Temptation of Saint Anthony (1650), Joos Van Craesbeeck

In August 2019, the sky over São Paulo suddenly became dark, due to the fires in the North region. Years before, we couldn't leave the house because the CCP took on a massive attack on the police. Every now and then the rains block streets and roads in the country, destroying houses and dams.

These moments of exception bring disorder, fear and disorder because in them our practical life is obstructed. We have to stop and think. The day-to-day law is repealed and a breach appears in the order of things. Such moments remind us that as much as we have dreams of control over nature, over others and over ourselves, there is still a greater force that subdues us.

We are no longer used to facing the power of nature without it being combined with recklessness, incompetence or human negligence.

When something goes wrong, we inevitably go in search of the culprits and those responsible, as if these, once located, would authorize us to go back to sleep the sleep of the just. the pandemic of Covid-19, which spreads through the Brazil, reminds us of the lessons brought, since always, by the plague as a state of exception. The first is that the plague is democratic, affecting the rich and the poor, women and men, whites and blacks, children and the elderly, although on the latter it is more merciless and lethal. As Hegel said, in the face of illness we have to remember that there is only one absolute master: death. She is the reason and measure of all lives and before her we are all equal. That is why it can at the same time place us as together and in solidarity as we are apart and competitors.

The plague materializes and synthesizes our relationship with others, because it mobilizes the idea of ​​contagion and transmission through contact. Things that pass from one to the other serve to symbolize that the essence of human coexistence is exchange. That's why the plague embodies our imagination about the origin of evil. Evil is not and does not come from ourselves, but it comes from the other, it comes from far away, it comes from the East, it comes from China, which, like the barbarians of antiquity, does not speak our language. The plague threatens us because it attacks not only our bodies, but our identities, our feelings of belonging and affiliation to a certain order. Every serious and potentially lethal disease raises this moral question: What did I do to not be so loved and protected by the Other who sends me this. Our irresistible tendency to read illness as a message has to do with the resistance to accepting that there are things we don't know and therefore don't master. When this happens, we create fictions and hypotheses to read and assign meaning to what, in principle, has no meaning.

It is like the metaphor of disorder that, during the Middle Ages, leprosy punished those who were carried away by lust with the degradation of the body. It is with the dehumanization, animalization and imputation of irrationality that we make madness the great evil of modernity, this epoch defined by reason. During the 1990s, we read in the appearance of HIV-AIDS a kind of divine punishment against homosexuals and all those who exercised their sexual freedom “too much”. In other words, we have always transformed the fear of an object that comes from outside into the indefinite anguish of a dread that comes from within. We tend to moralize natural events that are beyond our control, placing a meaning on them that they do not have. This is how the experience of getting sick and entering this kind of gap or parenthesis in life can become an experience of guilt and helplessness.

In the great plague of 1666, huge bonfires were built at the crossroads that led to the great cities, as a way of avoiding the bubonic plague. The theory behind the practice was that fear predisposed a person to contract the plague. The test of courage, facing the fire, at the same time purified and authorized the arrival of the pure foreigner and drove away the impure foreigner. The plague was transmitted by the envious look that the sick cast on the healthy. Our tendency in the face of what we don't understand is to stay together, create groups and hold hands. Now, the additional cruelty imposed by the coronavirus is that this is precisely what we should not do.

The plague summons in us this double task of facing fear and facing anguish. Fear makes us act, assess risks and calculate strategies. In the face of fear we can attack or flee. He urges us to take protective measures, obey restrictions on social contact, or methods of hygiene and cleanliness. Only a fool gets rid of fear by clinging to the idea that there is no reason for fear, that faith will protect us, or that illness is just an imaginative invention.

The problem begins when the fear of what comes from outside is pollutes with the anguish that comes from within. It is thus perceived how the idea of ​​contamination is an objective and subjective idea

It speaks of the real transmission of a virus from body to body, of the symbolic passage of culture between natives and foreigners, but also of the imaginary mixture between good and evil within us. That is why illness is the ideal pretext to activate prejudices, invoke ghosts and revitalize children's complexes. It is as if faced with the possibility of death, we are faced with the inadmissible lack of meaning in life and we respond against it with our unconscious beliefs.

We can distinguish three basic reactions to the plague: the foolish, the confused and the desperate. O all unaware of the importance of fear. Unprepared and uninformed, he will go in search of culprits. He's not brave because he doesn't recognize the risks and decides to go through them anyway. He just doesn't care about the danger, so he doesn't take action either. THE confused he is the one who deals with anguish by trying to turn it entirely into real fear. He will stock up on kilos of toilet paper because he heard something about Korea, he will carry vats of hand sanitizer in his pocket and he will know everything that every ruler says, but he will also follow every rumor and spread every conspiracy hypothesis. Finally, the reaction of desperate it will transform all fear, generated by indeterminacy, into a reason for increasing anguish. Deep down he was already restless before all that, the disease only came to give body and flesh to his worst ghosts. Calming down is something no one can do for you. If you hope that only more news, information and comments will pacify you, or if you think that increasing the stock of masks will alleviate your anguish, you are deceiving yourself.

The verb is called "calm down”,  and not to be soothed by others and their objects. Fear is fought with precaution and objective measures, anguish with self-care and subjective work.

In this sense, the plague has a lot to teach us, especially about our illusions of control and domination over the world and our destiny. The culture of hate and emulation, the digital belief that we are very important and so many other promises make us believe that we are sovereign over our lives. Then a small microorganism appears, very limited from the point of view of its reproductive capacity and biological structure of RNA and knocks us down. That is, from the point of view of our anguish, the coronavirus could not have a better name: it takes us off the throne of ourselves and places the crown of our lives in its rightful dimension.

It is the crown of thorns that summons an experience that is scarce in our time: humility. In the face of this small and destructive force of nature our grandiloquent narcissism bends like a cornered vassal.

As painful as a thorn in the soul, this can be a profoundly transformative experience. Discovering that we can do much less than we think, accepting the imponderable that governs us and humbly welcoming what we have not yet mastered, can be very beneficial. It can be a real therapy, for those who need to rest their head from the weight of their crown of narcissistic thorns.

 

 

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