«Everyone carries it in them, the plague, because no one, no, no one in the world is free from it.»
These words from the novel “The Plague” by Albert Camus have sounded very universal for 70 years. The message of the book goes beyond the associations with the World War II, which ended at that time. It refers to the attitude of the individual when something unbearable, unpredictable, unimaginable occurs. Today we feel a touch of the real more clearly. Each one individually, but also as communities, nations, humanity. The heroes of Camus’s novel are trying to free themselves from this plague. Attitudes are diverse, each individual is associated with some subjective choice. These choices may have the value of, for example, heroism, cowardice, calculations, but also, as the author emphasizes, changes, and ethical re-evaluations.
In the years 1348–1352, Giovanni Boccaccio watched one of the most severe epidemics that hit Europe. In his work, “Decameron”, one can grasp four attitudes towards the «plague being released»: piety, reflection, escape, carnival. I will follow his trail, looking at the situation in Poland at the beginning of April, when what is worse is soon to come, and the worst – the appearance of the next of the «horsemen of the apocalypse» – is still being considered (and may it not change its place). I will try to refer to the atmosphere felt in conversations with patients, social discussions, the media, in terms of the proposals of the medieval writer.
Poland is considered a Catholic country. For many Poles such identification is convenient, it remains a shallow guarantor of well-being, but also contributes to segregative behaviour. The position of the Catholic Church is gradually devalued; if it still has influence, this is less and less moral and more political. Resorting to prayer and divine punishment in a pandemic is rather laughable. Hence, scientism occupies the space of faith, especially in times of the plague. The words “vaccine” and “effective medicine” are constantly in the headlines. Every hope for quick drug development is captured, and disappointment is covered by a message of another promising method. Reaching for Freud , this attitude can be described in terms of the «original ego» passive and trusting towards an external force capable of providing the illusion of security.
Such faith in scientism adapted to the proposal of the capitalist discourse anesthetizes reflexivity. But basically, where would this come from if for years the humanities, and especially philosophy, have disappeared from universities, lost to the paradigms of countability and utility? If fewer and fewer people are looking, also in our consulting rooms, for a new sense of life. The effects of this process can be seen today. The promise of health and recovery is what is most valuable, instead of searching for meaning, working out want-to-be. Even if one falls into the trap of biopolitics in this way.
More and more restrictive isolation rules are being introduced in Poland. Currently, you can leave the house only individually and only for purposes of work or provisions. Sports activities, entering parks and even forests are prohibited. Violations of such bans are sporadic, but it is not difficult to predict that further escalation of restrictions will increase frustration and escape from isolation. A more serious problem are other types of escape that Polish government offers its citizens. It is an escape from knowledge about the scale of a pandemic and an escape from the state’s responsibility for the health system. Knowledge ignorance causes low deaths from COVID-19. In my country, a negligible number of tests is carried out (almost 2000 per million inhabitants, while in the Czech Republic it is closer to 7000). There are numerous cases of delays and refusals. In addition, lethal cases of the disease with symptoms of Corona virus but not confirmed by tests are not included in the statistics. This is possible thanks to a simple trick using ICD-10, in which the code U07.2 (corresponding to such a situation) is not treated the same as U07.1 (death of the patient who underwent the test). The authorities’ avoidance of responsibility led to the fact that the supply to hospitals of protective clothing, tests, food, was dealt with by non-governmental institutions and donors.
The incredible carnival is funded by the ruling party in Poland. Law and Justice focuses political discourse on the presidential election scheduled for May 10. Numerous proposals to amend the electoral law (including constitutional ones) only warm up public opinion. Politics are attempted to be detached from the existential threat of a pandemic. Long live the carnival – choices and elections at the time of death.
Will this change? Is political calculation the only possible ethics? Who will turn out to be Antigone? In all this, one can notice the sublime atmosphere of solidarity between people, respect for people from the «front line». In this way, in the name of love, each one forgets about his lurking anguish.
 In Polish the words “choices” and “elections” sound the same.
 Interview with prof. Z.Mikolejko, 2020
 S. Freud, “Civilization and Its Discontents”, 1930.
Image: A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by John William Waterhouse.