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Coronavirus – Brief Philosopical Side Notes of the End of a World

“Don’t you know there comes a time of night

when everyone has to take off his mask?’

-Søren Kierkegaard.


In these days of immeasurable pain we are not living a war but a “challenge”,  as taught by the English historian Toynbee, obviously referring to quite different contexts: a challenge that can be translated into the conditions that we must and can use to know our current anthropological context and the object of our existential reflection, in order to test whether we are and will be able to deserve a future or slowly dissolve in the vain delirium of our inanity and inability to love the authenticity of life.

A “challenge” that involves and will involve “a choice”…and not enough certainly one of the countless governmental and non-governmental task forces, composed of “managers”, to rewrite the grammar, the conjugation and the syntax of our existences. We need much more moral and intellectual stature to undertake this epochal task with an uncertain outcome. We need philosophers and scientists who have escaped the media clamor and that do not go flaunting “curriculum” and “masters” to give credence, legitimacy and substance to their existential and moral inconsistency as much as to their and intellectual, to their concrete and real uselessness in this tragedy.

We are only stunned by the bitterness of seeing the widespread intellectual insipience and moral dryness that surround us, an execrable social and human condition that is not compensated by the sacrifice of a few individuals who have sublimated, despite themselves, their duty in a disinterested heroism, without media hype and prominence; common social attitudes, on the contrary, to other reprehensible subjects who have permeated and poisoned the social fabric with vacuity and protagonism.

Unacceptable and reprehensible is the obstinate and blameworthy stubborn and useless attachment to patterns of behavior individual, social and political patterns of behavior that we will have to abandon if we want to survive as individuals and as a human race. If we are to try to overcome this crisis of unprecedented contours, we must ask a fundamental question: How is the perception of pain and death, of suffering and of the inevitability of the end of the days changing at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic ? This is not a trivial, idle question, but it fully invests our identity as human beings and the relationships between them and the consequent social constructions established and to be established.In the history of human thought there is like an underground river that nourishes this theme, a deep link between the two concepts of “pain” and “death”. While in ancient times we can find a concept of “positive” pain, which leads to “knowledge” ( ta pathémata mathémata, wrote Herodotus, explaining that the misfortunes and sufferings constitute teachings and lead to knowledge), we now helplessly witness a pain that leads to nothing, only to leads to nothing, only to death: an anonymous end, with corpses by the hundreds into military wagons on their way to cremation, without a final farewell, without funeral rites that have contributed so much to the formation of the various religious sentiments and the religions themselves (the burial of a dead man was the first form of religion that brought humans to the humans to the “sacred”), without a tear, devoid of all that residual terminal humanity of the individual that explodes like a dying star  in the composed grief of his loved ones beside him.

Both in the Aeschylus ‘s Agamemnon  and in the Sophocles’s  Oedipus at Colonus (the hero who suffers and does not act betrays his own humanity and destiny) and in Aristotle’s Poetics, tragedy represents pain, nefas, suffering, inner conflict (mostly from causes external to the subject) that leads to knowledge, awareness and purification from our mistakes, which transforms the subject and elevates him to a higher dimension. Pain, in the feeling of the ancients, is a rite of passage from a state of unconsciousness to a kind of conscious knowledge of one’s existential individual and social existential dimension.

Both in Ecclesiastes and in the image of the Christian Cross and the Way of the Cross (obvious symbols of atrocious suffering inflicted on an innocent and of human injustice; of that orgy of evil power that justifies  itself in a narcissistic and self-referential way) we have the message  that man disheartened by pain  “after the deep torment he will see the light / and he will be satisfied with knowledge”.

All past thought and reflection affirms without hesitation that pain forges the individual. Saint Paul uses the word dokimé to define the experience of pain that leads to experience and thus to hope ( Epistle to the Romans 5:3-4). Even more modern reflections from the beginning at the end of the eighteenth century in Germany (Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Eduard von Hartmann) while identifying an internal tearing  power of pain, understood as a wound of the consciousness, they affirm that the same one leaves to glimpse the ability of human being to overcome and overwhelm the tragic event, through the power of thought that to translates into “knowledge”. From these reflections, much later than the drafting of the original work, the modern hero is born, in the philosophical elaboration of these movements of thought: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the first tragic hero who, distraught with pain, restricted within his “dark” vision of human existence, questions himself about his role and asks himself: “why am I called to revenge?”

