Toronto city declared a state of emergency a few days ago, and if it wasn’t already obvious before then, things are now definitely not normal. President Trump, yes Trump, has now implemented what amounts to a UBI package for the vulnerable, even as the Republicans have also somehow managed to screw that up. Over here in Canada, something else is brewing. “Supply booths” have begun to pop up around neighborhoods where people can freely take useful items like gloves, masks, and (I never understood this) toilet paper.
All that is solid melts into air. all that is sacred is profaned…Marx, Capital
Pandemics have an odd way of turning everything solid again. The fluid, ephemeral quality of money, which we so treasure, must now—at a moment’s notice—be turned into what can actually be used. Some of us (the lucky ones who have the money to go out and spend) now realize, as we’re browsing frantically for that last batch of toilet paper with our credit cards firmly in hand: wait a minute, I think I got bamboozled.
In this state, the state of visceral material need, the world draws us back in from our flights of fancy. We turn away from the Platonic world of abstract Justice, Equality, and Freedom in the same way we turn away from the TV when life calls, and for the first time we notice bodies and we begin to treat people as, well, people, who, like us, are doggedly embodied. Those supply booths are a testament to that. We are living more communally than most of us young people have ever lived.
It is not uncommon, and certainly we are seeing this now, for some leftists to see potential in these developments. Even the relief packages by the government are evidence of the fact that we can, should we choose to, live in a better world. I want to believe that all this will last, but that does not seem to be how things go.
If anything, the transitory nature of events like these are built into our very Western vocabulary; it is narrativity par excellence. An event thrusts our contemporary heroic figure into action, we struggle at first, we fall to our lowest low, at which point we look ourselves in the eyes and somehow, just somehow, manage to pull through. And where do we arrive? Where we began. Different, but same. The prototypical Western narrative, in all its change, only ever pushes towards the final Return. The viral curve mimics the act-structures of Hollywood. We just can’t wait for everything to return to “normal.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures, or so we say. And perhaps this is all the present communism will ever be, just a desperate measure. It is okay to beg for food and shelter when a virus threatens us all, yes, that is understandable, but as soon as the smoke clears, it becomes once again criminal. We forget the people on whose blood we fed and will feed, not just during these global crises but every moment in between. Equilibrium is restored, the hero returns. The story ends. And who reads the Afterword anyways?
Like the Marvel movie-goers, we gawk at a series of momentary spectacles, between which we sit and wait for the sequel. Even Bill Gates acknowledges this point, though he does not see his own actions as those that produce it. We ebb and flow, in and out, like lulling waves, trapped in a sitcom-style limbo where nothing real ever happens.
Can we turn away from the TV, and this time for good? Well…