For five months now, the United States has been in lock-up. One of the ugliest hashtags I have seen and heard used is #AloneTogether. At first it reads like an oxymoron. If we are alone, how can we be together. It sounds like the status of the last few years of my first marriage. Sharing space with an energy pulling against you is draining.
The COVID-19 pandemic may be casting a new meaning on that phrase. If you have the misfortune of having to share more time in energy draining space with a spouse that you are considering divorcing, #AloneTogether may be the last rallying cry before calling a divorce attorney.
Technology may also impact how we view the phrase. Zoom calls and TEAMS meetings are a growing part of the workplace lexicon. The spaces that we enjoyed being alone in at home have become offices and digital conference rooms where everything from sales pitches to digital happy hours are taking place.
For the extra sensitive, walking down a sidewalk and observing people take the extra precaution of taking a wider berth around you while hindering their own breathing by wearing a mask can be disconcerting. The slightest attempts at saying “hello” or “good morning” are increasingly avoided because of fear that the slightest exhale from a fellow human may lead to a 14-day quarantine or time in a hospital on a ventilator.
In theory, the state quasi-mandated environment of staying away from each other should result in a reduction in analog contacts as our world goes increasingly digital. Hard for kids to get into school fights when kids are at home distance learning. Tough to get in a shouting match with a restaurant cashier over an order when Uber Eats, Grub Hub, or Door Dash is picking up your food.
There will be controversies; they will continue. We are humans, taking conflict to levels that exceed what other lifeforms endure. Legal philosophy should have us asking “Why are we engaging?” or “What is engagement?”. Society will have to come up with tweaks to the rules for human engagement in a digital age where a corona virus is forcing on a global scale the reconstruction of society. Should judges have to consider new threshold principles before trying to apply statutes, laws, rules, code, from a pre-COVID, non-artificial intelligence world to an issue before them arising out of a digital environment? Will we need a new definition for personal spaces? For zones of danger?
In the area of political law how we structure political engagement and eventually the rules for engagement are already taking on a new twist. For example, the recent squabble in the United States over funding for the U.S. Postal Service appears to be a result of the controversy over the use of mail-in ballots and the possibility of mail fraud. As I ponder these questions, I suspect that new legal principles will appear as COVID-19 continues to change how we address the question of whose rule should prevail during political conflict.