An essay on difficult knowledge during a pandemic by Amanda Dochy

In the past, a scheduled news bulletin would inform you, your neighbours – you assumed, your whole country – about the situation.

It is war; this is the enemy.

It is an epidemic; this is how you maintain hygiene.

Such ideas of authoritative sources, you might’ve guessed at this point, seem to be missing right now.

Or perhaps it is a misleading reading of history, and there never was an authoritative source – the president speaking after the nightly bulletin was probably always contested in the nation’s dark living rooms, in the bars, in the public spaces. Not to even discuss how often those in the past even had access to authoritative source as well, televisions, radios costing money.

But I can’t help but feel, as someone who has lived in no other epoch than this one, that I am in the wilderness, alone. The authority is missing. Who should I listen to?

How serious is it? Why did I never notice flu was just as serious?

Should we shut down? Should we go outside, or not – are we killing people by laying them off, by closing business?

Should we use masks, or not – are these too rare a commodity for the likes of me, an unnecessary worker?

I apologise for the bitterness in the words.

It is difficult to realize that there is no certainty in the midst of the storm. History teaches us lessons after the fact. Epidemiologists disagree amongst themeselves about what should be done, about where this virus is coming from, how we could prevent this from happening in future.

There seems to be no authority in a pandemic.

Measures may have to be adapted to the capacities of each country. But (I panic) – But – if nothing is coordinated, if there are no common understandings across nations, how will we ever “open-up” – homes, communities, countries – and contain this virus?

I feel less and less certain about what I know with each op-ed and each research paper summarized in a Facebook comment.
(I have notably heard that confinement is just buying time to build emergency hospitals for the eventual opening-up.)

I am scared by my incapacity to understand what to do, and to understand whether anyone else knows what to do. We may all be speaking different languages, most likely across each other. The virus, its causes, its effects, these have quickly morphed into partisan debates. I have not been trained in the scientific method; I think of my mother, my sisters, my neighbours, neither have they. I am scared.

I fear for the validity of science. Many are doubting cautious, peer-reviewed conclusions. The prospect of visciousness against this process with each new day. I am scared.

What are the baseline reactions we should all have, should’ve had? What happened? Why is this so complicated?
Perhaps it always has been complicated.

And this virus will continue to spread until we have all suffered, uncoordinatedly, ignorantly suffered.

I think of the children that have been spared from this virus. They will perhaps grow up wiser.


Amanda Dochy is currently based in the Geneva area. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Have a look at her website.

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