What celebrities do and say get reported. Thousands follow them on twitter. They have fan clubs. Google their names and you’ll see tons of references. Now Leonardo DiCaprio is a celebrity. Google him and you’ll see what I mean. Well, you don’t have to, you probably know this already.
Anyway, there’s an anecdote about the man that I found particularly compelling more than twenty years ago. Yes, before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It was about the paparazzi. DiCaprio said he had a way of dealing with them:
‘We actually started to follow them after a while. It’s an actual science. If you follow them, they get paranoid. You flip the script on them.’
For some reason which I don’t remember now this took my thoughts to ‘The Scream’ a painting by the Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch in 1893.
The original German title given by Munch to the painting was, interestingly, ‘Der Schrei Der Natur’ or ‘The Scream of Nature’. That’s the ‘expression’ I visualized materializing on the paparazzi when ‘the script was flipped.’ Anguish. Horror. Disbelief.
A doctoral student at that time, I mischievously told the professors on my committee that a researcher in the social science might experience something similar if his/her ‘respondents’ started administering questionnaires to him/her!
Well, nature is screaming now isn’t it? It’s been screaming for a while. All of a sudden, thanks to the Coronavirus, the boot is on the other foot. The script has been flipped. Human beings, perennial paparazzi obsessed with invasion, encroachment and violence have been given a dose of their own medicine. Their lives have been invaded. Their homes have been encroached upon. They are being killed.
And this brings us to a particularly telling meme on the phenomenon: what if humans are virus to this earth and corona is the vaccine?
That’s in-your-face, mind-blowing flip-script if ever there was one, isn’t it? The analogy is apt though. What have human beings done to this earth but ravage it? No other species has deliberately and wantonly attacked the natural world’s capacities to regenerate. The way we’ve operated has been like a plague that has descended on the earth and all her creatures. Species do naturally become extinct but we have accelerated that process. We have poisoned the earth, the waterbodies and soils. We have poisoned the air. We’ve acted like the worst kind of predator, destroying not on account of self-defense or food procurement but for mindless joys and utter self-indulgence.
In the case of viruses that infect human beings, we find cures. We develop immunity. So the contention in the meme could be what’s happening. Well even if such things cannot be proven beyond a shadow of doubt and if no one wants to buy into some overarching karmic logic which includes the biotic and abiotic, it is nevertheless a useful analogy.
It is as though the earth has been screaming silently and we ignored the screams because we didn’t have the ears to listen or the eyes to read the earthy equivalent of the expression that Munch painted. We have hounded the natural world like the paparazzi, needling (or worse!), taking pictures on the sly. Well then, the earth seems to have turned tables. Worms have turned.
The world is waiting for a vaccine. Wait, not ‘the world.’ It’s us, the human species that is dying for a cure. Dying for want of a cure. If human beings were a menace, a virus, and the earth was victim, we could say ‘the earth has been waiting for centuries now, desperate for protection, for a cure, a vaccine that would neutralize human beings.’
We don’t know if viruses are self-critical. We don’t know if they can be remorseful. We don’t know if they are too proud to acknowledge the suffering they cause. We do know, however, that in our more humble and wise moments, we can be self-reflective, we can retire arrogance and acknowledge our ignorances and the errors of our ways.
We may beat this early. We may have to let it run its course. If we are successful soon, we may unlearn all that we’ve learned about our conduct on this planet. We may not. We know however that in this period of extended and enforced ‘incarceration’ water quality and air quality are improving. We have recognized that overconsumption sucks. We know that when we are moderate we don’t need so much oil. Less oil, less pollution, less harm to one and all and most of all to the earth. We know now that the basics are enough to obtain happiness. We know that overreaching yields little.
We could do a cost-benefit analysis. There are tons of people schooled in the ‘logic’ of capitalism, the worth of free markets and such who could do it in seconds. They would have to factor that which they did not, could not or would not consider though.
We’ve been misnaming things for years. We’ve seen places, people and things as locations, models and props, respectively. For example.
At the end of the day, the model holds. No, not neoliberalism. That’s dead. So too, capitalism. The model so beautifully captured in the meme: humans constitute a virus to this earth and corona is the vaccine.
There’s a lot of script-flipping for us to do, that much is clear. We might as well begin now, considering the self-incarceration we have brought down on ourselves. DiCaprio would not have trouble understanding and he might even applaud, but I wonder what Munch would make of our predicament. How would he paint it and would he called it ‘Menschenschrei’ [Cry of Man]?