Tuesday, March 31, 2020

On Pandemics and Reacting to Them

The Mad Stoic has been sleeping for a while. Let me check the news here…

Oh. Pandemic. Huh. Perfect.

OK, so the world is in a handbasket going to hell at the moment, so now seems a good time to come back to the blog. It’s only been… well, some time. I’ll not figure it out. And what a hell of a journey I’ve been on myself. But more on that some other time. Why don’t we look at how the world is and what we can do about it.

Current State of the World

It seems like half the world is panicking and the other half is acting like this is a hoax or overblown. This puts a Stoic in an interesting position. Obviously, the half that’s panicking is, to the Stoic, not the road to go down. While Stoicism is mainstream enough for us to not need an explanation why, I will do it, anyway.

Stoicism teaches that emotions should be governed by reason and that negative emotions—such as panic—should be banished or at the very least corralled. Another way of putting is to say that it’s negative emotions such as panic are fine so long as you a) don’t act on it and, b) you remind yourself panic won’t help.

But does that mean that Stoic sides with those who say all of this is overblown? The lack of toilet paper and other various sundries in the world show that people are a little too invested in this. Why don’t they all calm down and let this blow over? Besides, the flu has killed more people! And this an election year, and something always happens! And…

The Stoic, as near as I can tell, is not one of these people either. Many of the ancient Stoics lived through some horrible times, Marcus Aurelius having dealt with a plague himself. None of them denied anything happening or claimed that proper measures were overblown. Sadly, Stoic epistemology isn’t my wheelhouse. I’ll leave it at they could probably see the horrible events happening around them and make a good guess that it wasn’t fake. We of the modern world will have to take the word of various governments and institutions, weigh what we both know and believe about them, and go from there. At any rate, the Stoic would ask the important question: which is more likely, that there’s a conspiracy going on or that these people are paranoid?

So, while a Stoic wouldn’t panic, they wouldn’t go down the road of acting like this is all horse hockey. They’d be—shocker—level-headed about it. They wouldn’t buy toilet paper like it was some all-in-one survival tool, but they’d also wash their hands and not host giant parties.

Pandemics and Stoics

As usual, for pretty much anything, the Stoic would have you ask: is this in your control?

This is important, because it guides how you act through anything, not just pandemics. Now, unless you’re a god, you have no real power over the fact that this is happening. You can’t wave a wand and make this go away. But, the Stoics would remind you, this doesn’t make you powerless. To start, you can focus on you. How can you keep healthy? Not only in keeping the current virus at bay, but any illness. By keeping healthy, you free the time of the medical professionals who are, last I checked, damned overwhelmed right now.

Stoics also acted towards the public good, and perhaps this is the first time in history that public good was done by not being in public.

I Got Sick, Now What?

So you got the coronavirus. It happens even to the best of us. And with a mortality rate of a little over 4% worldwide, you stand a somewhat good chance of living, though maybe not unharmed.

But now is a good time to contemplate death.

See, the Stoics were a little obsessive about death. But this is for good reason: conquer your fear of death, and what the hell else will scare you? Keep in mind, this doesn’t make things less unpleasant. Not fearing death doesn’t mean you enjoy being stuck by needles. Or perhaps you do, because the feel of the needle assures you you’re alive, like some strange little emo.

Perhaps you might think now is a good time to not ponder about death. Kind of have a lot on your plate, you know? And I understand. Shortness of breath and fever aren’t conducive to heavy thinking. Let’s be real: if you’re sick, unless the threat of dying in that moment is very real, just focus on getting better. Which, may I remind you, isn’t up to you. This is good. Means you can relax.

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