1. (4 May 2020)
I am so tired of all the posturing. The lines drawn to keep everything in its place and everyone accountable. The absurd insistence that people do not change.
Consider the Anthropocene. A couple of centuries of industrialisation and empire – mere decades, not even a tick in geological time – and boom, our own epoch is etched upon the earth.
So, yes, things change. It was not ever thus and will not be thus forever. People change. May we get on with it. Amen.
The all-in-the-same-boat trope
I am tired of the siren calls of the short-sighted berating the near-sighted on social media. “No, we are NOT all in the same boat!”
Indeed, we do not all occupy the same berth in the global pandemic. Some of us shelter in staterooms, crying into our empty wine-cups; many more of us are below decks, scrambling to survive. Clearly, this is true and clearly indefensible.
Yet the commonplace remains that no one on board is unaffected by the corona monster. The commonplace remains that we are all going to die, sooner or later.
And we are not in the same berth on that score either. Some of us already knew our mortality very well; some of us have been ducking and diving that knowledge all our lives.
Up to now.
So who has the advantage on that scorecard, hmm?
It would be foolish to ignore the effects – or waste the potential – of this sudden surge of unbearable reality. Think of the people with sufficient material wealth to believe that they were living apart from the wretched masses who only suffer and die. These deracinated elites are now abruptly confronted with the failure of their security and the imminent threat of a terrible death. “All that is solid melts into air,” just as Marx manifestoed. But even the air is tainted in this pandemonium.
These poor terrified and angry people. What would they not venture to make their fantasy great again? They could certainly drive all of us, unwitting or not, into fascism and war.
And yet the recognition and affirmation that we are indeed all in the same boat is the best consolation and encouragement one could offer to the people with power (and to each other, as we are all people with power, one way or another). We are not separate and we never were. It was vanity to ever think so. And, my word, look at the cost.
Consider the evidence of the evidence.
We are all in this life boat together. We are mortal, you and I, but we are not dead yet. How we live matters, because we each have a choice to make. What shall we do now? Shall we choose life or death, the blessing or the curse?
Here – perhaps – is the opening of the possibility of solidarity and peace in our common world. It is too soon to say how that might take shape in the second coming, if it comes. The world which we are preparing now.
2. “The luxury of isolation” (29 May 2020)
‘So I find myself thinking, if there’s this group of people, who are being labelled “essential”, but are being treated as sacrificial, [and] then there’s this other group of people, who are at home – like us, right? – who have the luxury of isolation. So what are we, if we’re not essential? [laugh] Are we superfluous? Are we being kept like pets? For who? What is our role?’ ~ Naomi Klein
(in conversation with Arundhati Roy, A Global Green New Deal: Into the Portal, Leave No one Behind, 19 May 2020, Haymarket Books, 26:15–26:44)
What are we? We are not separate from those others. We are also essential, vulnerable, precarious and sacrificial people. Only not yet or not so much. We are the ones whose number has yet to come up. Perhaps we are essentially the pets of the sacrificial order, tame, domesticated, kept. But let’s not fool ourselves. When any one of us is conscripted to hard labour or treated as dispensable, then every one of us lives under the threat of the same hammer, the same machine logic. We are them and they are us. This is both a natural (I mean ethical and spiritual) and a political truth. We could acknowledge that.
Those of us who do have “the luxury of isolation” and those of us who do not are distinguished only by luck. I ask you, what manner of luck is this? Let’s be clear. Whether one conceives of it as chance or fate or karma, to have been born into the “haves” or the “have-nots” is hardly an achievement that one can take credit (or liability) for. But the existence of such a world to be born into, a world of haves and have-nots – rather, of those who have taken or received and those who have not – this is an ongoing matter of design, of will and consent. Which means choice.