“He goes in search of liberty—so precious,
as he who gives his life for it must know.”Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Canto I by Dante Alighieri
Hikikomori, a Japanese phenomenon that first gained attention during the 1990s, is a severe form of social withdrawal which involves a complete withdrawal from society for six months or more. It is currently viewed as a sociocultural mental health phenomenon, rather than a distinct mental illness. Although the phenomenon began in Japan it is rapidly being identified in other countries all around the world. The term Hikikomori (derived from the verb hiki “to withdraw” and komori “to be inside”) was coined by Japanese psychiatrist Tamaki Saito and is now used across the world to describe anyone who fits the criteria.
The phenomenon is most common in young people, especially young men, and research shows traumatic experiences of shame and defeat are commonly reported as triggers across cultures. These young adults are unable to work, go to school, or step outside the house for months or years. They also don’t make or maintain any personal relationships outside their families. Often, they have a sense of apathy that is believed to border on nihilism. They might be disillusioned by the society in general and have a lack of motivation to engage with anyone. They might also have difficulty expressing their emotions.
Hikikomori tend to use the internet profusely, they prefer communicating online, and they often spend much of their time in the online world. The emergence of smartphones, food delivery services, and all services that reduce social interaction has a compounding effect on the issue. Essentially, you can live your entire life from your bed and, guess what, this is exactly what many hikikomori are doing.
Now close your eyes for a minute and think back about the last twelve months of your life… does the above sociocultural phenomenon sounds familiar? It should: we have all become Hikikomori or on the dangerous road to do so! Mandatory and anti constitutional lockdowns have imposed such a lifestyle on us. We are isolating in our homes, retracting from social interactions, unable to work, go to school, gather, protest, party, travel, experience art, laugh together, cry together, hug each other, have sex, meet new people, share new ideas… in one word: live!
Plugged into a virtual reality dictated by technology, we have zoom “meetings”, shop online, visit virtual museums, share ideas on Facebook and release our sexual frustrations on Pornhub. Meanwhile society around us is crumbling into an economic catastrophe of biblical proportions (and that, in very practical terms, means extreme poverty and death) while a feudal resource grab by multinationals and financial interests is stealing our future. And all of this to “fight” a virus that, according to the WHO, has a fatality rate (the chance of dying if you catch the virus) under 1%. That is a 99% survival rate folks! We must be the most hysterical generation in human history.
ZÔÊ OR BIOS
The ancient Greeks, people much wiser than us, did not have a single term to express what we commonly refer to as life. They used two words: zôê, which expressed the simple fact of living, common to all living beings (animals, men or gods), and bios, which indicated the form or way of life specific to an individual or to a group. Such an elegant distinction should be a primordial source of conversation in a cultured society facing matters or life and death. Such distinction forces us to ask the oldest question in the world: what is life? Or more precisely what constitutes human life? Is human life nothing more than a beating heart and a breathing lung? Or is human life defined by the quality and the quantity of experiences it encounters?
Of course it goes without saying that there is no bios without zôê. Without a beating heart and a breathing lung no experience can be encountered within this earthly reality. But that’s a simple minded superficial fact. The real interesting question is: what is the purpose of a beating heart if such heart is deprived of emotions, memories and experiences that make it’s beating a worthwhile endeavour? Is the act of breathing enough to consider human existence an experience worth living?
One of the mantras of the daily political propaganda is that lockdowns, social distancing, masks and all of the other freedom murdering measures put in place by unelected “experts” are meant to save lives. In reality, if these systems have any usefulness at all (and it’s a big if) it is to save the zôê, the simple fact of living. But in doing so they kill the most important form of existence: the bios, the form of our lives. We therefore fall into a strange contradiction in which politicians and scientists are killing the meaningful and profound experience of being in order to save the bare life.
A practical, albeit extreme, example of the distinction between zôê and bios is the condition of irreversible coma. In such cases the bare life of a human being is kept alight by artificial means: his heart beats, his lungs breathe and from a medical stand point the patient is alive. But what of it’s human experience? Without entering into the intricate discussion of dreams and brain function within a comatose state we can clearly assess that human beings in such a state are unable to cultivate new experiences nor nurture emotions. Their bios is de facto inexistent. In science fiction literature such figure is best represented by the zombie, a creature that lives but yet is not fully human. In our attempts to combat the virus we are “zombifying” ourselves and living as if already dead.
Of course the most common rebuttal to such thinking will be: “but this is an emergency! These measures are provisional!”. Such a proposal is, in my opinion, flawed on many levels. First of all with a survival rate of 99% can we really claim this is an emergency? Secondly, if this is an emergency how long will it last? Many scientists seem to believe the virus is here to stay and the current crisis will continue for years to come. How long are we supposed to survive rather than live in the name of a 1% chance of dying? Thirdly, are we sure that these measures are provisional? Are we sure that what we are experiencing is not social distancing as a political model? A model run through a digital matrix that replaces human interaction, which, by definition, will henceforth be considered fundamentally suspect and politically “contagious”?
