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Is the coronavirus a chance – a challenge – to step back and re-think how we prioritise the myriad calls on our attention, our energy and our affections? Europa United welcomes new contributor Alexandru-Eduard Nica, who asks: might Covid-19 come with a new interpretation for “Heads or Tails”.

A microscopic organism has dared humanity, in its postmodern rush, to stop. And the world just took the challenge, like it was playing cap ou pas cap – a popular French daring game – with the virus. Let’s go back few moments. The coin was still in the air…

The psycho-social dilemmas of our times

Nowadays, we constantly complain about how busy we are, yet we live times when speed is the key-word. As humanity steps into an unquestionable new era, everything flows much faster than before – information, data, consumption, production, advertising and so on. The fast pace of postmodern, digital times is gradually changing the structure of our mind itself, like the invention of writing did, thousands of years ago. Or at least these are Bernard Stiegler’s theories, according to Raphael Foshay in his 2016 work. Subsequently, digitization and globalization are changing not only the way in which people retain and perceive information, but basically the whole world.

Social, political, economic, even personal experiences are being reasserted and reshaped. As a logical outcome, one may argue that our identities are developing differently, under the strong influence of consumerism and globalization. Sometimes, these factors are so powerful that they replace traditional, monolithic needs, like the need to belong to a certain large group – like national identities, for instance.

The digital world has assessed the global impact but is it also amplifying our stress?

More and more people become citizens of this global village. At the same time, with Internet and social media omnipresent, virtual world already became an alternative for reality. It tells people how to form their beliefs, buy products, use services and have their say on current affairs. Maybe American sociologist Ben Agger was right when, in 2004, he said that “people don’t think for themselves, they allow the culture to do the thinking for them”.

In this context, humanity creates new needs, new professions, new academic fields, all of which turn our names into customer numbers, employee numbers or student numbers. Among many positives, the main negative effect of a globalised digitalization is the erosion of our Self, as the outer space invades our inner space, becoming one single dimension. For many people, this bombardment is blurring the big picture, creating confusion, imbalance within their psyche and mistrust. Namely, the same speed brings more stress, sometimes more aggression. It generates a lack of perspectives, disappointment towards the world, less introspection and less satisfaction with oneself, as Bollas noted in 2018.

Rising social inequalities split society between the rich, the poor and a middle class which is constantly challenged to maintain its condition. These growing inequalities and the struggle for social status strengthen the loss of balance by throwing even more emotional hardships on people’s shoulders. Under these circumstances, there is no wonder why depression is the disease of the new, postmodern century…However, there is a compensation law, somewhere out there. People get chances, sometimes when they expect less.

An unexpected crisis which can solve our inner conflicts

As Covid-19 pandemic struck our society, it seems like someone pressed the Pause button. Announced as a catastrophe, it actually may be a good chance to turn ourselves towards each other. We are dared to overcome our postmodern general anxiety, to stop seeking refuge in the virtual world, to forget for a while about the battle for jobs, careers, and maybe we can finally learn how to enjoy life. Sometimes it’s about “to be”, not about “to have”. But how?

Let’s assume this would have happened anyway, one way or another, sooner or later. Historically speaking, our evolution is cyclical, like a tidal effect. Maybe too much speed was causing more damage, so the lesser evil of a new disease was required to wake us up. Maybe a coronavirus pandemic is not a crisis as such, but a chance to solve a pre-existent social impasse.

Christopher Bollas was talking about such a crisis, suggesting that, in order to manage it and be able to get over it, people should maintain Self-integrity by taking a certain distance from this bombarding modern cyclone.

Like an umpire in a tennis match, if you like the comparison.

In this way, individuals would eventually be able to make regular introspections, ask themselves more questions. Finally, they would distinguish their inner fears, flaws or issues which they currently project on the Outer world, on others.

In other words, staying home might be better. We might really need to stop the planet for a while, to put this chaotic rush to a halt, in order to rediscover ourselves, our true identity. We are, after all, social animals, like Aristotle argued in his Politics. Psychologically, the need to belong to a large group is a deep, innate need, an archaic remnant, to paraphrase Carl Jung, or the cradle of our collective unconscious.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us

Paradoxically, we might need to be deprived of our social needs for a while, in order to understand the value of social, inter-human relations and that first we have to be healthy in order to enjoy them. What’s happening these days concerns each and every one of us. We can use this context to fix ourselves on the inside, be our own therapists. We can take care of our loved ones, we can be better friends, better sons and daughters, better parents, better people. We can take care of others and put ourselves on the second place, for a while. This would be the real victory – to fight our own vanity, to be proper humans again, to be Names again, not just Numbers…But we have to be careful. Why?

Well, let’s face it: staying at home has a reverse of the medal as well, having in mind that rhetoric is crucial at the moment – now more than ever, “truths” are conveyed on a daily basis, at a fast pace. Regarding the coronavirus pandemic, there are “truths” that spread panic by projecting the latest conspiracy theories on it. Across the whole world, there is a sudden surge of overnight-experts in coronavirus and its political or economic repercussions. Time will prove who is right and who is wrong, but let us take things seriously, at least, without slipping in any extreme.

I just want to invite you to consider that these times won’t go unnoticed through our psychological fiber. Whether we will become more digital or we will remember how to spend quality time with our loved ones and how to play with our children, the choice is ours. Nonetheless, this crisis will leave marks in our very structure, in our inner layers, ultimately in our psyche. So let’s stay home and make sure these marks will be positive. Paradoxically, we can take advantage from social distancing and get closer to each other. It’s the irony that dares us.

Things will certainly change, even if it’s very difficult and even pointless to predict how exactly. There are a few questions that need to be raised, though. Can this be a new phase of humankind? Can life be determined in a different way, such as through online channels? Will notions like work, socialisation or family get dressed in a virtual coat, finally and definitively? Will this historical, psycho-social bubble make us better humans? The coronavirus will pass, like many other crises before. The coin will stop flipping, but what will be afterwards – Heads or Tails?

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Alexandru-Eduard Nica
Alexandru-Eduard Nica is originally from Romania and is currently studying for a MA in Political Psychology at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom. Alexandru's interests are politics, media, psychology and technology.

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