Opinion: The coronavirus wisdom of Stephen Colbert and Rousseau

As many European states begin relaxing restrictions in the COVID-19 outbreak, we'd do well to think like the comedian and philosopher, says Cristina Burack. It can help avoid a false dichotomy between liberty and health.

What do an American comedian and an 18th-century French philosopher have to do with the coronavirus? These past days, when I’ve read the latest coronavirus news, I can’t help but think of Stephen Colbert and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. An odd couple perhaps, but one that can help reframe how we think about the pandemic and restrictive measures. […]

A lesson in improv

[…]”One of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you’re in the scene too. So hopefully to them, you’re the most important person, and they will serve you.”

‘Forced to be free’

However, for this to work, everyone must buy in. That’s where Rousseau comes in. In The Social Contract, his monumental treatise from 1762[…]
But, as he admits, “individual self-interest may speak to [a person] quite differently from how the common interest does.” […]

Compelled to prioritize one another

[…]  So let’s keep improvising, with Colbert and Rousseau in mind, and make sure everyone else around us is the most important person in the scene.


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