In looking at what sense people are making, or not, of what is happening in the world today concerning the pandemic of Covid-19, despite their endeavour to fight against it, there are some who are affirming that life is ok in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. Others are pessimists who state that; alas friends, things will continue to be bad, we are damned! The nihilists go as far as taking the view that life is just suffering after all and is not worth living – life is fundamentally meaningless.
To begin with, allow me to refresh your philosophy, as a prelude to my reflection on Covid-19. The perspective I ‘am about to share concerns idealism which hold the view that there is no external reality to material objects but only ideas of them existing in our minds (Omnia Vinieris, 2002). This is opposed to those who believe in the materiality of things – things as they are in themselves.
The view of idealism surfaced among ancient philosophers and religions and emphasises mental and spiritual components of experience and renounces to concepts of material existence. Plato believed that the physical world around us is not real, it is constantly changing and you can never say what it really is. There is a world of our ideas which is a world of unchanging and absolute truth. But does such a world exist independent of our human minds? Plato thought it does and that whenever we see something with or mind’s eyes we are using our mind to conceive of something in the ideal world. For example, when we conceive of moral perfection, he said, it exists in our mind even if we know there are no people who are morally perfect around us. So their idea of moral perfection came from the ideal world.
George Berkeley a philosopher and Anglican Bishop from Ireland stated that ideas come from God and so all humans are merely ideas in the mind of God. He further asserted that all ideas hostile to God’s infiniteness, permanence, and goodness such as the conception of death, hell and evil are flawed and wicked hallucinations and are not real. For some even Covid-19 is not real but a phantasy or an idea (my emphasis). Another philosopher pointed out that all objects of our perception and all natural phenomena are representations but the world as it is in itself (noumena), it is a world of the will. Does that mean we create objects, or the phenomena we see, hear or experience, to suit our will and our mind? Is that true?
Certainly, due to the number of deaths from Covid-19 and the related sicknesses, the world is shaken and some people have lost hope and are disgusted and fearful, while others are positive and holding on, saying: ‘it will come to pass’. It is not only the attack of Covid-19, but also its variants too which are worrying and exacerbating pessimism and nihilism despite scientific progress to find a remedy. Long lasting Covid-19 which can take over a year before being cured has been has been detected in some patients. Then, there has appeared the ‘The Indian Variant’ publicized on June 14 in the journal Lacent digital health Vol. 3 June/July 2021. The journal examined also the impact of the ‘Delta Variant’ in Scotland, where it had become the dominant strain. Researchers found that the risk of hospitalization from Covid-19 has doubled more due to patients infected with the ‘Delta Variant’, than with people infected with the ‘Alpha Variant’.
As can be seen, after the appearance of the ‘Indian Variant’, there emerged the ‘Delta Variant’, as if that were not enough, then the ‘Alpha Variant’ was detected in Scotland, with its own mutations which they also dubbed variants of concern. The ‘Alpha Variant’ attacks the immune system and is more infectious and is more worrisome. The ‘Delta Variant’ itself, also known as the fourth wave, identified in India, which caused a rapid rise in cases of infection and is a highly transmissible strain in Uk, has put countries in Europe, North America and Africa on watch. According to WHO this fourth wave (the ‘Delta Variant’) resists antibodies in our blood (needs higher levels antibodies to overcome it and causes relentless itching of the eyes and toothache). But the good news is that all the vaccines developed thus far can prevent people from developing severe diseases, hospitalization and death. All the vaccines are not 100% efficient but can prevent from severe diseases and are good enough. There is a reminder though that even if you have been vaccinated you can get infected but the disease will be mild. So get a complete vaccination to protect yourself and avoid infecting other people.
In some developed countries though there are rapid rises cases of Covid-19, more than 25,000 a day, they are planning to remove face masks, stop social distancing and are advising people to go back to work because the vaccine roll out is working for those fully vaccinated. What a shift! This is a talk of forward and backwards: “it’s look and see, take care of yourself”. The leaders of states are on one side and the people are on the other side. Most people oppose it because they fear that there will be more hospitalizations as the number of cases will surge.
There has been also notable vaccine pessimism; this is a wonder and something curious. There have been ideas of disinformation and theories of conspiracy across the spectrum of people, even among scientists themselves who have developed the vaccines; ‘I will wait and see’, some say. As has been noted, among those first to be vaccinated were health workers such as doctors, nurses, and other health workers. Surely can the whole world afford to lose all these populations of health workers so that we are left bereft of them? It cannot be. If so then that would mean supporting pessimist and nihilist ideas.
