A plague is spreading. People are dying. Everyone is ordered to quarantine at home as the local doctor works around the clock to save victims. There are acts of heroism and acts of shame; there are those who think only of themselves, and those who are engaged for the greater good. The human condition is absurd and precarious.
Another case of life imitating art from The Plague which I first read in an Existentialism philosophy class during college. The words above were written by journalist Kim Willsher in an article in the Guardian describing a fictional situation in The Plague published in 1947 by Albert Camus (November 07, 1913 – January 04, 1960) from an interview with Camus’s daughter regarding the books’ relevance today.
In the novel Dr. Bernard Rieux discovers a dead rat on his doorstep which leads him to the discovery of the bubonic plague. When he alerts the authorities of the possible infectious outcome, no one believes him. Today his role was played by Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China who first raised the alarm about a dangerous new virus in an online forum.
The local government authorities do not believe Dr. Rieux, doubt his discovery and are slow to take any action. Deaths from the plague begin to mount and spread exponentially outside the boarders of Oran, France where the story takes place. For the government officials we can fill the roles with Xi Jinping of China, he wanted to save face, Donald “I don’t take responsibility for anything” Trump of the United States who is still more concerned with financial markets than the loss of life and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil who has taken no action whatsoever to halt the spread of CoVid-19 in South America’s largest country.
Like real life today, the town has its heroes, the first responders who put their lives on the line to help those in need, the doctors, nurses and volunteers. The story also has the priest and religious followers who put everything including their lives in the hands of god. And what would any good novel be without the profiteers, who look to make money from the misery and suffering of others.
The world of Camus’ The Plague and life in the world today with the CoVod-19 virus are carbon copies. The same scenarios played out with the HIV and Ebola viruses. The world payed no attention as long as the virus remained in Africa, only affected the gay populations or had no impact on the financial markets. It was not until the rat appeared on their own door steps that any action was taken, and even then some like Trump did not follow a proper course of action but instead denied the dead rat even existed.
I do not believe human nature will change during my remaining years but I received a ray of hope when I read during one of the world’s dark hours Mr. P a 101 year old man living in Italy where so many of his countrymen and women have died survived the virus.