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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 29)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 29 April 12th, 2020

Trento, Italy

Easter Blues

A Guardian article from 1878 states that in the past, people “used to color the eggs red, so as to show the kind of death by which Christ died—a bloody death.” The egg, likewise, is supposed to symbolize Christ’s body and also the empty tomb. When Jesus rose from the dead, his tomb, like an empty shell, no longer had anything inside, and when a Christian dies, he leaves behind the empty shell of his body as the soul ascends to heaven.

I know—right off the bat there’s too much lecturing on Easter; facts, information, even belief—these things aren’t what this holiday is about; no, it consists of eggs, painted eggs, egg hunts, rabbits, chocolate rabbits, chocolate eggs, hunting for chocolate, and also hunting for rabbits. Who knows? I’m just on auto-pilot at this point, putting down everything that comes to mind—don’t mind me.

Maybe it’s automatic writing; maybe it’s the ideomotor effects; maybe it’s the Ford Motor Effect—I don’t know. The only obvious thing is that my best friend has become a laptop. I can do anything and go anywhere with it. Going to school, check; meeting my friends, check; touring the streets of Rome, check. I’ve even found a way to connect with God; the WiFi up there isn’t very good but the good Lord does have a Teams account. I won’t give you the info—be a good Christian and find it yourself; it’s the 21st century, for Ford’s sake.

It’s so hard to say anything wise at this juncture. What’s the point of this quarantine if it can reduce the number of cases to less than three (which is how this whole thing started, incidentally) only then to re-infect the entire population again? Truly, even if the quarantine could help us return to where we started, would the measures we implement thereafter be any different than the ones employed before, when “Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte immediately declared a state of emergency for six months, and made Italy the first country to block flights from China.” The tourists were isolated and the people were reassured that “everything is under control.” That should’ve fixed everything the first time, but it didn’t. Why do we believe things will be any different the second time around when the quarantine gets us right back to the very same place—less than a handful of “official” cases?

Thus, the argument that the virus had been circulating before is a pathetic excuse; it doesn’t change the fact that without a vaccine, reducing the “official” cases—if we can even get there by quarantine alone—to less than a handful, is still not good enough for two reasons: Firstly, like in the beginning, how can we know there aren’t any more “unofficial” cases ready to re-infect the entire fucking country when you’ve dealt with all the “official” ones, and secondly, because we can never conclusively verify the first premise, the only thing which can solve this problem is a vaccine. This wonderful explanation by Dr. Fauci is worth watching, especially if you don’t believe my own argument.

And what’s normal, really? Is it normal for people to stay indoors for over a month? Is it normal to postpone weddings and funerals? What the fuck is normal? You tell me. People have an endless capacity to be indoctrinated and a very limited sense of self-reflection, which is truly a dangerous combination.

At the turn of the 19th century and the beginning of the subsequent one, French artists were asked to imagine what the year 2000 would look like and then depict it to the best their abilities. The project was called En L’An 2000 (In the Year 2000) and many of them were produced by Jean-Marc Côté, including this one below, which is relevant to our purposes.

Now, I’m sure indoctrination isn’t a modern concept, but its efficiency has, for some reason, become especially associated with that age. Fake news is believed; legitimate news is swallowed up without an ounce of critical reflection; and people generally follow the herd mentality. In other words, they don’t actively read for themselves, as Côté depicted; no, they simply listen passively. Information alone is useless if it’s not interpreted correctly—asking a fact to give you the answer is like telling shovel to dig by itself.

In a 1949 letter to George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, while recognizing some truth in Orwell’s vision of the future described in 1984, nevertheless ultimately disagreed about the nature of control. He believed that it will not be repression, but information overload, along with the love of servitude that would be most effective in controlling people—the scenario he described in his own book, Brave New World; the novel’s central theme is summarized in the letter: “the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.” Indeed, the former is what western democracies do while the latter is a product of authoritarianism. Anyone who believes, however, that they’re free in a democracy should go and violate the quarantine right now—we’ll see the authoritarian repercussions of that.

Without a crime, no government, no matter how benevolent its intentions are, has the right to incarcerate people in their homes. We’re not animals in a zoo. If this is truly a democracy, let me, in the spirit of utilitarianism, decide what’s good for myself without intruding on another person’s happiness or safety. Why is the fundamental cornerstone of being free suddenly in danger of disappearing? While there are many subsets to utilitarianism, the most pertinent for our case is “act utilitarianism,” which, according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is defined as such: “An act is right insofar as its consequences for the general happiness are at least as good as any alternative available to the agent.” Well, an alternative does exist, and it happens to be Sweden, a country which has refused to lock down, relying on people “taking responsibility themselves,” according to CNN.

