O! Newsletter #117

So Far, So Good...

     Out of a sense of confusion, but not of a sense of confinement, I think it would be a good idea, expected even, that matériO gives over its editorial to the COVID crisis – at least, that’s what serious firms are generally doing. The place to start is by saying that we hope that everyone is well and reminding everyone that the health of our partners and clients is our overriding priority. Next, it’s customary to say how much the lockdown has been strange but productive, and then stating that life after the lockdown will not be like life before it, that good can come from this public health crisis if only we know how to use this pause as an opportunity for reflection and thinking again about how the world currently functions…”Let’s use it to invent, innovate, bounce back, move on etc” is the phrase, full of enthusiasm and positive thinking! Of course, that’s what we should all be doing. Indeed, I too have been delighted to start hearing again the dawn chorus, to grow some seeds on my little balcony, taking time every day to marvel at nature’s ability to grow and live…
     Like everyone, freed from the dross of modern life, of gong out, of shopping, I made myself a plan “not to ignore the simple things.…(a Herta slogan which won’t mean anything to any French person under 40 years old)” under the impression of reconnecting with the essentials of life. Soaking in the sun’s rays, shelling peas, baking bread, going for a long walk in the fields (of course, only for those lucky enough to have fields in their neighborhood) … But it’s not so much the essentials we touch in doing such things but the basics that we’re rediscovering. The essence of being human lies elsewhere, in interaction with others, in freedom, in doing, in social exchange…. All things which today, quite rightly and for good reason, are subject to lockdown or taken away, that’s just the way it is. Right now, we find ourselves facing an incongruity because, to preserve life, we have to put it on hold. However, things can’t go on like this for ever because it would be absurd to want to preserve a life which has lost meaning as a result of being stripped of its substance.
     
     The introduction of what, out of necessity, has been called “social distancing” should have gone hand in hand with a “distancing for reasons of fear”. Because, if we step back today, our society has clearly entered into a kind of foolish psychosis. We are living in a completely paranoid state where everything represents a danger or a threat – neighbours, food, the person we pass in the street who has the temerity not to wear a mask, the tennis ball my opponent touched even though it had my initials on it (true, new rules are in force which mean that tennis players must bring their own balls inscribed with their own initials and that only they can touch them). But how could it be otherwise with a media who tirelessly talk only of that, day after day? Apparently, nothing else is going on in this vast world because COVID is cunningly getting everywhere. Every morning we get the tally of deaths from the previous day, a debate on whether the lockdown measures need tightening, reports on the ongoing shortage of masks, the testing “scandal”, how smoking might save us, the lies and cover-ups of the authorities, a special programme on “The Dangers of Lockdown”, news of the inevitable second wave, “my son won’t be going back to school”, a supermarket stripped of its stock of masks in just one hour, how the USA has taken the lead in the number of deaths, etc. It’s not very surprising that a psychosis has settled in, given that no attempt is made to stand back in order to put all of this news in perspective or to unpick (it’s very important, unpicking) or think through this non-stop stream of anxiety-invoking news. Think how our mental state would be if, on a daily basis, radio programmes were interrupted every 7 minutes to announce yet another terrifying, statistical truth, another rape committed in France…
     
     I think it’s becoming urgent to have a bit of perspective and put this infamous COVID in its place. For example, it would be a good idea to remind fathers that their children have more chance of being run over than catching COVID and its 58 pages of hygiene instructions recently sent to schools. The greatest risk is that fathers refuse to see sense, given how much the restrictions that have been imposed are poisoning society.
A few numbers:
• There have allegedly been less than 30,000 deaths from COVID in France in 2020 in a population of 67 million, or 0.0004% of the population. In truth, you have less chance of dying of COVID this year than dying of colon cancer. Or, if you prefer a happier comparison, statistically you have more chance of winning more that 15,000 Euros on a Euromillions ticket than ending up in hospital, which is good for me as I never play the lottery.
• Throughout this macabre exercise, if we estimate that in the whole of 2020 COVID will have killed 400,000 people, alcohol alone will have been 7 times more efficient, AIDS, losing velocity, will have killed 5 times more, malaria 2.5 times “better”, and even traditional flu will have had double the deaths. Finally, remember there are still less than half a million deaths in Syria in a conflict that has zero chance of resolution because of a lack of the same kind of political will and media coverage.     

     If we look at things at a global scale right now, the world has literally stopped to fight this pandemic. The Western economies have been paused, an unprecedented event to limit human casualties from this new disease. Everything has stopped and been put in the deep freeze. People are compelled to stay home and the notion of society has been shattered into an atomisation of individuals who are being asked to break all their physical links. Agreed, it’s logical and normal. Nations are putting in place the only remedies at their disposal to reduce the impact – human life must take precedence, whatever the cost. But I can’t help but notice that our Western societies are able to pause the global economy faced with an immediate danger which touches them directly, while seeming totally incapable of showing the same determination, energy or political will against an even bigger, deeper danger which has been with us for a while but which has the misfortune of being in another place, affecting the less responsible and the less powerful. I am not a follower of “collapsology”, nor particularly a third-world crusader, but I can’t help noticing something rather indecent in this sudden freeze put in place by the so-called “rich” countries. It’s a sort of “occidental-centrism”, whereas for years we have shown ourselves incapable of even the slightest political gesture to counteract a collapse of humanity which can be counted in the billions of human beings who will die or suffer, not forgetting the unfortunate fate of the birds in the dawn chorus.

     If we look at things at a global scale right now, the world has literally stopped to fight this pandemic. The Western economies have been paused, an unprecedented event to limit human casualties from this new disease. Everything has stopped and been put in the deep freeze. People are compelled to stay home and the notion of society has been shattered into an atomisation of individuals who are being asked to break all their physical links. Agreed, it’s logical and normal. Nations are putting in place the only remedies at their disposal to reduce the impact – human life must take precedence, whatever the cost. But I can’t help but notice that our Western societies are able to pause the global economy faced with an immediate danger which touches them directly, while seeming totally incapable of showing the same determination, energy or political will against an even bigger, deeper danger which has been with us for a while but which has the misfortune of being in another place, affecting the less responsible and the less powerful. I am not a follower of “collapsology”, nor particularly a third-world crusader, but I can’t help noticing something rather indecent in this sudden freeze put in place by the so-called “rich” countries. It’s a sort of “occidental-centrism”, whereas for years we have shown ourselves incapable of even the slightest political gesture to counteract a collapse of humanity which can be counted in the billions of human beings who will die or suffer, not forgetting the unfortunate fate of the birds in the dawn chorus.

     Nevertheless, in order to view this pandemic and its staggering consequences in a more positive light, it might be quite exciting to note that a small virus “banal and with no quality” (Houellebecq), measuring 125 nanometres, was able, in just two months, to bring to its knees a global machine whose operation seemed unstoppable, thereby opening up the field of possibilities, like a blank page offering the opportunity to start the machine again but on a different track. Let’s all make sure that the future finally shows that humanity’s intelligence can thwart its worst shortcomings. And let’s not forget either that life is and remains a mortal illness, and that’s to be welcomed.

Quentin Hirsinger

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