Humans are a peculiar lot, and with our endowment with the capacity to think, we are constantly at odds with ourselves. The thought that we can be supremely intelligent and at the core of our existence fall back to a desire to let our most primitive impulses control us is baffling.
Presently, we are faced with the coronavirus pandemic and in as much as we are using memes as a coping tool, I can’t help but go back to the idea of how divided we are in addressing it. I might overstate things a little bit but thinking of humans and our ability to develop stories, I am constantly at odds as to how we fail at finding stories that strengthen compassion and trust, and that are able to take us off most of our impulses during times of crises.
Monday, March 16 was my birthday and after a month of making plans with my girlfriend. we couldn’t meet. She was at work, in what was the last day until the cloud passes. I was holed up in my house, able to work, but self-distancing. The coronavirus has provided the perfect Petri dish to how we, social animals can be united under a strong desire to be apart or distant—our lives depend on it. This is the question of our time; ideally, during times like this, humans have been conditioned to care while together-closer—but we’re being asked to be apart. This form of love is strange to all of us.
We’re only as strong as our weakest link and currently, social weakness and that from a socio-cultural perspective are what the virus targets.
I’ve struggled with the idea, that even after what happened in Italy, when people failed to heed the government’s directive to avoid crowding the streets, the confirmed cases multiplied exponentially. Locally if it weren’t for the indefinite closure of clubs, Kenyans would have continued with their nonchalance. I hadn’t realized that I was committing the crime of rationality and now I realize that rational thinking isn’t a feature of crowds. Also, this behavior and analysis are mostly directed to the middle class, that one single group that believes the world is meant for them. The one single group that mostly has the capacity to stay at home but ignores it.
I didn’t state this early enough, this post is mainly a rant and singularity of purpose wasn’t a motivation.
I have also noted the constant guilting of people who would otherwise stay at home. Let me just put it out here that this is the overarching ability of humans to collectively channel meanness. But is the thought of being labeled a coward the only reason to not stick to guidelines? No. I’ll mostly major in our individual roles during this crisis. To delve into the incompetence of the government of Uhuru Kenyatta is such a strain on my peace of mind and as David Ndii posits, he is a prisoner of his privileged upbringing.
I mostly work from home and self-distancing might not be a challenge to me. It’s even easy for me to just paint it with a single brush and ask people to stay home. While talking to a relation in Kisumu, he lamented how the informal sector will be hit so hard. The vast majority of Kenyans live hand-to-mouth. The possibility of them staying home spells doom on so many fronts for them. I recognize this, and for this alone, I’m empathetic enough with those who have to risk it all in order to survive today. As a country, we are in a complicated mess.
When I set out to write this article, the trigger was on how it affects our socialization, I hadn’t thought of why a majority of us were struggling with the guidelines. It hadn’t occurred to me that this is a case of us having to sacrifice our comfort and the fact that as a country, this pandemic is yet to turn tragic. For some, this is reason enough to downplay the threat.
One faction, justifiably, that I have been so hard on are the religious entities. I am still convinced that religion overstates its significance in the modern world and sooner than later, the political power it enjoys must be curtailed but that’s a discussion for another day. Today, I’m going to cut them some slack and still remind them of the leadership they are supposed to offer. As of writing this, religious activities have been suspended which is a good move, but let us just archive these thoughts here for posterity.
The sensible thing to be done was to close all the religious centres. This is easier said than done bearing in the psychological tool of religion and the political goodwill it enjoys. It is also easy to argue that the decision to not congregate is personal and should be left to the religious. This is a flawed line of thought. First, the pandemic is a threat to public health and anything that might exacerbate it should be controlled. The other reason is that at its core, a government is a creation of the people and not a tool for religion, it’s not the government’s responsibility to let religious desires overshadow the public good.
But I understand why the religious were so adamant not to stay away from their churches, mosques, temples, etc. At the core of every religious belief is the desire to act as a collective. When one needs financial aid, congregants, pray together and make contributions. Whenever one is sick, prayers are done at a collective point. At almost every point, religion (not as a political tool) has always been grounded on joining hands. Coronavirus brings chaos into that dynamic. If we join hands (in the literal sense) we are at risk of more infections. Everything that has to do with being in the literal collective compounds the crisis even further. Social distancing might not be the norm for Christians and other groups but our lives depend on it. Pandemics such as the one we’re in ask for a deviation from the norm. As a humanist, staying away from churches is the only logical thing to do and it is at this point that the religious must realize that humanism and science are not in competition with them.