Tassos A. Gkekas is typically someone on the move, with his art collection and exhibition space in Nicosia, and the pursuit of other projects surrounding fashion and writing, which also take him traveling. Now bunkering down with his family in Greece and reflecting deeply on our crisis-situation, his following writing provides a philosophical and poetic, yet realistic perspective. The text was written and is being published in Greek, here we exclusively publish the english translation, along with some photographic works close to his heart.
The care of this article is dedicated to young people, who might feel somewhat restrained, as far as their generation’s expectations are concerned, being “under siege”.
Printed in London’s Guardian lately, and obviously directed to the youth on heat: Men aged 18 to 35, who are among the most likely to be in breach of social distancing guidelines, are understood to be a particular focus of the campaign, which also targets the broader population.
In my mind youth is restless, always on the move as it should be, and I actually worry most for those who can’t stand still. So that they won’t be the ones stuck with the bill in the end.
Tassos A. Gkekas, Pieria, Hellas 29/03/20
(advice to a citizen of the future)
“Those who live by the sea can hardly form a single thought of which the sea would not be part.” ― Hermann Broch
As we go through this period of unprecedented testing of human endurance, and begin to reconsider our priorities, both as individuals and the global community as a whole, I would like to share some of my thoughts with a young person, who I imagine would now be completing his academic studies; and while ready to begin working, suddenly everything has come to a halt, and any future plans have been put on hold. I remember how challenging and demanding beginning a new chapter in my life had been, and that was without a pandemic looming overhead.
This is a time when prior to any major decision-making, we must employ a great deal of strategy. Deep culture cultivation through, and dialogue with, individuals who have systematically studied world History, history of Philosophy, and have a particularly thorough understanding of what globalization is, how the world functions today, and more specifically what Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East are, and what this pandemic can mean socially, morally and, culturally.
At the same time, as a Greek, I understand firsthand that a sophisticated and cultured society is more fragile than many believe and can shatter with the loss of even a single person. Let me remind you that for the Athenians of the 5th century BC, their unexpected and precipitous decline started to countdown from the moment their leading political man, Pericles succumbed to the plague of that period. The first city, now without a skilful helm, slowly begins to ‘rot’, entering an orbit of decline, from which it will take centuries to reemerge and regain its importance.
Since we are at the beginning of this current ordeal, the efforts that are now underway – before somehow achieving a sort of immunity – are focused on treating those who are ill, the prompt detection of cases, and controlling and stopping the spread of the virus, by the restriction of movement – except for the absolutely necessary and always with due care – and social ‘abstention’. This pause then comes with the loss of freedom; especially with the restriction of movement, at the expense of all human relations, as we are deprived of important human interactions, of the ‘tête-à-tête’ communication, and of a wide range of activities that are currently considered ‘unnecessary’ [sic]. To summarize, the paralysis of the system, as we knew it, defines the rule; it forms the belief, which remains problematic at best, that from one moment to the next, this complex obstacle will be overcome with a vaccine or with a prolonged stay in quarantine.
Is it not possible to find ourselves in a similar dire situation in the future, with the emergence of some other equally inscrutable and unheard-of disease? My opinion is that the solution will not come from the immediate cessation of the virus’s transmission – not even with the end of the pandemic – but, paradoxically, the solution on a collective level is linked to how vulnerable, bewildered, and confused the international community has been in the face of this pandemic and in regards to its own self, based on the current priorities; and whether it would resist and not allow the existing and already inundated health system to deteriorate further due to the circumstances, while the politicians remain inactive and incapable to process information on time. Timely, chop chop.
The pandemic, in addition to being a public health disaster in itself, is a symptom of the ill way in which the entrenched mentality our societies operate with, exposing citizens to security gaps and to the constant danger that epidemiologists have repeatedly warned us about. At the same time, individually, and with respect to the distribution of personal time, so that the temporary problem does not become a chronic traumatic situation – amidst the storm of bad news, life must continue with pride, with more perseverance and more coherence in all its manifestations.
Faith in our old ways, from the time before the pandemic – as if they were the very norm we must return to – is extremely problematic. Being of good health shouldn’t be viewed as a lifelong constant, but as an advantage of youth, that cannot be maintained indefinitely, but only under certain conditions, and only with coordinated, systematic efforts and preventive measures, can it be prolonged. I ask you this: how can the previous status quo be thought of as normal, if it gave birth to, or led, to this precarious new condition? For a while now, food producers have cared primarily about profit over the health of consumers. How does one expect the immune system to cope with this chronic, daily assault, whose damage is only manifested at a later date? It’s been a long time since leaders have stopped paying attention to the most serious of warnings. They not only refuse to lend an ear to anomalous issues, but also remain deaf to each other. However, it has not been long since the state failed to protect its citizens through its antiquated health system, and therefore showcasing how vulnerable the human condition is today, pulled into the vortex of such an unprecedented and far-reaching crisis. The emperor is naked, and in the middle of a pandemic, the fig leaves, like the masks of the doctors on the front line, are insufficient to cover the body, let alone the world.
Part II, to be continued…