published at Counterpunch, 4/4
It is difficult to neatly encapsulate the shift that has occurred in our collective perception and experience over the last several weeks. That all semblance of ‘certainty’ and ‘normalcy’ has disappeared seems no longer the main feature—what stands out is the psychological shift underway, proceeding on the collective and individual levels. What will this mean, how will it continue to evolve? Every conversation I have now touches on the coronavirus or those things that surround it. Everything I read online is related to it. ‘Social distancing’, ‘flattening the curve’—these phrases have become ubiquitous, standardized.
The situation is increasingly and rapidly revealing a number of uncomfortable but long obvious truths about our reality, perhaps none more so than the extent to which so much we take for granted is based on inertia, faith, and on a most rickety apparatus. A humming economy, the wide availability of consumer goods, school, transport, work—all melt away in the face of the virus.
There exists, in this hyperconnected strangeness, the sense that we are living through something predictable, foreseeable. This goes beyond the specific realities of a gutted pandemic response plan (not to mention public health capabilities) and general poor management of the crisis to something more metaphysical: the ubiquitous sense in the present of doom, of apocalypse, the feeling that we are at the end of time, that there is no future. One has the sense of the present as deja vu, as almost a projected future of the past, of the 20th century, which saw the breakdown coming in the 21st. This sentiment is by no means new, but it has certainly grown more acute—it feels as if we have moved into another level of dystopia.
Of course then there is the pure economic reality of the situation: over three million jobless claims last week, by far the most ever recorded in such a brief time span. We are seeing the artifice of the ‘service’ economy disappear—again, hardly shocking for those of us who have watched this patchwork mess limp along for years or longer, especially for those of us who have worked in it. The mainstream may (or may not) be realizing what has been clear to many of us for a long time: there is no real economy.
As the situation worsens, as the wave breaks, there is something extraordinarily chilling as elected officials and ordinary people call for Trump to assert never-before-activated executive powers—as the Justice Department attempts to enact its own draconian measures—in a desperate embrace of authoritarianism, made even more chilling by the fact that many of us understand this and are willing to concede (some of it) may be necessary. All particularly in light of the realization settling in that things will never go ‘back to normal.’ What was normal?
The plain fact is that we are living as unsustainably as ever—we were before this, and we’ve hit a massive speed bump that may have ricocheted us off the edge of the cliff toward which we were already careening. If it wasn’t the virus, it would be something else. And while the United States is uniquely poorly positioned to address this, the massive jolt this has provoked the world over makes it clear enough that the systems of capitalism, of industrial civilization itself, have been teetering on the edge. What this will create is unclear, and even for those of us not totally surprised by these events, the speed has often been difficult to grasp. But something is happening, something new is coming; be prepared
“Global dimming is the reduction in the amount of global direct irradiance at the Earth’s surface that has been observed since systematic measurements began in the 1950s. The effect varies by location, but worldwide it has been estimated to be of the order of a 4–20% reduction. //
Some scientists now consider that the effects of global dimming have significantly masked the effect of global warming and that resolving global dimming may therefore lead to increases in future temperature rise.  According to Beate Liepert, “We lived in a global warming plus a global dimming world and now we are taking out global dimming. So we end up with the global warming world, which will be much worse than we thought it will be, much hotter.” The magnitude of this masking effect is one of the central problems in current climate change with significant implications for future climate changes and policy responses to global warming.”
“Wednesday was an unsettling day on global financial markets, and not just because the stock market fell sharply enough to bring a decade-plus bull market to an end.
Underneath the headline numbers were a series of movements that don’t really make sense when lined up against one another. They amount to signs — not definitive, but worrying — that something is breaking down in the workings of the financial system, even if it’s not totally clear what that is just yet.
Bond prices and stock prices were moving together, not in opposite directions as they usually do. On a day when major economic disruptions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic appeared to become likelier — which might be expected to make typical market safe havens more popular — many of them fell instead. That included bonds of all sorts and gold.
And there were reports from trading desks that many assets that are normally liquid — easy to buy and sell — were freezing up, with securities not trading widely. This was true of the bonds issued by municipalities and major corporations but, more curiously, also of Treasury bonds, normally the bedrock of the global financial system.”
earlier version printed in issue 402 of Fifth Estate
What is it that people are viscerally drawn to and simultaneously repulsed by in fascism—as it takes on its strange character in this second (digital) mass iteration?
Is it a sort of mass masochism, mass schadenfreude? This seems to apply to the dynamics of its [fascism’s] coming-into-existence. The same spirit that blandly fetishizes fascism enjoys liberalism’s tepid rebuttals: op-eds in the New York Times, John Oliver bits, the Democrats’ self-flaggelation. Is this merely thanatos, the death drive? Certainly it is a manifestation of the guilt within the liberal complex.
What are people drawn to in fascism? Is it its unbridled expression of the ethos underlying this civilization? Is this too much of a blanket statement? I wouldn’t think so. Its plain crudity, its so absurd, obvious, ultimate and base vulgarity—(here in America, the bastion of ‘plain-talk’—albeit a ‘common-man’ mentality by no means unique to here—manifested in this most American of cartoon villains: DT.)
What underlies our civilization?
Domination of the natural world & life in general, stratification of wealth & resources, militarism, classed and racial hierarchies, submission of women, environmental degradation; the list goes on. Is this not what is unabashedly signified by Trump and his cadre, indeed manifests in the most chilling & intense ways in the most diehard of his followers? They at least have the temerity to see this for what it is—but then again, maybe liberals do too, and maybe the horror and fascination of this slow fall into post-postmodern dystopianism are one and the same—maybe we are willing it to happen, along with everyone else.