The life of social beings is an expectance of the other. Our social action is a response to the fact that this other exists. That interdependency of human beings was never so extreme as today, when they attempt to regulate the pandemic outbreak. It may sound paradoxical, but an influence of one person on another is radically obvious in the times of social distancing, when the presence of our bodies in particular places and at a particular time is almost thoroughly (completely?) defined by the authorities. From interdependency inevitably arises moral and ethical questions as soon as we take into consideration the existence of the other. The biblical imperative ‘thou shall not kill’ was never so perceptible and directly connected to our everyday experiences as now.
Limiting the spontaneous Ego
We live in a situation when responsibility for other comes before any other values. This very Levinasian ethical moment is revealed to us in the most decisive way: the subjectively lived world is radically interrupted by the necessity to save the other person. Social space in its material and linguistic manifestation makes us not overlook the particular event of meeting another human being. We may read signs about the necessity to remember the face of the other at stores, where quantity limitations are applied on essentials for survival.. Besides imposed limitations, there are numerous examples of citizens’ initiatives, which have been aimed at helping elderly people and other high-risk groups to deal with challenges in time of pandemic. We are constantly reminded that there exists someone outside ourselves, not only an abstract being, but also a very concrete entity, which shall not be killed. One might neglect that necessity, but we cannot overcome it.
Moral man, unethical action
Even though it seems as though human action is totally regulated, there are still public spaces and spheres of activity where a human being may define their own choices. As the consensus over the closure of religious institutions during the pandemic still is not global, they are considered a source for spreading the virus. When one is deciding whether to carry on religious rituals during the pandemic or not, this is when superiority of the ethical over the moral, or otherwise that of obligation over duty, or the particular over the conceptual, might be decisive. On the one hand, massive religious celebrations during the pandemic might be interpreted as a desperate act of hope, which grants a feeling of stability and helps the human being overcome the very objective reality full of ontological insecurity. However, there is a consideration which cannot be ignored: mass celebrations might be destructive social action in terms of their relation to a particular human being. Hence a moral man denies the vulnerability of the other. This is the moment when moral obligation, a very abstract categorical system, prevents the fulfilment of the “demand of justice” that comes from the other. Therefore, a moment, which shows that not only do we not need absolute moral laws to live as ethical beings, but also how the former might contradict the latter.
Primacy of self over other
Is it possible to contradict the primacy of self over the other without limitations coming from authorities and out of state of emergency? Maybe, once when the historical epoch let us think outside the norms of conatus essendi.
Photo: an episode from I. Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (1957)