“But the border to Brabant has not been closed, has it?” On my way to UCR I pass by a road worker outside of a mobile shed on a construction site in the ‘Zusterstraat’ in Middelburg. His accent tells me that he is from Brabant. He seems to be asking himself and his conversation partner whether he can return home tonight ̶ or perhaps whether a lucrative project in Brabant is still on.
We have landed in a reality that was hardly imaginable a couple of months ago. The border to Brabant? What could be the relevance of a provincial border? Questions of freedom of movement, public health, and centralized government directives are the kind of stuff relevant to China, to Iran ̶ but surely not to the Netherlands or the Western world. We surely must have the best health care and public health systems in the world. A pandemic cannot happen to us. Well, it can.
With a crisis comes the experience of vulnerability, of being dependent on actions and events beyond our control. We all love our autonomy; our being in charge of our own fate. The other side of autonomy is heteronomy: being determined not by self but by external factors. And where heteronomy increases, so does the experience of vulnerability. A border that no-one noticed before gets a new meaning and status. We have to follow directives from our government and our university about where we should be and what we are and are not allowed to do.
Vulnerability comes with an immensely practical and at the same time profound set of ethical questions: how do I lead my life in these circumstances? What will come of my plans, my ambitions, of all that I have counted on and taken for granted until now? Can I graduate this summer? How do I relate to myself, how do I relate to others? What should I do?
On this place on our website, I will be keeping a little ethical diary in times of corona. As fellow UCR-ling, please feel free to join in and add your own reflections in comments. Let us escape from all pressing issues for a couple of minutes a day and think and write about life in extraordinary times. It may help keep us sane.