A mountain of words has been written about this all time post-war classic, so it remains only to ask the question; how goes the plague in 2016? On one level Camus Plague clearly concerns how we humans respond, in our various ways, to fascism, be it military, institutional or cultural. Some of us oppose it outright, others seek to accommodate to it, while others willingly collaborate with it. And of course there are a thousand shades between. But I suspect Camus' Plague operates at a far deeper level still. For Camus, the Plague is that of human indifference, of a deficit of empathy; of a retreat into ones own selfish needs. As such, the Plague is always with us, lurking in every country, in every community and in the consciousness of every individual. Try as we might, we can never totally inoculate ourselves against this form of plague. It is a virus which seems to be an integral part of the human condition. One only has to look at the developed world's faltering response to the current refugee crisis lapping at the shores of Europe to get a sense of what Camus was getting at.

There are currently an estimate 3000 unaccompanied refugee children drifting around Europe desperate for a place to call home. To take these children in would be a drop in the ocean for the rich countries, yet still our governments procrastinate. And why are they allowed to procrastinate? Because we allow them to. Our governments spew out spurious arguments about how assisting these children will only encourage more to come. And so it might. Yet the answer is not to do nothing but to do still more. If three thousand or even twenty thousand children were resettled across the whole of Europe it would barely register on the national budgets. Yet we are in the mood to baton down the hatches, pull up the draw-bridge and roll out the barbed wire. Empathy is in short supply. The other must be shut out. The Plague is in full flow with only a relative handful of individuals ready to fly the flag of our common humanity.

 

It is not just the case of the refugees. The Plague manifests itself wherever the other is demonised. Once the world enjoyed demonising the Jews. Now the Jews rejoice in demonising the Palestinians. And so it goes on. Tribe against tribe, region against region, religion against religion and nation against nation. Everywhere we look the Plague is festering away, occasionally breaking out into the open but more often simply skulking in the gutters and back alleys waiting for its chance. No one is immune. It's a dirty business alright.

 

But Camus is far from beaten. His is an optimistic tale. He tells us that we have within us the power of empathy and the ability to resist. Twentieth century European fascism was defeated by a coalition of the many. Camus tells us that fascism, whatever form it may adopt in the future, can also be defeated by clarity of mind and unity of purpose. Not much of that on show in the ruling circles of Europe today. The closing words of The Plague are as poignant today as they must have been sixty years ago. Here is Camus in his own words.

 

'However, he knew that this chronicle could not be a story of definitive victory. It could only be the record of what had to be done and what, no doubt, would have to be done again, against the terror and its indefatigable weapon, despite their own personal hardships, by all men who, while not being saints but refusing to give way to the pestilence, do their best to be doctors.'

 

Indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy that arose above the town, Rieux recalled that this joy was always under threat. He knew that this happy crowd was unaware of something that one can read in books, which is that the plague bacillus never dies or vanishes entirely, that it can remain dormant for dozens of years in furniture or, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs, and old papers, and that perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction or misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city. P237

 

Take note Europe. Take note America. Take note humanity.

 

End JPK Copyright 27/4/16

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 May 2018 09:58 )