Dr Javid Ahmad Mallah
The horror of Covid-19 has made it clear that the post-modern world makes for a very unsatisfactory human condition. This critical situation reminds me of Karl Jaspers’s idea of the “boundary situation”. A boundary situation undermines a human being’s sense of security and threatens his entire being. One can imagine a boundary situation as when a person’s life is shattered by extreme circumstances that seem impossible to overcome. A situation becomes a boundary situation “when it succeeds in awakening the individual self to its existential content.”
As we observe today the anxiety and dread spreading in the world, we observe also the psychological instability and existential anxiety in people that sharpens their consciousness of death. The idea of death is structurally associated with an individual’s acute existential awareness and its manifold sufferings. The term “boundary situation” is used as a metaphor that signifies a critical threshold. Do the general features of the boundary situation apply to the horror of Covid-19? As each situation is unique, the concept cannot be applied to all cases universally, but any situation that affects deeply the very structure of the individual being is a boundary situation. In this sense, Covid-19 has awakened mankind to its true ontological picture, i.e., “individual finitude”.
At the same time, it highlights the significance of individual attitude towards a boundary situation. I think a positive attitude is required to face the horror of Covid-19. Taking the sufferings of this pandemic positively and assigning meaning to them can help people confront it with courage and dignity. A positive attitude gives us hope and makes us feel at ease.
There is no permanent state of human life. An individual’s life is constantly moving between pain and pleasure. The hard realities of life should be admitted with the hope that they are not going to stay forever. As stated in the Quran: “Surely with every hardship there is ease”. This approach neither changes the nature of the suffering nor demystifies it; rather, it prepares the human to accept it and confront it with courage.
One can recall historical events like world wars, natural calamities, epidemics that have wrought untold misery and suffering. Human suffering will exist as long as humans exist. Recognising this, one should take the adversities and difficulties as part of human life. At the same time, it is equally important to recognise that humans alone have the capability to deliver themselves from suffering and to make sense of it. Therefore, we must see the present situation as a new phase of human suffering. The best way of dealing with it is admitting it and confronting it, instead of evading it.
There are many ways to find or assign meaning to our present circumstances. Each human can see this pandemic from a unique point of view. Some may see it as a response from nature/ planet earth to the damage that we, human beings, have inflicted on it. I heard someone say, “What if this coronavirus is nature’s way of eliminating the human virus?” It reminds us to correct our wrongs and act responsibly for the benefit of the whole earth. Otherwise, nature may discard human species as it discarded dinosaurs. Seeing Covid-19 in terms of such a process of healing/ correction can ease our fears as well as our suffering. It may inculcate in us a sense that stops us from being cruel, selfish, and irresponsible towards nature.
Any attempt to examine the consequence of one’s actions is the beginning of change. The present circumstances offer the opportunity to each individual to revisit his/her stock of merit and demerit (karmas) and try to rectify them. Human actions from a moral and religious point of view are supposed to minimise pain, maximise general happiness, promote justice. But on the contrary, the systems of capitalism and fascism have overturned the moral and social order. Do we ever bother to examine our actions and stand accountable?
Now that people throughout the world are experiencing lockdown and restrictions, maybe they will think of the conditions in Kashmir, Syria, and Palestine. Maybe they will do something to mitigate the sufferings, exploitation, and killings of innocent people.
The condition of the world was getting worse by the day. But now the dread, forlornness, and chaos have made people feel that no power or wealth is that valuable, or a means to release oneself from the clutches of agony and suffering. Thus, in the present boundary situation, people seem to be not craving for material things nor thinking of worldly pursuits. Instead, people are sincerely approaching god for relief and forgiveness. Approaching the present situation from the religious standpoint also makes it tolerable.
The interesting aspect of the present boundary situation is that it can cause a tremendous change in human behaviour. At least one must assume that the present situation wants us to correct ourselves, our relationship with nature, with fellow beings, and with god. The circumstances are hard but they are opportunity to add a deeper meaning to our lives.
The writer teaches philosophy at GDC Kulgam