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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 20)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 20 April 3rd, 2020

Trento, Italy

State of Nature

So … apparently this is the twentieth entry. I don’t know: Should I celebrate? Is this some kind of anniversary? One thing’s for sure: I’m posing a hell of a lot questions to start this entry. I haven’t asked when it will end because such questions are pointless; believe me—unlike the opinion of your favorite teacher, there are stupid questions, so keep your mouth shut. Like Vincent says at the end of Ronin: “No questions. No answers. That’s the business were in. You accept it and move on.” You could say: How does this apply to me? I’m not a criminal; this movie isn’t relevant. Well, I beg to differ. The entire movie was about a case and our whole lives have been reduced to cases. Everything is a case. All cases have meaning and every fucking one of them is serious.

How many cases are there now? Have the cases gone down? Where are the majority of cases? Is there a case in my building? Is it a serious case? Is it the case of the Mondays? Are they a headcase? Fuck, man, I’m really sick of this virus. Honestly, I no longer give a shit. I’m going to live my life. Before this, no one cared about the problems that didn’t affect them: poverty in Africa; refugees in Syria; global warming; or even the homeless in their own city. Now that everyone is vulnerable, it’s time to protect ourselves, show solidarity and concern. Oh, stay at home—save lives. When there were real problems bigger than your own, how come you never cared to go out and fix them? I’m too tired—I’d rather watch TV or use social media; well, you have all the time in the world to do that now, so don’t complain.

This is what poverty in Africa looks like. It’ll continue to look like this after you solve the biggest problem in the world—coronavirus.

These are Syrian refugees. They’ll continue trying to quarantine themselves from war even after this virus has been conquered.

How about global warming—isn’t this a wonderful problem? We don’t have to give two shits because although heating companies will go out of business, the stock for air conditioning will skyrocket. I suggest you invest now; the payoff could be big. Keep yourself cold when the Amazon burns or perhaps the California chapparal. So long as Amazon the retailer stays afloat, we’ll be fine, but fuck the polar bears—they can sleep with the fishes, as the old Sicilian message says.

And, last but not least, since we’re so uncomfortable with homeless people, I won’t post a picture. There’s been far too much pathos already—keep the change in our pocket.

Since my brother and I both didn’t have classes today, we decided to go back into nature. It’s such a blessing to be situated in a place like this at exactly the right time. All it takes is a five minute walk, and we’re out of the city. Had we decided to ride this thing out in Ravenna (my apartment is in the center), I think insanity would’ve already given me a firm handshake. Now that I think about it, our lives here really aren’t that different than before.

We eat, sleep, attend classes (now we do so online—the only real difference), and we have the privilege of going out on the weekends. Even during the weekdays, we take midnight walks. Here’s a picture from one of those strolls we took four days ago.

It’s the Cesare Battisti Mausoleum lit up with the colors of the Italian flag. Trento was Battisti’s birthplace and it’s also where he died. An important figure during WWI, he fought against the Austro-Hungarians (despite being an Austrian citizen). Battisti was captured by the Austrians in 1916 and executed.

What’s the point of all this? I guess it’s the following: Don’t complain; things could be worse. Well, I’m going to continue complaining. How’s that? It’s always those damn people that know too much about the world who complain; it’s never the ones who don’t care about anything—they never complain about anything.

Nevertheless, I admit we have it easy. When there’s a quarantine and the forest is right next to you, it’s a sacrilege to bemoan the world. Just look at this picture; our backyard, so to say, essentially looks like this. If you look closely, you’ll notice the Adige and perhaps also my brother.

Walking along this path, the river looks differently than it does when it flows through the city; as you can tell by the picture, it takes on an almost emerald green color.

Last time we walked down this stretch, I noticed a rock cabin situated high on the mountain. I decided to check out it this time while my brother waited near the foot of the incline. Being from the US, I was initially a bit scared because people take property rights very seriously there, especially in Texas (but not just in Texas), where some people consider lawns a sacred thing.

If you don’t believe me, take it from Clint Eastwood.

As I began walking up, however, I realized this is neither Texas nor Detroit; this is Trento—it’s basically Austria with a lot of Italians. Nothing happens in Austria; in fact, the last time I heard anything about them was in WWI—wait a minute. Austria? Cesare Battisti? Trento? WWI? Irredentism? We better not go there here.

Once I remembered this was Trento, I was no longer scared to go up there. I climbed to the cabin and this is what I saw (do notice the upside down bicycle). I put a foot down as down payment and declared the property mine. This is, by far—among our other properties I described already—the best one we’ve got so far. If the apocalypse comes, we’ll definitely survive. I mean this one’s got a toilet, for God’s sake; yes, it’s got no bidet, but toilet beggars can’t be bidet choosers.

