A few weeks ago I returned from the Central Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, which took place in Chicago. In addition to participating in a couple of sessions on the philosophy of humor, I had the opportunity to reconnect with some folks from my past, including my dissertation advisor and an old friend and roommate from graduate school. I also attended some interesting presentations, including a talk by Daniel Dennett about autonomy and determinism, and a fascinating symposium on the sublime and awe. I didn’t get to see much of the city, but I was able to pop out with my friend one afternoon to get some Chicago deep-dish pizza at a pub around the corner from the hotel.
While at the conference, the COVID-19 virus was not even on my mind. Upon my return home, however, it has been nearly the only thing I can think about. A week after the conference, both my wife and I got sick just before the beginning of spring break. I developed a fever and body aches concentrated in my torso. My wife also developed a fever and then came down with pneumonia. At the hospital, she was given a chest x-ray, prescribed antibiotics and steroids, and was told by the doctor that she probably had COVID-19, but that since she is younger than 65 years-old she does not qualify for a test. It wouldn’t have made any difference anyway (other than to document the illness), since there is no special treatment.
And then the shelter-in-place order took effect. We have been told to avoid large groups and any unnecessary travel. We are supposed to stay at home as much as possible. All unessential businesses are closed. This is all in order to try and slow the spread of the virus; to blunt the curve of those who get sick so that hospitals are not overwhelmed with patients. The ominous message is clear: things are going to get worse.
College of Marin notified instructors that all of our classes are moving online for the remainder of the semester. I’ve taught most of my classes as internet courses at one point or another, so I was not as unprepared for this as were some of my colleagues and friends who had to scramble to upload their course materials and learn how to use the online tools. The abrupt transition is going to make for a bumpy ride all around.
In addition to dealing with my online classes, all of this at-home time has given me the chance to work on a couple of papers that I’ve promised to write (one on humor and nihilism, and another on violence and nihilism), and to re-read George Orwell’s 1984; a book that has predicted our current cultural situation better than any other dystopian novel ever written. It’s all in there: perpetual war, zenophobia, double-speak, thoughtcrime, Big-Brother.
We are definitely not living in doubleplus good times.