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Coronavirus and the path to social justice

mars 24, 2020

© Ada Polla, Washington DC, March 22nd, 2020

Will one day nature, to correct human injustices, invent a virus which, by some mechanism yet to be discovered, will spare the migrants and the homeless, those to whom one cannot say, except in the Land called Absurdia, “stay at home, in your house, to protect yourself and others”?

Will one day human misfortunes stop accumulating on those who are most in trouble – I am thinking of those, for example, who are currently experiencing the horrors of war, to which we sometimes compare our confinement?

I am self-confined, in ideal conditions though. My tyrannical daughters, forbid me to go out or see anybody and, for once, I obey. They leave food outside my door and let me work in peace. I see the blue sky through the window, there is very interesting research and work to do, on my desk, that only awaits my full availability, I am alone in an adequate space, I get on well with myself and nobody annoys me. I don’t really believe in the effectiveness of confinement measures but I apply them scrupulously. Switzerland being the country of common sense and realism, confinement is essentially based on civic responsibility. Of course it isn’t perfect, but the imperfection of individual responsibility is still better than the imperfections of authoritarianism and police combined.

The Swiss healthcare system is organized and ready for the worst: hospitals, caretakers, respirators, even the military and their equipment. My daughter, a surgeon in a cantonal hospital, confirms this to me. No one wants to experience the Italian decimation, nor to implement the painful selections of the French Grand East. The future will tell us if an efficient health system can prevent these extremes. Now, what will happen to the United States, especially for those who do not have social security coverage? How many of them are there, actually?

The coronavirus is no exception to the rule that argues that it is better to be young, beautiful, wealthy and healthy (and a woman, for once), than old, poor, isolated and sick. It only highlights the unstoppable reality: if we have some means, space, a solid psyche, we will easily resist. If there are five of us living in a poorly soundproof 40 m2 apartment with no natural space, with poor health, diabetes, and age over 70s, no savings nor support, then it gets more complicated. An understatement.

The fundamental questions that coronavirus addresses to us are not so much whether confinement is better than screening or vice versa, whether chloroquine is, or not, the miracle drug, or which government will best protect its economy, no, these are questions for experts, to which time will probably give us the best answers. The two fundamental questions posed to us by coronavirus are that of death, and that of inequality.

In France, in normal times (reference 2018), 12,000 people die per week. Not from coronavirus, no. They die from death. Because death is always there, a faithful companion of our lives. As a doctor, I have spent a lot of time with it: it is a constant co-presence to our life-saving efforts. Today, I am 69 years old, and there is not one day that I do not think of it and thank I don’t know whom for this life I love so much – just for being alive. I believe it would be healthy to think more about death, not only to rebel when it strikes one of ours, but to contemplate that each life, each day of life, each alive being, are wonders. A deeper awareness of the fragility of our human condition would help us I think and pave the way towards a better appreciation of the extreme vulnerability of all of us – though some more than others.

Indeed, while we are all going to die, in the meantime, the inequality with respect to the difficulties we have to face and the beauties of life we may enjoy is immense. And this is what again the coronavirus tells us, above any other message. Ah, it’s boring, isn’t it, to be confronted again by the coronavirus with the same reality as always. We may prefer to listen to the battles of experts, the inter- and intra-governmental criticisms, abundantly relayed by the media: they don’t concern us directly. We may prefer to dream about of the future: may be the coronavirus will change the world and introduce a humanist, eco-responsible and fair economy. The path to the realization of these kinds of dreams is however paved with a multitude of tiny stones named, among others: work, concentration, modesty, discipline, creativity, realism, responsibility – and love.

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