Hamlet becomes the symbol of the tormented and torn modern man who is aware of the lack of meaning of the world and of  life. Yet, with the impetus of a tragic hero, he accepts his role, restores meaning to his life as an existential and not biological category, restores the nomos violated by the intrigues of the Court; he sacrifices himself for Justice, which becomes his Goddess.

The perception of pain has had other declinations in the course of the three centuries prior to ours, in a lacerating and alternating antinomian dialogue between unbridled optimism and gloomy pessimism. In the eighteenth century we also see a “factory of happiness”, a pursuit of happiness as if it were a right of the individual and as such some have treated it, as the U.S. including it in their Constitutional Charter, finding support “philosophical” until the twentieth century as, “ex multis”, the individualist objectivism of Ayn Rand. A pain to be escaped at any cost, towards the affirmation of a “free from pain” existence, a teleology and a theology of “pleasure” whatever it takes; an hedonistic-capitalistic conception of life, with the discard of the other: of the different, of the sick, of the old, of the psychiatric subject (read Foucault), of the poor.

You can only be cured if you have money, this “anthropology” asserts, because God has given you money because  the prize you already have here on Earth; because God has decreed your worldly success: others have their punishment in their misfortunes already here on Earth and deserve pain, suffering, marginalization.

The overpowering of man over the other, the ghost of Hobbes and Calvinism and their God (the Swiss God, the banker God  exported for greedy convenience to the Anglo-Saxon capitalistic world, read Weber) stirs in the souls of the Western world  ready to reject the fruitful reflection on the pain that springs from the same. Everyone creates his own God of convenience, that justifies their actions and does not condemn them.As a weak counterbalance we have Maupertuis, who states in his Essai de philosophie morale that pain prevails over the rare occasions of pleasure; Locke, who with his thesis of the “uneasiness”, places the “discomfort” at the basis of human action; in Italy we read the reflections of the monk Gianmaria Ortes and Pietro Verri: for all these and many other “pessimistic sensists” the primacy of pain is undeniable and such as to shake the foundations of any hedonistic theory. Pain for some is “the driving principle of all human kind” (Verri).

Incredibly and in an antinomic and paradoxical way, in this dialectical tension, the dimension of pain moves away from ancient reflections, which involved the human being in his existential and spiritual complex, reducing everything to a laboratory of incubation of liberal political economy. Men are stretched in this lacerating tension between the desire for success and power, towards a “living life intensely”, alienating their humanity in the exclusive search for how to avoid or reduce suffering, of how to escape unhappiness, researching happiness by now connoted and denoted only as a “beyond pain”, something that exceeds pain ; something that overcomes pain and suffering and provides pleasure; it is a rejection of pain and concretely a rejection of pain and death and a rejection of the fruitful moral and spiritual reflections that such events provoke in the soul of a man. The delirious pursuit of “Happiness”, the new idol created for convenience  and moral blindness, becomes a limit tending to infinity on a straight line of non-existent and inconsistent numbers, not detectable even by the most skilled of sets mathematician.

The greatest paradox of the last three centuries in the western world (and not only) has been that in order to escape pain we have created a “new pain”: immense, immeasurable, with which we no longer know how to confront ourselves, from which we do not know how to draw knowledge, teachings and both individual and social existential planning.

Who are we in this historical period  full of sadness and pain? What is the dimension of the pain in which we are immersed ? What does it teach us? To what knowledge and awareness of our human dimension does it lead us? The Coronavirus has taken everything from us: who can deny it ? Maybe a politician looking for votes and consensus for political elections that may not be celebrated anymore and probably manipulated by computer algorithms. The Coronavirus is killing also the

Democracy: someone is realizing it? Democracy can be ensured by internet platforms without controls  and reliability or it will only be manipulated by computer algorithms (read Michele Mezza,  Algoritmi di libertà {Algorithms of Freedom}) ?