Speaking of bidets—I know how to celebrate this twentieth entry. I started these diaries talking extensively about how Italy will always be one step ahead of the US (in terms of dealing with the coronavirus) because they mustn’t rely on toilet paper. Well, the US is now starting to understand the power of this magnificent technology. According to this Wired article (it’s in Italian), people in the US are buying up bidets because they’re concerned about the shortage of toilet paper.

In other news—now that I’ve celebrated—I’m going to talk about something which has no cause for celebration. My brother and I attend the University of Trento and the University of Bologna, respectively. Each university utilizes its own platform for online courses—mine uses Microsoft Teams while my brother’s uses Zoom. Teams seems to be fine; however, we read something today about Zoom’s serious security issues.

According to The Guardian, the program can be easily hacked—users can be added to a call without their consent, and a Princeton computer science professor, Arvind Narayanan, even said the following: “Zoom is malware.” That’s encouraging. Besides the convenience of technology, I never liked the convenience of technology. Can I ever muster the discipline to attend another traditional lecture ever again? It’s so easy to wash dishes during online lecture; it’s so easy to lie down; it’s so easy and that’s the problem.

Ah, the state of nature; I often wonder about it. If there was a possibility to wipe the entire slate clean, to destroy civilization, and then start anew in the forest, would we take it? There’ve been many theories on the state of nature: Thomas Hobbes, for example, had a negative conception of humanity’s natural condition, believing that life without society can only be “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” After all, how much company, wealth, civilization, and longevity do you expect from a guy who looks like he’s had no friends his entire life. Oh, he was definitely not a party animal. He detested party animals. His book was called Leviathan and he was one prayer away from being a Puritan. Just look at him.

In any case, aside from the ad hominem attacks, I also have a counter-argument: If the state of nature is so bad, Mr. Hobbes, why are cities even worse? People in New York City, for example, live in close proximity—more than eight million, to be exact—but many of them are still lonely as hell; a great deal of poverty exists everywhere and the streets smell like shit. Furthermore, there’s a great chance your life will be cut short by one of the following ways: a car accident, shooting, pollution, and other industrial diseases.

So, Hobbes, in the words of Dire Straits, which I’m sure is your favorite band: “Goodness me, could this be industrial disease?” No, Hobbes, you’re wrong about the state of nature rendering “men apt to invade, and destroy one another” because men are more effective at invading and destroying one another in civilized societies. Think of it like this: How much damage can you do with a club, and how much damage can you do with an atomic bomb? Mic drop, bitch. Take that, Hobbes. Hobbes. Hobbes. Hobbes.

Having dispatched the biggest opponent for the state of nature, let’s discuss now the biggest proponent, who is Jean Jacques Rousseau; he believed that it was precisely society and its burdens which disrupted humanity’s ability to live peacefully. Unlike the “progress” of society, which brings out the worst tendencies in people, Rousseau believed that people were innocent in the state of nature; they had complete independence and possessed total control over themselves.

Theft, war, and crime could not exist because people lived in total isolation and depended on each other to such an extent that it made no sense to harm a fellow human being. He believed problems didn’t arise from man or nature itself, but rather from social institutions which corrupted people’s innocence by encouraging the acquisition of property, along with the impulse of greed in general.

Nevertheless, Rousseau believed that returning to the state of nature was impossible because the emergence of society has caused people to forget their original condition. The only way, thus, is forward; in other words, humanity must continue on its course—any future improvements to our condition can only be achieved through a transformation that will move people towards the belief that their personal interests are also the interests of the public.

Rousseau thus asks whether there can be a legitimate political authority which can actually bring about such a “transformation” in the human psyche, or an evolution, if you will, into a different, better “state” than the one humanity had in nature. In his view, that kind of authority can only be benevolent; if government is to be better than the state of nature, like nature it can’t coerce people, and, even more importantly, it can’t enslave them. Hence, the way Rousseau envisioned his “social contract” was that people’s freedom in a perfect society would resemble the one they had in nature because everyone would give up the same number of rights and incur (in relation) the same amount of duties and responsibilities.

If the government couldn’t be just, it was the people’s right, as Rousseau argued in The Social Contract, to overthrow it: “The popular insurrection that ends in the death or deposition of a Sultan is as lawful an act as those by which he disposed, the day before, of the lives and fortunes of his subjects. As he was maintained by force alone, it is force alone that overthrows him.” The worst thing for Rousseau was to live as a slave—it was akin to renouncing one’s humanity; this is repeatedly addressed in his work since he considers the state of nature as the perfect embodiment of liberty: “To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts.” Ah, yes, I love thinkers like this. It’s evident that Rousseau is no Hobbes—more correctly, I should say, that Hobbes is no Rousseau; just look at this handsome man. He, unlike Hobbes, was a party animal.

And so ends the twentieth day. Rants, philosophy, and quarantine violations. If the police issues an arrest warrant, I’ll tell them handcuffs don’t bother me because Rousseau is my lawyer: “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” So, go ahead and put them on because I’m already a slave to society.

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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