My cultural background is German and in that culture a person is considered spineless if they do not form an opinion on relevant issues.
It is what makes Germans so insufferably argumentative and sometimes adversarial, but it is also what connects the democratic government to the people and brings over 75% of voter participation at any major elections.
In today’s news, thousands of people in Germany are demanding the release of coronavirus restrictions. So, true to my background, I will reveal my opinion. I would love to discuss and argue it with you, especially if you can hold your own and teach me other aspects of this approach. What irks me is the infinite hiding and avoidance of dealing with the issue.
We are past the first phase where it was prudent to lock down as much social interactions in the country as possible to insure that an outbreak could not hit an area unprepared, causing an overwhelmed health care system and a fast spread to other areas.
Now, we have numbers of how the pandemic has spread so far, of where the hot spots are in the country, and every place has hopefully been equipped with basic materials and instructions on how to deal with people who show up sick.
We live in a place with few people and much space around us and can track our exposure to travelers. I do support restrictions on unnecessary travel, because that is the single most likely way to spread the virus around the country.
At this time in Kodiak, I do not support keeping people isolated and home from work. We have done this for months now and we had only one case of the disease.
Personally, I have lost all of my business dealings for the year and while I have been hired as a contractor in a laboratory, I have not been able to start work because of building restrictions that do not feel in line with the actual risks of exposure of personnel to the virus.
It is very frustrating at an existential level to lose one’s livelihood for the specter of a virus that is not really among us. But personal feelings aside, let’s take this discussion to a more philosophical level.
Thoughts about life and death and the meaning of life are at the very base of the human sentience.
They also provide almost infinite material for stories in books or films, whether they are period pieces from centuries ago or contemporary action films and chick flicks.
As a reader or observer, we often wonder what it would be like to live in times that are changing the world forever. Now we have that situation and it does not feel so great at all, because as characters in our own story, our perspective of the events is so limited and there is no all-knowing author explaining the various strands of the story or dropping hints about the outcome.
I am in the middle of an epic series by author Brandon Sanderson called the Stormlight Archive, and one of the important lines in this work is “Life before Death.”
Why would that line resonate with me at the current time? To me it is in sync with the better known “carpe diem,” loosely translated as “make the best of your days.”
As always, I look at the animal kingdom for the various strategies life has evolved for the fine line between avoiding life-threatening risks and living life to its fullest.
However, first we need to acknowledge one underlying assumption we make for humans in our time that does not hold true for animals: the right to live forever.
We all know that our life is terminal but we have a very difficult relationship with death. While many of us may accept our own mortality, I find that most people are not willing to allow others to leave this life. It is this human moral that makes it possible that we give up our own mobility and freedom voluntarily to protect unknown potential victims.
Preserving an individual’s life is a basic instinct. Animals have come up with an endless catalogue of means to protect themselves from predation, harm and harsh environmental influences.
There are physical properties like protective armor and defensive weapons, poisons and means of quick escape.
Think of the ability to squirt a cloud of ink into the opponent’s face in squid and octopus, the protective spines on a sea urchin or the quick and strong flick of the tail with which a fish can dart to safety. Not to forget the many ways of camouflage and hiding used by almost all prey animals. Predators and bullies that are pushing their way toward better access to resources take the right to survival a step further.
On the other hand, the animal kingdom also has some interesting forms of predetermined death that have nothing to do with predation.
Every Alaskan is intimately familiar with the salmon life cycle in which the adults die after spawning. The giant Pacific octopus female also dies after she has laid a batch of eggs and cared for them for several months during which time she does not eat.
In many mammal species, older individuals that can no longer propagate or help the group through hunting prowess are driven out to fend for themselves alone.
For example, if you watch the sea lions in the harbor, you may often see individual older and skinnier males lying on the beach by themselves, while the rest of the animals seek protection in the group.
This seems cruel to the human ethics, but it serves the purpose that those who no longer contribute to the future of the population are also the easiest prey when a killer whale comes by. At least that is how this behavior is usually explained in biology books. Perhaps the older and wiser sealions are just annoyed by the constant squabble over the best sunning spot and want their peace and quiet — I could sympathize with that.
Life before death can be taken to mean that life has to be protected at all costs, or it can mean that life has to be lived to its fullest.
The first means that we cannot take a risk and have to protect life until the protective measures in themselves begin to pose an equally high risk.
If a small animal like a crab hides from its predators in order to avoid being seen and eaten, it can only do so until hunger presents an equally limiting threat to its life.
This may be a good simile to our present situation where we are isolating in order to avoid giving an invisible virus a chance at spreading. Would you get angry at that crab if it finally comes out of hiding because hunger drives it? Of course not.
The difference between the crab’s conundrum and our own is that the crab would not pose a risk to all others of its own species, while we potentially could. Living with an invisible threat puts us into a moral dilemma between satisfying our individual needs, which every person has to define for themselves and protecting the weak, who may be our closest friends and family.
It is difficult to live life at its fullest while avoiding social contacts, because we need others to grow and learn, to reflect and energize our thoughts. These are sure amazing times with no easy answers.