Coping Through Covid With Camus
This whole situation is pretty much the most batshit crazy thing any of us have lived through.
It’s confusing, it’s tiring, it’s arduous.
Luckily there’s a philosopher who is just the person to read when things are confusing, tiring, arduous and generally batshit crazy, and that is Albert Camus.
Writing through of time of perhaps comparable bizarreness (the second world war, the rise of communism), Camus had one or two things to say about how to deal with a world that seems to have taken itself off the deep end.
Let’s delve into his work to find some such lessons that may help us with our current predicament.
Embrace the absurdity
“This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said”
Probably the most fundamental aspect of Camus’ entire philosophy is his suggestion to recognise and embrace the fact that the world is just absurd.
This situation is absurd. Being locked up in our houses, unable to see friends and family, not able to hug or kiss, that is absurd in the truest sense of the term — it’s ridiculous, and in a normal scenario, entirely unreasonable.
But that is the situation. And we only have two options: resist it, or embrace it.
Some are very much resisting — the anti-lockdowners, the anti-vaxxers — they view the situation as one that can’t be accepted.
For the rest of us, we’re on a scale of embracing it.
And that is what Camus would suggest we do.
For him, it is the resisting this fact that causes the most suffering — Sisyphus not accepting his fate, but believing he can prevent the boulder from rolling down the other side of the hill, pushing with all his might to prevent it doing so.
And in the process, breaking his bones, and causing himself untold pain.
That’s the wrong approach.
Instead, see the world as it is, see the current situation as it is, and accept it. And move on.
Things are fucked. Alright, what shall we do now then?
Awareness of death
“He realized now that to be afraid of this death he was staring at with animal terror meant to be afraid of life. Fear of dying justified a limitless attachment to what is alive in man. And all those who had not made the gestures necessary to live their lives, all those who feared and exalted impotence — they were afraid of death because of the sanction it gave to a life in which they had not been involved. They had not lived enough, never having lived at all.”
Most of our life is spent actively NOT thinking about death.
We are cursed, as the stupid thinking ape that we are, to be aware of our impending demise. Perhaps the only animal that is. And yet, we focus much of our attention on ignoring, if not denying this fact.
The Stoics took a different approach, as did Camus. They recognised the benefits of remaining aware of death.
Memento mori — remember you must die. Because only then will you truly be able to live.
So though it’s uncomfortable and distressing, we should in some ways try to be grateful for the opportunity to meditate on death that this pandemic has brought about.
It is unavoidable in a way that it usually isn’t. It is all around us. And that’s awful, it’s fucking horrible man.
And it’s beautiful. Because it gives us a reason to live. It puts a time limit on things, it brings into focus that which we must do NOW, because we ain’t gonna be here forever.
And as Camus said, fearing death is no use either. It paralyses us, it prevents us from acting — it prevents us from truly living.
So we must do the only alternative. Live, and be aware of death.
Hardship uncovers strength in others
“To simply say what we learn in the midst of plagues : there are more things to admire in men than to despise”
Remember early on when all those people were helping their neighbours, or raising money for the NHS? Sure it’s become harder to focus on those things as it’s progressed, and sure, there have been some colossal examples of human selfishness and greed too.
The people who refuse to simply put a bit of cloth over their face to protect their fellow man, the malicious government deals that have resulted in little and cost a lot.
But overall, this pandemic has shown us exactly what Camus extolled from his fictional plague — that generally, people are good.
And after the shitshow of the last half-decade, that’s a warming feeling to have.
It gives me hope, and it should give you hope too.
There are good people out there, there always were and there always will be.
Hardship uncovers strength in yourself
“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Fuck it’s tough. I’m not denying that. Maybe you’ve lost your job, maybe you’ve lost family.
This is inarguably the worst thing most of us have ever dealt with.
And yet… there is something still there, isn’t there. I know you can feel it.
A little flame, a power, a fortitude that you didn’t realise you had. The ability to sit with your thoughts perhaps, the ability to go with less, the ability to be there for others.
You aren’t a better person than you were before this. You’re not worse. You’re about the same. Which is great. You can go through all this, and still stand.
You are still here.
Fucking celebrate that, mate!
You are still here.
Jackson Rawlings writes about philosophy, self-improvement, and politics. Yes, he’s fun at parties.