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Corona Masquerade in everyday life

One of my favorite questions by students is: “How do you see philosphy in everyday life?”, which I like to answer with “When you were a child it was what kept you constantly asking ‘What is this? Why is that so? Why are you doing what you are doing?’, or alternatively ‘When my four year-old recently asked: this one girl in my kindergarden annoys me everytime she does something wrong she says ‘I didn’t do it itentionally’ – but at least one time, she must have done it intentionally, or not!? How can I know?'”.

Yet philosophy in everyday life often seems something aside daily business, something put on top of our experiences like foam floating on the bathwater – illusive, difficult to grasp and does not intermingle really with the basis that it floats upon. Though this accustomed picture of philosophy starts crumbling when talking to kids for more than 5 minutes: it has been with us from the beginning, that accompanies wonder and amazement, not ‘on top’ but that very which that intuits a genuine question we barely dare to ask when having grown into adults: “What…? How…? Why….? Good…?” Has it come that many of the grown-up kids stopped asking such basic questions for their work, leisure and intimate lifes? Or rather: have we not recognized that this is philosophy, nothing detached from the ivory tower? It can be that philosophy is a mundane, inconspicuous life companion grounding and elevating, confusing and stunning at the same time.

During Corona, life seemed to be exceptional, less daily. But after 6,7 weeks or so, also that started becoming almost business as quasi-usual, new routines, norms and talks about values started becoming apparent. After the lockdown the new 1,5 meter society followed, the new way of anticpiating leasure activities as an increased ‘e-ticket and resevation culture’, the rule of leaving your coat and personal data each time you enter a gastronomy, the new odeur of desinfaction sprays indoors, and finally the wearing of masks anytime one enters public buildings. It required quite some learning, keeping up with news and informal neighbour chit chats to know what the right thing to do is in public – or, even at all. “Is that allowed? Can we do that again?”– my four year old asked in mid-Corona times, when we browsed through his picture book displaying a crowded concert. Next page: crowded beach. Then: zoo. “Where is Waldo?” is a challenging pick these days. It is easier to refer to ‘pre-Corona’ than mumbling something about a vague ‘post-Corona’ and what will be allowed. What will we want? Hugging someone ‘outside of one’s household’, when it happens, often comes with a sense of jumping over one’s shadow and newly accustomed value of ‘safer distance’, and ends with an almost juvenile punk feeling of “whatever! I did it.” How are we going to deal with ourselves when hugging feels like a docile transgression of norms?

With Corona, as societal members we experience new norms and values emerging in daily life. Should I wear the mask because I find it important or because I think other people find it important? What if I transgress? Who decides who is “system relevant” and thereby is entitled to receive social priviledges such as daycare? When is an explanation to basic philsophical questions about ‘what Corona is and how it should be dealt with’ deemed as acceptable and constructive and on what basis are alternative explanations being dismissed as too critical, even conspiratorial?

Fashionable masks, individualized pieces of art, sustainable cloths, plastic shields from forehead to chin or cowboy masquerades are not just neutral picks, it is – even if not thought of thoroughly – a new kind of hang-out displaying what kind of person one is these days. The new veil stands for the civilized and concerned above age 6 person. Health and its new outgrowths embue our socities with a renewed sense of being concerned for each other, or at least for ourselves. Philosophy of daily life becomes in concrete Corona moments apparent when ‘care for the other’ has shifted gradually towards the ‘concern about the other’. When a child with red cheeks is first tested against corona symptoms such as fever instead of taking off his warm pullover, which might have been a pre-Corona thing to do. New rules and norms in these times can also be read as a manifestation of the medicalisation of society that leads to a kind of (Überfür)Sorge” meaning a response of ‘over-care’ that has less to do with care but more with a worry or concern that shields us off from the other in the hope to protect ourselves. At the same time it can also invert usual social tactics from “Eating dirt makes the immune system go stronger” to “wear masks it makes you look responsible”. Or as the quick adaptation of social distancing in picture books start not from “Where is Waldo?” but “Where can Waldo hide?” – “At home!”

The use of masks is up for debate, “to care for the other more than yourself”, yet it does tickle in the nose when the waitress is obliged to wear one in a 8 hour shift serving customers who don’t need to wear one “because they are consuming”. Is this fair? Is it proportional to the ends? When the ice-cream vendor sells with hand gloves in touch with cone and coins. When customers fill out forms of their personal data with the same pen, circulating from table to table, from hand to hand. Ironically, in a much more digitally accustomed society, now getting used to more online meetings and activities than ever before, the use of papers to collect data and archive them has also increased simultaneously. Edward Tenner’s book (1996) Why things bite Back described technology’s revenge effects and their unitended consequences: “If computers really eliminate paperwork, why is the office recycling bin overflowing?” Yet, despite these paradoxical effects at the same time, “we cannot turn back to a wholesome past, if only because the past sometimes more decorous, was far messier than we realize or perhaps can realize.” (pp.xi) This means also that the standards by which we perceive, understand and assess what is the right or good thing to do or what is desirable are also changing in ways we barely realize – or perhaps can realize. The good thing about Corona is maybe that it makes ethical reflection, the reflection about elementary questions of daily life very apparent and is put up to debate. What is frightening is that some individuals seem blinded by the inconceivable health threats that they have suspended reflections about (unintended) social, psychological and ethical impacts co-developing as new Corona measures, priveledges and social (in)justices emerge. Once you enter observing changing norms & values and enactments of them, once you feel posing a genuine question about those, in response being frowned upon or encouraged, – then you know, this is not only Corona. This is also philosophy.

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