Life in the Matrix

            I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that COVID-19 has changed, and will continue to change, the world. These changes are too numerous to exhaustively cover in a single post, so I’ll simply note the one that stands out most in my mind. COVID-19 has, in ways not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall, divided country from country. This division – seen primarily in travel bans – can be seen as a macrocosm of the pandemic-mitigation measures implemented across the world.

            Although I have lived in Oklahoma for the past four months where social distancing measures and mask mandates are, at best, loosely applied, I’ve still noticed that I’ve felt more isolated in previous years. Attending classes on Zoom and doing homework in my house (or more specifically, my bedroom) made it easier to separate from the outside world. My world just felt small, constrained, and isolated. It was so easy to forget that there’s a whole world outside of my bubble. This isolation – or at least separation – from the ‘rest of the world’ extended to my connection with other countries. Although international news was much more common than in “normal” times, the world outside of Oklahoma (and on a larger scale, the US) seemed much farther removed. Nations aren’t just a plane flight away. Rather than a “community of nations” – which has arguably never really existed – the world seems more starkly divided into its disparate parts. The world (certainly the accessible world) just seems smaller.

These isolating effects of COVID-19 aren’t just constrained to individuals – they’ve been seen in international relations in ways that seem unique in my lifetime. It was shocking earlier this year when Poland, the Czech Republic, and ultimately most European nations closed their borders to others in the EU (and naturally, the rest of the world). Indeed, only this week, France has closed access to UK citizens after a new, and more contagious, strain of COVID-19 emerged in Great Britain. These aren’t warring nations – these are allies. The closures aren’t due to strained international relations – it’s in the interests of public health.

Now, I don’t have anything new to add to the discussion of pandemic mitigation measures. I don’t know what the right answers are – I don’t think that widespread (or universal) shutdowns are the solution, but ignoring the problem seems riddled with errors of judgment as well. One idea seems critical, whether it’s considered on an individual, societal, or international level: going in alone is destined for failure. I lived the first half (or ten weeks) of my fall semester trying to succeed alone – in part driven by pandemic cautions. In mild terms, it blew up in my face. Across society – whether one looks at the United States or other nations around the world – COVID-19 has laid bare deep-seated divides. As already noted, nations have erected barriers against allied nations in hitherto (in my experience) unexperienced ways. I concede that barriers might have to be temporarily enforced between nations; however, it’s critical that we (as nations) not create an island, insulated and independent from all others. Fundamentally, that’s not representative of how the world works. While each citizen might possess limited power to influence policy, we can (at a minimum) remain informed of events from around the world, act when we can to alleviate the sufferings of others, and refuse to (mentally) sequester ourselves at a time when (physical) sequestration is required. We must not resign ourselves to the blue pill, to a matrix of our own creation.

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