We don’t exist in isolation

This week as the number of Covid-19 casualties arises, multiple countries fell into lockdown, while others started to issue bans and strongly urge for social distancing, my family decided to pursue with the 1000-pax wedding reception for my cousin anyway. It is complicated to convince a large Kedahan family — think of us as like the Greek version, just as loud, just as huge, just as gossipy, just the same amount of lack of personal boundaries — to make the event small, or postpone. In fact, almost impossible. So what I did at the reception was take all the general precautions I could — no touching or shaking hands, no kissing cheeks, keeping distance, compulsively washing hands, and reminding people to do so as much as possible I seemed almost deranged. It felt almost ironic to take comfort that I am not alone in trying to convince the elderlies I am taking care of to take this virus seriously while I am worried sick and telling them this is more than themselves — because even if you are spared, you might be carrying it and infect others who are more immunocompromised.

I have been obsessively reading about the virus — from general information to technological development to the somewhat alarmist pieces as well as the pieces that made us feel hopeful in our strength as a society in this crumbling mankind. But what I felt frustrated was for, I am hoping, a low number of people who take the global pandemic so casually, seen so cavalierly out drinking and partying and attending mass gatherings, while there are health officers and civil workers out there who could not afford to stay in and be more exposed to the virus anyway. Drew Austin from Kneeling Bus wrote, “While other disasters instantly draw us together, a quality Walker Percy praised, the virus demands social distance, accelerating an experiment that was already well underway before this upheaval: the individualism that we’ve all internalised over time — which is partially structural, but also a development we’ve welcomed as consumers.” So we panic buy and stock up and mark up the prices with intentional disregard for those more in need, because all of these while we have been trained — by our political leaders who are often trigger happy to divide and conquer us, our institutions, even our own callousness to look around, read the room, and acquire the social awareness — to put ourselves first before the community. In these times, I never fail to be reminded of Anne Helen Peterson’s ever haunting question: how much do you care about other people?

I say this as much to myself as to all of you — you can channel some of that anxious energy away from reading articles on the internet and towards thinking about who in your life and in your community will certainly need help or assistance. Who can you talk to now to make a plan to help them later? (With supplies, with groceries, with their pets or children) If you’re able, can you donate to your local food bank, or donate additional supplies to the homeless shelter? Can you buy things from local businesses, restaurants, and artists now, so that things might be less lean for them in the months to come? If you’re someone who’s high risk, how can you be honest with yourself and others about it? If you’re able to work from home and still pull your normal salary, can you commit to still paying someone who provides you with a service (a housecleaner, a dog walker, a hairdresser, a yoga teacher, etc) even if they have to stay home?

But also in rethinking what social pillars of ours that needed to rebuild in times of crisis, we can reframe our care more than just for humans, as Anab Jain’s call for more than human politics, which includes an ecological form of politics too, concludes: “we don’t exist in isolation, we never have. And we are now entering a time where we face our own destruction if we continue to live in the illusion of isolation.”

We are all in this together, we always have. So let’s get to work.

Coronavirus-related reads:

Other reads, largely technology in the intersection of politics, the kind of stuff I am researching and paying attention to:


  • Reading: Just finished Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, and this paper on gendered online violence in preparation for a conference in October.
  • Viewing: My friend A made me watch Season 2 of Ugly Delicious, specifically on the episode about meat, Mediterranean food, and the conversation about the arbitrariness of borders when it comes to food, and it made me miss Levantine food so bad! And this calming video of a man making a mug on a ceramic wheel.
  • Listening: Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó. He fled Hungary after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and landed in California, and started to create music of many genres, including jazz, pop, and Hungarian folk. Thank you Flow State for the recommendation.
  • Food & Drink: I have been on voluntary isolation (to be honest when I have not?) so I have stocked the kitchen with lots of coffee and had been living on fried rice.

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