Adbusters Magazine - But What of Despair?
We've grappled with the economic and political issues this pandemic has exposed, but what of despair?
While the pandemic has forced the world to reckon with the fragile and exploitative realities of the economic, political and medical infrastructures of the world, what of the despair that fuels it? In 10 years time, will the covid-19 pandemic be spoken about in the sterile language of bureaucracy as a blip in the system? Or will it be remembered as a watershed moment for the dystopia we always felt was at the cusp of arrival?
The pandemic first sparked anxieties about our biomedical infrastructures. The World Health Organization in a blink of an eye went from a respected international organization to a global punching bag and laughing stock. First world countries suddenly faced mask and ventilator shortages. People of color and the working class were disproportionately more at risk at contracting the virus and dying from it. Yet the virus’ political crescendo didn’t stop there.
As expected with the volatility of our speculation economy spearheaded by Wall Street, the global economy collapsed. Millions worldwide found themselves unemployed, facing eviction or struggling to make ends meet. Yet the first reaction among global leaders was to bailout corporations, despite their reach long surpassing that of the democratic governments that once regulated them. Never mind that you can’t make rent, Lufthansa is about to go bankrupt!
Countless articles, books and think pieces have been written discussing all the dry logistical ways the virus has exposed the immorality of global capitalist bureaucracy, but what of the underlying despair that fuels it?
Alienation, godlessness, depression, call it whatever you want. Academics to clergymen to medical professionals identify a widespread disillusionment that has plagued modernity. With the advent of the wage economy and urban sprawl, the individual human experience has become compartmentalized to revolve around the hours of work. Nine-to-five. The mutinous routine. Relationships are meant to serve utilitarian purposes rather than a mutualism. Free time is wasted time.
Structured around the economy rather the other way around, our social relations have led us to lead lives of relative solitude despite the abundance of people, technology and experiences modernity produces. Reducing peoples’ value to exchange, this socially sterile economy is precisely designed so as to maintain these soulless profitable relations. The seeping wound of despair felt collectively is not a side effect of the churning machine of capitalism, but a feature that continuously greases its ever rusting gears.
This individually rooted sense of alienation, much like economic and racial inequalities, were only amplified in the wake of the pandemic. Now not only spiritually and material alienated from one another, but now literally physically. With the human spirit being crushed as social life is further and further degraded into pure exchange, the pandemic gives big corporations the opportunity to finally monopolize even larger swathes of our lives and segment us further apart into our own lives of work
A tell tale sign to our eagerness to please the market gods before attending to our mutual needs is how quick we were to mobilize and adapt in keeping big businesses afloat. The “lucky” ones were able to turn their homes into makeshift offices, experiencing drudgery from the comfort of their own home. The rest either were pushed into unsafe working conditions or were fired without a second thought. No matter which short of the stick you drew in this pandemic and the horrible global response to it, your life currently revolves around maintaining the interest of corporate monopolies while they craft the “New Normal”.
In 10 years time, we must remember that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the interconnectedness and exploitive reality of our economic system, our political institutions and our cultural notions of mental health. To seize the New Normal in forging a just future, we must reckon with the decades long crisis of mental illness plaguing our societies and to confront that despair is baked into our way of living and working.