“As the pandemic winds down, we will need to take tally of more things than the aspects we usually hear mentioned. We have of course realised that the economy must be stood back up on its feet quickly, that work producing value must be given a kick-start everywhere. We know that our rivers, lakes and seas, all littered with waste, must be cleaned up. We must radically cut back on unconscionable air pollution levels. Our forests, fields, city parks, streets and even factories must be made as spanking clean as a well-washed wine glass. The list goes on; there is no end to parts of the world in bad need of renewal.”
As the pandemic winds down, we will need to take tally of more things than the aspects we usually hear mentioned. We have of course realised that the economy must be stood back up on its feet quickly, that work producing value must be given a kick-start everywhere. We know that our rivers, lakes and seas, all littered with waste, must be cleaned up. We must radically cut back on unconscionable air pollution levels. Our forests, fields, city parks, streets and even factories must be made as spanking clean as a well-washed wine glass. The list goes on; there is no end to parts of the world in bad need of renewal. Luckily, we have no shortage of intelligent commentary on these issues in the papers and various media outlets. All for the better, I say.
But all of this is not even close to good enough.
We need to dig deeper down, to zoom in on the interior spaces of man. How to rejuvenate the spirit and the soul after the pandemic? Spaces exterior and interior interact in life-sustaining and life-threatening ways: they may mutually empower and enrich or, conversely, erode and poison one another. You skip either on your to-do list, and you will end up with a lopsided construct, something rocking and swaying in the wind when it should stand planted firmly in the ground.
You can find one vantage point from where to begin to focus your mind on the deeper strata of being by asking the question: what does the Creator think about post-pandemic man? What are the foundations of the Christian modus operandi today, in our day and age? You can of course lean on Nature or Gaia, the Mother Earth, if a less complicated terrestrial divinity is your thing. But what is the message sent to us by these supreme powers, terrestrial or celestial, in the guise of cataclysms, floods, the Tower of Babel, locust invasions, the Spanish flu, tsunamis, and the coronavirus?
It is indeed possible that what the immune system of Nature has unleashed upon us in the form of COVID-19 and the climate crisis is actually a process of healing. According to the theory advocated by Jim Lovelock, the Earth constitutes a self-regulating complex; Gaia is a living organism whose nervous system comprises us, humanity. The entire universe is heading toward the Earth’s becoming a conscious being. The next evolutionary leap is for Gaia to move beyond mere consciousness to become a self-conscious Mother Earth. The renowned Jesuit philosopher and naturalist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin argues along the same lines when he talks about the evolution of the Earth. It has a sphere of reason he calls noosphere: a living, feeling caul of plasma that fuses the energies of human consciousnesses.
A more surrealistic conjecture quoted apocryphally by Jorge Luis Borges sends one’s head spinning: “This felicitous supposition declared that there is only one Individual, and that this indivisible Individual is every one of the separate beings in the universe, and that those beings are the instruments and masks of divinity itself.” [Translated from the Spanish by James E. Irby.] Frankly, it seems time we learned how to think in head-spinning or surrealistic ways. Natural scientists and space researchers have already started doing just that.
As Francis Crick, the founder of molecular biology, writes in his book Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature, the infinity of the universe is so staggering that it is strange, indeed unfathomable, why poets and writers have not done their utmost to make it part of the very foundation of humanist culture.
This failure is more than oversight: it is an offense. At least the Psalmist tried to avoid this pitfall when he sang, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”
The poets and writers in our culture today are guilty of this lapse, because it should be their job to create new words and concepts for us to at least be able to talk about knowledge that has kept scientists occupied for quite a while now. For what is at stake here is hardly the kind of tangible information you can grab and run away with. We need our new terms and neologisms. We need our new Kazinczys!1
Retracing our steps to the theme of spiritual renewal in the wake of the pandemic, it is obvious that the first thing man would be well-advised to give up is his unbridled complacency, pride and arrogance. He has snugly believed, because he has been made to believe, that he is the Lord of Creation, when in reality he is but a tiny, reckless creature, a bustling hive-dweller dreaming big – as big as to take it upon himself to alter the course of rivers. His self-aggrandising presumption is so boundless that he will appear plain ridiculous when placed in the context of the chronology of a planet that was created four and half billion years ago, in an upheaval of matter and energy. The eon of life on Earth began three and a half billion years ago with the emergence of the first bacteria, and forges on as we speak. If those four and a half billion years equalled one week, man as we know him today came on the scene sometime during the last ten seconds of that week. Half a second ago Odysseus was still sailing the seas nearby. The age of awakening human consciousness spans all of ten seconds from the first cave drawings through Byzantium to COVID-19. Somewhere in the distance of those ten brief seconds, we glimpse ourselves, floating around like tiny algae, emitting the stench of our pride. Let us learn a modicum of humility, for Christ’s sake!