In addition, Justice and all its “rituals”, all over the world, are tragically and slowly being eroding and dissolving. Judicial proceedings, of of any nature and rite, will be only and in fact “behind closed doors” through unseemly telematic connections probably at the mercy  of unscrupulous hackers or of “interceptions” by anyone  and all the material of the court hearing will be crammed into some server  maybe in California or other place inaccessible to the right to privacy. Because it is in that place, in those unknown places, in that physical place (servers) that will be “stored without consent of the men” our “telematic processes”! And maybe one day not so far away we will see ourselves on YouTube while from a screen we try to convince a Judge that our client is innocent, to nothing worth the prohibitions written by the Presidents of the Court to record the hearing: so much they think “automatically” the masters of the Internet ! Questions arise about the “security” of such “transmissions” and about the most basic violations of citizens’ rights. The dematerialization of the processes (especially criminal) involves the pulverization of the rights of citizens, the demeaning of lawyers to Kafkaesque roles, the abdication of the sacredness of law and justice in favor of the farce if not even to show business in pure “commercial television” style. Even lawyers and magistrates, perhaps, should find within their souls the “hero” ready to sacrifice himself for Justice and for the citizens and their rights; a hero ready without delay to wear a mask and latex gloves to do his duty at the risk of his life (regulating the “physical” hearings respecting the “distancing” and forcing the magistrates at least in Italy to hold more than one hearing per week), because the Law and the Process are sacred, the Courtrooms are sacred places and the result of millennia as suffered reflection and processing to protect human beings called to be judged before the community of belonging, according to universally recognized guarantees. Constitutional guarantees that must not and must never be demeaned by a “link” or a “like” or be modulated in the perverse logic of “social networks” and their sick “modus operandi”, nor jeopardized by superficial remedies fruit of cultural and social insensitivity , legal  and moral inadequacy: in one word “foolishness”.

It is clear, by now, that there is no longer a reference that can be valid in a future world that one cannot not only plan but also cannot even to imagine. This is just a constant agony towards the most anarchic of human times: there is no longer a “principle” to return to, as in a right or wrong revolution. Not even the elegant theorization of “retrotopia” by Bauman now clarifies and justifies anything (turning backwards we will never find  solutions to improve society, this is the thesis of Baumann critical of a pathological  “return to the past”),  nor can it be taken as a paradigm on which to base a constructive reflection of new future scenarios or any new “home” of man. The dimension of the Sacred, the sociality and affectivity; hugs and handshakes; “pats on the back”; innocent kisses and edifying behavioral examples (For example, you can no longer help an elderly or disabled man to cross a street: you would be seen as someone who wants to spread the virus!), comforting caresses have been annihilated: the Coronavirus has wiped out the sweetest gesture common to all mammals, the caress and its sweetness.

Think about how important is the caress, even at therapeutic levels, towards a disabled person, child or adult. Think of an elderly person in his or her  bed of suffering how good he can feel in the affectionate contact with those who take care of him or her by giving not only “medical care” but also “humanity” and “love”, “understanding of pain”, “sharing” real and not “virtual” feelings  .

The comforting power of a caress no longer exists: we are trapped in a virtual world that does not represent the genuine human dimension. A prison created by men before the confinement at home because of the pandemic and now elected to the global dimension of social reality and interpersonal relationships.

The Coronavirus has given the death blow to a World already dying by the triumph of nothingness and global control of who we are, what we do, what we eat, what we read, what we love, what we desire, what we dream, in the search for a non-existent happiness and only manipulated and reified in Marketing.

By now the word “Compassion”, the empathic capacity of human beings and its communication, has been dematerialized and deprived of meaning. Since before the Coronavirus the empathic capacity of human beings is being destroyed. Sympathy, Empathy and their communication mean “suffering together”, “feeling together”, participating in the pain, sharing the suffering of the other in the innocent intimacy and sweetness of a gesture that reminds us that God is often Mother as well as Father, even for those who do not believe in His existence.

Caress deleted, the smile is erased  too from a mask (sacrosanct in these days, for goodness sake!); it is destroyed in an instant the possibility to communicate feelings in a simple  and immediate way: everything must be mediated through the Internet.

Men have believed themselves to be God, they have wanted to replace Him: They have destroyed this planet, they have devastated the souls, they have demeaned billions of human beings to slaves of a few greedy ignorant men who still think that they will have even after the pandemic their power and their wealth with the same modus operandi by psychopaths and narcissistic sociopaths devoid of any empathy.

The Coronavirus is confronting us with how we have reduced ourselves by our own hands alone. It reminds us and underlines that the real virus of this planet is us, who have lost the sense of the Sacred, of solidarity, of human understanding: the Coronavirus kills not only men but also an entire world that was, with a probability close to certainty, destined to end regardless of its devastating work.

We were dead just the same without the virus: between a leasing contract or mortgage and a polluted river;  between the ecological tragedy and the arrogant economy of betting on derivative contracts reducing everything to speculative merchandise for profit for its own sake; between the creeping and constant death of the sacredness of the Earth and of men.

We are “how we die”, not “how we live”: you can die as a heroes, a coward, a good family man or an abandoned selfish and so on. Death identifies us and allows us to evaluate the society in which we lived and in which we live.

