Imagining the future
but first some lighter stuff
|David Iscoe||Mar 24|
First, a joke, from the days before Coronavirus! It’s from Army Man, by George Meyer and company (here’s a writeup about it from Maud Newton).
A “LAKELY” STORY
My friend from Michigan says if you pushed all the Great Lakes together they’d be as big as the Mediterranean. I say, why bother?
I love everything about this joke, enough to retire from writing jokes. That’s great because I can’t think of any right now! Just such a good, compact joke with a beautiful angle to it. It’s the innocence of the voice I really love. “Lakely” in quotes is the icing on the cake for me.
Speaking of icing, or frosting, the difference between which I don’t know, here is something that made me laugh recently…
And, speaking of food, here’s something I was thinking of after a few days of quarantine cooking…
I found a lot of other people had at least considered it in the past…
Okay, the rest of this is about the heavier coronavirus stuff, so tune out if you’re not into it.
The CV report (which ends up glancing on the recent right-wing “sacrifice for the economy” push)…
It’s day whatever of quarantine, and things are in delay from hitting me. No known COVID-19 in the house. Things are not fine, but there are pockets of time where they feel that way. I’m in Vermont with a supportive partner in a house we’ll probably have to move out of soon, due to the whims of the rich and the way they react to the economy. Long story, common story, hits a lot of others worse. We’ve got family resources to lean on if things get rough, some space for now, and are in a county that hasn’t been over-stressed yet. So the form of stability I’m experiencing is both temporary and conditional on some privileges. It’s not a sign that things are okay. But I’ll take daylight where I can get it.
Yesterday I had a zoom meeting with a lot of members – 15, it turned out! – of the writing group I attended back at the Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch, in those very recent calmer days. Last week we did prompts by email, and only a couple of us sent them. I think part of it is that everyone was still adjusting to chaos, and part was that we’re used to reading the pieces out loud, and sending writing to be read feels more vulnerable because prying eyes can pick it apart. But this time it was livelier, fuller, and spirits were good. One of the people who helps form the heart and soul of the group, a guy named Boyd who’s been through a lot and has a genuinely optimistic spirit, kept saying “I can see everyone, this is great!” and the tone he used really warmed the room.
The way the group works is, we get a prompt and spend 15 minutes writing about the prompt. Then, anyone who wants to read reads, and everyone who wants to (usually limited to a few people) comments, but only positive comments. Once all the readings are done, there’s a second 15-minute prompt and this time people read but we forego comments, in the interest of time.
The first prompt was to write a letter to someone a year from now. I tend to go sweeping collective instead of personal, I think a lot of us dudes are prone to it, so it was like, a letter to society, a little corny and overblown and inaccurate in places, but it cut to some of my thoughts, though some are raw and not too developed. Here’s what I wrote:
If you’re reading this, you’re alive. And I am alive, too, at least as of this writing. It’s something that we used to take for granted, this “being alive,” and that at least is over with. Even though most of us made it. We weren’t even decimated. (footnote - Did you know that to “decimate” is to remove one tenth? I heard that’s how they used to punish Roman soldiers who fled in battle. The unit would draw lots and one tenth of them would be executed. That’s what I heard anyway. Who’s to say if I remember correctly, or if the historians recorded it correctly)
If you’re reading this, I guess you’re interested enough to know what things I have to say. What I have for you is a question. Did you find a purpose? Remember, back before the virus, how much an industry there was in “finding your purpose,” and never did it really tell people to change their life. I don’t know what it was, actually. It’s hard for me to remember, but you’d have people doing useless things and accumulating a lot of money, and they’d be working on finding their purpose. Which was pretty easy, if that’s what you wanted. Do a useful thing. But we used to resent people for doing useful things. Bringing people food, manufacturing commodity supplies, caring for other people, assembling furniture. And so if you had one of these jobs, you weren’t considered to have found your purpose at all. You were in a dead-end job. People called you lazy, because you weren’t getting a lot of money for that job, even though it was useful and hard. They said you didn’t earn much money. That’s the word they used, “earn.” But someone who helped rich people make their money, or keep their money, or hide what they were doing, or just anyone who made a lot of noise or got a lot of attention, that person was said to have “earned” a lot.
We know that’s a lie, now. But we still haven’t figured out how to stop living that lie. Yes, some people did useful things when things got worse for everyone else. But still, it’s hard to find a job doing anything useful without getting treated like shit for it. We’re still a bunch of superstitious puritans, we still see people suffering and believe that because they suffer, they did wrong. We know it’s a lie, but we still believe it. Because what you believe is what you do, and we still haven’t found a way for what you know to change the things you do.
