The Philosophy of a Pandemic

Photo: juan mendez / Pexels

Is reality real? Stick with me here because this is going somewhere.

Philosophers love to ask this question, and everyone else loves to laugh at them for it. Of course reality exists! What am I typing this on if not a real computer? What are you reading it on if not a real screen? What is in this cup next to me if not real tea? (Although it’s lemon tea rather than Yorkshire Blend, so a debate could be had on whether it really is real tea, in reality. No pun intended.)

But it’s not as silly a question as one might think.

Is corona a pandemic or a plandemic, for example? The answer is: Yes.

“How?!” I hear you splutter.

Because to an extent greater than most people imagine, we shape our own realities by what we choose to focus on and to prioritise in our thinking.

The facts, as best we know them, are simple and straightforward: a coronavirus (of which there are many) which causes an illness known as COVID-19 has been spreading around the world, and a number of people have died after contracting it. That is the underlying base reality.

Everything else: all the details that form your opinion on what the base reality means, are details that you yourself have chosen to focus on.

Perhaps you are in the pandemic camp, in which case you have chosen to focus on the deaths, and the shortage of PPE for medics, and the hope of a vaccine which may put a stop to the spread of the disease.

Or perhaps you opt for the plandemic camp, focusing instead on the economic fallout of the governments’ decisions to halt civic and commercial life in order to limit the spread of the disease.

Both of these ‘camps’ are perfectly legitimate ways of reading real world data, but focusing and prioritising on one or another aspect of the current situation leads to worldviews that are seemingly entirely at odds from one another.

So how to resolve this?

The answer is, in essence, we can’t. Humans are, by nature, directional. We are hard wired to look at the world, which is infinite in detail, and to cherry pick the details we want to give our time, energy, and focus to. It’s what makes us able to achieve tasks and accomplish great things.

Think of it this way: Zebras live in the grasslands of the savannah, eating all day. For most of the year food is plentiful, all they have to do is stand in the middle of a plain and munch. Zebras have their eyes on the sides of their heads giving them an almost 360 degree view because the only fly in their ointments are predators, which may come from anywhere at any time.

Lions, by contrast, are forward looking creatures. Their food is also plentiful – but only if they can catch it. They are therefore task-focused, and detail-driven. They can’t stand around all day, they need to go out and find their food, lock on to it, and bring it down.

Humans are like lions, our eyes are also in front. We are simply not able to take a 360 picture of all the details that make up our worlds and react accordingly, because, unlike the plains of Africa which consist of grass and lions and little else, our worlds are packed full of overwhelming detail. Instead, like the lion, we focus with laser-like accuracy on the few details that matter to us, that allow us to survive.

We can’t change that. But we can understand it and use it to our advantage.

We live in exceptionally uncertain times. Whether you are in the pandemic camp or the plandemic camp, the threats are real, they are immediate, and they are frightening.

But there are other details in the mix. There are family and friends. With commutes to work cancelled and much social activity shut down, there are longer hours in which to reconnect with the things that you take pleasure in, whether that’s the garden or a book or another person.

There is darkness and decay in the world, but there is also beauty, and joy, and love, and acknowledging these things isn’t childish or fanciful, and it doesn’t ignore the darkness and decay. It’s merely a matter of what one prioritises.

We live in a world rich in detail, more packed with things, ideas, objects upon which we can focus our attention than we can possibly imagine. Some of those details are frightening. Some are baffling. Some are sublimely beautiful.

You, and only you, are in charge of which details you pick to make up your world and your experience of it. Today, why not choose the ones that uplift you, that set you free?