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The Pandemic of Fear

A year of lockdowns, self-isolation, and social distancing has allowed for much reflection on what it means to live in a globalized, digitally connected society. While the COVID-19 pandemic has turned many countries inward, it also has collapsed the distance between us like never before.

SOFIA – “The first thing that plague brought to our town was exile,” notes the narrator in Albert Camus’s The Plague. These days, we have an acute sense of what he meant. A society in quarantine is literally a “closed society” in which everyone but essential workers puts his or her life on hold. When people are isolated in their homes and haunted by fear, boredom, and paranoia, one of the few activities that does not cease is discussion of the virus and how it might transform the world of tomorrow.

In this new world, many governments (benevolent or otherwise) closely follow where we go and whom we meet, out of a determination to protect us from our own recklessness and the that of our fellow citizens. Contact with other people has become a threat to one’s existence. In many countries, unsanctioned walks in the park can elicit fines or even jail time, and unsolicited physical contact has become tantamount to a kind of societal betrayal.

As Camus observed, a plague erases the “uniqueness of each man’s life” as it heightens each person’s awareness of his vulnerability and powerlessness to plan for the future. It is as if Death has moved in next door. After an epidemic, everyone living can claim the title of “survivor.”