Diary of a Plague Year

early March

Afternoons in my apartment are filled with the tension that comes when you lack a passion for any one thing; I am diffused; I feel diffused. The lack of real necessity is troubling. I could do this; I could do that, but the difference is negligible. I am a QuarLife dilettante—even as I reject QuarLife—like so many other members of the Zoom class.

I have just enough income to chill, but not enough income to really enjoy myself. I just have enough creativity to pass the time, but not enough to fully absorb my attention.

It seems that, long after we leave the disciplinary mill of school behind, we are subject to every kind of moral indiscipline; focus and distraction are simultaneously demanded of us by The Screen—by work and leisure, which have been mixed together seemingly forever.

In a purely logical sense, then, Zoom school will prepare children for Zoom work: for a frictional, digital, tokenized future vocation in which they are always somewhat online and available for cognitive labor.

I think we are the midst of a new kind of industrial revolution—a new enclosure movement—where the factories and the fences are invisible, and where the loss of the commons goes almost completely unnoticed.

In the network of enforce desires and fears, anxieties and obsessions, how do we distinguish a self, a soul, a situation worth defending and ennobling? What exactly is the point of all our activity? Can we defend a purpose for ourselves—or is that just a romantic fantasy produced by the matrix of meaninglessness itself?

The more I crave moral faiths and intellectual foundations, the less I trust they’re there.

The interior life of a human being must be furnished with love, or it is no interior life at all (a mirror requires light to reflect an image).

I understand the following better and better: we make life worthwhile through our presence in it. To presume that you and others are sick is to invert to the predicate of human community and communal flourishing. To avoid pain is to disable the process through which you comprehend yourself and thereby dignify yourself. To eschew risk is to eschew all possibility of strength.

The enlightenment of a society is proportional to its authentic curiosity.

It’s easy to recognize someone else’s sins, but much much harder to appreciate their greatness.

The past few spring-like days, days above 60°f in New York, have revealed glimpses of the post-Covid world, which is, fundamentally, a post-war world. The re-opened landscape—the re-opened commons—is not the one we left behind: it is the abandoned shell of the past: a place ripe only for tourism and college-y hedonism. While some neighborhoods are still completely dead—street-life still limited to masked mole-people scurrying around for essential goods—in certain parts of New York, especially downtown, post-Covid urban life has begun to assert itself.

Masks are worn while standing up, but absurdly, can be taken off while sitting down; conversation is limited to discussions of the Internet; all bars feel like Irish pubs in European study abroad hotspots.

In more sociable parts of Brownstone Brooklyn, conversely, creative-class Millennials tastefully wine at a safe distance, regaling each other with stories of online dating. All other forms of conviviality have seemingly withered away (but maybe that was already the case).

My life before Covid no longer exists; it is a strange recognition. I feel like a Quixote of the pre-Zoomer age, tilting against the onset of an impulsive, drugged, deluded decade in which the most thrilling, outrageous thing you can do is get ‘cancelled’.

Once you’ve lost the taste for liberty—for spontaneous life—you start to expect that others follow suite; you demand that others lay down their autonomy to make you feel safe. You insist on vaccine passports; you expect your friends to get tested; you get nervous without your face diaper; you implicitly assent to a medical fascism (unable to admit that your liberalism has given way to ill-liberalism). You may—most likely in fact—have never met someone first hand who has gotten seriously sick from Covid… but that doesn’t matter. You don’t believe in the immune system anymore—in anything natural—so you need new kinds of artificial systems (no matter how degrading) to be put in place in order to feel secure. In short, you like the America of Uncle Joe: it reminds you of you.