There’s that crucially unpleasant moment for some of us, the less satisfied ones, the lost souls perhaps, when we come face to face with what should be a very painful fact of life in time of coronavirus: a medium-sized part of us is rooting for the bug.
Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely do not want you to die – and you particularly – we don’t want you to experience a single cough, even the people whom we don’t like, even the people whose deaths would benefit in our lives, careers, bank accounts…. We don’t want any harm to come to them, or to anyone whom they love, or the people they love love and so forth to the full six degrees of Kevin Bacon… Even the part of us that feels a small pang of disappointment with every small potential improvement in the news, that inner sadist only wants people to get sick and die as numbers, people who are not actually people, just people who are statistical facts within a figurative vacuum.
But whether or not we admit it to ourselves, there is that small part of some brains which just wants those numbers up, and up, and up, and up, because it is to only to our advantage that you all are as scared and sad and hopeless as we are. If things go to shit, lives like ours suddenly have meaning. In moments like this, madmen like me get the satisfaction of saying that we saw something like this coming. Did we see the potential for something cataclysmic because we were crazy? Or did the potential for something cataclysmic make us crazy? Or does it matter at all? Either way, before all this, people whose lives just didn’t work out the way they should have were regrettable aberrations. ‘What a shame it is that he or she or they turned out that way, but the cost of changing anything is just too great.’
Yet now, we are advance scouts who know the kingdom of madness in far greater detail than those who’ve just made its acquaintance, and if our well-being fell through the cracks a couple decades before everybody else’s, perhaps that’s just a sign that the ones who anticipated this hour of lunacy were the best of us…. And maybe, just maybe, if everything is leveled to the ground, everybody will start from zero again; we get the fresh start we made such hash of the first time around, and in this new messianic era of delirium, the mad shall inherit the earth.
But of course, this is its own form of madness just like the longing for madness to overtake others. In a level playing field, who has the competitive advantage? Is it the people who failed the first time around, or is it the people who already know exactly what success demands of them? After the fall of Soviet Union, who ultimately benefitted? The average Russian was plunged into chaos that was worse than The Great Depression (look up the statistics), but the mid-level KGB officers who knew all the secrets knew exactly who to talk to to get control of the state holdings, and now they’re Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy. After Europe 1945, The Marshall Plan did everything for Western Europe which America never did for Eastern Europe (or itself…), but however close to social democracy Western Europe ever came, at the top of their hierarchy was all the families who still held stock in the European companies who did business with America, exactly the same corporations who did business with the Nazis. The same once held true for whichever French aristocrats escaped Robespierre’s guillotine, and even in the Soviet Union, all sorts of Russian aristocrats and bourgeois kulaks knew exactly how to pony up to Lenin and Stalin, who needed their knowhow to get industries working again (read or watch Doctor Zhivago….).
And yet, however irrational, this longing to level the playing field still exists in our minds. I have to venture a guess that whether that longing has bubbled up to people’s consciousness or the unconscious cloaks it in virtue, this longing for destruction is precisely what millions of Americans have felt in the Era of Trump (and yes, of Bernie Sanders too). It is as though nature built a homing device within any civilization, perhaps any species, that grows so prosperous that they could master the circumstances of nature itself if only they properly applied themselves to understanding the situational context of their problems before they proceed to solutions.Millions of people wanted the level of change that now seems possible without their conscious selves acknowledging what every rudimentary history book already told them, and therefore what their unconscious already knows: that for societal circumstances to really and truly change, millions of people have to die. in this sense, we unleashed coronavirus on ourselves.
And yet, such are the potential delusions of human consciousness that if human beings have no enemies, the mind invents enemies. It’s much easier for human beings to understand what we’re not than what we are. The mind is much, much happier when fighting against an enemy than when it must acknowledge that its most lethal enemy is itself. And so if we’re not happy, not definitively abused but if we’ve experienced a pretty thorough unhappiness; if we suspect we’re unloved, if we need more money, if we’re overworked, if we hear or think others demean us, if we’re constantly watching the greater success of others, if we’re haunted by guilt for past behavior, or if we’re just bored, the humiliation of an unsatisfactory life is such that it is so much easier to assign blame, and far easier than to assign blame to individuals with their messy choices is to assign blame to groups: to minorities of all kinds, to capitalism or socialism, to white males, to women, to all manner of supposed cultures, to both social programs and to their absence, and yes, also to extremism too. And in this way, like original sin, no one is culpable and everyone is – or more to the point, everyone is culpable except for the people who think exactly as I do and thereby devote their lives to removing the stain of that original sin.
This is not a way of saying that you should all be blaming yourselves for your problems, you are probably the most dangerous person to blame of all, and once you rid yourself of that scourge, there is no one to whom you would not assign blame in order to stop that psychic bleeding. Rather, everyone’s problems have very specific authors, most often from situations of powerful people very distant from themselves, who made very conscious choices that affected hundreds of millions. Roughly a third of those choices were tragic matters of necessity, another third were made in craven self-interest, and still another third was made in some nebulous mixture of the two. But in the anger that comes from ruminating on all those humiliations, it’s very rare that blame is cast on the correct people or movements or social forces, and one of the most obvious culprits for our humiliations is all those people who incorrectly assign and apportion blame.
Misery loves company, and this is the first time in living memory that everybody is miserable, and many of us, whether we realized it or not, have prayed for this era before every meal for decades: the era when everyone finally become us. It doesn’t make us proud that we long felt this way, but don’t worry, eventually those of us who feel this blame consciously will feel agony from the guilt of it all, as we do about so many other episodes in our oh-so-dramatic lives long after the rest of you go back to your mildly satisfying ones.
Let’s just say that, unlikely as it seems, the damage from coronavirus is over in a year or two, Biden or some other yet unnamed Democrat wins, Trump retreats with little fuss, the economy and public health restructure themselves with relative harmony, and like the beginning of the Obama era only more so, we will feel as though America is at the precipice of a new dawn. I’ll look yet again like a Cassandra predicting the end times with a sick part of me perhaps even longing for them. And yet, I’ll probably still be the pest predicting long-term doom and looking like an unhinged moron; but so unmoored did America become, so close to the precipice, that you can’t come this close without coming still closer the next time. The true effects of global warming have not even begun – causing a refugee crisis well past anything the world has ever seen, we will be ever still more trillions of dollars in debt, and two military superpowers have as much vested interest as they ever did in preventing us from becoming successful again. The time to really and truly stop these problems was 2016. Civilizations with a true lease on life don’t experience a failure of this magnitude.
For some of us, chaos is what we understand: the loss of hope, the tragedy of losing things you didn’t even know you had, the expectation of ever greater humiliations, the growing assumption that life will take everything from you until even the most infinitesimal specks are crushed by bludgeon until the atoms themselves explode as though you ever possessed something that could cause another Hiroshima. There are those among us who undergo every day expecting the worst possible news, and more often than people realize, the worst genuinely happens. What then is left but the hope that something eventually will happen that will make other people understand and sympathetic when they were not before? Maybe this is the moment that levels us all into a greater understanding, but what a horrible horrible price.