The first true pandemic to hit the world in a long time. After the fear of Ebola and SARS that it would come in great numbers to the Western world, it finally came to be. Covid-19 or the Coronavirus as the media calls it, did the unthinkable. Cafés, bars and restaurants are closed, as well as the schools, libraries, and other places to spend your past-time. People have to stay home as to not infect other people. Obviously, this has an enormous impact, not only on the economy and politics but also on the minds of people.
People have been going to stores in the hope of hoarding food, in the fear that there won’t be any left anymore. Why? Even though the US has closed their borders to European flights, the shops will still have products to produce and sell. It is fear that drives people to go to the supermarkets and even fight for toilet paper. Heidegger wrote that fear is the one condition of the human being that surfaces that being. When you are in fear you are the most aware of yourself. In this fear people realize that not everything is for granted. That the fact we can just go to the shops and buy what we want, is something of a luxury throughout the ages. And it can all be taken away easily. In their fear they run to the markets to buy enough to survive the disease because they now realize that what they had can be taken away easily.
The same goes with the increase of xenophobia and racism under the dreadful pandemic. People fear the unknown and those that bring danger. The fact that the disease came from China and those people look different from the white population of the west, it’s easy to see why the Asians are an easy target for racism. It is this fear that also completely shuts down the rational component for facts in human beings. Since in your fear you are ‘thrown upon yourself’ as Heidegger would say, you are not able to think about something other than yourself and your survival, or at least those in your inner moral circle.
Now fearing something isn’t a bad thing. You should fear things when they are necessary to be feared and a pandemic is certainly something to fear. Only fear (like love as they say) blinds, makes one irrational. And it’s this irrationality that gets exploited.
Nationalism is on the rise and this brings in some consequences. Nationalism asks for an authoritarian government with a strong leader or leaders. Control is absolutely necessary for an authoritarian government to become totalitarian. Now a nationalistic government is not per se bad (it has upsides), a totalitarian government can be disastrous (if anything the 20th-century has shown us). In times of fear, people look up to their strong leader in search of an answer. A perfect moment for the totalitarian leader to gain control. People agree to infringement on their freedom: a curfew, security cameras, or a police patrol with sanctions to those not willing to obey. Before we know it, we have voluntarily given away our freedom.
Now I’m not saying that any of this will happen, I just want to acknowledge the fact that this has happened before and that we should be wary of these things. When we are afraid, we might give power to those who promise us safety easily. We should think about who we give that power to. Also, I am not claiming this will happen in the US because of Trump since he is a nationalist (Bernie is also a nationalist, just on the left-wing spectrum). Even in times of a pandemic we shouldn’t fear if we listen to the facts of the matter and keep being rational.
The Stoics believed in tranquility with nature. Something coming from nature shouldn’t be feared. One should try their best to live in this world without harming others. Marcus Aurelius would feel pity for those whose xenophobia increased and for those people who are hoarding their food in their bunkers. They fear something not meant to be feared. Be of Stoic resilience. The world will get through this, as it has many times before. The hoarding of food and the rise of xenophobia only produce worse consequences and easier exploitation opportunities. In times of the Coronavirus, rational thinking can bring us where nationalism can’t.