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A photo of an overcrowded departure hall at the Charleroi airport in Belgium led to collective outrage this week. At a time when we all have to stay in our ‘huts’ because of the coronavirus, a lot of people are still travelling abroad. The photograph is reminiscent of a statement by the 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal, ‘all suffering of the people stems from this, that they cannot stay quietly in their rooms.’

2020 was an extraordinarily fascinating philosophical experiment: Everyone without an essential job was left to their own devices at home. According to the stoic philosopher Seneca (who lived around the start of the Christian calendar), a lot of people are primarily busy running away from themselves. They travel, make trips or book a weekend away. Although those things were more difficult in 2020, new articles about lockdown parties, funshoppers and busy departure halls show how difficult it is for many people to stay quietly at home.

Show after show

Seneca also wrote: ‘One journey after another, show after show.’ And as Lucretius put it: ‘This is how everyone runs away from themselves. But what good is it if you don’t really escape? You are always following yourself, you’re always chasing your own tail. So, we should realize: it’s not the locations that are our problem, but ourselves.’

Each of us clings to our own selves and that is a difficult task as it is. Because wherever you go and however far you travel, you always take yourself with you. Consequently, you had better make sure that you maintain a good relationship with yourself. The 16th-century philosopher Montaigne described this wonderfully: ‘Strive to become someone who no longer worries about making a faux pas.’

Ages-old and up to date

Some of those people in the departure hall undoubtedly had a legitimate reason to travel abroad. But no matter how much science and technology changed the world over the past centuries, fundamental aspects of humankind have remained unchanged. The theme of ‘running away from yourself’ is centuries-old in philosophy and yet always a hot topic. Perhaps, in addition to a successful roll-out of vaccinations, we should also make this wish for 2021: find more peace and quiet within ourselves.

Over deze column

In a weekly column, written alternately by Wendy van Ierschot, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers en Hans Helsloot, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

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About the author

Author profile picture Katleen Gabriels is a moral philosopher specializing in computer ethics at Maastricht University. She conducts research into the relationships between morality and computer technologies.