Are pandemic denial, ignorance and violence here to stay?
I will question how the pandemic changed subjectivity and intersubjective relationships and I will speculate what might come after the pandemic. Did we change for good? Will we forget the pandemic as soon as it is over? What kind of new ethical questions has the pandemic opened?
I am a Sociologist, and a practicing Psychotherapist, and in this short presentation I will look at the mental health impact of the Covid- 19 crisis from these two perspectives. “We are all in this together”, first uttered by the WHO Director-General in March 2020, was intended to promote cooperation amongst the normally quite fragmented healthcare systems and nation-states throughout the world. While this unifying call for global cooperation appeals to our shared humanity and our shared (if not equal) vulnerability to the virus, vastly unequal access to vaccines, masks, healthcare and possibilities for social distancing have made it impossible thus far to “flatten the curve” at a global level. These dynamic tensions between the universal and the particular reveal how this crisis has unleashed new possibilities for cooperation at the same time as it has reinforced existing social divisions in the stockpiling of vaccines, more rigorous policing of borders, and the resurgence of certain scientific and medical discourses. This duality also recurs in the discourse around mental health and well-being. On one hand, Cardenas et al (2020) describe what they consider to be the mental health crisis or “parallel pandemic” arising from the loss of social connection, employment and educational engagement, access to health services combined with financial insecurity. While certain populations and regions are affected more than others, early studies document rising rates of anxiety, depression, PSTD and other diagnosable conditions associated with this crisis around the world. On the other hand, this encounter with the “spectre of the apocalypse” combined with enforced de-acceleration and time for introspection experienced by the more privileged people has prompted soul- searching and re-evaluation of values, priorities and selves. (Covid “epiphanies” are the theme of recent articles in Al- Jazeera, The Economist, and even a recent Taylor Swift song). Critical perspectives on diagnosis quite rightly show how mental health is often discussed in reductionistic, biologistic and individualistic ways and within narrow, reductionistic medicalised categories that prioritise symptom reduction and pharmaceutical intervention. But the same time, my experience as a psychotherapist during Covid has led me to wonder if that some critical perspectives can reduce mental health to a social construct or underemphasize the pain of human suffering and the relief that some treatments can bring. This paper will search for a rapprochement between psychotherapeutic/ sociological, micro/ macro, individual/ collective perspectives on Covid- 19, and indeed on mental health conditions, and will seek to find what possibilities exist in the interspace between our understandings and experience of this apocalypse/ epiphany.
JAN SLABY & FABIAN BERNHARDT
The Covid-19 pandemic put forth a strange new kind of exhaustion. Being forced to stay at home, diminish social interactions and reduce the scale of their everyday mobility, many people experienced boredom, sluggishness, languishment, and existential immobility. While state-imposed pandemic policies changed with rapid frequency, everyday life remained strangely uniform and unmoving. A sense of being stuck unfurled – as if not only social life, but time itself had come to a halt. At the same time, however, there was also a latent sense of tension and increased aggressiveness which became manifest not only in protests and riots, but also in the texture of everyday live. In our paper, we want to argue that both of these states―the feeling of being stuck on the one side, and the feeling that this tranquility is nothing but the calm before a storm on the other side―can be conceptualized and phenomenologically described as forms of affective stasis. Through a rearticulation of the ancient concept of stasis, we what to show that these two at first glance incongruous affective states are, in fact, intricately tied to one each other. In Ancient Greek, the term stasis basically meant “stand, standing, stance”. Being used in a wide variety of contexts―politics in the first place, but also navigation, sports, rhetoric, architecture, and medicine―stasis took on different meanings which can be semantically organized around two opposite poles: the first one being characterized through the total absence of motion, and the second one being characterized through an immediate event of radical and often violent social and political change. Drawing on affect theory, social phenomenology, literary accounts and ancient Greek semantics, we want to argue that affective stasis provides a conceptual framework which enables us to better understand the affective climate of the pandemic in which stagnation and flux, inertia and change came to intertwine in an unprecedented way. In fact, this affective climate might not only be characteristic for the Covid-19 pandemic, but also teach us something about the worn out condition of late capitalist Western societies in general.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a rapid and dramatic change in the nature of ritual, pleasure and sociability through the raft of political ordinances that were introduced to control its spread. Sociability is one of the key vectors of transmission so became a focus of regulation as a crucial step to protect life. ‘Drinking’ provides both an indicator of and a lens through which to see these changes. Various dynamics are in evidence. The limits of law and protocol and their tendency to undermine themselves if pushed beyond the limit was in evidence from the nature of directives to close and regulate the reopening of pubs. Goodwill and solidarity underpinned the lockdown ultimately, as there was in general a lack of formal sanctions and unwillingness to utilise criminal law, and to the extent that they were utilised, absurdities and contradictions proliferated. Drinking has been used for symbolic politics, whether representing state -v- community or republican virtue -v- private selfishness in Ireland, or the threat to the supposedly essentialist liberal soul of the British from the pandemic, which Boris Johnson has repeatedly expressed through the appeals to the British pub’s importance. Thus, mundane daily acts have become part of a great public drama, rather than remaining quotidian and local. The pandemic has witnessed a great acceleration in the privatisation of drinking - a process that had been politically created some years before - but which has now accelerated. There is a major change in drinking patterns with the taboo against home drinking that once existed in Ireland further broken; a division of drinkers with heavy consumers drinking more and moderate drinkers drinking less than before as the drinking occasion has become destructured; and an acceleration of the process of ‘premiumisation’ as everyday drinks are replaced with heavily branded products aiming at social distinction. However, a painful melancholic longing for public pleasure and sociability is widely evident. The image of the Irish pub represented the post-Land War ideal of Ireland as a nation of small proprietors. Concentration and massification of the pub and hospitality sector is on the horizon as major pubcos will likely aggressively enter the market and acquire vacated licences of the small fish who could not survive the interruption to their business.
Thus, examining drinking, as a lens through which to view the impact of the pandemic on social life at large, we see a leap forward in massification, privatisation, personal behaviour becoming relevant to public dramas, and a sense of the absurd as ordinances grow in importance.