Emotional, psychological and political responses to the virus vary. Does it make you double-down and cling to everything you already “knew” all along?
Writing in The Vulture Jerry Saltz writes (‘The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One’):
“We need to play loose, loving, generous, being as creative and as unafraid as possible, adapting to change as it comes and not falling back on old, outmoded, mean, or inapplicable dogmas. We all want to go the distance for what we love. That distance has begun. Things are bleak, but batons will be and are already being passed to generations who will emerge on the other side of this who will have the brilliant chance to build a whole new art world. How long the interregnum lasts, I do not know. But on the other side, the survivors will always have the knowledges of what they learned about themselves as the angel of death walked among us.”
There’s a tension between this approach, which seems instinctively right, and the need to draw on political traditions and knowledge.
Certainly the right is doubling-down.
As Laurie Penny notes (‘This Is Not the Apocalypse You Were Looking For’):
” … late capitalism has always been a death cult. The tiny-minded incompetents in charge cannot handle a problem that can’t be fixed simply by sacrificing poor, vulnerable, and otherwise expendable individuals. Faced with a crisis they can’t solve with violence, they dithered and whined and wasted time that can and will be counted in corpses. There has been no vision, because these men never imagined the future beyond the image of themselves on top of the human heap, cast in gold. For weeks, the speeches from podiums have suggested that a certain amount of brutal death is a reasonable price for other people to pay to protect the current financial system.”
Leadership in the west has not been uniformly awful.
But last week public health experts from the University of Minnesota dismissed the White House models America is being presented with out of hand and said we’re looking at more than a million deaths from COVID-19 before the end of the year.
As Raw Story reports: “This is chaos on a scale we have never seen before. Much of the chaos is the responsibility of Donald Trump in his role as president of the United States. He actively denied the size and severity of the threat and failed to provide leadership when it counted. This went on for months. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Trump was crowing about “reopening” the economy by Easter. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the disease,” he said only last week. “We’ve never closed down the country for the flu. So you say to yourself, what is this all about?”
Our poor beleagured (and now hospitalised) Prime Minister was also famously upbeat.
Johnson told the public on March 19 that in twelve weeks we could “turn the tide” on coronavirus and eventually “send it packing”.
But its not just the right that is caught in an ideological straightjacket. The left is guilty of it too. As carla bergman and Nick Montgomery describe in ‘Joyful Militancy’ there is a problem too of that they call “rigid radicalism”:
“A major force that has contributed to rigid radicalism is rigid ideology, and its tendency to generate certainties and fixed answers that close off the potential for experimentation. Alongside the Marxist critique of capitalist ideology was an aspiration to replace it with a revolutionary anti-capitalist ideology. It was thought that revolution required a unified consciousness among proletarians: they needed to be taught that it was in their interests to overthrow capitalism. The revolutionary vanguard was tasked with developing and disseminating this ideology, and with everything in life subordinated to the goal of revolution, everyone and everything could be treated instrumentally, as a means to the seizure of state power and the end of capitalism.”
This doesn’t mean throw away political knowledge, it just means that your old set of assumptions might not be fit for purpose any more.
This is a crisis like never before and our response should be characterised by: a focus on what’s actually important; an openness to seeing opportunity and collaboration, even with unlikely characters; an ethic of kindness and solidarity; a putting away of needless feuds and as Saltz has it: “play loose, loving, generous, being as creative and as unafraid as possible.”
Admittedly this is not easy. In fear and anxiety we find myself reverting to old comfort zones – whether they be ideological or domestic. But this isn’t helpful in the present crisis.