On the sociology of permanent crisis
It is hard to look at the dictatorial, fiat government but formerly liberal republics—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Great Britain… California (to name a few)—and not feel that the real story of COVID, the revolution of the greatest consequence, is the evolution of the relationship between the individual and the state. The ridiculous, almost childish, panic over the less virulent, so-called Delta variant only underscores the market demand for more fear, more safetyism… as if the architects of the new biomedical state have only just realized that that state will collapse if COVID is accepted for what it is: endemic.
‘Zero COVID’ is a euphemism for a permanent state of emergency: an ultra-modern prison state where the natural immune system is usurped by systems of surveillance and control.
It seems to me that all the shame hurled at those selfish, non-compliants like myself was over the past 18 months, was, in a sense, a projection of the shame that the compliant felt towards their own deeply submissive behavior: a vanguard action taken against the possibility of any kind of collective memory or belief which could invalidate the premises of the new, hyper-medicalized world.
The entire COVID crisis has been marked not only by a tangy kind of panic and sensationalism, but by an underlying hysterical smugness as well; hyper-cautious, apocalyptic, plague-addled germaphobes look down upon the fearless as inept, stupid, and literally murderous, evil. In a breathtakingly textbook inversion of morality, those who are least capable of rational thought, mutual tolerance, and historical perspective have raised themselves above those who simply are willing to live with an incrementally, almost vanishingly small risk of mortality.
For the first year of the pandemic, compliance with regimes of power was the de facto position for liberals who assumed that the community of consensus they belonged to could only generate truths and sensible positions. Secure in the belief that The Times, the CDC, MSNBC, The Atlantic, the Biden campaign and later administration, et al. could do no wrong, naive liberals committed fully to a recklessly disengaged, passive, and frightened style of life predicated on a surrender of agency to health officials. For liberal elites whose livelihoods and success were themselves predicated on association with prestigious institutions, public health compliance was conducted in self-defense: ‘NPI’s have to work because NPI’s are being promoted by my tribe’. In a frankly insane leap of logic, wearing a mask and staying home became conflated with not being a Trump voter. COVID compliance was a repression of really what Martin Gurri has called ‘the revolt of the public’; compliance was a means of shaming and disenfranchising populists and non-elites who dared to assert their own values.
The ideology that arose around NPI’s employed by (formerly) liberal governments was founded on the fallacious and twin assumptions that (government funded) scientistic institutions produce absolute facts and that unaffiliated commentators and thinkers—outsiders—only produce lies. Essentially, the pandemic was a moment of opportunity for states to re-found themselves on their own self-affirming epistemology rather than the people; democratically elected leaders used, and continue to use, COVID as a pretext ignore or manipulate the will of the people they govern. The pandemic was a moment decoupling between ruling institutions and the unaffiliated plebeians who dared to try to live outside a state of exception they did not vote for.
The world wrought the eschatology of COVID—the total set of speech codes and behavioral mandates which were developed almost overnight by governments and allied institutions (like media)—is depressive, paranoid, low-information, coercive, fundamentally unfree… and not going away. To have masked up, stayed home, obeyed lockdowns, reported neighbors, chastised friends, is to have participated in the creation of a public and social sphere hostile to conviviality, trust, and practical ease of movement. The readiness with which ordinary people across the globe allowed faceless, self-interested conglomerates of power to regulate their bodies, their speech, and their beliefs is one of the more bizarre mass hallucinations of the past hundred years, a McCarthyism of the body.
COVID—that generally mild and somewhat novel upper respiratory virus—was a catalyst for The State to re-centralize power and accelerant for state-adjacent, state-like actors like Facebook to increase their market share (and all that implies).
A new alliance must be made between the people who understood right away what the real long term risks of the crisis were—the disabling of democratic will—and formerly compliant COVID moderates who now understand that emergency powers are no longer justified and that the eradication of COVID was never a viable goal.
To live with COVID, in short, is to live with ourselves.