Nature never breaks her own laws. --Leonardo da Vinci
It is said that life and experience are a continuum, never one thing or another, but rather somewhere fluctuating between opposites. I tend to agree with that assessment. However. How do junctures like these we currently find ourselves in fit within that paradigm? How do we account for periods where we are neither here nor there; caught in the liminality of a moment caused by, in the current iteration, a great social rupture? If you would allow me a brief dip into academese, Eldredge and Gould (1972), writing from a paleobiological perspective, described these reoccurring historical incidents as punctuated equilibrium ("geologically instantaneous, even if tolerably continuous in ecological time"; Gould and Eldredge, 1977). In terms of social systems and structures, group developments, and social policies, punctuated equilibrium has been explored as an explanation for sudden shifts after long periods of social stasis, which then lead to radical change (Gersick, 1988; Baumgartner and Jones, 1993; Givel, 2006).
I find this lens to be especially potent during times like these. Maybe they help me make sense of a world spiraling out of control--not that we haven't been on this trajectory for a while--but January 2020 just might mark one of these periods of punctuation. Stasis, as it is described in the theories touched on above, is seen from geologic time (meaning constantly moving but very slowly; never actually stopping). According to Merriam-Webster, it is "a state of static balance or equilibrium," which assumes a generalized kind of balance--at least as seen from a value-free lack of social engagement or understanding. M-W's definition does not recognize underlying issues, challenges, or simmering rage to this apparent "equilibrium." Keeping that caveat in mind, I can use this as a basis from which to begin.
About a month ago I moved back to the place I lived for four years, forty-one years ago. Those four years happened to be the years of high school, so strong memories and stronger friendships were forged. I left my home of twenty-five years in Oregon, where I fell in love, birthed and raised two kids, and earned a doctorate. I had never lived anywhere in my entire life longer than I did in the Pacific Northwest, and it very much feels like my home now. I absorbed and digested so much in Oregon. I've made friendships that will be with me forever, and I've learned lessons that might come in very handy in the next couple of years; things like gardening, fire-making, reducing and reusing resources, and living with very little (to name but a few). But the high desert called me with a power I could not deny. So, here I am in a place that also feels a bit like home, one that was mostly disliked during the time I was here before and was fraught with challenges to my person. The girl I was then was not thwarted by these clashes of perspective, but rather empowered by them. I'm undecided how I am reacting this time, as this time is very different indeed.
For most of the last month, I have been sheltering in place (as they're calling it)--since about a week and a half after moving back--as a result of the global pandemic known as COVID-19. The temporary job I had lined up has been frozen, as well as all my new-hire paperwork for my fall position at the university. Everything simply stopped. Thankfully, a good friend from those high school years--her two kids now grown and moved out as well--had plenty of space and offered me a room. Initially when I moved here, we thought this would be a temporary situation until I had paychecks coming in and could find a place to live. Little did we know that we would be spending 24/7 together for the first time in...well, forever. For two people who have never spent more than a solid week together--however sympatico and comfortable we've always been with each other and however long we've known each other--it's still a challenge. Our politics are quite opposite and this is a point of contention we have to navigate constantly. We usually meet in the middle and agree to disagree, but there are moments when that's not easy to do. The truth is, I haven't watched television for twenty years, deciding that I did not want my kids to grow up consuming advertising's toxic messages, so we disengaged from it. Movies were fun, but that's a very different experience to mainstream television. My friend likes the sound of TV. She uses it as background noise when she works. I can appreciate this, but I do not share her experience. I like silence or music. So I've been listening to and watching TV more than I have in a very long time and it's contributed a level of surrealism to this experience that I couldn't have foreseen. I've entered the Twilight Zone.