Among the ideas and conspiracy theories prevailing these days are those claiming that there are dark forces that want to eliminate half of the world population, especially the Third World; Africans in particular. Others say all those who have been vaccinated will become impotent. This conspiracy is the most feared by the big population. Some people have suffered from Covid-19 and been fully vaccinated, but have there is no evidence that they become impotent. This is just an idea in the minds to discourage and frighten others. Then there is the issue of the blood clot and deaths also, but these are minimal in comparison to the benefits of being vaccinated.
On the other hand, there are those who are not adhering to the warnings. They think that Covid-19 is just an idea, a myth. Others are going about their life mask-less, while others are wicked and comingling with others when they know they are sick and with little or no vaccines. They gather in groups to socialize with the others. The other day I saw the police with teargas dispersing a group of drunkards but they regrouped after the police have disappeared. I wonder whether this type of drinking in our country Zambia does not reflect a national or collective neurosis or a senseless and meaninglessness of life? How can people be drinking beer like this as if their lives depended on it?
To come back to the scenario of the pandemic, there are those who see in it the coming to the end of the world and nonchalantly pass comments such as “if Jesus Christ wants to come, let him just come now, this is the end of the world” (Yesu ngalefwaya ukwisa naesefye, uku ekupwa kwacalo; Ambuye Yesu ngati afuna kubwera angabwere, uku ndiye kutha kwa dziko).” This calls to mind of the sort of Christian sect idealist pessimists fond of foretelling the end of the world. Without dwelling much on what went before, in recent times, they used to proclain that in 1980 the world will come to end, but it did not. They repeated the same thing in 2000, ‘the world will be over and everybody should stop amassing provisions for future use’. What was the origin of such ideas?
I do not know whether you have come across a book entitled, “Better not to have been born; the harm of coming into existence” 2006. The writer is a pure anti-natalist and nihilist philosopher and he is not only against reproducing for fate can befall on anyone but because life for him is permeated by badness. Therefore, reproducing is intrinsically cruel and irresponsible. He has produced another book called, Human Predicament 2017. He has argued in this book that human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. He provides an escalating list of woes, designed to prove that even the lives of happy people are worse than they think. He argues that: “we’re almost always hungry or thirsty, and when we’re not, we must go to the bathroom. We often experience ‘thermal discomfort’ – we are too hot or too cold – or are tired and unable to nap. We suffer from itches, allergies, and colds, menstrual pains or hot flashes” quote.
Life is a procession of “frustrations and irritations” – waiting in traffic, standing in line, filling out forms. We are forced to work, we often find our jobs exhausting; even “those who enjoy their work may have professional aspirations that remain unfulfilled” quote. Many lonely people remain single, while those who marry fight and divorce. “People want to be, look, and feel younger, and yet they age relentlessly. This idealism has earned him fame and has a lot of followers. Strangely enough he does not answer personal questions because people will analyse him psychologically and therefore does not want to be interviewed. He is a very isolated and withdrawn person.
This perspective seems to indicate that life would be meaningful only when there is no suffering on earth. Is this true? In other word, one thing which we quickly and already realise when we come into existence is that we are not going to live forever and we shall depart in different ways from this life. This is a fact and life’s meaning should not be based on or judged according to whether there is suffering or happiness.
All sentient things seem to have that kind of life-experience of pain suffering and happiness. And therefore the question to ask is what kind of creatures are we human beings? We are intelligent, creative, developmental, communal; interpersonal whether there is suffering death or happiness. If we have not been most of these, then we have failed. These are the values we have here on earth and should inculcate in others. A new philosophy of life and religion must reject all superstitious beliefs and ideas in their objective reality and be able to reason and realise that the others ideas are only mental pictures we paint to please our own souls or mentality (Jung 1964, p.159).
It is true that we do not like suffering or death though we can make sense of them. But the irony is that when you have had a good life and after that you experience pain and suffering you seem to reason and catastrophise that things will be bad. When in distress one’s thinking becomes rigid, distorted and over generalized and absolute (Weishar 1996, p.188). There are also some people who think and behave as though they have come into this world by accident. They are not productive and they want to manipulate others and make them work for them. St Paul advises such idle people and begs them to go on quietly working and earning the food they eat. Such idle people when they sit on the food to eat, eat as though they are eating for the last time or are going to prison.
Though I meandered this much, my point was really to comment on the prevailing scenario of Covid-19 and its ramification and the fear or pessimism it has engendered. People should not give up themselves because of the challenges brought by Covid-19, come what may we shall overcome; come rain, come storms. We are advised to put on the masks, observe social distancing and to be completely “jabbed up” where there is vaccine. Otherwise certain pieces of advice, even those given by certain developed countries, will just be a form of idealism.
By Fr Patrick Mumbi