In Europe, as in many other regions in the northern hemisphere, the second and third weeks of August, time stands still, because after a year’s work, the most privileged enjoy their holidays; and it is also a time when everyone is planning or asking questions about the coming Fall.
Typical questions include: what lies ahead for my family? How will things pan out at my job? What projects can I launch? How are my children preparing for the new school year?
This year, there are also extraordinary questions: should I send my children to school? Do I have to move and work remotely? Will I keep my job? And for some, even: how can I live when I know that my business, company, or activity will not survive this crisis? And for others: how can I survive when so many of my loved ones, or me, are or will be affected by this or another disease?
For many, the best way to face all of this is to refuse to see it and only live in the moment. In other words, to live in denial, not in reality, of the future. And to follow Seneca’s advice, in his Moral letters to Lucilius, written in haste, when he knew that he would not be able to escape the impending death, which Nero had imposed on him: “Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.”
In the present circumstances, however, it is essential to look to the future. And prepare for it. Because many elements of the future, even the near future, still depend on us.
Prosaically, in today’s France and Europe: we have very few days left to avoid a disastrous start of the Fall season:
• A few days to make a credible start of the school year, on a physical presence basis, or choose to generalize distance learning: a priori, sending every child to schools and colleges, hoping that they seriously wear their masks and do not bring the virus back to their parents, who themselves go to work every day, is an illusion. In fact, one of the countries that went through this period best, South Korea, did not confine its workers, but rather its children since the early days of the pandemic. Are we ready for a generalization of distance learning, which, logically enough, will be imposed fairly quickly, if the pandemic makes a comeback?
• A few days to put in place a real plan to support companies in temporary difficulty, and help companies that have lost their raison d’être transition to other sectors on a long-term basis and support the workers who will be the victims. Despite every European and national efforts, we are far from implementing these detailed strategies.
• A few days to prepare a realistic 2021 budget, finally focused on the development of the sectors of the economy of life, and transform the others, which is already too delayed.
• Finally, a few days to prepare a real psychological and even psychiatric response to the rise in personal and collective disorders and delusions that the disruption of habits caused by the pandemic will inevitably provoke.
Of course, there are other emergencies that are keeping us busy; private emergencies; common emergencies; both joys and sorrows. Tragedies affecting our friends; injustices, exclusions, disorders; global threats as well.
All of this, if we think about it carefully, brings us back to a single question, which Seneca tries to ask Lucilius in his own way: have we understood that our happiness depends on what we are able to convey to others? In other words: have we realized that the happiness of future generations is in our most selfish interest?
This brings us back to the main priority of the day: the start of the school year. It is by preparing it as well as possible, in all its dimensions, direct and indirect, that we will create the conditions for a society that is liveable for all. We are a long way from that.