagine ways of putting up with a surplus time that we have for enjoyable use.  This does not mean that boredom will not come catching back at us. It will come back but we will not be enslaved to it. We have the power over it and can transform it to enjoyable moments and live happily.  Time is open and not closed.  There is novelty and surprise for us to enjoy. 

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The Sixth Lesson

The threat of covid-19 has produced a condition of being under siege.  The virus is invisible and everyone is a potential carrier and a victim.  Such a condition can be disabling and can constrain our thought and imagination.  The physical lockdown can affect a mental lockdown.   Fear does paralyse us.  It produces a flight and fight mode of resistance in us.  Unfortunately, our present condition is precarious. It has burred this flight and fight response in as much as we fight our invisible lethal enemy by flying away and locking ourselves into our homes.  This fight by flight has introduced a kind of freezing effect on us.  We may mark out predominately three responses to this grave threat of our lives: fight, flight, and freeze.  We seem to be complexly facing a mixture of all three responses as we wage a global war on coronavirus.  Tragically, we feel alienated and exiled in our society that has always been our zone of comfort and self-expression. Indeed, coronavirus has truly unhomed us. 

The condition that we face may evoke a feeling of a missing God. One might remember the mad man of Fredric Nietzsche who come into the marketplace with a lighted lantern looking for God in a broad light. He said that who is absent and he is in search of him. We know that he later declared God dead. Those who take the message of a mad man seriously may feel that their position is getting verified today more than ever before. This is not a place to get into a polemic on theism.  These atheists like us theists still have hope. They too dream of a future that is safe from this lethal virus. But there is a marked difference between them and the believers. The atheists believe that the invisible hand of science, reason, and dexterity of humanity will deliver us and the theists add to the thesis of the invisible hand, the providence of God.  To fight this invisible enemy we need the entire human family on onside.  While we may experience the dark night of the soul as we face our present condition, we cannot imprison God into oppositional logic of ‘presence and absence’.  God stands beyond the limitations and constraints imposed on us by our logics. Maybe, today we need the neti neti/ via negativa way of thanking God that we have in India and the West respectively. 

Humans have tried to overcome constraints of logic chiefly through the power of intuition and expansive imagination.  Intuition is disruptive and difficult to be theorized. It requires special conditions to occur.  It too may require a nurturing of our imagination. Imagination guides all human creativity and has to be nurtured.  A condition of fear can constrain our imagination and restrict our thought as well as the experience of the world.   The eruption of coronavirus is challenging us to re-imagine our life and our world. But constrained by fear, we are crippled and cannot deliver on this important task. Most thinkers teach that a condition of fear anaesthetizes our imagination. Hence, authentic thinking and creativity cannot flourish in societies that are motivated by the power of fear.  Under these conditions, several things remained unthought and unexamined leading us to live a life that Socrates declared was not worth living. This is why our fight against the lethal virus is not limited to an invisible enemy alone. We have to fight an intimate enemy too.  The intimate enemy is colonizing our minds.   Perhaps, to overcome fear, we may have to re-visit several of our long-held habits of thoughts.  This means we have to undergo a painful de-habituating of the mind. One may be able to enter this de-habituating of the mind through a mindful awareness that begins the expansion of one’s imagination. 

The crisis that we face today has put our imagination under pressure.  Can our creative faculty function optimally under the force and weight of the crisis?  We might agree that the imagination that is under siege cannot deliver.  It may constrict and blur our vision of the world and our place within it. Maybe we are facing this condition for now. But imagination thrives as a rebel.  Humans are imaginative beings. Humans seem to manifest great lengths and breadths of imagination and creativity when they become violent. No two murders in serial killings by the same criminal are the same. Animals killed in the same way. Humans are imaginative and creative when it comes to crime and torture. This is why we may have new leaps of imagination as we face this tremendous viral attack. This does not mean that everyone among us will feel the surge of imagination. We have already seen how our political leaders have shown that they lack adequate imagination to tackle the precarious condition that we are all finding ourselves in today. This is why the place and role of imagination in our lives have to be discerned and imagination has to be nurtured to be put to productive use under crises. Maybe this is another important lesson that we are learning from the lethal viral crises that we are facing today. 

We cannot allow the demise of imagination under the force of fear inserted into us by a coronavirus. This crisis can indeed transform the fortunes of the power of imagination. We need imaginative power to invent our medical interventions to address our condition.  Yes, we need our imagination to shine in its fullest sublimity under the pressure of our vulnerabilities in front of this lethal virus.  Imagination shapes us and our society. We can study civilizations on the basis of their imaginaries. Some of us might imagine the condition of the post-pandemic of the coronavirus world.  We need this exercise so as to find our path reasonably and responsibly. If we allow our light of imagination to get extinguished under the storm that we are facing today, our global human family will be impoverished.  Imagination has great potentials. We need the eyes of reason to allow both reason and imagination to flourish. Reason alone will not save us from the clutches of the invisible enemy. We need a reason to be assisted by a dash of imagination to enable humanity to pass over this crisis. This is why we cannot forget the space and role of imagination in our lives. 

