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After the Pandemic: The Risk of Tyranny

Anti-racism poster

Poster created by Thomas Shim and Evan Choi of Pride Train, and posted at the Canal Street Station, 6 Line, Chinatown, New York City. Photo by Jess Hawsor; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Excerpts from Magda Jitareanu’s interview of Andrew Solomon for Ziare (in Romanian).

Andrew Solomon, ever since the world entered in this pandemic scenario, I keep remembering what you told me in a previous interview, that travel means opening out and it’s the perfect opposite to depression. However, these days the borders are closing all over the world and people can no longer leave, they can no longer travel. What does this closure look like to you?

Loneliness is poisonous not only for the individual but also for the society. This has closed us off to so much of our natural experience of one another. Put flies in isolation (even flies!) and they become aggressive when reunited with other flies. Same with mice. And same, alas, with people. Our lack of contact with one another, the name-calling (most revoltingly from Donald Trump), the attempt to pin blame for our own troubles on others: all of it will be catastrophic. As soon as we are able to see one another clearly again, we will have to start striving to create intimacy, not only with beloved friends and families, but also with strangers far away.

There are already talks about how the world will change when this story is over. On the other hand, people always promise to themselves and to each other, when something bad happens, that they will change if they get over it. How do you think the world will change? Is there something we already know it will look differently? Also, is it OK to try to see in every bad experience a potential for real change?

This crisis will change our world not because people emerge from it with a more positive vision for the society, but simply because it has happened and we all know it could happen again in the future. The next pandemic could have a mortality rate of 50 percent. We could all die this way. Our economy could be forced to close down for five years. Everything we thought was rock solid is subject to being altered. We will come out of this more vulnerable and more frightened, just as we came out of 9/11 more vulnerable and frightened. Unfortunately, the answer to feeling vulnerable and frightened is too often to elect despots.

Selfishness and self-preservation versus empathy and solidarity — which one is prevalent in our society today?

They are both present. This is a time to withdraw and be intimate only with the people closest to you, but with this gift of time comes time enough to contact other people, to wish for better things for them, to check in on people who are old or alone. Crisis brings out simultaneously the very best and the very worst in us, and one does not cancel out the other. This is a time of both grief and nobility.

We all saw those short films on the Internet, with Italians singing in their balconies. What is the meaning of these gestures?

Resilience. That difficult circumstances don’t mean an end to joy. That even in our deprived lives, there is much to celebrate. That we are alive.

(To read the full interview in Romanian, please visit Ziare.)