We’ve already experienced such a change in paradigm after 9/11. At the time the political propaganda had a very similar approach in convincing us that we were all in imminent danger and that in order to save our lives we had to sacrifice more and more of our freedoms. Such arguments were always underline by the assurance that such measures would be provisional. Of course twenty years after the facts the security measures put in place are still standing (think airport security, biometric passports, digital spying of citizens by the governments, data gathering… just to name a few obvious ones) The threat of terrorism made each of us into a potential terrorist and therefore a potential threat who needs to be surveilled. With the virus, an invisible terrorist that circulates in the air, we have all become potential carriers and spreaders. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben hits the nail on the head when he states that “it is not that citizens of the whole West have the right to health security, they are now legally forced to be healthy. This, in a nutshell, is the essence of biosecurity.” It is intrinsically linked to the logic of this thinking that the pandemic will have consequences that will transform the whole of society into a monitored area, into a permanent quarantine, where everyone will be treated as a potential carrier of the virus.
The third article of the Italian Constitution (which inspired the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights) states: “It is the duty of the Republic to remove those obstacles of an economic or social nature which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, thereby impeding the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country.” The full development of the human person is precisely what’s at stake in our current situation. How can we aspire at the full expression of the “better angels of our nature” (to quote Abraham Lincoln) if stepping out of our own homes has become a crime? How can we exercise empathy and love and our moral sense and our reason? How can we quench our thirst for knowledge, emotional growth and human relations? How can we still call ourselves human beings if what makes us so (the being) is shackled to the chains of mere survival?
Echoing these principles, while sitting in a prison in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently described our predicament when he wrote: “A just law is a man-made code that coincides with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is not in harmony with the moral law. Any law that elevates the human personality is right. Any law that degrades the human personality is unjust… One has not only the legal but also the moral responsibility to obey the just laws. On the contrary, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”.
We are living very dangerous times ladies and gentlemen and the real danger seems to me not the virus itself but our social, political and cultural response to it. We seem adamant to comply with the idea that our bare life, removed of it’s form, is the supreme good to which all other goods must bow. This is a very dangerous idea and the thinking of slaves.
Our grandparents, when death stared them in the eyes, had a different understanding. When the German war machine rolled over Europe destroying, killing and burning all that they held dear they took the brave choice of fighting back. Without much hesitation they decided that their freedom, the sacred fire that burns inside just human beings, was more important than everything else, including their lives. They understood that without freedom, total, non-negotiable, self determining freedom, all expressions of human existence are voided of any profound meaning. And so they fought and died in the millions to conquer that freedom we, today, are so casually compromising. Had they, like we are doing, put their bare life rather than freedom as the supreme good, today we would all speak German and Hitler’s vision of history would be a reality.
But us? What will we tell our grandchildren when they’ll ask us about these times? Will we tell them, with pride, that for fear of infecting ourselves with a virus with a lethality rate of under 1% we have sacrificed all other values? That we threw away all the freedoms and conquests for which our grandparents gave their lives? Will we swell with pride in telling them that, out of fear, we erased the pillars of our civilisation?
Understandable reasons of health safety are imposing on us the acceptance of an indeterminate limitation of personal freedoms, without debate and without this being questioned. In doing so we run a serious risk of addiction to slavery, with the combination of the almost totalitarian one-way information system. It is clear that in such a situation the peoples either adapt or go towards extremes (an expression of anger also due to the perception of suffered violence).
Such perception of injustice is exponentially growing because it is ever more clear that the virus is not fought by locking citizens up, but by strengthening public health (destroyed by the nefarious policies of liberalism). It is not fought by hiding in our homes but by protecting the 1% amongst us who is most fragile. It is not fought by creating millions of new poor but by enhancing timely medical care on the territory. It is not fought by putting in charge scientists and experts riddled by conflicts of interest but by implementing clear guide lines following the knowledge of the doctors who have successfully treated thousands of patients (and there are many such doctors). It is not fought by less democracy but by more democracy. It is not fought by censorship but more discussion. But above all it is not fought by renouncing to live in the name of survival but by unleashing the best part that resides in all of us… by giving wings to the better angels of our nature.
It is everyday clearer that we are at a crossroad and the only question everyone should ask is which side of history they want to be on! Those of you who are afraid of the virus you can shut yourself at home, lockdown, wear two masks and shower with disinfectant gel. We understand you and, if we can, we are here to help! But do not selfishly demand the same for everyone. If spending years of your life on a couch watching silly TV shows on Netflix and having Deliveroo bring you semi fresh food at your door sounds like a life worth living to you, be our guest! But don’t arrogantly request for all to do the same. If you think that freedom is overrated and a well worth bargain chip in exchange for health safety, feel free to chain yourself to whatever master will have you! Just don’t hysterically urge for all to be enslaved. If you wish to live in a virtual world of digital realities, plug yourself in! Just don’t childishly expect we all stop walking through the mystical woods of our lives. Some of us don’t want to give up living for fear of dying.