Indeed, a quarantine is by its very nature authoritarian; while it does have good intentions, that’s not quite enough when it’s all said and done. As people living under dictatorships very well know, the road to hell is paved with such good intentions. Suspending parliament to end a pandemic quickly, as in the case of Hungary, is a measure that’s based on good intentions (let’s be fair), but the act is nevertheless dictatorial; a quarantine, likewise, does have good intentions, but it doesn’t change the fact that it infringes on the basic tenet of democracy—choice.

The government has no problem selling cigarettes and alcohol to 18-year-olds (whose brains studies have shown haven’t fully developed), but they refuse to give bona fide adults the right to decide how to safely go outside during a pandemic; this should be the task of authoritarian governments, not western democracies.

Sweden, so far, is the only liberal democracy who has actually managed to remain one during this crisis. The way loving well-behaved children isn’t a hard task for parents, so the act of touting freedom is likewise very easy if there are no forces threatening it. Authoritarian governments, too, are more than willing to leave their citizens alone if they simply, like good children, obey every goddamn order that parents give them; however, that’s not the barometer for democracy, by any stretch of the imagination. How will you treat your children when they misbehave? Corporal punishment or positive discipline?

Let’s get even more concrete: Aside from suspicion, the US, for example, had more or less no problems with the Japanese-Americans during WWII; however, after Pearl Harbor, when the government felt threatened, they wasted no time violating the rights of their own citizenry and putting them into internment camps. Truly, just because a country is democratic, doesn’t mean it’s not capable of acting in authoritarian ways when its existence is exposed to danger or when people “misbehave.” The justifications of “necessity” are, thus, the same, regardless of whether they’re made by dictators or democratically elected officials; necessity is always more powerful than morality, except in Sweden, I guess, but maybe they too simply haven’t been properly threatened.

In 1984, the renowned philosopher and linguist, Noam Chomsky, gave a talk at Berkeley in which he described how societies with the most internal freedoms have the propensity to commit the greatest violence abroad. He points to the British Empire, which was at that time the most liberal, free society to be found from the vantage point of its internal composition; abroad, however, the Empire engaged in countless acts of violence and repression, such as the massacre in Amritsar (for which David Cameron didn’t feel the need to apologize in 2013), or the Boer Camps (the term “concentration camp” incidentally derives from this event and not from the atrocities committed by the Nazis).

In his book, On Power and Ideology, written three years later, Chomsky echoes the same statement: “there is little reason to expect a correlation between the internal freedom of some society and its external violence and repression, and history reveals no such correlation. A society that is relatively free and open at home may be brutal and murderous abroad.” The contrary can also be true, according to Chomsky: Societies which lack internal freedom can pose less external danger than the so-called free ones.

The United States is another example of this phenomenon—for long, this nation has been the beacon of liberty to millions of oppressed who make their way towards its shores, and to some extent, the country lives up that ideal. Abroad, however, the US is responsible for countless military coups in Latin America and elsewhere, which I’ve already discussed, but also human rights violations on its own soil, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which intentionally gave black people syphilis (under the guise of receiving free healthcare) to observe the natural course of the disease.

Although not quite as barbaric as Nazi human experimentation, which involved gruesome tests such exposing subjects to extreme heat and then extreme cold, for example, the US’s impulse to obtain medical data at any cost is, in fact, no different than the aspirations of Nazi doctors.

Well, I feel myself going off track, so I better reel it back in. Ah, yes, we were talking about freedom, and we’re still on track, in fact. Although it was widely reported on back then, few people today know about Project MKUltra, another instance of a “free” country violating human rights. I won’t spend a great deal discussing it, but let’s just say it led to the CIA needing to cover up the death of US bacteriologist, Frank Olson, who fell victim to the experiment.

Truly, always interesting is discussing the extent to which “democracies” will go just to be one step ahead of the “enemy,” the supposed authoritarian governments, to which the free world has a greater resemblance than they really believe.

It’s not totally out of the question that Italy, the US, Spain, and other countries heavily affected by the virus, do have the potential to enact authoritarian measures which will clearly overstep democratic boundaries—if their very existence is jeopardized.

For now, at least we know who the real democracy is—go Sweden (indeed, for now).

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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