It is safe to say that the “Class of 2020 Experience” is quite unlike what other fresh graduates lived through when they finished their studies. After an exhausting dissertation and a nerve-wracking waiting period for one’s final results, the only thing soon-to-be graduates can look forward to is the celebration at the end of it all, gathering at the Royal Festival Hall to get their name read, their diploma, handshakes from the staff, all while in a gown with parents in attendance. Afterwards, an after-party with the people one got to know across three years whether through seminars, group projects, DEN or drinks at the suitably named “Thirsty Scholar” pub over on Great Portland Street. That was the closure I imagined and unfortunately, it shall stay in that realm due to a novel threat to public health, Covid-19. This article as I explore in a semi-formal fashion the impact of Covid-19 on society from my point of view and my personal struggle as an International Graduate who had to return to their home country. Lastly, as a fun thought experiment I will go back to the teachings of Aristotle and see if, despite my situation, I can still achieve “The Good Life”.
To begin with, something that was uttered very often in these past months was that pandemics represent the most challenging test for a government because of the strain they put on its healthcare system, overall economy, labour market and the society that animates these sectors. In Scambler’s (2020), the new coronavirus represents a “breaching experiment” that exposes a “fractured society”. A “breaching experiment” is something the author learned from the work of Harold Garfinkel. Garfinkel would ask his students to violate sets of social norms so that they would acknowledge their importance in day-to-day interactions. Keeping this framing in mind, Covid-19 has possibly exposed the flaws of neoliberal governance and the social order of financial capitalism. The “fractured society” has eight principal attributes yet for the sake of brevity I will mention the two which have caught my attention as the pandemic unravelled around the world. Firstly, Scambler (2020) argues that high levels of wealth and income inequality have been omnipresent through history however these have only intensified since the mid-1970s. I have seen this deeper inequality gap take place via the sheer amount of people, friends included, who’ve lost their job. Without income, one’s own housing is put into question if they answer to a landlord. Those lucky enough to keep their jobs have been forced to work remotely through platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, however, one must ask: what happens to those whose countries are less digitally developed? Lastly, the following reality has to be acknowledged: the current global inequality will determine a country’s access to the vaccine and even after the vaccine’s release, death tolls around the world will still bloom. The second factor is “post-national othering”. “Othering” in itself is nothing new, but the novel coronavirus has given birth to new arguments against migrants, the sick, the disabled and those in need of benefits. Friends would tell me stories of Asian people being harassed physically in shops or verbally on public transports with the phrase “We do not want your virus here!”. I wish people who engaged in this kind of behaviour knew that it is possible to point out the causes of problems without assigning blame.
In regards to the Romanian government’s response to the pandemic, it can be summed up as “too little, too late”. At the time of writing, real-time statistics from Date la Zi (2020), there are 157352 confirmed cases, 118912 cured cases and 5467 deaths while the average age of the infected is 46 years old. Working within a political party since July to help prepare for the local elections that took place on the 27th of September reminded me of the Romanian people’s distrust in the government and its systems. Some basic measures were taken such as the redirection of public funds and into the healthcare systems, the introduction of furlough payments and a lockdown which has been eventually relaxed which looks like it will be enforced again on a county basis. The European Union directed funds to Romania as well to help it cope with the situation. The healthcare system is about to collapse and online teaching fares no better, as teachers do not have the knowledge nor the equipment to deliver their teachings properly. The government’s plan for in-person teaching has been lacklustre as well, placing the pupils in plexiglass “barricades” in unventilated crowded classrooms.
Reaching the last destination of this article, to what extent is “the Good Life” still within reach during a time of isolation? My findings will be based on Michael Pakaluk’s (2008) interpretation of Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics”. For Aristotle, the “Good Life” refers to the ultimate goal of human life which is achieving “the ultimate good”. Someone who has been successful in this is “blessed” by a consistent disposition of “eudaimonia”. The word when translated in English means either “happiness”, “flourishing” or “fulfilment”. Pakaluk (2008) in his interpretation chose “happiness” yet I would argue in favour of “fulfilment”. To me, “happiness” is more relevant to one’s personal life than their professional life. “Fulfilment”, on the other hand, is applicable to both. I imagine it as the inner peace within someone who considers that they’ve reached their own expectations, their work from that point on going towards maintaining that state of mind. My interpretation of eudaimonia as “fulfilment” rather than “happiness” as per Pakaluk (2008) serves as a smoother transition to Aristotle’s criteria of what must be considered “the ultimate good” because his first criteria of “Ultimacy” refers to the scale of the positive effects generated by one’s activity towards their goal. Here, the goal regulates one’s behaviour into a cycle of “doing good”. Furthermore, “Ultimacy” dictates that the “good” generated by one’s activity is measured by its “wholeness”. A “whole good” includes “smaller-scale goodness”. The second criteria, “Self-sustenance” says that the goal meant to reach “the ultimate good” is renewed constantly through one’s activity. In my interpretation of “eudaimonia” as inner peace, the subject reached that state by achieving their goal, further activity only going towards maintaining it. The third criteria is “Preferability” which refers to one’s ability to compare different “goods” according to what the world needs at the time. Judging from Aristotle’s criteria, it is clear that the profession with the most “eudaimonic” potential is the Doctor. Their work is endless and it goes towards the goal of health. The goal of health is also the most preferable, since other people cannot work towards their goals with severe health issues. Doctors may not be happy all the time due to the pressure of their job but underneath whatever they may feel in a moment, underneath it all there might be “fulfilment”.
What about me then? Can I reach a “Good Life”? My return home coupled with the current situation placed me in a “purgatory” of sorts, in which progress towards my goals (i.e. finding work, returning to London) has been severely hindered. Despite that, I do still apply to jobs both in my country and in the UK, yet listings are scarce. Increasing the scale Aristotle would, my “ultimate good” is me developing into someone people can rely on. The moment when I will be able to support myself and uplift others through my actions then I will know that I have achieved “eudaimonia”.
Scambler, G. (2020). Covid-19 as a ‘breaching experiment’: exposing the fractured society. Health Sociology Review, 29 (2), 140-148. Available from 10.1080/14461242.2020.1784019 [Accessed 11 October 2020].
Date la zi (2020). COVID-19: Date La Zi. Available from https://datelazi.ro/ [Accessed 13 October 2020].
Pakaluk, M. (2005). Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge introductions to key philosophical texts). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rareș Hărșan BA (Hons) Politics and International Relations, 2017-20.