Los Angeles Times: ‘Batman’ shut down after positive COVID case, reportedly Rob Pattinson. New York Times: Trump Vaccine Chief Casts Doubt on Vaccine by Election Day Fox News: Salon owner denies Pelosi’s ‘setup’ claims, says House Speaker ‘owes the entire country an apology’. Twitter: We Might See A Lot More Coronavirus Pandemics Ahead, Experts Warn.
I feel pretty hopeless right now.
It was muggy and hot this afternoon; Long August has not yet yielded to Wet Autumn. All I wanted to do was to go to a movie theater. Movie theaters are not open, they shouldn’t open, in fact they should stay closed for so long that I’m worried that they will disappear completely. I don’t spend all day thinking about how “coronavirus sucks” but the thought isn’t far from my mind, just like other sucky facts like **** being president or climate change or megafauna going extinct. It’s a train of thought that you can’t even let leave the station because it’s just car after car of awful realities and diffuse loss. I fucked up today, I started thinking about how I usually have so many things to do with the kind of mood I had this afternoon: go to a bar and get a cocktail, visit someone, go get a meal, try and make smalltalk with strangers at a gay bar, go to the mall.
At the beginning of this, during the period I wrote from in March, it looked like this was going to be a trial of individual endurance: how long can I stay in my house, what do I do with all of this time, what new hobbies am I going to pick up, what can I learn, how am I going to connect with people in new ways? I knew our response was going to be poor, but I thought that surely the huge constituencies of people that are taking deep deep wounds from an incompetent response were going to be enough to demand action. Businesses, anything hospitality, the mass unemployed, landlords and renters alike. Instead, every single fracture point in society seems to be crumbling. The injustices that were already worn as collars have become garrotes, tightening with no sign of stopping, cutting into flesh.
I was reading Plato’s Republic yesterday (when I was 20, a cute blond cello playing philosophy major named Paul told me that I would enjoy reading Artur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation and I’m still working my way through the necessary background reading to learn whether he was right. He was drunk, and it was almost certainly the last book he had read and didn’t have anything to do with me in particular, but 10 years later I still want to know whether he was flirting with me or not.) and was struck by this observation, given by Socrates and directed towards the city—mirroring Socrate’s ideal model city—which has paid for greater wealth and a more complex development with inequality, injustice, and the presence of corruption:
“We will have to find a “greater” title for the other because each of them is a great many cities, but not a city, as they say in the game. They contain two, at any rate, which are at war with one another: the city of the poor and that of the rich. And within each of these, there are a great many more. So if you treat them as one city, you will be making a big mistake… As long as your own city is [just and soundly governed], it will be the greatest one—not in reputation; I do not mean that; but the greatest in fact…”
There’s so much captured here: the way that inequality and corruption go hand in hand, the way that displays of wealth and high levels of civic development often do too. There has always been a poor America, a rich America, a black America, a white America, a men’s America, a women’s America. Languages, countries of origin, who we love and how we worship. None of these divisions are new. What feels new right now is that it feels like we are all breaking down to the level of the pod. I feel constant anxiety about how many people are in my bubble. It makes me question my own values and good judgement. When I take down the barrier of the mask with someone new, I question their values and good judgement too, and this includes roommates and good friends and family and lovers alike. Don’t get me started on other people—everyone else gets my least compassion, my highest suspicion.
I have some ways that I am required to be in the world, and some ways that I choose to be in the world. Whether or not I engage with the outside world, events are taking place in it without me. If I choose to withdraw more, I become more dependent on people whose inability to make that choice is being exploited: retail and food workers, delivery drivers, service providers, healthcare professionals. We’re all suspicious of each other, we’re all unhappy that our way of life has been tremendously disrupted at best and obliterated at worst. I feel that friction all day, I don’t have very many opportunities to recover and rest from that friction, and I don’t have very much hope that the status quo will change for many months at the earliest, and years at worst.
One of the most shocking changes in real politics that has happened in my lifetime, the stuff underneath the bloated two party scrum, is the change in national mood between the open, assimilationist, culturally dominant, modern attitude of the United States towards the world (sometimes and somewhat reciprocated) and the closed, fearful, decaying attitude we all carry now. It’s been one of the most consistent social trendlines in my lifetime, connecting the end of “Made in USA” products at Wal-Mart to 9/11 to the shoe thrown at George W. Bush to ICE detention centers now and hundreds of thousands of corpses filled with Sackler family pharmecuticles.
(There’s a lot of erasure in this narrative. Throughout this period there have been people who have seen the ugly side, who did not participate in the civic religion. There was a girl I went to in high school who did her senior project on the Zapatistas and I sometimes think about her, and her vision of the world in relation to myself at my age. I didn’t know shit about this country or this world and when I’m honest with myself I admit that I don’t know shit about the future or what’s possible.)
One of my favorite pieces of media to revisit during the **** presidency has been Louis Malle’s 1986 documentary …And The Pursuit of Happiness (currently only available to watch through the Criterion Channel service). This documentary interviews many first generation immigrants, from a very diverse set of countries of origin and across the United States. One thing that pulses through the documentary like a pulse is the visible enthusiasm, excitement, that the interviewees have for the process of adapting to a new place.
There’s not much of that to be found right now. It’s like we’ve all woken up to the fact that we’re in a burning building, and nobody wants to evacuate without knowing who is going to be in control of who gets to come back in. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but there’s no guarantee that it gets better.