In our pre-virus world people died of too much work (e.g. the Karoshi phenomenon in Japan); people died instigated to the suicide from cyberbullying (danger is still actual); you died because you went to places without any security apparatus to attend the concert of those who had nothing to do with music;  in discos where alcohol and drugs were sold  to adolescents and not only; because they were exploited as slaves in factories since childhood in the name of the “brand” … and the list can continue ad nauseam.

We did not know and no longer know how to live and die in the most cases for something that is dignified. Now we just die. One less account. One less phone account. One less “pension” to pay. One more free place in the intensive care unit.

We no longer have dignity and perhaps we have lost it for a long time. This is what the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us. In this situation you should try to be responsible, to do one’s duty without expecting anything in return, to rediscover in the small daily things,  in generosity, in real and not virtual sharing, the the sacredness of existence and of our humanity: we don’t necessarily need geniuses, heroes and saints, but certainly but certainly of competent, qualified and really entitled people in politics as in every field.

True success is asserting one’s ideals and humanity with decorum and dignity, like lawyer Atticus Finch, the protagonist of Harper Lee’s famous novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

The awareness of our lost dignity; of the loss of the authentic meaning of “words” and of the “concepts” that they express unrelated to reality (Foucault, in his philosophical text “Words and Things”, “docet”: this is one of the “links” that we should seek and reconstruct); the loss of the deep meaning of simple gestures and of the sacredness of life and creation are our new original sin, our true death.

The concept of “Sacred” is not only and exclusive of some form of transcendent  religion but concerns every manifestation and expression of human society, when the same within that enclosure created around a social instance of the community, that “templum”, also secular, circumscribes the essential things for men (such as the rooms in which Justice is practiced), going beyond the immanence  of the “present time”, of the “here and now”, delivering in this way to future generations “pillars” on which to continue to build a common and inalienable feeling for all; a “nomos”, the higher law, which is also sacred: all human beings have lost “the sense of the Sacred” as just described.

Coronavirus not only kills humans but also the wrong, inhuman World that has been reified by the same men relentlessly.

They come almost automatically and sardonically to mind  T. S. Eliot ‘ s famous verses of a poem:

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

 The whole world is collapsing in the thunderous silence of the loss mainly of meaning and of every aspect and construction prior to the pandemic; in the setback of the  History that turns itself into Oblivion because it has been written so far by impostors of social and planning roles, of culture and art and therefore it will remain unfinished like a silent shout.

The end of History is “an end without conclusion”, as the philosopher Alexandre Kojève admirably described; one may add, an unfinished end because of the parody put in place by unworthy impostors who govern the destinies of mankind and place themselves “in chair”, snooty and arrogant in their moral and cultural inconsistency in every field. An imposture translated into the inability to write History denying and mocking like monkeys every objective and subjective reality, annihilating even the latent objective and subjective reality;  annihilating even that latent and powerful creative force of the historically understood “negation” (revolutions, reforms, new scientific theories): it is nothingness and that’s it, a cauldron where everything is mixed in the formless without taking on more form, concept, meaning.

By now, maybe obviously but never abdicating the intellectual and social effort, we are left only with Elpis, the Hope, the last Goddess, as small as the Tom Thumb of fairy tales, who jumps out of the box of Pandora and reminds us of the fragility of our existence undermined  by our greedy ignorant arrogance: yes, “ours” because in measure we are all responsible, when we have especially demonstrated our fearful ignorance and our selfish and opportunistic  omissions. Little Elpis all that is left to us, as prophetically narrated by the Greek myth, and is waiting for a new Prometheus with which to give new wisdom and new dignity to mankind.

Now we just have to understand and start to accept that sometimes “a day”, “a World”, “an Era”, that we believed “infinite”, could simply end, sinking silently in the quantum abysses without time and then re-emerge in another dimension, in a new “possible World”…”no more” says Hamlet in his famous soliloquy suspended between “the man who perceiving pain” and “the reflection on death”; between History, capable of writing new projects as well as enlightened social and institutional paths, and the nihilistic Oblivion with no return… suspended between the acceptance or the refusal of the challenge that is placed before him that implies the final choice between Life or Death: … “no more”, nothing else.

Marco AmbrosiniMarco Ambrosini

Marco Ambrosini

Marco Ambrosini is an Italian lawyer, essayist and philosopher with interests ranging from formal logic applied to the disciplines of Law and Politics to Mathematics and Economics. By choice he has interrupted his vocation to teaching, giving up the academic career to devote himself entirely to the legal profession for more than thirty years for the defense of civil rights in particular of the weakest and most marginalized.

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