Whenever we live through unusual or chaotic circumstances, we go through a series of mental stages in response. The strange condition that has been thrust upon us shakes our foundation and relationship to the community. There is a break in time; something good has been disrupted and possibly deformed. What’s worse, there appears to be no exit out of the absurd condition in which we find ourselves.
When the war in Bosnia started, I first experienced shock. Like all of my family and friends, I found myself asking: Is this really happening? The first month, in particular, we lived through the phase of “getting used to the war.” That was followed by a hope that it would end soon. But then, something else set in: apathy. Day in and day out, life during the war became very boring. To counter the boredom, I watched movies (when the power was on), read Agatha Christie’s and Pearl Buck’s works (and tried to read Dostoyevsky), learned to knit, practiced English, and played gin rummy.
In the midst of all that, apathy was always floating on the surface. You couldn’t help it. While “time” was progressing everywhere else in the world, we were stuck in a time of war, which did not allow for any future planning. Naturally, as a child of 13, I comforted myself with hopeful thoughts. As a child, you have a different perspective on the future because you don’t have enough experience.
Although we are not confronted by the same kind of war I lived through in Bosnia, the condition we find ourselves in now in America is similarly unusual and time-shattering. Whether you think COVID was partially or fully manufactured, it represents a shock and creates ongoing chaos. The chaos we’re dealing with is not the primordial kind out of which creation emerges. This is man-made chaos that thrives on an indefinite regression and repetition of the event itself.
In his 1946 book, The Doctor and the Soul, Viktor Frankl observes:
[M]an cannot really exist without a fixed point in the future. Under normal conditions his entire present is shaped around that future point . . . Lacking that, inward time, lived time forfeits its entire structure. When he loses ‘his future’ a person must drift through a presentist, vegetative existence . . .
Is COVID really over? What is COVID anyway? It’s not just a virus, but a mental condition defined only by so-called authority and obedience to it. Instead of taking responsibility, man lets himself be submerged into the masses, but the price for doing this is very high. It results in the loss of sovereign self. “By escape into the mass, man loses his most intrinsic quality: responsibility,” Frankl writes. “To escape into the mass is to disburden oneself of an individual responsibility . . . This tendency to flee from responsibility is the motif of all collectivism.”
Responsibility can take many forms. Not all of us are in actual positions of political or social power where we can actively work to dismantle the ideological machine. But human life is singular and unique, and without a doubt, every voice counts. Responsibility is connected to free will, which is always present, including in totalitarian circumstances. This also means that, when faced with such events, a human being has to have enough reflection and examination in order to respond in an intelligent and reasonable way. Being a “neurotic fatalist,” to use Frankl’s words, is not helpful and leads to one dead end after another.
The question for our time is “what does it mean to be a human being?” Our humanity has been continuously denied, be it through technology’s presentism and push for the supremacy of artificial intelligence, or through the bio-political complex of the last two years or so. In many ways, trying to comprehend what it means to be human is a perennial question that has taken many forms throughout history. But it’s an essential question because it awakens the senses and the mind, not only to self-reflection, but also to the question of how we relate to others.
We are not a disembodied tangle of parts, although the diseased society of today would like us to accept this as a fact. Some do accept it: incessant masking, endless booster shots, transgender ideology, technological and ideological takeover of biology (or bios—life), and the killing of joy, pleasure, and fun. All point to a sad reality that many are living out of the body and out of the mind. This fragmentation of a human being makes us even more dispersed in a world that’s already feeling homeless.
We cannot let the ideology win. We still have free will and responsibility, and this includes even the simplest of daily tasks that make our lives better, despite and in spite of the authoritarian influence that seems to be creeping everywhere. Small acts of responsibility and love can take on a larger form. Most of all, responsibility humanizes us even when ideology attempts to dehumanize and enslave.