What COVID-19 might also be threatening – “our” dream of absolute control….

You can look at the top of a fountain of water and think it is static. But it is only there because of a constant flow of water, versus gravity. (1) The perception is an illusion. In strange days like these, we can see this (whether it’s always full supermarket shelves, or ICU beds, or whatever)

Thanks to long supply chains, fancy logistics, we have lived these last 40-ish years with permanent global summer time (no seasons), the “always on” world where enough money buys you (the illusion of) total freedom. That – if you are IN IT – seems normal, just, permanent.

Of course, if you don’t have money, or get sick, or are involved in an accident, well, the illusion is damaged, sometimes beyond hope of recovery. Right now, there is a simultaneous breech in the illusion – this virus is punching holes in the walls of “reality.” That’s why I put scare quotes around “our” in the title. What do you mean ‘we’, white man?

If you always had money, and had no imagination, no perception of your own privilege, of just how unusual the PGST world, 24/7, JIT logistics was, then the psychic/cognitive shock is just overwhelming. So you deny “It’s just the flu”, or you try to regain control through so-called “panic buying” (2). You look for something that will help you to not see what is happening.

It’s not JUST a possible unravelling of “neoliberalism” (another loaded term) but of a dream of predictability

We” were told, from the 1950s on, that the future was gonna be so bright we’d have to wear shades. There was going to be MORE of everything, and everything was “under control”. A comforting story, that you’d be unusual not to want to believe.

It’s not just lungs which are under threat from COVID-19 (and for god’s sake, stay indoors if you can, wash your hands etc). It’s that myth of control, of predictability, that things can be managed. Some can, sure (yay antibiotics and checklists). But much cannot: more than we want to admit.

If/when we come out of “the other side” of this into some new “normal” the psychological and social desire to repress this moment, this lesson, will be huge.We will want to manage our terror by forgetting what we saw.

Those of us who think climate emergency is about more than carbon, that it is about our relations with other people, with other generations, with other species,  will need to keep that discomfort alive… /end

 

 

Footnotes

(1) this is a tidied up and footnoted version of a Twitter thread I wrote as a first draft of a coda for an academic article I am about to submit..

(2) “Panic buying” is a loaded term to cover many differently motivated bhvrs . If you don’t trust the assurances of politicians like Boris Johnson that everything is “under control” then it is surely “sensible” to “panic buy.”  There’s a lovely thought experiment in “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge about a brewery and its customers not being able to communicate effectively and causing unnecessary heartache for each other. Well, the  same dynamic plays out. And no, I did not go out “panic buying”  I am not trying to wrap up shitty behaviour in some sort of half-assed justification. Not that behaviour, anyhowsame

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