José Saramago's Blindness Is Relevant Today More Than Ever

José Saramago’s Blindness is about society’s collapse following an outbreak of blindness that makes people forget their humanity. Sound familiar? Of course it does, we’re living it right now.

Those affected by this “White Blindness” are dragged to an asylum where everything falls apart. In this asylum forms a society within a society. Although gangs and organisations form inside, it’s all everyone out for themselves. Much like now.

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across the globe, people succumbing to their fears are demonstrating the worst kind of behaviour. On the lighter end of the spectrum: distancing themselves from anyone wearing a mask. On the heavier side: attacking anyone who “looks like they have it”, fighting over toilet roll and bulk-buying to sell at double the price, capitalising on desperation.

The more I see, hear and read, the more I’m convinced we’re living Saramago’s novel. Blindness is a metaphor ‘for both personal misfortune and social catastrophe.’ Much like The Road, Blindness ‘shows how fragile our civilisation is, and how always close society is to collapse.’ We become so caught up in this outbreak that we’re forgetting how much our actions impact on others, even if we don’t know them.

Some are defiant in the face of advice and regulations, deciding they have the right to continue their lives from before. Their logic? They’re not a vulnerable member of society so if they get it, they’ll be fine. It’s just like any other bad cold, isn’t it? Well, not to people with underlying health conditions. Not to those who are immunocompromised or those with a weak constitution. This whole ‘I’ve got mine’ mentality may not hurt you, but it hurts others. In flouting the rules, you’re helping the virus to claim more lives. (Public Sector workers and supermarket staff are exempt from the shut-in.)

I shouldn’t say I’m too surprised. This selfishness has been bubbling for at least a decade where politics is concerned. People vote for candidates who benefit them, the individual, not those who benefit society on a whole. Or perhaps I’m being simplistic. Maybe voters believe that they’re handing over power to someone who will benefit society. In their mind, their approach to fixing society that fits their worldview is the correct way.

A glass-half-full approach is that this virus has placed a magnifying glass over the world. We can work from home. Those less abled can work from home. Britons are reminded of how vital and priceless the NHS is. Those who scoff at warnings about the way we’re heading now have hard evidence that we no longer feel care towards other humans. Armed with this case, we can inspire change.

I won’t go into the plot of Saramago’s Blindness, in case there are some who wish to read it during their shut-in. I will say it ‘s dark, disturbing and presents a helpless picture. It also illuminates how much we take food, water and electricity for granted. We take those in retail services and medical staff for granted. Now, even a walk under a shower of sunrays feels more pleasurable than it used to.

Blindness and this virus teach us a moral lesson. It’s up to us to pay attention.

D. Sohi is the author of dystopian ebook Borders. Click here for more information on the book and where to get it.

When she’s not blogging, she writes fiction (of course!), reads (another of course!) and dreams in polyglot.

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