Among the dis-ease of a social-political era defined by the re-definition of truth emerges a new disease... literally. In the past few weeks, COVID-19 has flooded our worlds swiftly and completely. As we settle into this new chaotic normal full of boredom, debris makes its way into our homes: fear, confusion, and a new class of universal memes. Tempting as it is to see this worldwide humor as a product of technological advancements, I’m inclined to believe otherwise. I like to imagine Sir Issac Newton, while in quarantine from the bubonic plague in 1665, writing a letter to a friend:
Safety tucked away from this Black Death that infects the earth, I find my mind drifting. When Trinity College closed its doors I joked that I would spend my time looking at bits of light and staring at apples for long lengths of time— well, my friend, the fruits (I jest) of my boredom have been truly luscious.
Soon after writing these words he shreds the page by hand, unsure of where their rocky friendship stands, his quarantine jokes lost to history. Although Newton probably never wrote such a letter, I find it hard to believe comparable documents don’t exist. Anyone with proof of seventeenth century plague humor please contact me, as solidarity through time will provide me with the levity I’m craving.
Jokes aside, our global connection throughout this period of isolation has emphasized a peculiar dichotomy within our society. On one hand, distrust and confusion are paramount, outrage and misinformation around every corner. Even good journalism holds significantly less water because truth has been cheapened by fear rhetoric. Simultaneously, society is rapidly moving towards a place where everyone is loved and accepted for who they are as support flourishes online and our lexicons expand to include new pronouns.
In this polarizing time, hate has become both more and less socially acceptable to express, exposing a contradictory zeitgeist: distrust and empathy, fear and a movement towards the unconditional acceptance of others. How can we come to understand that these two truths cohabit the same singular society? However we may yearn for two worlds that run independently which we can choose between, it is only a hindrance to travel down that path.
As we reach out to socialize in our isolation, vibe check in violence and in kindness, and search a screen for human connection, COVID-19 might remind us of the many contradictions that form our diverse society. I myself will be thinking of Newton, who’s greatest breakthroughs in understanding occurred during quarantine. Perhaps we can use this isolation to form a greater understanding of these cohabiting sides of society; something we must collectively undertake before true progress can be achieved.