Rachida Lamrabet, Author

By Rachida Lamrabet

Rachida Lamrabet © Koenbroos

What would you say are symbols of your current situation or the current situation in your country?

The empty streets, the deserted train stations in the European capital. We are forced to stay put. To not move. To not cross borders, not even those of our own home town. Freedom of movement is one of the fundamental liberties that we, as Westerners, took for granted. With our European passports, we roamed the world. Now we can’t. This is a first. Now we get to experience what other, less privileged people, like migrants, refugees and the poor, experience.

But we are still ”privileged” because, although we cannot move, we can still consume. We have all those online shops that offer to bring their goods to our doorstep.

We are not mobile citizens anymore, but we’re still consumers. So this enforced standstill is not totally disruptive; it still allows us, up to a certain point, to continue living the life we were used to. It is still possible to buy and consume and remain “thoughtless” in Hannah Arendt’s sense of disengagement from the reality of our acts. We do, but do not think.

How will the pandemic change the world? What do you see as long-term consequences of the crisis?

Locked into our homes, with no liberty to move, with our routines and habits more or less gone down the drain, we do have an opportunity to combat thoughtlessness and start thinking again.

The naïve soul in me believes that, because we are forced to stop moving around, we will rediscover the power of thinking, the power of self-dialogue. We are forced to stay home, and home is our intimate self, inside our head and body. We have an opportunity to get to know ourselves, to start an inner dialogue with ourselves instead of surfing on routine, habit and easy answers. To start thinking again could be very powerful because we would question the status quo, which could ultimately lead to systemic changes. It will enable us to get to the essence of what it means to be human on this planet, which we have the privilege of inhabiting and using for a while before passing it on to the next generation.

By rediscovering our ability to think, we will ask ourselves uncomfortable questions such as ”Who am I? What the hell am I doing? What am I pursuing in life? Does this kind of life make me or my loved ones happy?”

This is a good time to go back to the work of Hannah Arendt and her thoughts on the power of thought in The Life of the Mind:

Thinking inevitably has a destructive, undermining effect on all established criteria […]. These frozen thoughts, Socrates seems to say, come so handily that you can use them in your sleep; but if the wind of thinking, which I shall now stir in you, has shaken you from your sleep and made you fully awake and alive, then you will see that you have nothing in your grasp but perplexities […].

I do hope that, as one of the consequences of this crisis, we will awake as thinking beings.

What gives you hope?

The virus connects us, it reminds us that we have the same bodies and minds, that we are vulnerable and mortal, but also that we are thinking beings.

The capacity to think, [Arendt] writes, “is not a prerogative of the few but an ever-present faculty in everybody," and the call to think is a call for all people – regardless of position, intelligence or desire – to practice the habits of a thoughtful life, to persevere through the discomfort of the wind of thought, to maintain that difficult friendship with one's self. (“Thoughtlessness, Sloth, and the Call to Think”, Hannah LaGrand)

I see people dreaming and thinking out loud. I believe we have the ability to reimagine our world, to refute the dogma of “There is no alternative.” We could create a future that is better than the world we live in.