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  1. #11
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    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

  2. #12
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    Sultans of Swing Dire Straits.

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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Pa9...N&index=2&t=0s
    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

  3. #13
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    Default Coronavirus and Philosophers pt. 1

    Michel Foucault

    From “Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison”, translated by A. Sheridan, pp. 195-228. Vintage Books, 1995.

    The following, according to an order published at the end of the seventeenth century, were the measures to be taken when the plague appeared in a town.

    First, a strict spatial partitioning: the closing of the town and its outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death, the killing of all stray animals; the division of the town into distinct quarters, each governed by an intendant. Each street is placed under the authority of a syndic, who keeps it under surveillance; if he leaves the street, he will be condemned to death. On the appointed day, everyone is ordered to stay indoors: it is forbidden to leave on pain of death. The syndic himself comes to lock the door of each house from the outside; he takes the key with him and hands it over to the intendant of the quarter; the intendant keeps it until the end of the quarantine. Each family will have made its own provisions; but, for bread and wine, small wooden canals are set up between the street and the interior of the houses, thus allowing each person to receive his ration without communicating with the suppliers and other residents; meat, fish and herbs will be hoisted up into the houses with pulleys and baskets. If it is absolutely necessary to leave the house, it will be done in turn, avoiding any meeting. Only the intendants, syndics and guards will move about the streets and also, between the infected houses, from one corpse to another, the “crows”, who can be left to die: these are “people of little substance who carry the sick, bury the dead, clean and do many vile and abject offices”. It is a segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment.

    Inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere: “A considerable body of militia, commanded by good officers and men of substance”, guards at the gates, at the town hall and in every quarter to ensure the prompt obedience of the people and the most absolute authority of the magistrates, “as also to observe all disorder, theft and extortion”. At each of the town gates there will be an observation post; at the end of each street sentinels. Every day, the intendant visits the quarter in his charge, inquires whether the syndics have carried out their tasks, whether the inhabitants have anything to complain of; they “observe their actions”. Every day, too, the syndic goes into the street for which he is responsible; stops before each house: gets all the inhabitants to appear at the windows (those who live overlooking the courtyard will be allocated a window looking onto the street at which no one but they may show themselves); he calls each of them by name; informs himself as to the state of each and every one of them “in which respect the inhabitants will be compelled to speak the truth under pain of death”; if someone does not appear at the window, the syndic must ask why: “In this way he will find out easily enough whether dead or sick are being concealed.” Everyone locked up in his cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing himself when asked — it is the great review of the living and the dead.

    This surveillance is based on a system of permanent registration: reports from the syndics to the intendants, from the intendants to the magistrates or mayor At the beginning of the “lock up”, the role of each of the inhabitants present in the town is laid down, one by one; this document bears “the name, age, sex of everyone, notwithstanding his condition”: a copy is sent to the intendant of the quarter, another to the office of the town hall, another to enable the syndic to make his daily roll call. Everything that may be observed during the course of the visits — deaths, illnesses, complaints, irregularities is noted down and transmitted to the intendants and magistrates. The magistrates have complete control over medical treatment; they have appointed a physician in charge; no other practitioner may treat, no apothecary prepare medicine, no confessor visit a sick person without having received from him a written note “to prevent anyone from concealing and dealing with those sick of the contagion, unknown to the magistrates”. The registration of the pathological must be constantly centralized. The relation of each individual to his disease and to his death passes through the representatives of power, the registration they make of it, the decisions they take on it.

    Five or six days after the beginning of the quarantine, the process of purifying the houses one by one is begun. All the inhabitants are made to leave; in each room “the furniture and goods” are raised from the ground or suspended from the air; perfume is poured around the room; after carefully sealing the windows, doors and even the keyholes with wax, the perfume is set alight. Finally, the entire house is closed while the perfume is consumed; those who have carried out the work are searched, as they were on entry, “in the presence of the residents of the house, to see that they did not have something on their persons as they left that they did not have on entering”. Four hours later, the residents are allowed to re-enter their homes.

