Throwing Out Nature With A Pitchfork: What COVID-19 Discloses

The present outbreak shocks us. Why? Our experts claim that it cannot properly be called a “plague.” We cushy moderns have been jolted from the slumber of our artificial, globalized mode of existence. Having been reared as citizens of the technological world, we expected, nay, demanded that the world, that necessity itself, bow before our will. 

But our will lacks force. Although we have willed a mere life of comfort and tranquility, we have not had the stomach to guard our last man existence. For to guard something is to recognize the possibility of losing what one has; we cannot endure this prospect. “Let us remake the world in the image of our cowardly desires,” we decided. If all goes well, we thought, we will never even have to think anything genuinely horrifying. “Thou shalt not fear” is the only categorical imperative to which we cling (shame, of course, is a species of fear). We want nothing more than to pass through existence without confronting the awareness of that cruel necessity, the awareness that ever lurks beneath the surface of the waves of our thoughts: you will die.

This outbreak discloses the impotence of our human, all too human will. It discloses that our impositions on nature have never been, and can never be, permanent. It discloses that nature lacks the intelligibility we wished to ascribe to it.

For all our mockery of teleology, we have ourselves unwittingly and unconsciously imposed a teleology on nature. Hence, we exclaim, “This should not have happened.” It is a stern, terror-inducing reminder that the world is not our oyster. 

Confronted with this fact, whether we want to face it or not, we are currently presented with a choice. Do we take flight from the truth nature has so cruelly revealed? Or do we dare to look at the horror at the heart of existence, a horror of which we are always dimly aware but which elusive nature has now permitted us to glimpse? How we choose indicates our own nature; it brings to light that piece of nature we are. When we are afforded the opportunity to contemplate nature herself do we flee from an enemy whom we can never defeat? Or do we recognize her as kin?

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