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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 21)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 21 April 4th, 2020

Trento, Italy

Slave to Society

All the signs are pointing in the direction of life returning to normal. We’re just five days shy of one month and the more restless people are starting to have quite enough quarantine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Quarantine has zero nutritional value and five times the daily recommended intake of boredom; it goes extremely well with every kind of wine; it goes extremely well with every kind of alcohol, for that matter. Don’t drink and drive while under the influence of quarantine; in fact, don’t even drive. Just stay home and get drunk. Common symptoms include weight gain, irritability, laziness, restlessness, and hypochondria. Don’t operate heavy philosophy while under the influence of quarantine or you’ll develop insomnia.

The best treatment for quarantine reactions are anti-quarantines—common brand names include: Noquarantine (take once daily outside, two hours); Shopiod (must be taken with bags, one hour, up to three times a day); Reasonex (do not take if you have no reason; do not take orally; must have a prescription). Ah, motherfucker—the things a person will come up with when there’s too much free time.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of internet shaming and that’s why I took these photos from a distance; in actuality, what I wanted to portray was how the limit for sitting at home is slowly being approached. Before, I never saw such blatant violations of the law; even I who’s all too willing to break the law here and there for sanity’s sake would never dare such displays of nonchalance. I don’t blame these people, however; in fact, I sympathize with them.

Weakness, I believe, reveals our most intimate humanity. While I do respect people with nerves of steel and a stubborn commitment to the sanctity of principles, it’s the absent-minded citizens with unorthodox beliefs that I actually admire; this is precisely why I came to Italy and why I’ve grown to love it here. I’ve always believed that the best laws are “soft,” meaning legal measures must exist but people should always come first. No other country that I’ve visited or lived in has demonstrated quite the same commitment to the reconciliation of these two opposite principles—circumstances dictating human need and the law which forbids them. I’m now thinking of Hegel, but let’s hold off on the philosophy for now and continue with Italy’s attempt to create harmony out of two diverging propositions.

You may argue that such an approach is precisely why Italy has never surpassed Germany’s wealth, industry, efficiency, and, yes, success in treating the coronavirus, for example; however, I believe Italy is a much more “human” country than Germany is; this has nothing to do with matters of better or worse, but rather relates to differences in mentality.

To use an analogy: It’s easy to be a good student when all you do is study the whole day and studying the whole day comes easy to you, but such people have never interested me, even if they’re excellent in all regards. I prefer people who have trouble studying—those who may even hate it—but they study anyways, even if they’d rather be doing something else. The type of people I prefer are those who give into temptation and then come back stronger, not the ones who simply refuse any seduction (or follow every logical advice) and thus appear mightier than the reckless folk.

I like people with flaws because I like them to be human. I neither find perfect societies interesting nor societies who attempt to be perfect—to some extent, I have great respect for them, but I can’t love them. Italy has many flaws; however, I haven’t seen a more benevolent attempt to govern than the one I’ve encountered here; again, the entire nation’s troubles probably stem from this attempt, but that’s why I love it—this isn’t a country I can respect; it can only be a relationship of love. Germany, on the other hand, is a country I admire like a selfless teacher or cooperative boss—therein lies the difference.

I can’t think of a better song to describe what I’ve written about than Garth Brook’s “Standing Outside the Fire.” The repeated line the song encapsulates the whole message: “Life is not tried it is merely survived / if you’re standing outside the fire.” In other words, it’s easy not to fail if you don’t take risks. The song is about much more but I’ll leave the listening up to you.

Now that we’ve had enough fun, let’s return to this idea of reconciling opposite forces. I believe law will always be at odds with the situational nature of human needs. Take simple traffic laws, for example, and combine them with the forces of everyday life; generally, people do their best to keep a sensible schedule so they can manage things properly and efficiently. However, life is unpredictable and usually does a good job of throwing off our perfectly made plans; this is why we’re always late for something.

Truly, people who are in a rush are bound to violate the speed limit, illegally cross into carpool lanes, or resort to other various maneuvers that can bring the unpredictable nature of life back to its equilibrium; this usually works if there’s no police, but when you do get pulled over, the law never takes into account the whimsical nature of life and your human need to “correct” your perfectly made schedule by regaining lost time with speeding.

The law is the law: It doesn’t matter if you’re late for work, a birthday, your daughter’s graduation, or because your wife is giving birth in the backseat—no human concern will override the law. In fact, there are many instances of husbands trying to get out of speeding tickets because their wives were in labor both in the US and the UK—neither this man nor that one were successful. And this guy was unlucky as well—okay, we get the point; the law sucks.