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The Seventh Lesson

The present appears to be dark, gloomy and doomed due to the human distress erupting from the pandemic of the corona.  The anguish that we experience may make us think that we are heading towards a lost future.  It seems that we are reaching to a fuller actualization of the end of history proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama.   It is true that Fukuyama did not imagine the end of history through an attack of the lethal virus. He taught that history ended with a fuller realisation of liberal democracy. Thinking closure of the future of all shades and colour kills human hope and optimism.  The question that afflicts us for now is not about a lost future but a lost present.  This is why most humans are asking in their mind: ‘when is the future?’  The future that we imagine is one that will free the world from our present distress.  It is a future of safety and security from the threats of the present pandemic.  Actually future is the future.  It has to do with what will happen in the future.  But the griping question that asks: ‘when is the future?’  has to do with human longing for freedom from everything connected with the dark and frightful present.  In this sense, the future that is anticipated by us, for now, is at the edge of the present.  We all long for a moment of freedom that will push the present into the past and the anticipated future of freedom become our living present. 

Future is always imagined as living on the forward edge of a moving present and present is viewed as dissolving into the past as it is approaching this future. While we anticipate a favourable future for us all, maybe it is important for us to look at the manner in which we imagine the time and take some lessons even as time seems to have come to a standstill in the wake of Corona moment of Humanity.  There are several lessons in this unprecedented time of our life.  We can all discern them in marvellously skill ways.  Here, I wish to understand time but do not wish to suggest that there is only this way of thinking about time or the future. This also means that I do not wish to present that this is the only lesson that one can draw from our collective moment of distress.  We usually imagine that time flows like a river into the future and think that there are points on this timeline that we occupy for the present that will turn into our past as we move into the future. This commonsense way of thinking time has its importance and place in our life but philosophy has shown that it brings about what is called Zeno’s paradox.  Humans rightly think of time through movement.  Thinking time as a forward movement has its own complexities. We can trace similar complexities with time when it is thought of as circular motion as we find it is done in the classical traditions of our country. 

Actually we humans have a spiral mode of thinking of the time. There is a synthesis of linearity and circularity in our thinking of the time. Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger seem to point in this direction.  They look at the present moment as retention of the past and protention/projection of the future. There is a circularity that connects the past and the future and constructs the future. We have similar thinking in the theory of karma in our country. But this theory is inundated by morality and hence becomes different from the one that is conceptualised by both Husserl and Heidegger.  This marriage of linearity with circularity is taken away human passivity and fatalism in the face of time.  Heidegger makes this point clear with this thought about temporalisation or historization. We can bring our past experiences and future aspirations and construct a present. This is why humans are not slaves of the time.  They shape time and make history.  This suggests that the future is a moving present that is shaped actively by us.  Present, therefore, is a contraction of the past and future actively produced by individual humans. It also means that we largely inhabit different presents that are anticipating direct futures and drawing on different pasts.  Maybe it is the dialecticism of these inundated presents that shapes our collective singular present. 

 The pasts and futures co-exist with the present.  This is why the question that haunts us for now asking: ‘when is the future? is relevant.  We have a strange feeling that time is out of joint in the present. This is based on our comfortable past experience. This comfortable past has become our hauntology and we are anticipating a future secure ecstasy. Like this experience, the experience of colonisation, the partition of our country lives into our present and gives us this feeling of not being at home in our country today.  Since the present always passes, we wish to give a future to our past. This happens mainly when we think that we have a lost past and imagine that the present is far removed from it. We can trace these struggles to give a future to a past in most right-wing movements. We can see this for instance, in Zionism in Israel and elsewhere or Hindutva in India. Hence, it is important that we critically look at our hauntologies and their respective ecstasies.  Several of them convert us into fanatics. This is why the time has to be understood not simply as a passive movement but one that is constructed by us by joining complexities of past, present and the future.  We have to admit that there is a mystery in our experience of time.   Maybe because of this overwhelming aspect of time, we have made use of narrative to make sense of time.   As past and future,  it provides us vision, lessons, inspiration and energy to our present.  It is important that we crucially examine how we take these lessons from the past and repeat them in present to shape a future that we imagine as golden. In this context, a lesson from  Hegel may be appropriate.  He teaches that when our present is wounded, we usually imagine our past to be golden and free from any kind of wounds and do not care to investigate any idealism in our imagined past. The wounded present then pushes us to give a future to that imagined and often unreal past. This is why we have to take these important lessons from the distressed present so that we do not wound each other in search of a secure future nor do we bracket our moral compass for the present and cope with or engage any unbecoming means with a hope of giving a future to an imagined past.     

