17 March 2020: Island, Insular, Isolation
While the world is really becoming connected by communication, information, transport networks, still it is a vast place originally formed as an archipelago.
The COVID-19 situation exposes this insularity, whether physical or human-made. We now talk of isolating communities, cities, and countries. I am viewing the unfolding situation from a window, not the square hole in my room, but through the screen of my computer connected to the Internet.
You might be in your own room, your workplace, or walking to buy bread and had a glimpse at your smartphone screen for a status update.
You might be in a ship, barred from docking or going out from your cabin, or in a hotel room waiting for a sharp surge of mercury in a thermometer.
You might be in a hospital bed right now, hooked in a machine, hoping for your next breath, holding on.
You might be a child, wishing that there are more classes as you have done colouring all the cartoon figures in your book.
You might be that CEO, watching reds and reds and reds on a large black screen as the plummeting dive of the value of money overshoots your blood pressure.
You might be the governor, waiting for the report from your sources and staff, then a slight itch in your throat and warming cheeks and palms have given you the chills and panic before your upcoming press briefing.
You might be the vendor, thinking not of this pandemic, but how you are gonna feed yourself and your three children, now that no one wants to buy your wares or boiled peanuts, thinking that the doom is not because of the virus but because you were born with nothing.
Then there’s that idea of insularity, of big cities shutting down and complex social mechanism going kaput. Big cities like Melbourne, or New York or Amsterdam will lose its charm as tourists and residents avoid treading the usual leisurely path. Big cities as inland islands with millions of people will have to cope with this global disaster, becoming a widow for a weekend as unattended funerals replace weddings banquets. Big cities become more alienating as people avoid each other, coughing and sneezing breeds suspicion and fear, masked faces hide warm smiles and big laughter. This contagion paves way for dystopia.
Still, islands and life survive in their own hostile habitation, provided that there are diverse species and organisms that may evolve through time and survivorship. Scarce resources and nourishment, while of course will be fought after, must be distributed in the right, just, and wise manner. To do this with humans, will be a challenge though, given that we have been outwitting each other since the invention of war games and capital.
At this point of isolation, when the vast sea of humanity turns into an ocean with this communicable disease and as individuals, communities, regions, countries become this frenzied archipelago, the best form of insularity is not to think in terms of survival of the fittest, as what Charles Darwin had speculated upon his visit to the Galapagos decades ago. It should be the survival of common sense, of the most distressed community, of us being a group or cluster of islands that are both disconnected and united by this sort of extraordinary flu season this Century.