    This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in l which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded, in which an uninterrupted work of writing links the centre and periphery, in which power is exercised without division, according to a continuous hierarchical figure, in which each individual is constantly located, examined and distributed among the living beings, the sick and the dead — all this constitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism. The plague is met by order; its function is to sort out every possible confusion: that of the disease, which is transmitted when bodies are mixed together; that of the evil, which is increased when fear and death overcome prohibitions. It lays down for each individual his place, his body, his disease and his death, his well-being, by means of an omnipresent and omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even to the ultimate determination of the individual, of what characterizes him, of what belongs to him, of what happens to him. Against the plague, which is a mixture, discipline brings into play its power, which is one of analysis. A whole literary fiction of the festival grew up around the plague: suspended laws, lifted prohibitions, the frenzy of passing time, bodies mingling together without respect, individuals unmasked, abandoning their statutory identity and the figure under which they had been recognized, allowing a quite different truth to appear. But there was also a political dream of the plague, which was exactly its reverse: not the collective festival, but strict divisions; not laws transgressed, but the penetration of regulation into even the smallest details of everyday life through the mediation of the complete hierarchy that assured the capillary functioning of power; not masks that were put on and taken off, but the assignment to each individual of his “true” name, his “true” place, his “true” body, his “true” disease. The plague as a form, at once real and imaginary, of disorder had as its medical and political correlative discipline. Behind the disciplinary mechanisms can be read the haunting memory of “contagions”, of the plague, of rebellions, crimes, vagabondage, desertions, people who appear and disappear, live and die in disorder.

    If it is true that the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion, which to a certain extent provided the model for and general form of the great Confinement, then the plague gave rise to disciplinary projects. Rather than the massive, binary division between one set of people and another, it called for multiple separations, individualizing distributions, an organization in depth of surveillance and control, an intensification and a ramification of power. The leper was caught up in a practice of rejection, of exile-enclosure; he was left to his doom in a mass among which it was useless to differentiate; those sick of the plague were caught up in a meticulous tactical partitioning in which individual differentiations were the constricting effects of a power that multiplied, articulated and subdivided itself; the great confinement on the one hand; the correct training on the other. The leper and his separation; the plague and its segmentations. The first is marked; the second analysed and distributed. The exile of the leper and the arrest of the plague do not bring with them the same political dream. The first is that of a pure community, the second that of a disciplined society. Two ways of exercising power over men, of controlling their relations, of separating out their dangerous mixtures. The plague-stricken town, traversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing; the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies – this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city. The plague (envisaged as a possibility at least) is the trial in the course of which one may define ideally the exercise of disciplinary power. In order to make rights and laws function according to pure theory, the jurists place themselves in imagination in the state of nature; in order to see perfect disciplines functioning, rulers dreamt of the state of plague. Underlying disciplinary projects the image of the plague stands for all forms of confusion and disorder; just as the image of the leper, cut off from all human contact, underlies projects of exclusion.
    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

  4. #14
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    Default Coronavirus and Philosophers pt. 2

    Giorgio Agamben

    The Invention of an Epidemic

    (Published in Italian on Quodlibet, https://www.quodlibet.it/giorgio-aga...di-un-epidemia)

    26/02/2020

    Faced with the frenetic, irrational and entirely unfounded emergency measures adopted against an alleged epidemic of coronavirus, we should begin from the declaration issued by the National Research Council (CNR), which states not only that “there is no SARS-CoV2 epidemic in Italy”, but also that “the infection, according to the epidemiologic data available as of today and based on tens of thousands of cases, causes mild/moderate symptoms (a sort of influenza) in 80-90% of cases. In 10-15% of cases a pneumonia may develop, but one with a benign outcome in the large majority of cases. It has been estimated that only 4% of patients require intensive therapy”.

    If this is the real situation, why do the media and the authorities do their utmost to spread a state of panic, thus provoking an authentic state of exception with serious limitations on movement and a suspension of daily life in entire regions?