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The Eighth Lesson

Covid-19 is real.  It infects our people.  It has grown in its image as a killer virus.  It’s the image as a lethal annihilator is rapidly growing.  It has become a destructive sign of our times.  It triggers shivers of fright in the rich and the poor. Everyone is forced to become a prisoner of their homes.   It has brought in war times.  This time for a change, the entire humanity appears to be on one side.  It is going to be a fight to the finish. We have no choice. We have to conquer the virus to save ourselves. The war is already manifesting our ill-preparedness.  Our medical infrastructure is found wanting.   Our commodification of health care through large scale privatization is looking like a calamity.  The global community has entered a social emergency.  We do not know who can be the carrier of the virus. Each of us is a potential victim as well as a vector.  The situation is highly distressful. 

There are several lessons in this corona moment of humanity.  Here, I wish to dig into our dependence on non-linguistic sign systems. This exercise may be vital as this lethal virus itself has acquired an image of a sign.  Being a sign also relates to other signs that humans have constructed to become a society. In fact, each of us is somehow looking at the other humans as signs of danger.  We are told to mark a social distance to stay safe.  Covid-19 is actively dismantling our signs systems that divide and hierarchize us. We are all levelled down and have become vulnerable.  Covid-19 is democratic. It embraces everyone among us across all divides.  The wall of the empire of signs that we have built is crumbling down.  This lethal virus thus does not just infect our biological life, it has disrupted our social life too.  Post-covid-19, the world cannot remain the same. The semiotic field (playground of the signs) is opened so that the new sign systems can spring forth.  This is why maybe we have  to take our lessons about our dependence on non-linguistic signs so as to participate in the generation of new emancipative play of signs. 

We do not appreciate naked reality.  We dress it up.  When reality is dressed up it becomes a sign.  But the dress of the reality can begin to acquire new meaning and we then relate this dress of the reality with other dresses of other realities.   The dress of a reality that we are taking here is mostly a word.  Let us take an example.  Rose is a word for a beautiful flower in our gardens.  We need the dress of the word ‘rose’ to address it and relate to it.  If we do not dress it up in our language, it remains lost to us. The reality stays in a plenum/fullness. To relate to it, we have to distance it from this fullness and dress it up.   Putting on a dress, reality becomes a sign. We relate to signs of reality in order to relate to it. Semiotics or semiology   is a science that studies these sign systems. Covid-19 is actively disrupting these sign systems manifesting the fragility of the same.  But humans cannot converse without linguistic and non-linguistic signs.  Signs are the oxygen of our social relations.  This is why we have to understand how signs operate in our social, religious, economic and political life. We seem to be exchanging symbolically sign value.  Money, for instance, is just a paper or even a number. But within our economic system which is a sign system, it has great value. 

We have an insatiable appetite for signs.  Signs in their relations to other signs double up into other signs.  This means a dressed up reality relates to other dressed up realities and takes up a new dress and become a meta-sign or a second-order sign. Maybe an example is appropriate here.  Let us fall back on the rose. The rose is already a dressed up reality in our society. But a red rose when given to a girl that one loves becomes a sign and symbol of love.  Thus, an already dressed up rose takes up another dress that society has put on it by convention and becomes a symbol or sign of love.  Thus, signs acquire a symbolic or mythical value.  Our consumerist society works on this doubling of signs. Some things like mobiles or cars from a certain brand acquire symbolic status and when we relate to them we do access this symbolic status and hence are ready and willing to pay high amounts to own the same.  In this situation, we are not paying for the cost of production. We are paying for its symbolic/ sign value.  Think about politics or ideology that we align with.   It is the same mechanism of sign exchange that has come to rule us. 

The above discussion can reveal to us that covid-19 has put on several dresses and it continues to dress us all.  The conventional military war is emptied of its content yet war against covid-19 has become a sign. The frontline soldiers have now put on a new dress far removed from the original dress and hence, we recognize medical practitioners, police, and media personalities as the new soldiers of this new war. Each human being has been forced to put on the dress of a potential victim or a vector.  All other signs that defined us like nationality, religion, caste, race, political alignment are dropped and we are reduced to be vectors and victims.  Covid-19 has become a new centre around which this new sign system is developing.  Although most of it will fall flat on the ground after the coming of the victory of humanity, we are left with a sense of finitude and fragility of our sign systems.  Maybe we have to learn our lessons.  Our appetite for signs is actively exploited by most of the spheres in society. We can see it clearly in the religious, political, economic, educational, etc, spheres.  Maybe we have to learn to mark a critical distance as we engage with signs that make our life and our society. 

 

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GREETINGS

Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao