Wednesday, April 8, 2020 2:56 pm
By Nehru Odeh
We are living in strange times, times when streets are devoid of humans. And humans are locked within the confines of their little space, unable to interact, unable to share ideas and most especially, unable to hug one another because we must maintain social distance in order to avoid the contagion called coronavirus. It’s like saying we must stop living in order to live. What a world?
And of course the virus has taken a toll on humans – and is still taking a toll -across the globe. Many countries are recording human losses in hundreds of thousands. Since the onset of the virus only very few countries can beat their chest and say they are free of the rampaging onslaught of the virus.
And certainly they must be countries, which shut out of civilization, have little or no history of international travels and interactions. But are there still countries that do not have interactions with the outside world, in this age of globalization, in this age of social media?
As I have said before, the virus has taken a toll on humans. Just take a long look across windswept streets, whether in Lagos, New York or London. What you see are streets full of silences, devoid of humans, devoid of even the honking sounds of cars that remind us of humans. What you see are empty streets that have been taken over by birds and animals such as pigeons and dogs.
What does that tell us? Does it tell us of death, of emptiness, of our mortality, of our existential fate on this planet called Earth? Does this tell us about man’s place in this universe? Does it tell us about the purpose of existence? Albert Camus, the French existentialist philosopher would say man is in a solitary world without meaning and, like Sisyphus, is continually rolling a boulder up the mountain. But many will not agree with that. Still, Jean Paul Sartre, another French existentialist philosopher would say it is the duty of man to find meaning and purpose in a meaningless world. Those are what both writers and Nobel Laureates try to espouse via their literary works.
But have you ever taken a look at these solitary streets? What thoughts do they inspire? Have you ever imagined a world without people? Have you ever imagined a world without sight and sound? Have you ever imagined a world without human consciousness? What kind of world would that be?
This brings me to the age-old philosophical question. Do objects exist independently of the mind? Many treatises and doctoral dissertations have been written around that question. And it has engendered the division of many into opposing camps: the realists, the idealists, the intuitionist, and the empiricist etc.
Still, this is not the time to dwell on such divisive matters. This is the time for all humans across the globe to come together and think about our fate in this universe and our place in the scheme of things. This is the time to find common grounds and battle this contagion called coronavirus and other contagions that may likely sprout in the future.
Imagine a world without people. What kind of world would that be? A world where there is no human consciousness. A world where there is no conversation, no laughter, no smile, no cries (whether of joy or pain), no feelings, and no hugs, no love making. Imagine a world where there is not a single being, as the windswept streets now remind us?
Can we say that is a world? Can there be a world without people, without people with whom you can share ideas with, without people to whom you can pour your heart, without people in whom you can confide? I don’t think we can call that a world. That kind of world is like a solitary cell without a prisoner. If that is the case, then the purpose of that cell is defeated. Still, we don’t need cells in the world but recreation centres. There is also this philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest, and there‘s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?
This is also brings us to the fact that the windswept streets remind us of the importance of people. People matter, regardless of the colour of their skin, the language they speak, the religion they profess or their social status. People matter because that is the only way we can find meaning in existence. But what about those who are lonely amidst crowds, you ask. But that is a malaise that can only arise when people don’t matter.
So as we stay indoors and allow the winds to sweep our streets, as we stay indoors and allow animals and birds to take over our streets, let us always be reminded of the fact that people matter. That is why, we, regardless of the colour of our skin, the language we speak, the religion we profess or our station in life, must come together to find common grounds and make this world a better place for us to live in, because, as the cliché goes, no man is an island. To end this piece, I leave you with these lines from the Beatles’ hit song, Imagine, as food for thought.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
-Nehru Odeh, journalist with TheNEWS, is the author of The Patience Of An Embattled Storyteller.