Distant proximity

By Thursday April 9th, 2020April 11th, 2020Food for thought

We smile at each other from a distance. Looking at one another while our bodies have to avoid each other at a distance.When did I last shake hands with someone? I try to remember, but I can’t.
On these days of new and still unfamiliar distance, most people also avoid eye contact. They move in strange serpentines so as not to offend other passers-by. To the lowered glances, ears are often closed as well. The spacial separation is amplified by an acoustic one. Headphones emphasize the hermetic inner space for many. A casual conversation could be infectious. Our life in the new zones of deliberately protected sterility. Our life in the séparée of an increasingly rigorously partitioned and publicly defended individual sphere. A life as if behind a protective screen. It is easy to imagine the protective clothing of medical emergency workers.

A blossom that folds and closes in a paradoxical impulse back to the bud. Maybe it got too much sun.

If humanity were a child, one might think, it would push back into the womb these days.
Whole societies are in shut down and locked in. If the sky is closing, one feels the abyss of comatose standstill and could easily confuse the momentary calm with an eternal one.

“Bunker mood”, observes media theorist Peter Weibel in the present day socium. A contagious phenomenon. Every one for himself among the many. These days, the term hermit has taken on a new meaning. Welcome to the new distance society …

Maybe we have been sitting too close to each other for far too long, and this is what we have now: a virus that forces us to retreat.

Assuming that humanity has actually crawled back into the womb these days. Sure, we know, a state like that won’t last. The child must be born, even if it is called humanity. A lot of things went wrong in his previous life. Or maybe things just got terribly complicated. The economy with its swaps and flops, its derivatives and bailouts that nobody understands anymore. From consumerism and capitalism to the climate crisis, from health care to redistribution – many people have ideas, nobody knows what works anymore. The system has decoupled itself from the people. This frustrates politicians who are supposed to make sustainable and systemically relevant decisions. And it depresses the technocrats who want to optimise systematically. Many people think that little of it succeeds. Capitalism continues to bloat. The world is getting hot flashes. Fire is rolling like a fever in some areas. In others, water eats the coasts. We mourned it, yet we kept taking off and flying. But now finally the planes stay on the ground. For this a virus has landed. It took this arrival in horror to make us pause.

The era of air travel and mass mobility will perhaps be remembered as the era of frenzied standstill. Now begins the era of the standstill of frenzy (Weibel). Airfields where no planes take off, orphaned highways and railway lines, roads so empty that you can picnic on them. A slowdown of life. The quiet cities seem like invitations to wander in them again. The air is better than ever these days.

Suppose not only individuals, but whole civilisations could be reborn. They rise, they fall, they perish, a new one comes into life. One thing is certain, no civilisation is born twice.
What’s obviously dying out: physical proximity. Students in overcrowded lecture halls, employees treading on each other’s toes in offices, shopping-hungry consumers pushing past each other in shopping malls, fans crowding together in stadiums and at festivals, parades with thousands of participants – all that is yesterday’s news. Prohibited in the present, feared in the future because potentially dangerous. Welcome to the new distance society …

Because proximity has become dangerous, we will set up in the distance.

“Only temporarily,” contradict the backward looking among the prophets.
I think they are wrong. After this coronavirus will be before the next and new one. Corona demonstrates that the mass accumulations of modernity offer too much proximity for viruses. They jump from one to the next, microscopic free-riders of mobility, travel by plane as fast as an arrow, hop across national borders and spread congenially continental.
The holiday society in particular has waged war against nature, claims Weibel. “The virus forces us to end this war.”
Hopefully the world will recover now. Hopefully it will also be beneficial for the people. And we’ll find ways to be close to each other even far away. That’s probably what rebirth is all about.

Enjoy the silence! Stay healthy!

Yours – Otmar Jenner

P.S. Just received an audio file via mail – allegedly a message from the Association of German Psychiatrists: “Since we are flooded with calls, we would like to inform you, dear fellow citizens, that it is absolutely normal in the time of quarantine that you start talking to the walls, plants and other things. Please call us only if they answer to you. Thank you.”

P.S (2). Dear readers, English is not my mother tongue. If you find striking mistakes in the wording, please let me know (oj@otmarjenner.de).

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