«Uncertainty is positive as it forces us to think»
She admits that she is fine and managed to endure this quarantine period, during which she did not have to deal with small children and telework at the same time; and that, as soon as her agenda was empty, it started filling up with video conferences. Victoria Camps (Barcelona, 1941), philosopher, author of treatises on ethics and politics, emeritus professor at the University of Barcelona and a member of the Council of State since 2018, is accustomed to staying at home and working alone. She now moves around less and reads more, which is ultimately what she likes best.
What do you feel about the situation we are experiencing?
Sadness and confusion, though the word most repeated is uncertainty, an uncomfortable condition as it prevents us planning for the future and we have to confront the situation head on. Even though we are in the de-escalation phase, we still don’t know what we’ll be able to do in the coming months. Everything has been disrupted. Governments have to face the really complex task of rebuilding everything that was lost and, above all, be efficient and avoid making too many mistakes. On an individual level, we must assume our responsibilities and keep protecting ourselves, helping ensure the world can reset itself, insofar as this is possible. It’s not easy, because we were so used to fierce individualism and to prioritizing our personal interests over and above any collective interest.
What have you been able to reflect on these days?
Uncertainty is positive as it forces us to think. It forces us to admit our ignorance and impotence, and question a way of living that, from what we’ve seen, can lead to disaster. The fear of contagion has entered our lives and has become the most pressing concern for many. Lockdown has made us realize that it’s possible to dispense with many of the supposed ‘needs’ we had. We’ve discovered the invisible work of many people who have remained on the front line throughout the toughest months. There have been contradictions; for example, evident intergenerational generosity, as we have felt highly protected by our children. However, at the same time, we’ve discovered that the conditions in our nursing homes leave a great deal to be desired.
Do you feel the current crisis is changing the world around us?
The crisis alone isn’t changing – nor will it change – anything. In any case, we will change, but, I fear, not that much. We have a short memory and we immediately forget what we felt was a catastrophe at the time. Fortunately, the restrictions are being eased and we have more freedom. But, if we are to be able to truly maintain that freedom we’ve been missing, we must find the right balance with health protection, which must remain a concern. We are free to leave our house, but not to do so any way we like. Until there is a safe vaccine, the threat of the virus is still out there.
What should change?
We’ve confirmed the need to maintain a public health system and correct all the shortcomings that were laid bare when it came to dealing with this pandemic. There are reforms that need to be undertaken right away, without delay. Given that the experts say this will not be the last pandemic, we must ensure we are better prepared and with greater protection measures the next time round. It’s possible that climate change policies will garner greater support from now on. Architects and town planners should rethink our cities, and investment in research and know-how is fundamental. At the individual level, there’s little we can do to change that reality, but we can indeed support moves designed to achieve a more habitable, rational world.
«We will come out of this stronger if we are able to cooperate»
Do you think this pandemic represents a second chance in some way?
I tend to be optimistic – as I believe the world has always progressed – so long as we don’t stick to shortterm fixes. For example, it’s obvious that, despite the uncertainty, COVID-19 has been dealt with much more effectively than the 1918 flu pandemic. I’m less optimistic about the economic turmoil, as I think it’s unlikely we’ll see a real desire to reduce the huge inequalities, which grow – rather than shrink – with each crisis.
They say philosophers help find the way out of crisis situations and that, when times are tough, they have more work. Do you believe we’ll see the light?
Philosophers often complicate matters further and even turn common sense on its head, as they never stop challenging and questioning anything we’ve always taken for granted. What philosophy can offer, precisely because it never stops churning ideas over, is that readiness to reflect, to seek the reasons for what we do and, even, to introduce doubts whenever everything seems perfectly clear. Complexity is a characteristic of our modern world and striving to understand it is an endless task. Philosophers never tire of inquiring and questioning.
Do you believe democracy is being affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
Democracy can emerge stronger if we are capable of demonstrating that joining forces and cooperation are essential when it comes to tackling major crises.
Your latest book, The Pursuit of Happiness, is a philosophical work. How is happiness related to ethics?
Totally, because, as Aristotle said, happiness is the goal of human life and pursuing it entails living a good life, that is to say, a virtuous life.