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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 15)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 15 March 29th, 2020

Trento, Italy

Live Free or Die

“Live Free or Die.” That’s the motto of New Hampshire. Throughout history we can find many variations upon this theme. There’s Patrick Henry’s famous closing statement during the Second Virginia Convention: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Then Emiliano Zapata, the famous Mexican revolutionary, who said: “It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” Of course, when it comes to dying for liberty, the French can’t be left out—Louis-Sebastian Mercier had this to say about our subject in his 1771 dystopian novel: “Choose then, man! Be happy or miserable; if yet it be in thy power to choose: fear tyranny, detest slavery, arm thyself, live free, or die!” A bit wordy, but we’ll take it.

However, despite the French people’s excellence in dying for liberty, the phrase can really be traced back to the Battle of Warns, which occurred in 1345. The battle cry of the Frisian was: “Better to be dead than a slave.” Well, I’m starting to get a sense that freedom is something people have valued and continue to value a great deal; all it takes is looking at a US quarter to know that I mean this literally and figuratively.

In addition, the amount of effort which the so-called free world dedicates to chastising countries like Russia and China for their authoritarian measures is substantial. Supported by the greatest modern military (which spends the combined equivalent of the next five biggest militaries in the world) makes it easier for the “free” countries to proclaim democratic values and to defend them; after all, if anyone threatens democracy, the US will send the cavalry; the French are starting to doubt it, however—ah, the French. They always have something (interesting) to say.

In any case, let’s forget about the usual scenario of militaries threatening democracy. What if there’s a threat out there that democracy can’t protect itself against? I’m talking about a peaceful threat that can bring life to a standstill, create a financial crisis, and then unleash conflict without good and bad sides. What if that threat is coronavirus? Let’s face it: This pandemic has exposed the frailty of not only western democracies, but all of society.

One of my favorite poets, Robinson Jeffers, coined the word inhumanism; the core principle of this philosophy is that humanity isn’t at the center of nature but only a part of its whole. Jeffers himself described it as “a shifting of emphasis from man to not man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence.” Above all, then, it’s the need to escape from the myths and traditions which have placed humanity at the forefront of the world and thus move to worshipping a non-human deity, which is nature.

Indeed, humanity has become arrogant in believing it can control nature; Jeffers think that it’s precisely this “progress” which is destroying the world. In one of his most famous poems, “The Purse Seine,” he uses the analogy of a fishing net to describe how we—the prey—are being caught by the hands of modernity. Written in 1937, the poem is eerily relevant to our own times, especially the ending quoted here:

It’s important to remember that the coronavirus isn’t a natural thing; it’s a product of progress. Sure, we’ve enjoyed many comforts bestowed upon us by modernity, but at what cost have these things been achieved? In an effort to modernize China, for example, Mao Zedong killed—by the most conservative number—at least 18 million people, although the more correct estimate is at least twice that much. Such catastrophes can only be caused by meteorites and progress. To liberate the world from fascism and bring freedom to it, over 70 million people had to die in WWII, which ultimately did nothing but divide the globe into two spheres of influence; the effects of this are still felt today, as Russia and the US continue to revive the Cold War.

Robinson Jeffers’s opposition to WWII led to his decline in popularity. Publishers and critics who had earlier been sympathetic to his work now began to write dismissive reviews. I guess that’s the price you pay for speaking out against humanity’s barbaric nature—you get treated with human ruthlessness.

Again, I’ll ask question I’ve been posing often: What’s the point of all this? The point is that during this coronavirus pandemic I would rather choose freedom over safety any day. Back in January, when Italy only had three confirmed coronavirus cases, Giuseppe Conte, PM of Italy, boldly stated the following: “The system of prevention put into place by Italy is the most rigorous in Europe.” I guess this is why Germany and Austria today have a combined death toll of less than a thousand while Italy’s death toll is at over ten thousand.

Precisely in the spirit of sprezzatura, a concept first developed by Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, published in 1528, the Italians are trying to handle the coronavirus in the manner of a renowned Renaissance author—that is with “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it,” in Castiglione’s own (translated) words.

In my own other words, sprezzatura is simply the art of making the difficult look effortless and the Italians have certainly employed this approach with great success in all areas (art, architecture, fashion, and film, just to name a few)—the only exception where this approach has failed them is in the area of coronavirus containment. By the way, if you want to know what Castiglione actually looked like, here’s his beard after two years of strict quarantine.

Again, what’s the point? I don’t know anymore, but I’m starting to resent the fact that it’s always the populace who must bear the fuck-ups of the government. Their inability to contain what should’ve been a minor outbreak has led to a pandemic and the need to encroach on individual freedoms. Well, to hell with that. There’s a limit at which the necessity for safety begins to demand authoritarian measures and I’m not prepared to stand for it. The restrictions are becoming increasingly harder to not only accept but also to follow.

In his sixth “Desiderata,” laid out in a book called The Morality of Law, noted legal philosopher Lon L. Fuller stated that a law must not ask something impossible; in other words an unobeyable law can’t be considered a law. Likewise, in his book Law as a Leap of Faith, John Gardner, an Oxford Professor of Law and Philosophy echoes Fuller’s statement: “All else being equal, however, a law that it is impossible for people to obey needs to have its content changed if it is to become possible for people to obey it.” I must say that Italian quarantine laws are slowly approaching Gardner’s definition. It’s been more than two weeks and I don’t know how long the government expects people to stay holed up in their apartments for what’s essentially their fault.

Likewise, I won’t sacrifice my freedoms for safety if I feel that they’re being encroached on for no reason. I really don’t see the need to ban jogging or walking in the woods. thus, I repeat: I won’t follow this quarantine if I feel that my rights are being violated in the name of safety. Like I’ve said in previous entries, the world was and continues to be a dangerous place. We take risks every day and I don’t know why this particular risk—coronavirus—demands such ever-increasing sacrifices of liberty? Let’s put it like this: In the name of liberty and the freedoms we seem to cherish here in the West, if I feel my sanity slipping away, that’s a good enough reason to go outside without a reason.

Human beings were meant to move and no government can make me “forget” that part of my evolution. This is why my brother and I went outside today and were quickly yelled at by an annoyed Italian neighbor from a balcony—ah, the Italians and their damn balconies. In the end, we just looked at the middle-aged man, greeted him, and continued going our way.

Like Jeffers, I believe that people are most at peace in nature; it’s where God is to be found; it’s where religion is. I took this picture of my brother as he was immersing himself in the sounds of the river.

After returning from his daydream, he recalled the following passage from A River Runs Through It: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” At that moment, I felt a freedom I haven’t felt in a long time; that’s when I realized that like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi, a healthy amount of civil disobedience isn’t only good—it’s necessary. Without it, we would’ve missed the chance to lift our spirits with this sight and look out for our mental health—something which everyone seems to have forgotten about. Is that a good reason or not?

In the woods, we were the furthest we could be from humanity, and thus we embodied the emblematic notion of social distancing. Laws are meant to protect people, not to harm them, and governments don’t exactly have a good track record of safeguarding their own people, or even looking out for the populace’s best interests. Ever since 1964, at least in the US, trust in the government has been declining, and things have never recovered.

Forgive me, but I like to think that I live in a free world; that’s why I value liberty more than safety. Citizens can safely walk down the street in North Korea—if they’re prepared to renounce all freedoms and retain only the right to walk down the street. I don’t want that kind of safety. I would rather move to a cabin in New Hampshire and not speak to anyone.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.


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