Monday, 21 December 2020

Resist or Die

An implicit celebration of nihilism turns into

satire or pop culture. The seriousness of it all is minimised.

Posted by Jeremy Dyer

We have all become more aware of how fragile we actually are (mind, body, and spirit), and are all hanging on to the reality that we once knew, though it is slowly dissolving. But the future marches inexorably upon us, clouds of toxic mind-dust choking all hope. Right now we face an unprecedented assault upon body, mind, and spirit, akin only to a World War or widespread plague.

In normal times, society had the bedrock of religion, and a fatalistic stoicism; death was part and parcel of life: people died, but the living moved on. Society ticked along all by itself, and we just went with the flow in a reasonably predictable world. There was the assumption of law and order that did not require our active engagement. There was an education ladder and a job at the end, if you put in the effort. Predictable.


Initially we were confident that this Corona-tsunami would pass. However, as it has stubbornly persisted, a future desert of human and economic devastation is steadily coalescing. According to the UN World Food Programme’s David Beasley, more than a quarter-billion people are now “marching toward the brink of starvation”, in large measure due to the Coronavirus. 400 million full-time jobs have already been lost.


Additionally it is becoming glaringly apparent that “leaders” and “scientists” alike are actually confused and unsure what to do. Like us, they are in fact flying by the seat of their pants. In one of the world's largest cities, New York, wrote Dan Adler of Vanity Fair, “frenzied confusion [is] about par for the course.” It has become obvious that the powers that be are not looking after our interests in the broader macro-economic or philosophic sense ...



The whole machine of civilisation is choking and stuttering, 
and a group of vultures are profiteering off its suffering.

In South Africa, where I write, “Rona” has glaringly exposed our elected officials for the worthless thieves that they actually were all long. The Auditor-General, Tsakani Maluleke, turned up “frightening findings,” and law enforcement agencies are investigating more than R10.5 billion (£500 million, or $700 million) in potentially corrupt Coronavirus spending across South Africa.

“What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” (Morpheus, The Matrix, 1999).

The whole machine of civilisation is choking and stuttering, and a group of vultures are profiteering off its suffering. Bolts and cogs are daily falling off the interlocking wheels of our finely-meshed consumer society. Doomscrolling news on our smartphones only intensifies our existential angst.


Is it any surprise people feel the claws of despair in their inner being? No wonder existential anxiety is at an all-time high the pain of being alive; the pain of accepting that our own fate is horrifyingly, completely up to us. The philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote that it all evokes nausea.


Society offers very little hope, though some rage against this “invisible other” by destroying all symbols of authority and civilisation. But the spectre of a wasteland is not an encouraging future.


Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

(Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919).


In our 21st Century consumer society, we have become accustomed to problems being solved. We have become thin-skinned, forgotten the reality of war, and cannot accept that misfortune is “just life”. We demandingly insist that things get resolved, be it a skin cancer, refuse removal, or a luke-warm latte.


We find cognitive dissonance (stress, conflict) intolerable. So we act out, protest, insist on pills to solve what is essentially a personal, existential issue. We want pharmacy to numb our philosophy. Or money to numb our fear of poverty. Usually both. We feel the pressure of slowly being reduced to animals. Our noble ideals of ourselves as spiritual, caring and helping others, being steadily crushed by the predatory motivation of “every man for himself”.


The future appears “bleak,” as the trendy expression goes, but it is also a bleakness we have created in our own minds. Despair prompts apocalyptic solutions: get solar, prep your bunker and grow your own food; yield all responsibility to a totalitarian state; retreat into a personal haze of addiction and denial; kill yourself.


Realistically though, this is not the end of the world, but just another catastrophe, and a relatively mild one by historical standards. We should most determinedly resist despair.


What else remains but hard, personal moral choices?

6 comments:

Thomas Scarborough said...

Over on Facebook, Frank D. Spencer comments:

'That first paragraph is rather funny.... We do have a widespread plague 🤣😱' (the emoticons: extremely funny and screaming in fear).

Thomas Scarborough said...

We seek not to favour editor's perspectives over writers'. On the contrary, we seek to draw out writers' perspectives. See our last article, which presented a quite different perspective.

In March of this year, our editorial (Doc Martin and me) came close to estimating the case fatality rate of COVID-19, at 0.3%. Out by a fraction, at a time when the consensus was out by a factor of 10 or more.

Plague, by one definition, is 'an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality'. Our author wrote that we have something akin to that. Whatever he might think, the piece is premised on the seriousness of the situation.

terence grant said...

Extremely well-written.

Keith said...

Yours, Jeremy, is an interesting summary of the world’s landscape, which catches one’s breath.

There is, I’d propose, a curiously dystopian air set by the essay. How? Well, dotted throughout are siren words like these:

‘Resist or die’, ‘fragile’, ‘reality…slowly dissolving’, ‘toxic mind-dust’, ‘choking all hope’, ‘fatalistic stoicism’, ‘desert of human and economic devastation’, ‘marching toward the brink of starvation’, ‘frenzied confusion’, ‘civilisation is choking and stuttering’, ‘vultures’, ‘doomscrolling’, ‘cognitive dissonance’, ‘insist on pills’, ‘numb our philosophy’, ‘reduced to animals’, ‘predatory motivation’, ‘bleak’, ‘apocalyptic solutions’, ‘kill yourself’.

Yet, the closing remark turns suddenly and unexpectedly to the upbeat: ‘Realistically, though, this is not the end of the world, but just a relatively mild [catastrophe] by historical standards. We should most determinedly resist despair’.

Intriguingly not, let’s say, quite the tragic wind-up I had anticipated.

Jeremy said...

Dear Keith. I am a realist, yet actually optimistic. I think it is all about personal choices and responsibility! ala Viktor Frankl.

docmartincohen said...

I do feel Jeremy has "caught the zeitgeist" here, or put more simply, that he has captured the spirit of the times.

"The whole machine of civilisation is choking and stuttering, and a group of vultures are profiteering off its suffering. Bolts and cogs are daily falling off the interlocking wheels of our finely-meshed consumer society. Doomscrolling news on our smartphones only intensifies our existential angst"

What seems to me to be novel, is the conviction today, Fred by our governments and media, that we 'should' be able to stop the spread of an illness, to avoid getting ill, to only die gently, at a time of our own choosing. Randomness, "unfairness", happenstance - all these are things that science supposedly has triumphed over! if seen as a battle between science and man on one side, and chaos and nature on the other, I'm afraid we are in a war we cannot win.

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