    Two factors can help explain such a disproportionate response. First and foremost, what is once again manifest is the tendency to use a state of exception as a normal paradigm for government. The legislative decree immediately approved by the government “for hygiene and public safety reasons” actually produces an authentic militarization “of the municipalities and areas with the presence of at least one person who tests positive and for whom the source of transmission is unknown, or in which there is at least one case that is not ascribable to a person who recently returned from an area already affected by the virus”. Such a vague and undetermined definition will make it possible to rapidly extend the state of exception to all regions, as its almost impossible that other such cases will not appear elsewhere. Lets consider the serious limitations of freedom the decree contains: a) a prohibition against any individuals leaving the affected municipality or area; b) a prohibition against anyone from outside accessing the affected municipality or area; c) the suspension of events or initiatives of any nature and of any form of gatherings in public or private places, including those of a cultural, recreational, sporting and religious nature, including enclosed spaces if they are open to the public; d) the closure of kindergartens, childcare services and schools of all levels, as well as the attendance of school, higher education activities and professional courses, except for distance learning; e) the closure to the public of museums and other cultural institutions and spaces as listed in article 101 of the code of cultural and landscape heritage, pursuant to Legislative Decree 22 January 2004, no. 42. All regulations on free access to those institutions and spaces are also suspended; f) suspension of all educational trips both in Italy and abroad; g) suspension of all public examination procedures and all activities of public offices, without prejudice to the provision of essential and public utility services; h) the enforcement of quarantine measures and active surveillance of individuals who have had close contacts with confirmed cases of infection.

    The disproportionate reaction to what according to the CNR is something not too different from the normal flus that affect us every year is quite blatant. It is almost as if with terrorism exhausted as a cause for exceptional measures, the invention of an epidemic offered the ideal pretext for scaling them up beyond any limitation.

    The other no less disturbing factor is the state of fear that in recent years has evidently spread among individual consciences and that translates into an authentic need for situations of collective panic for which the epidemic provides once again the ideal pretext. Therefore, in a perverse vicious circle, the limitations of freedom imposed by governments are accepted in the name of a desire for safety that was created by the same governments that are now intervening to satisfy it.
    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

  5. #15

    Default

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    Last edited by stefanow; 04-17-2020 at 08:57 AM.

  6. #16

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  7. #17
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by stefanow View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by stefanow View Post
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    "Doctor Doctor what is wrong with me
    This supermarket life is getting long
    What is the heart life of a colour TV
    What is the shelf life of a teenage queen

    Ooh western woman
    Ooh western girl
    News hound sniffs the air
    When Jessica Hahn goes down

    He latches on to that symbol
    Of detachment
    Attracted by the peeling away of feeling
    The celebrity of the abused shell the belle

    Ooh western woman
    Ooh western girl
    And the children of Melrose
    Strut their stuff

    Is absolute zero cold enough
    And out in the valley warm and clean
    The little ones sit by their TV screens
    No thoughts to think

    No tears to cry
    All sucked dry
    Down to the very last breath
    Bartender what is wrong with me

    Why am I so out of breath
    The captain said excuse me ma'am
    This species has amused itself to death
    Amused itself to death

    Amused itself to death
    We watched the tragedy unfold
    We did as we were told
    We bought and sold

    It was the greatest show on earth
    But then it was over
    We ohhed and aahed
    We drove our racing cars

    We ate our last few jars of caviar
    And somewhere out there in the stars
    A keen-eyed look-out
    Spied a flickering light

    Our last hurrah
    And when they found our shadows
    Grouped around the TV sets
    They ran down every lead

    They repeated every test
    They checked out all the data on their lists
    And then the alien anthropologists
    Admitted they were still perplexed

    But on eliminating every other reason
    For our sad demise
    They logged the only explanation left
    This species has amused itself to death

    No tears to cry no feelings left
    This species has amused itself to death"


    Quote Originally Posted by stefanow View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by stefanow View Post
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    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

  8. #18
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    Default Coronavirus and Philosophers pt. 3

    Jean-Luc Nancy

    Viral Exception

    (Published in Italian on “Antinomie”, https://antinomie.it/index.php/2020/...ezione-virale/

    27/02/2020

    Giorgio Agamben, an old friend, argues that the coronavirus is hardly different from a normal flu. He forgets that for the “normal” flu there is a vaccine that has been proven effective. And even that needs to be readapted to viral mutations year after year. Despite this, the “normal” flu always kills several people, while coronavirus, against which there is no vaccine, is evidently capable of causing far higher levels of mortality. The difference (according to sources of the same type as those Agamben uses) is about 1 to 30: it does not seem an insignificant difference to me.

