Saturday, January 08, 2022

Why It's So Bad


I'd like to talk about the world we find ourselves in as the Year Of Are Bored 2022 begins. On the surface, it is depressing and frightening. But the biggest reason it's the way it is goes all but unmentioned in media analysis -- and deconstructing it might offer some clues as to the deeper reasons we are all depressed and shellshocked.(Please listen to this Carlin routine if you haven't heard's a side channel, but the man makes some very astute observations in it.) More importantly, we might begin to grasp a way out.

The obvious first. We are two years into a global pandemic. The current wave, as we've all been informed over and over again, is generally milder in outcome but extremely contagious, yielding a situation that at first glance seems rather strange: businesses are shut down, hospitals are bursting at the seams, and the joints of society are aching badly, all for something that -- for those of us who are vaccinated, at any rate -- can be classed, at worst, as a serious nuisance. 

I in no way mean to minimize your suffering, please understand. But it's still true that many people who get covid never even realize it, and many others are mildly to moderately sick, in the manner of a cold or a flu. And others still do end up hospitalized, ventilated and even dead -- a very few in the latter category were even double or triple vaxxed, because breakthrough infection is a thing and so is vaccine escape. But you, you're sitting on your ass coughing a little and sniffling a little and thinking they shut everything down for this? Seriously?

That disconnect is fuelling all manner of deeply unhelpful conspiracy thinking: but then, everything is doing that just lately, because no matter how cynical we get there always appears a politician or other member of the so-called "elite' to show us we're not being cynical enough. Lockdowns for thee and not for me. The pandemic is ongoing when it comes to leisure but over when it comes to labour ("get back to work!").  Businesses classed as "essential" based on how much money they donated to the ruling party in the last year. Absolutely nothing done to furnish our threadbare health care system with desperately needed resources. People know bullshit when they smell it, but they have this awful tendency to assume that where there's bullshit, it's all bullshit. 

The distrust is, quite frankly, doing more than the virus to tear society apart. A lot more. Distrust curdles into hatred easily under the right conditions and these are the friggin' IDEAL conditions. 

Are we not better than this? Did we not face, and face down, much greater challenges in the recent history of our species? 

To take something in the same school, if not at all in the same class: the so-called Spanish Flu. (It originated in Kansas; the only reason we call it Spanish is that Spain had one of the few honest presses of the time.) That monster makes covid-19 seem like a mother's forehead kiss: by some estimates it laid a QUARTER of Europe to rest. Yet European society didn't entirely collapse even though it had just been beset with the most brutal war our species has fought before or since. 

Why is that? Why is it one society was so resilient and ours feels like it's collapsing in slow motion under dramatically less strain?

The answer is sobering: in our unending rush for the newest, best gadget, we have complexified our world beyond anyone's comprehension and largely forgotten what makes human society work: simplicity and community. What most of us call "community" now depends on a suite of technologies the average human being has no hope of understanding -- and it's a poor substitute for what came before, if you ask me. 

Look at this map of covid-19 cases. There are a few anomalies one way or another -- I'm curious to know what Japan's doing so well -- but by and large, the countries most affected by covid are First World nations. Africa, again with some exceptions, seems to be coping a good deal better than we are. Why is that? I'm not sure, but I think a fair postulate has to do with the way life is lived in the Third World. You're outside a lot more. You're generally not obligated to hop into a car if you need anything away from home. And most notably, your entire existence is not spent gripping supply chains. 

I'm not scared of the virus in and of itself. But I'm terrified of what it's doing to loosen those chains that hold our way of life together. 

You take a majority of truck drivers off the road because they're sick -- or because they're sick and tired of being treated like nobodies, which is a kind of sickness we don't often acknowledge --  and suddenly store shelves are bare and city dwellers who think their groceries come from Sobeys or Publix or Asda are going hungry in what we've always been told is the "richest" society in human history. Any city is just two days from mass rioting, you know.

Add in random ecological catastrophes here, there and everywhere (every last one of which is exacerbated or caused by the complexity of our world), and getting shit from A to B suddenly involves an unplanned detour through C, D, F, and Z-prime. This wouldn't be such a big deal if we'd designed our system with flexibility. But in the name of efficiency (read: greater profits), we've structured everything such that any jolt is much more disruptive than it need be. Worse, money talks even louder right now than normally. Walmart's supply issues aren't half as bad as Joe Schmo's because Walmart has its own fleet of container ships and can simply drop a billion dollars whenever it needs a port to unload them. 

Our world is too complicated. We've raised 'self-reliance' to be the highest of virtues without understand that not a one of us stands alone, or can. We've introduced all kinds of technology to insulate us from each other. (Insulate: from the Latin insulare, "to make into an island"). But we all know no man -- no human -- is an island. 

My challenge to everyone this year: look for ways to (a) simplify your life and (b) reconnect (or simply connect) with people around you, in a way that is safe, of course.  Because there is the distinct possibility of everything simplifying itself a great deal within our lifetimes. If that happens, we either stand together or fall, apart. 

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