The second sin to overcome lies in our burgeoning iniquity. Our quintessential habit of speech is vitriolic, vicious as an electric shock, sometimes handy as a source of humour. It bursts with a terrible vitality, proliferating and foisting its parasitic self on everything around it. Just think about the things you say to others, how you torment them with words – often, I know, without realising what you are doing. If you read any of the papers daily, you have no doubt found plenty of evidence of the tendency to spice up a publication with sophisticated wickedness, even if the nasty, callous humour of some journalists sometimes makes you laugh. Yet it would be wiser to make one’s point relying on rigorous reasoning and unadulterated facts, as is the wont of upright politicians with a pure frame of mind.
Our spirit is being littered by rude, filthy words, speeches of hatred, and mud-slinging, heaped upon us by certain public figures, men of letters and intellectuals. These poison the soul, entertaining as they may be on occasion. There are good reasons to suspect that these litterers are considered a role model by the vulgar influencers on Facebook, who rival them in the ferocity with which they flood us with their dirty words and hate-mongering. Of course, seething rage and anger may be justified sentiments, but how you give vent to such feelings is a matter of civilised manners, taste, discrimination and self-restraint.
I was about to mention our hardened egotism as the third habit to be shrugged off, but the virus has brought rapid and remarkable change in this area, with a surprising number of people and humanitarian societies making or collecting donations or otherwise volunteering help. It is as if the immune system of the biosphere had dissolved some of our aloof selfishness. If it has, and the gesture of turning to the next man in need survives the pandemic, this will point the way for us to reach back to that most vital interior space, that of human relations.
And what could be more important than that? It would serve us well to place the esteem, standards and purity of our relationships high on the apex of our horizon of values. For one thing, we should pay more attention to the older generations, who remained steadfast in taking fidelity, lifelong relationships, and the love of one’s offspring to the grave more seriously than we do these days.
The fourth trait we would benefit from giving up is our greed of consumption. We must have that expensive car, those trips to exotic islands, a fat deposit in the bank. This is the conceited ten-second man-insect’s idea of growth and enrichment. For him, the luxury consumption of the Euro-Atlantic is the model to emulate. Some thinkers suggest that this model is erroneous and already in the process of being eroded, along with the faith in globalism, the current system of global capitalism. This system put up a disappointingly poor performance in the humanitarian fight against COVID-19. Luxury consumers have grown dull in their ability to adapt to a changing world; they are getting soft. Perhaps this signals the nearing end of the good life as the model to follow.
Here at home, society is founded on the principle of what is called work that creates value. It is what ultimately determines our material well-being or penury. As the case may be – each to his own. So far so good, except that there is something questionable here. It is that even the most hard-working, most conscientious individual may find himself forced into a harmful lifestyle, wasting away his health, sometimes to the point of downright self-destruction. Another extreme example is that of the workaholic, who neglects everything else in life, including family, love and the bringing up of his children. The only thing that comes to matter to him is his work, hovering in his myopic vision as inexorably as the next hit in front of the eyes of the drug addict. It would stand to reason to lavish more indulgent care on the post-pandemic man willing and able to generate value; to preserve his mental prowess and nurture his good spirit. Happily, some forward-thinking employers have in fact begun to embrace this goal.
Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel
1 Ferenc Kazinczy (1759–1831): writer and poet, leading figure of the movement for the regeneration of the Hungarian language and literature at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.