Too many items from my RSS and newsletters apps piling up in my Reading List again, some of which go back weeks; time for an infodump.
When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities: I met up with crewmates for movie nights, complete with snacks, and binge-watched all of “Game of Thrones” — twice.
A global, novel virus that keeps us contained in our homes—maybe for months—is already reorienting our relationship to government, to the outside world, even to each other. Some changes these experts expect to see in the coming months or years might feel unfamiliar or unsettling: Will nations stay closed? Will touch become taboo? What will become of restaurants?
But there is also an essential support layer that requires people to be out of their homes: we need governance and security, we need a supply system for the essential goods: trucks and drivers, and people who maintain our ports, electricity, water, sewage, Internet, media. We need people who care for the vulnerable. We need a banking system and those who staff the supermarkets, cleaners for the offices of those who cannot work from home. We still need systems and people to deal with the dead, ensure animal welfare, to remove rubbish. Who grows and harvests the food?
Justin E. H. Smith:
The interruption is not total, of course. Normies seem particularly fond of toilet-paper joke memes for the moment, while the extremely online instinctively disdain them. Both the normies and the extremely online are, as they have been since 2016, far too reliant on the language of “apocalypse” and “end times.” These are not the end times; even a nuclear war would not be the end times for all the creatures on earth, among which there will always be at least some extremophiles to relish any new arrangement of the ecosystem. What this is, rather, is a critical shift in the way we think about the human, the natural and the overlap between these.
In these alarming and unusual times, windows, balconies, and roofs have become more than architectural details, but stages for the human spirit to shine. Citizens of the United States, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, and other places have been on lockdown, forced to create new ways to connect and not be alone. Music has been shared from rooftops, exercise classes across balconies, messages of faith and creativity posted on windows. Collective outdoor applause has been scheduled to celebrate health and other public workers.
All over America, the coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit, with power structures built on punishment and fear as opposed to our best interest. Whenever the government or a corporation benevolently withdraws some punitive threat because of the coronavirus, it’s a signal that there was never any good reason for that threat to exist in the first place.
Leaked notes from an internal meeting of Amazon leadership obtained by VICE News reveal company executives discussed a plan to smear fired warehouse employee Christian Smalls, calling him “not smart or articulate” as part of a PR strategy to make him “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”
My grandmother was born in 1928; she spent the first 10 years of her life living through the Great Depression in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the last five years of her life hoarding food until it rotted in her fridge and pantry. The trauma never left. Neither will the trauma of thousands upon thousands of deaths once it’s safe to leave our homes. When we emerge, we will be different people in a different world.
While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there’s no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn’t be dangerous if competent people were on the job. A pandemic story like that would be similar to what’s known as an “idiot plot,” a plot that would be resolved very quickly if your protagonist weren’t an idiot. What we’re living through is only partly a disaster novel; it’s also—and perhaps mostly—a grotesque political satire.