    Giorgio states that governments take advantage of all sorts of pretexts to continuously establish states of exception. But he fails to note that the exception is indeed becoming the rule in a world where technical interconnections of all kinds (movement, transfers of every type, impregnation or spread of substances, and so on) are reaching a hitherto unknown intensity that is growing at the same rate as the population. Even in rich countries this increase in population entails a longer life expectancy, hence an increase in the number of elderly people and, in general, of people at risk.

    We must be careful not to hit the wrong target: an entire civilization is in question, there is no doubt about it. There is a sort of viral exception – biological, computer-scientific, cultural – which is pandemic. Governments are nothing more than grim executioners, and taking it out on them seems more like a diversionary manoeuvre than a political reflection.

    I mentioned that Giorgio is an old friend. And I apologize for bringing up a personal recollection, but I am not abandoning a register of general reflection by doing so. Almost thirty years ago doctors decided I needed a heart transplant. Giorgio was one of the very few who advised me not to listen to them. If I had followed his advice, I would have probably died soon enough. It is possible to make a mistake. Giorgio is nevertheless a spirit of such finesse and kindness that one may define him –without the slightest irony – as exceptional.
    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

  9. #19
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    Default Coronavirus and Philosophers pt. 4

    Roberto Esposito

    Cured to the Bitter End

    (Published in Italian on Antinomie, https://antinomie.it/index.php/2020/...ti-a-oltranza/)

    28/02/2020

    In this text by Nancy I find all the traits that have always characterized him – in particular an intellectual generosity I was personally effected by in the past, drawing immense inspiration from his thinking, especially in my work on communities. What interrupted our dialogue at one point was Nancys sharp opposition to the paradigm of biopolitics, to which he has always opposed, as in this text, the relevance of technological apparatus – as if the two things were necessarily in contrast. While in fact even the term “viral” itself points to a biopolitical contamination between different languages – political, social, medical and technological – united by the same immune syndrome, meant as a polarity semantically opposed to the lexicon of communitas. Though Derrida himself used the category of immunisation extensively, Nancys refusal to confront himself with the paradigm of biopolitics was probably influenced by the dystonia with regard to Foucault that he inherited from Derrida. In any case, we are talking about three of the most important contemporary philosophers.

    It remains a fact that anyone with eyes to see cannot deny the constant deployment of biopolitics. From the intervention of biotechnology on domains that were once considered exclusively natural, like birth and death, to bioterrorism, the management of immigration and more or less serious epidemics, all political conflicts today have the relation between politics and biological life at their core. But this reference to Foucault in itself should lead us to not losing sight of the historically differentiated character of biopolitical phenomena. One thing is claiming, as Foucault does, that in the last two and half centuries politics and biology have progressively formed an ever tighter knot, with problematic and sometimes tragic results. Another is to assimilate incomparable incidents and experiences. I would personally avoid making any sort of comparison between maximum security prisons and a two-week quarantine in the Po Lowlands. From the legal point of view, of course, emergency decreeing, long since applied even to cases like this one, in which it is not absolutely necessary, pushes politics towards procedures of exception that may in the long run undermine the balance of power in favour of the executive branch. But to talk of risks to democracy in this case seems to me an exaggeration to say the least. I think that we should try to separate levels and distinguish between long-running processes and recent events. With regard to the former, politics and medicine have been tied in mutual implications for at least three centuries, something that has ultimately transformed both. On the one hand this has led to a process of medicalization of politics, which, seemingly unburdened of any ideological limitations, shows itself as more and more dedicated to “curing” its citizens from risks it is often responsible for emphasizing. On the other we witness a politicization of medicine, invested with tasks of social control that do not belong to it – which explains the extremely heterogeneous assessments virologists are making on the nature and gravity of the coronavirus. Both these tendencies deform politics compared to its classic profile. Also because its objectives no longer comprehend single individuals or social classes, but segments of population differentiated according to health, age, gender or even ethnic group.