So we've made compromises. We enjoy mostly similar movies, so our evening viewing has been easy and fun. I've turned her on to Law and Order (yes, a guilty pleasure of mine!) and she's shown me Brooklyn 99 and we laugh like it's 1979. She likes Fox News, I like anything but. I have started watching Tucker Carlson with her and immediately follow this by Rachel Maddow, which for both of us is easier and more painful than we thought it was going to be. I find them both to be smart but incendiary. It's been like a ping pong game inside my head, as I cannot help but hear the absolute propaganda of both individual's platforms. Neither seeks to see both sides or to build bridges in this time of chaos and need. At times, both are doing a disservice to the millions who watch them. In this time when our 300+ million inhabitants need to rally and help one another through this crisis, two of the biggest voices on either side of the spectrum are telling truths AND lies. I suggested we listen to PBS Newshour, Democracy Now!, BBC News, anything to combat Carlson's sly white supremacist lies. I mean, if I hear him slander identity politics one more time I think I'll scream; that by mentioning anything that is not white and Christian we are somehow anti-American? No. That's just old school racism and white ignorance masquerading as patriotism. On the other side, we have Maddow's regurgitation of the same facts and the same blame game as seen through a liberal lens, which is getting us nowhere right now, quoting nothing but the New York Times, as if it is the only valid news source out there. I'm sorry, but there is more to the United States than New York (and for the record, I lived in NYC for most of my 20s and love the place; my heart grieves for those suffering from this crisis). Many other places are suffering about as much as New York without the representation our beloved Big Apple receives. In my opinion, if you want to reach those who might not be in your camp, stop ignoring them and look outside your urban centers to actually communicate with the rest of the country. The bottom line is that both sides are incapable of hearing what the other has to say and this is not news to anyone right now. What is new, is the inability to pull together as a nation in a time of crisis. If this is, as the president has proclaimed, a "war," then our atomized nation is fucked. Are we even able to rise above our differences to combat this together? I seriously don't know. The absolute schism of this experience has my mind a little shaken.
In addition to this ideological war being waged, I just can't shake a small, insistent voice in my head. I've had a fear for a couple of years that our current government would do all it could to keep power; that something would happen, or be created, by the 1% in order to prevent the American people from voting them out come November. It would be a war, or some kind of crisis, where the president would invoke the War Powers Resolution and then all hell would break loose, leaving us in a downward-spiraling maelstrom that sucks us all under--something akin to what happened to Germany in 1933 with the Reichstag Fire. "Heaven forbid!" I keep telling myself, but I have watched a slow progression into absolute control over our lives and livelihoods. I know what you're thinking, "Mickey! Chill the fuck out, girl. This caught the whole world off-guard." And I wouldn't disagree with you. BUT, it's how it's being responded to and used by those in power (and their propaganda voice pieces) who have something to gain that I find unsettling. No need to go into a conversation about billion dollar bailouts (again) for large corporations or the fact that everyone I know who has applied for unemployment (and are part of the current 10 million other unemployed Americans who've also applied) have not received any money or even a response. Landlords want their money. Credit card companies want theirs. We are being crushed under the weight of this crisis and have no idea when it will cease. Other countries have halted rent and mortgage payments, all medical costs (including any insurance payments), and have ordered a universal minimum wage during the pandemic (not a one-time payment of twelve hundred bucks), which are signs we use to measure a civilized society. But not here. It's more important to save shitty airlines that have, over the last twenty years, made flying a hellish experience in order to maximize profits, but it's not okay to make all medical services free of charge and put all rent, mortgage, and credit card payments on hold until this passes and we get back to work. I've heard the arguments that by saving the corporations, we're saving tens of thousands of employees' jobs because this money will help the companies keep them on the payroll. I also understand that oversights have been set in place so these corporations cannot buy back their stocks like they did in 2008. Nonetheless, I have a very unsettling hunch that something nefarious is happening and it is growing into a genuine existential dread. We are in a global low tide at present and I fear a tsunami is heading to our shores, one with the potential to wash away all that we've come to recognize as modern society.
Whether you see our current predicament from the right or the left, I think most of us know deep in our gut, that things have been wrong for a while now. The United States, along with most of the world, has been cracking under the weight of the global financial system as it has slowly been taking over every aspect of our lives while it has catapulted the 1% to soaring heights. Maybe the silver lining in this whole thing is that if there was any doubt before this crisis, very few people remain who cannot see what is now crystal clear: we the people come second to the power of capital and unless we use the enormous strength of our numbers and sheer willpower to resist, we will sink deeper into the Big Pharma-infused stupor of consumption and debt slavery. So, here's to America. May we shake out the cobwebs and say, "No more."
#coronavirus #covid19 #resist #punctuatedequilibrium