Manuel Arias Maldonado

Two or Three Things I Know About 2020

«It has not been an ordinary year: now that everything is «historic», we would need to find a word that could capture the exceptional nature of this year of seclusion and death»

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Two or Three Things I Know About 2020
Foto: Themba Hadebe| AP
Manuel Arias Maldonado

Manuel Arias Maldonado

Profesor de Ciencia Política en la Universidad de Málaga y colaborador habitual en prensa y medios culturales.

The year is ending; the tallying begins: we have to parcel our experience in some way and the measure offered by the Gregorian calendar, with its dawn and dusk, is as good as any other. In fact the relation between the two being joined here is peculiar, inasmuch as December does not give way to any apocalypse but, simply, to the month of January. That is why we carry out a diagnosis of the situation and make New Year’s resolutions at one and the same time. We swear we will start to do what we still do not do, even though we said that we would. On a collective level, we devote December —with the invaluable help of journalism—to tallying up and formulating our forecasts: appealing to the two faces of Janus, who is still an unbeatable representation of humans’ relationship to time. That includes, of course, our difficulty in living in the present. Such anguish!

I am so little given to futurology that I would not care to chastise the reader with predictions; I will limit myself to a few observations about the year 2020 now drawing to a close. It has not been an ordinary year: now that everything is “historic”, we would need to find a word that could capture the exceptional nature of this year of seclusion and death. That is the first thing that calls our attention: since WWII the world has not known the accidental death of so many. It’s true that this pandemic is caused by a moderately lethal virus;  the danger it poses for each individual is very reduced in scope. But just as the first coronvirus, which was rather more lethal, spread with less ease, the highly contagious nature of SARS-CoV-2 has ended up causing a much higher number of deaths because it has affected a broader total population. In all honesty,  it is not clear that much can be done to keep a pandemic of this kind from eliminating two or three million persons around the world. I am intrigued, however, by how naturally we accept this dark visitor:  it is as if there persisted in the species some memory of past misfortunes. Of course, if you think about it, what can we do?

In this sense it is significant that religious or supernatural explanations of the pandemic have had so small a role to play In the 50s one still spoke of God: the existentialists wanted to do away with him and Bergman reproached him for his silence. One had the impresión that transcendence counted; today, on the other hand, it would be hard to find somebody who saw the virus as a plague of divine origin. This does not mean that the supernatural has disappeared, but that it has been secularized: thus you have those who say that the virus is a punishment inflicted by nature. And although the connection between the pandemic and the Anthropocene is debatable, this episode in the human species’ immunological vulnerability serves to confirm the salutary cultural tendency to correct for anthropocentrism: once more it is plain to see that we are earthly creatures who are subjected to inescapable environmental pressures. This is not without negative secondary effects, for to see ourselves as the planetary blip on the screen which we are can well be a source of personal anguish: we invented the gods to combat this.

Turning to another subject now, there is no doubt —Arcadi Espada  recalled this just the other day— that the existence of Internet has made it easier for everyone to accept the confinement in their home and the restrictions on movement which have been part of public officials’ strategy against the virus. Thanks to electronic media, then, global society has been halted in order to minimize the number of victims of Covid-19. And thanks to the same media, society has still functioned: working from home and at a distance is now held to offer a good idea of what work in the future will look like. But the pandemic has lasted so long that the disadvantages of working at a distance have been showing: all that business of not having any contact with one’s fellow workers or a place to go to once you leave the private sphere of home, does not come cheaply. Something similar occurs among those of us who are university professors and who have been teaching in a virtual classroom.  As convenient as it may be! At the end of the year you feel nostalgia for the physical classroom and for personal contact with the students. Who would have said so!

For the rest, the year that is now ending has simplified the outlook for what will shortly ensue: it could hardly be worse.  That is no mean thing.

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