    But once again, with regard to absolutely legitimate concerns, it is necessary not to lose our sense of proportion. It seems to me that what is happening in Italy today, with the chaotic and rather grotesque overlapping of national and regional prerogatives, has more the character of a breakdown of public authorities than that of a dramatic totalitarian grip.
    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

  10. #20
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    Default Coronavirus and Philosophers pt. 5

    Sergio Benvenuto

    Welcome to Seclusion

    (Published in Italian on Antinomie, https://antinomie.it/index.php/2020/...o-in-clausura/)

    2-03-2020

    I am neither a virologist nor an epidemiologist, yet the idea has formed in my mind that – though over seventy, and hence among the most vulnerable – I have little to fear from the coronavirus for my health. “For mine”, for mere reasons of probability, like when I fly on a plane: it could crash, but its highly unlikely. In fact, so far only around 3000[1] people worldwide have died as a consequence of the virus. Practically nothing compared to the 80,000 killed by common flus in 2019. Those who have died in Italy from the epidemic (over 50 at the moment of writing[2]) are probably less than those killed in car accidents plus worker fatalities. In short, I am not so much scared of contagion, but Im more concerned about the economic backlash for a country like mine, in constant decline since 1990s. After all, poverty kills too.

    But I also know that my relative disregard, though rationally based, is civically reprehensible: were I a good citizen I should behave as if I were panic-stricken. Because everything thats being done in Italy (closing schools, stadiums, museums, theatres and so on) has a purely preventive function, it only slows down the spread of the virus. It plays on large numbers, but appeals to each particular being.

    The panic that has stricken Italy (but not only, all over the world people are talking about nothing else) was basically a political choice – or a biopolitical one, as Roberto Esposito stresses – established first and foremost by the World Health Organization. Because today, in an era when the great democracies are producing grotesque leaderships, its the great supranational organizations like the WHO – and the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, the other central banks, and so on – that (fortunately) take the real decisions, thus partly redressing the neo-fascist whims of todays democracies. Tedros Adhanom, the Ethiopian who is Director General of the WHO, has clearly stated the need for prevention: he knows that for the time being Covid-19 is not causing disasters and that maybe in the end it could turn out to have been nothing more than an insidious influenza. But it could also turn into what the so-called “Spanish” flu became in 1918: the latter infected a third of the planets population causing something between 20 and 50 million deaths, more victims than all military casualties during the First World War. In other words, whats really frightening Is not what we know, but what we do not know about the virus, and theres very little we do know about it. We are getting to know it day by day and so it creates the anxiety – by no means irrational – of the unknown.

    Note that in the case of the “Spanish” flu political power acted in exactly the opposite way as it is doing today: it concealed the epidemic, because in most cases the countries involved were at war. It was named the “Spanish” flu simply because at the time it was only in Spain, which was not at war, that the media talked about it (but apparently the flu originated in the United States). Political power today (which is, I stress once more, increasingly supranational in economics too) has chosen the strategy of panic, so as to encourage people to isolate the virus. And indeed, the isolation of the infected still remains, after centuries, the best strategy to suppress incurable epidemics. Leprosy was contained in Europe – as Foucault too stresses – precisely by isolating lepers as much as possible, often relegating them to faraway islands, like Molokai in Hawaii, where various movies have been filmed.