This is what I mean by human element. There are necessities, I believe, which fall outside of the legal realm. In the aforementioned cases, for example, even if the speeding did ultimately endanger other drivers, that danger wasn’t as great as the one faced by the women needing to give birth. Naturally, some of the speed limits mentioned in the articles are too great a risk, but there’s also a risk in not acting quickly enough; the law, however, takes only the former into account, leaving the human element completely to its own devices.

In that sense, I believe Italy is a country in which the legal system is more likely to approach any given violation of the law in its proper situational context, not just through the framework of the blanket legal restrictions it imposes. There’s an implied understanding of the “human” requirement present in any set of rules—it’s an informal institution, but in the best sense of the word: A police officer might listen to the plight of the driver and take the human element into the account; I’ve experienced this in Italy but strangely also in Russia as well. When I traveled there for my cousin’s wedding in 2013, the wedding motorcade passed a police checkpoint and none of us were wearing seat belts. I asked the driver why the officers didn’t issue a ticket. He responded by saying that since they realized it was a wedding, they didn’t want to ruin the occasion.

I was dumbstruck because in the US, officers rarely miss the chance to fine motorists, regardless of whether they’re having a good or bad day—believe me, I have plenty of personal experience. Without getting into too much detail, I was pulled over for traveling alone in the carpool lane. I explained to the officer that I was an instructor late for class and that I had a test to give—not as urgent as giving birth, by any stretch of the imagination, but the human aspect was irrelevant to the officer. A $500 dollar fine came in the mail a week later. In Germany, likewise, I was repeatedly warned not to cross on a red light, no matter how late I was. In Italy (and apparently in the UK as well) such hard and fast rules don’t exist—human need and correct individual judgment are above the law.

At first sight, it seems that the societies willing to “bend” the law in consideration of human requirements are more corrupt and lack principle. However, what exactly is principle? Can we argue that the concept of principle also exists in not spoiling a joyous occasion? One may argue that these are principles outside of law and that would be fair to say, but to claim they aren’t principles entirely presupposes a flawed approach to the issue.

If we look at this through Hegel’s conception of the master-slave dialectic, or, more correctly, lord and bondsman scenario, it’s possible to argue that these opposing forces of law and human need are seemingly in contradiction, but their relationship is such that like the slave and the lord, they can both achieve liberation through the interaction with one another. Okay, that’s kind of weird, but since Hegel looks crazier than a quarantined cocaine addict who has two more months left before the lockdown ends, let’s see what he says—it might be interesting.

The slave, by devoting more labor to the master, begins to grow closer, at first, not to his lord but to the product he creates. He begins to see the world around him—and his master’s alike—as his own creation because he’s the one who makes his master’s existence possible. He begins to realize his master’s dependence on him and at once understands that he isn’t simply a powerless servant. The master, on the other hand, realizes his own dependence on the labor of his subject and himself becomes enslaved by his dependence on his servant’s labor.

As Hegel writes in Lectures on the Philosophy of History: “The humankind has not liberated itself from servitude but by means of servitude.” Thus, if we look at the issue from the perspective of Hegel, ordinary citizens are all slaves to the law and the police are our masters; however, the more frequently ordinary people interact with the law and “force” it to realize that a strong legal system is dependent on the “labor” of ordinary citizen (the so-called slaves of the law), then perhaps, at some point in time, there can occur a resolution between these conflicting forces, which will lead to a new kind of relationship.

Neither side can thus, at least after the resolution, dominate the other because both sides will realize they can’t exist by themselves. The law can’t govern if there’s no one to govern, which according to Hegel signifies dependence on the master’s part who “has effectively achieved lordship.” However, this lordship is “not an independent, but rather a dependent consciousness,” meaning that in the end its essence has fully merged with the existence of the servant—for our intents and purposes, the populace, so to say.

Conversely, civilized people will realize they can’t exist without the law and thus submit to it willfully; Hegel, thus, argues the slave is freed because his “consciousness which toils and serves accordingly attains by this means the direct apprehension of that independent being as its self,” meaning that our own independence is dependent on the protection of society’s laws; thus, the full resolution of opposites is achieved.

Ah, fuck. I don’t know if that’s what Italy was going for, but I tried. In any case, resolve it how you want, but there are people with a human need to be outside. I don’t know if the individuals below fit that description, but a benevolent society will give them the benefit of the doubt. Do we blame them, or not? Do we know their circumstances? Should the law ever consider situational needs? I don’t know. Honestly, my head is fried trying to reconcile these things.

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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