Basically there’s a few things that need doing: taking care of people. Making things people need – food, shelter, useful machines that help them live better or make more useful things. Teaching people how to do the things they need – the reading, the writing, the math, the crafts, technical skills, and the history and ethics and social awareness to treat people better. We didn’t teach enough of this last part. We were way short. When the crisis came up, we had some of the best technology and scientists in the world, but we never found a way to translate this to actually doing better for people. We love the tech tycoons who can send rockets to space but can’t get the moral sense together to make their factories make ventilators to save people’s lives. And we hate the social scientists and academics and ethicists, we hate the ordinary people who sacrifice for their families or communities or selves, because they don’t have a lot of money and the things they want from us aren’t convenient.
A year ago, I thought all this trauma would wake us up. But we were only half awake. Awake enough to see what we were. But like someone stuck in a nightmare, unable to actually wake up, touch the world, change things. We couldn’t imagine another way. All those days the very serious people told us imagination wasn’t practical, it turned out to be the thing we missed.
The second prompt was to follow up this letter with a letter about our biggest fear (we had ten minutes this time, after a too-generous twenty on the first). Here’s what I wrote:
My biggest fear is that this is who we are, forever – selfish, frivolous, and loving power. My biggest fear is that those of us who have the flexibility to change will get frozen in place, petrified, turned to stone, by the lack of change we see in the world, and then we’ll become agents of petrification ourselves. We’ll see other people who still have hope, and we’ll warn them and discourage them and reform to become more like us, forgetting that we once wanted to be different. And all of us, rigid and inflexible, will shatter into shards, now sharp against each other. We’ll forget that we were once part of this same whole – this same structure of stone – and that being stone, together, is what hurt us. But my hope is we’ll be like ice. Sharp and shattered, it seems, but able to flow together, became one pool, part of something organic.
That’s my fear, poetically. Materially, what I’m saying is I’m afraid of capitalism. Afraid we’ll enforce its rules on each other. Afraid that, unable to imagine other means of production, we’ll destroy society, and, instead of moving to save each other, continue competing over the scraps.
While the writing sometimes makes me cringe and I’d quibble over portions of it, the central fear that I’m struggling to articulate is something real: we’re both collectively and individually inflexible, and prone to fall back into the same destructive pattern that made people too vulnerable. And it seemed to connect with at least a few people in the group, which meant a lot.
But it was really sad to see the fears become increasingly real over the last 24 hours. We’re entering a really dark phase where “death cult capitalism” or whatever you want to call it is going from subtext to text to actual policy. The way our country works has always been killing poor people in favor of rich people’s profits. That’s why money correlates so strongly to lifespan. But in a crisis, things get more acute:
And then I saw it go official with Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick (not to be confused with ESPN’s Dan Patrick), who said that he thinks grandparents would be willing to sacrifice their lives to save the economy for their grandchildren:
I only watched the first few seconds of the video - saw some tweets and read the article here. Then last night and early today, it looks like Donald Trump was saying the same thing, and it looks like it may become federal policy to provide no more than scant, short-term relief before basically reopening the virus to uncontrolled spread, which will overwhelm hospital systems and lead to far more deaths – disproportionately from older people, but also disproportionately from poor people, and also disproportionately disabled people, and immunocompromised people, and including lots of people who will just have bad luck.
It’s distressing, maddening, saddening, exhausting, genuinely tragic. Lots of people are going to die. There’s so much wrong with what Patrick said – callous, eugenicist, immoral, based on false premises, obscures the real problem and motives, straight up evil – but one that keeps getting me is that he’s opposing any kind of economic restructuring in the name of these “grandchildren.” The economy, as is, works horribly for future generations. There’s a huge generational wealth gap, for example, that leaves younger generations with less money at the same age than any of their predecessors. It’s also causing environmental collapse that future generations will have to deal with. And employment-based health care, student debt, and other products of our current economy punish the youth as well. What he’s asking isn’t even for the immoral sacrifice he proposes - it’s that a lot of people sacrifice their lives so people in power can keep the illusion that nothing’s wrong.
Not one young person I know wants the reckless rush back to business as usual (which will be inevitable followed by health crises that will disrupt things deeply anyway) that Patrick is proposing in the crisis. Young people overwhelmingly reject the entire “peacetime” right-wing economy too, even the center- and center-left economic pictures. Young people are driving the calls to democratic socialism and environmentalism. And people like Dan Patrick and Donald Trump (and also some leaders on the center-left who I won’t name, but you know who they are) reject their voices all time. That makes me sad and angry always, but to invoke some kind of eugenic call to sacrifice in the names of the same youth you actually despise is a special level of awful.
Listening to these people, I think, will always hurt and anger me. It’s the trap we face in these times. Ignore them and you miss what’s happening, listen to them and you go crazy.
But I don’t want to end on such a note. Here’s a fun thing: dogs love to howl at the Law & Order theme. This was making the rounds recently, a great source of cheer…