    In August 2011 I was in New York when it was about to be hit by Hurricane Irene, which had already devastated the Antilles. I was struck by the way experts and politicians on the media all gave frankly quite cataclysmic messages to citizens: “it will be a complete disaster – the refrain was – because New Yorkers couldnt care less, theyre snobs”. But it turned out that they followed the guidelines scrupulously (even I vacated my garden respecting the precepts) and Irene crossed New York causing no damage. So, did those experts and politicians get it all wrong, or did they have a bit of fun terrifying the population of New York? No, a disaster was avoided. In some cases, spreading terror can be wiser than taking things “philosophically”.

    Lets imagine that Italy as a whole – from the media to government officials – had opted for the “Spanish” strategy, deciding not to take any precautions and allowing Covid-19 to spread across the country like a normal flu. Every other country, including other European states, would have immediately isolated Italy, considering the whole country a hotbed: something that would have caused far greater economic damage than the considerable one Italy is enduring now. When others are scared – for example the Israelis and Qataris, who have prohibited Italians from entering their countries – were better off being scared too. Sometimes being scared is an act of courage.

    Lets imagine that, once allowed to spread at will 20 million Italians caught the virus: if its true, as the earliest calculations indicate, that COVID-19 is deadly for 2% of those infected, this would have led to the death of around 400,000 Italians, mainly senior citizens. A hypothesis many do not consider entirely negative, because it would allow our old-age pensions system to breathe: Why not trim down a few oldies in a country thats ageing by the minute? is what they think without saying it. But I dont think public opinion would have accepted 400,000 deaths. The oppositions would have risen up, the government would have been ousted by popular acclaim and the far-right leader Salvini would have won the elections with at least 60% of the popular vote. In short, the precautionary measures that have been taken, however painful – especially because of the economic damage – are the lesser evil.

    The measures taken in Italy are not therefore, as one of my favourite philosophers, Giorgio Agamben, argues, the result of the despotic instinct of the ruling classes, who are viscerally passionate about the “state of exception”. Thinking that the measures adopted in China, South Korea, Italy and so on are the consequence of a conspiracy means falling into what other philosophers have called “conspiratorial theories of history”. I would call them paranoiac interpretations of history, like the millions who believe 9/11 was a CIA plot. My domestic worker, a very good-natured woman, is convinced that the epidemic was schemed by the “Arabs”, by which I suppose she means the Muslims. Whether were influenced by our small parish or by Carl Schmitt, whether ignorant or extremely learned, many of us need to make up our own plague-spreaders.

    I am often surprised how often many philosophers need to be reminded of something that, paraphrasing Hamlet, sounds like: There are more politics in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    When I say Im convinced that this epidemic will produce far greater economic calamities (a crisis like in 2008?) than medical ones, I place myself within an optimistic perspective, which could be disproved in the next days.

    And as from tomorrow, I too, though chuckling somewhat, will try to be a good citizen. I will avoid certain public places, I wont shake hands of persons Ill meet. I live in Rome, and I will not visit friends in the North and I will discourage them from coming to see me[3].

    After all, the effects of this epidemic will strengthen a tendency that would have in any case prevailed, and of which “working remotely” or “wfh”, working from home and avoiding the office, is only one aspect. It will be less and less common for us to wake up in the morning and board public or private vehicles to reach the workplace; more and more we will work on our computers from our homes, which will also become our offices. And thanks to the Amazon and Netflix revolutions, we will no longer need to go out to do the shopping or to theatres to see movies, nor to buy books in bookshops: stores and bookshops (alas) will disappear and everything will be done from home. Life will become “hearhted” or “homeized” (we already need to start thinking up neologisms). Schools too will disappear: with the use of devices like Skype, students will be able to attend their teachers lessons from home. This generalized seclusion caused by the epidemic (or rather, by attempts to prevent it) will become our habitual way of life.



    1] The figure has increased to 3652. Until now there are 107,000 ascertained cases and 61,000 recoveries (8 March 2020)[editors update]

    [2] The number of fatalities in Italy has risen to 250 (8 March 2020) [editors update]

    [3] A resolution made obsolete by the government ordinance effectively sealing off part of Northern Italy (8 March 2020). [editors update]
    In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty...
    Robert M. Pirsig

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