"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coming Apart At The Seams–Corona, The Frightening Dismantling Of America And Nowhere To Turn

It didn’t take long.  On a neighborhood walk this morning a pedestrian was given very wide berth – an older American sidelined as quickly and summarily as any black teenager in a white neighborhood.  “Now you  know how it feels” said his progressive friends who had hectored him long and hard for his conservative stand on community and race; and who said that he had never done enough for the poor and the marginalized, the discriminated against, and the unwanted.

Cold comfort, for what righteous glee could possibly compensate for being thrown into an airless hold of a slave ship? It wasn’t ‘batten down the hatches’.  The hatches, sea-seasoned teak and iron chains, had been battened down over the bodies below by an y an unseen captain, and there was little hope of seeing light and breathing fresh air.

Image result for images slave ships

There was not a little contrition by Harry’s hardline, conservative friends who now, ironically, after years of condemning government, looked to Washington for a lifeline.  Trillion dollar bailouts, taxpayer investments in businesses, factories, and individuals about to go under through no fault of their own, looked good – the only way that the American economy could hope to survive and recover the worst financial and economic crisis since 1929.  Maybe we were wrong, these death bed converts admitted.  Perhaps there might be a role for government after all.  The private sector, is now looking like nothing more than scattered flotsam and jetsam with no coherence, bits and pieces of individual enterprise adrift along unpredictable currents with variable winds; and no charts to guide any possible navigator through them.

So when these converts do then look to Washington for succor – a lifeline at least to what they fear is a sinking ship – they see only confusion and dissent.  But then again, why should anyone expect an administration which came to power as the the only crew able to drain the Foggy Bottom swamp, to get rid of the bureaucratic hangers-on, and to reform Washington from a tax-sodden, lumbering, hulk to a vibrant, energetic, facilitator of enterprise, to suddenly do an about face and become a neo-Roosevelt savior? 

Image result for cartoon images of a cracked, worn Capitol

The panic is not so much for fear of catching the Corona virus or even dying from it, but of being left alone on uncharted waters.  In a world where private equity is disappearing, public sector institutions are being dismantled and disassembled with assembly instructions long ago tossed in a dumpster; and where communities are being broken into inchoate parts because of me-first identity politics, there cannot be much hope for ships to be made seaworthy again. 

This is what anxious fear is all about – the sense of powerlessness in the face of a disaster which is not of any one person’s making and over which no one has control  The Corona virus is like metastatic cancer, spreading, infecting, destroying everything in its path with no brakes or sea anchors, and no guidelines to point out where its path of destruction will go next.   And in the face of such irrational disorder, one can only act irrationally.  When the moorings which tether ships at port, strong tight lashings woven to last out the worst storms and rising tides, come loose, and ships are pushed out to open waters, hope quickly fades.  There will be no Coast Guard to the rescue, no flotilla of shrimp boats to pick up survivors, no flood tide to bring them back to shore.

A free-floating anxiety, a nameless, frightening, universal feeling of desperation, of certain loss, of never-to-be-recovered well-being.

If there is any good side to this emergency, it is an existential one.  Life at best is a precarious, doubtful enterprise over which no one has any control.  The centrifugal force of history’s recurring cycles is frighteningly powerful  There is no way to return home, to the eye, to the calm at the center of the spinning wheel once it has started spinning.

This all gives one a sense of insignificance and of futility.  The engines that move events are without engineers – self-propelling, inexhaustible motors with no purpose for being or no destination.  It is no wonder that people turn to God.

Yet such circumstantial faith is better than none.  Tolstoy spent his entire life trying to understand the meaning of it – not only why are we here and where are we going, but why did an omnipotent, omniscient God create an intelligent, sentient, insightful, creative being; give him a few short decades of life; and then consign him for all eternity in the cold, hard ground of the steppes?  This question without answer was the one which gave Tolstoy solace.  It is the irony of it all, the senselessness of a life without meaning pawed over like a bin of used clothing by a race of beings who insist there must be meaning somewhere.

Image result for images tolstoy

Tolstoy’s epiphany and final resolution – he concluded that the only recourse in a life without meaning was to do good – anticipated Sartre, the existentialist who came to the same conclusion but added that individual good meant nothing unless it became universal, an impossible goal and one which further darkened his vision.

Tolstoy’s famous character, Ivan Ilyich, lay dying from a terminal illness which for months he had denied; but as the illness progressed and the light at the end of the tunnel dimmed, he panicked.  His well-ordered and –planned life was worth nothing.  His associates were never friends. He was far less than the long-inflated image of himself led him to believe.  He had only a few short weeks to make sense of the life he was leaving.  There were periods of anger, recrimination, hatred, and despair, all without resolution.  Finally when death arrived, he said, “Is that all?”.  The fear of death was far worse than death itself.

Image result for Images Ivan Ilyich

So perhaps this is the time for reflection, for reconsideration, and readjustment.  Perhaps the urge to convert from conservative to progressive may pass with time, and the need for a spiritual or philosophical anchor gone with the return of calm seas; but there is no one who will not be fundamentally changed by this experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.