Life During Repetition



This ain't no party, this ain't no disco,
This ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain't got time for that now

—Talking Heads

The future after Covid: replication of the old normal with a difference: traumatic scars, anti-social tendencies, emotional deadness (spores of dead feeling floating across the ocean of the self). The microtexture of everything will be altered (even if the macrotexture is roughly the same). New precedents will be set, old barriers broken down and liquidated. The human will never be the same again even if human activity in the aggregate remains the same. We will feel the intensity of the differential.


“Formerly man had only a body and a soul. Now he needs a passport as well for without it he will not be treated like a human being.”
―Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday

We’ve commenced an era in which nostalgia-haunted, half-aware souls can only know themselves through the careful re-assembly of their own fragments. Social media is a kind of cognitive mitochondria: an assembly center for the self.

Self-knowledge is self-documentation.

Inwardness is outwardness reverse-engineered.


I’d like to extract the core of conservationism from conservatism and replant it in a bigger pot; where many see progress, safety, science—I see winnowing, narrowing, destabilizing; I see the destruction of ecological pillars of the human self, the poisoning of the system that is the Soul.

I have the melancholy feeling that the last year has cut a major highway through the human soul: the equivalent of a Robert Moses-style highway running through an old neighborhood, farm, or forest. I see a new kind of brutalism in the ‘safety’ measures that have been put in place through fiat governance: a brutalism of the spirit.

Where, in the wake of mass vaccination, ‘experts’ see a gradual, halting return to normal, I sense that the old normal—however flawed—is gone forever: that we have rewired our nervous systems (children most of all) in such a way that we are not even capable of experiencing life as it was.

Inside of us, old villages have been paved over for office towers and public housing; what little of the wild in us has been replaced with unsustainable cognitive development.


This story is in every child’s mouth: Bessus the Paeonian, being reproached for wantonly pulling down a nest of young sparrows and killing them, replied, that he had reason to do so, seeing that those little birds never ceased falsely to accuse him of the murder of his father. This parricide had till then been concealed and unknown, but the revenging fury of conscience caused it to be discovered by him himself, who was to suffer for it.

—Montaigne, Of Conscience

A new kind of neurosis: the Mind can no longer be located in the skull; the Mind is out there—floating in front of us on our screens. The ‘hive mind’ feeds on the schizophrenia—the splitting—of hundreds of millions of individual minds. To be online means to constantly ask the question ‘am I swarm of thoughts or am I thinker?’ ‘Can I think or merely participate in a thought?’


Our external selves—our social media handles—are repetitions of our biological selves with a difference: they can be what we wish to be; they are fulfilled wishes, manifestations of a secret ideal. The Internet is not so much a new distribution of knowledge as it is a redistribution of a selfhood, a proliferation of idealizations.


Meme cultured is a devolved form of Gutenberg culture—big ideas without the big words—at once more primitive and more efficient than the era which preceded it.


We have very few opportunities to define ourselves apart from, and other than, institutions, creeds, material incentives; we surface out of the sea of systems only a few times in our lives for air—if that. So Covid, it follows, was a relatively lost opportunity for many—a lost opportunity to be anything other than a card-carrying member of the herd.

If you wanted to know how you would have behaved during any other mass movement, like the totalitarianisms of the 20th century, you now have a much clearer idea…

The sad fact, I suspect, is that the number of truly fearful Covid hysterics was relatively small (a passionate minority), but that the number of passive nihilists—who simply didn’t want to be disliked or exiled from their little social clubs—was quite high. I really don’t blame the people who were—and are—afraid; but for the strategic and the opportunistic, I have complete contempt.


A world with cameras everywhere, with bio-tags, bio-passports, a world where your identity is tacked to your forehead, tattooed to your skin—a world without privacy—is a world where difference has been outlawed and only repetition is legal. The ironclad law of modernity is as follows: homogeneity drives out heterogeneity, repetition drives out difference.


Courage and consolation are the same thing: have one and you have the other.


To be an existentialist means that you are capable of enduring repetition and producing difference; to be truly alive is to be capable of mutation.


No longer vulnerable to nature—except in extreme circumstances like the ‘Texas freeze’—and able to numb and transform our bodies almost at will, modern people can only really cycle through an increasingly small menu of lifestyle options on their way from birthday to death. Alas.