There is an illness in our midst, and it may not be the one we think. American culture surrounding medicine is sick, and we have a malformed idea of bodily health.
The way our culture approaches medicine is disordered because we know neither the end of medicine nor how to achieve it. We view its aim as happiness or even an immortalization of the limited body. Contemporary medicine often fails to take account of the whole good of the human person.
Aristotle begins the Nicomachean Ethics with the words: “Every art and every kind of inquiry, and likewise every act and purpose, seems to aim at some good.” By the logic of his initial assertion, Aristotle later proclaims that the end of medicine is health.
The aim of health is twofold. We discern its first aim from the Old English root of the word “health,” meaning “soundness” or “wholeness.” The second aim is supplied by two Greek words often translated as “health”: hygieia and euexia. Hygieia means living well, or a good way of living. Today we use the word “hygiene” to refer to common-sense practices such as brushing your teeth, washing your hands or showering regularly. Euexia aids in the aim to live well because it allows us to possess the good habits necessary to fulfill our telos, our ultimate aim.
The words health, hygieia and euexia, reflect the twofold aims of medicine: wholeness and living well. COVID-19 regulations attack both of these aims and prevent us from fulfilling our telos.
Our ultimate goal is eudaimonia. Each individual should strive to live the good life, a life in which man reasons well, ordering the soul upon the principle of rationality.
Bodily health is a good. We are caretakers and stewards of our bodies. Yet, it is clear that the necessity to care for our bodies is not our ultimate end.
The highest human goods cannot be achieved without the body, for humans are a unity of body and soul. However, if we begin to seek bodily health purely for its own sake, we cease to see its twofold purpose as both a good in itself and a means to a higher end. Friendship, service, and worship require some degree of health.
To live according to the eudaimonic life, Aristotle stipulates that friendship is necessary.
According to Aristotle in book eight of Nicomachean Ethics, the highest form of friendship requires familiarity and time spent together. COVID-19 regulations prevent such friendship by essentially isolating us.
Online interactions divide and simplify us into pixels, separating us from our essence. On a screen, three-dimensional persons become flat. The turning of the soul that naturally occurs in the classroom becomes a merely digital affair. Virtual classes divide the teacher from the student and divide the student from the peer.
These regulations bodily and emotionally separate us through physical distance. Since it’s already difficult to meet and grow close with new people, even our dorm-mates, restrictions prohibit new friendships from forming. They are an inhibition on community life and inhibit us from fulfilling our telos.
To live healthy lives we must observe the language of the body to understand how we should use it and treat it.
We can know the telos of the face from observation. Our faces are created to display thousands of complicated social cues, cues necessary to communicate our understanding, our comfort level and the content of our heads and hearts. We use the face to communicate; the face is made for display. When we lose half of our faces to masks, we pay the price of a lessened education, lessened friendships and a lessened life.
Therefore, as COVID-19 regulations attack the aim of health, wholeness and living well, they cannot be described as healthy. As the word “health” continues to be used in the context of masking, distancing and stifling of the community, we continue to disfigure our conception of what it means to be a healthy person.
To clarify, we are not arguing that these regulations must be stripped away nor masks abandoned. We should not be reckless, yet we also cannot avoid risk at all costs.
This is not a cry for revolution, but a call for reflection.
We should prudently discern a mean that not only reflects the opinions of those experts on bodily health, but also centers around the prime human good in a holistic way.
An excess of care for bodily health occurs when it begins to dehumanize ourselves and our fellow man. The pursuit of health should allow man to be human, to fulfill our telos of reasoning and reflection in the rationally ordered soul and life. COVID-19 restrictions dehumanize us, flattening us into pixels, divide us from our faces, and separate us from the prime means of reaching an ordered soul: friendship and community.
At the end of February, UD experienced its first real Friday on the Mall in weeks; a month of heightened coronavirus regulations and an infamous snow week had smothered student life. Companions gathered joyfully to celebrate a campus ritual. Music, booming laughter and brazen shouts echoed loudly down the Mall: a hymn to the weekend.
As friends, long isolated by ice and hidden by false faces, mustered to dance to Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” a UD officer encroached upon each group. One-by-one, conversations died in awkward silence as the COVID-19 regulation enforcer told them to “distance themselves” and “mask up.” Friends drifted back to their dorms or to separated corners of campus. The football stopped flying and Capp Bar cups disappeared. Music still played, but it played on an empty Mall.
As of April 11, there is one active student COVID-19 case on the Irving campus. We are sick, but clearly not with COVID-19.