Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

Corona, The Great Unmasking

Off the treadmill. Hamsters off their wheels. We had to stop. The Great Pause in which we would have not in a thousand years “indulged” ourselves, except for Corona’s visit, is the Great Unmasking.

Treadmill paused, we now see what we were moving too fast to notice. Time means energy and attention. We had no energy after nine hours pushing paper, lifting boxes, carrying product, greeting customers, phoning clients, fidgeting with spreadsheets, showcasing power-points, taking orders, giving them, pouring drinks, giving change, making french fries, bagging orders, enduring team meetings, standing for bosses, pretending. In jobs we now suspect were non-essential, dispensable, gratuitous—manufactured jobs for illusory demands, artificial jobs for tax loopholes, jobs serving a handful of our betters, jobs monitoring our peers, jobs keeping others confined for no good reason.

Corona let us see what weekly meditation, what “critical thinking” classes at expensive institutions, what deep conversations with “woke” friends, what mind-altering drugs and shamans, what traveling to the other side of the world, what volunteering on mission, what reading Marx and bell hooks, what attending union meetings, what following “radical” media, what echoing “Left Twitter,” what marching for Black lives, were, not, enough to help us see. Stopping the treadmill, Corona momentarily unplugged what Henry Giroux, following Didi-Huberman, calls power’s “disimagination machine,” that “contains” genuinely democratic politics by flooding us with cultural representations that block out memory, agency, ethics, and collective resistance, that prevents us from imagining alternatives to fear and accumulation.

Corona showed us concretely, nakedly, with our very bodies, it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. Corona showed us that we can decide to consume less, drive less, work less, exploit less, bend backs less, bow heads less, ignore the suffering of others less, ignore our own suffering less. In short, more than what a general strike might look like, Corona showed us we can cooperate, coordinate, exchange, build, give, take fair shares. It showed us who deserves—and can get—better pay, who is overpaid, who the (s)heroes are–that we collectively can “pay for that” and for anything we really want for ourselves. Since the second Great War, we knew we could cooperate for a greater cause outside of capitalism’s everyday against others; now we know we could do this in times of peace with others.

Corona showed us that we are both response-able for the world we live in and not trapped in a world ruled by economic “laws” or conditions of “scarcity”—that we can shape it the way we want to. Remarkably quickly. Corona, pausing the wheel, showed us that we were indeed on a treadmill and that this was not “natural.” We “created this beast” and we saw, with our very own eyes, we can stop it.

Corona helped us notice that our hamster wheels were riding on the backs of other beings, and that this was also neither “economically necessary,” nor did it “lift all boats.” Corona, by stopping the wheel in one swoop, showed us that we could have clean air, that a greener planet was possible—that the planet was indeed remarkably sensitive to what we do. We were able to see that what for-profit health care is for Corona, the fossil-fuel-industry is for dealing with the climate.

By stopping the wheel without our permission, Corona showed us that our greatest fear—the fear of others–were chimeras. We found out, rather, that other beings–99% of them at least—were, in Latin, com-panions (with whom we eat bread) and con-spirators (with whom we breathe), co-travelers with whom we are co-response-able for our freedom. Corona–”crown”–showed us, concretely, nakedly, bodily, ubuntu: we are what we are with and through others. And what we have seen–about our world, about our planet, about our selves–cannot be unseen.

6 comments on “Corona, The Great Unmasking

  1. anonymousprofessorart
    2020-05-02

    I agree that the corona virus gives us the opportunity to get off the treadmill and gain a more detached proper perspective on life and politics. This is immensely important because I have seen among many that the treadmill and information overflow imposed by the web often create apathy and cynicism, especially among our younger generation. Here I refer less to those who enter institutions of higher education and more to those who for whatever reason have not. These latter seemed destined to become the new proletarians, working in poorly paid service jobs with very little hope of ever earning incomes that would take them close to the mean or even median income.

    I worry that the untethered views of this subaltern group are most vulnerable to manipulation via our changing media landscape. For them, the pandemic may lead to more binge watching rather than more critical reflection even as they maintain vaguely formulated intuitions that the “system” is somehow rigged against them.

    • A.R.Teleb
      2020-05-02

      I do not offer predictions, rather point out possibilities that the circumstances open up. If it was predictable it would not be politics and it would not be human.

      That said, something about your response strikes me as elitist. There is no evidence that college graduates are any better able to see past their hamster wheel than non college graduates or that income level is proportional to intelligence or awareness.

      It could very well be the opposite, that the more one benefits from a structure, the less likely s/he is to see it as artificial. People, for obvious psychological reasons, tend to see their own success as deserved, and that is why the myth of meritocracy persists, despite all the evidence.

  2. Andy
    2020-05-03

    I read your article. True words. I hope others, many many others, have these realizations when the dust settles in the Covid era. For me personally, the most glaring absurdity that we’ve come to accept over time is that our enemies are other human beings on other sides of borders or oceans. Then a little microscopic life form comes floating through the air and suddenly…poof…magic. Mexicans, Iranians and North Koreans aren’t the bad guys anymore. Hopefully Covid makes folks realize they never really were.

  3. Yoram Gat
    2020-05-04

    But did it really?

    Do you know of people whose mind was really changed by the experience? Or is this always that case that what we knew beforehand to be true was “confirmed”, “definitely proven”, or “given more urgency” by this crisis?

    • A.R.Teleb
      2020-05-04

      First let me start with the qualification that I am talking about possibilities and the political imagination.

      If we look at policy, there are options being Implemented or being taken seriously that a few months ago would have been impossible.

      There are workers strikes that would also have not had any leverage: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/05/01/amazon-instacart-workers-strike/ There were similar demands at the biggest US food chain supermarket, there were agreed to almost immediately.

      But admittedly there have also been armed protesters outside some state capitols demanding “back to business.”

      Only time will tell but Corona has given unforgettable unequivocal proof that “the market” cannot solve the most important problems and the fact that photos from space literally show a cleaner earth after a few weeks do the slow down.

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This entry was posted on 2020-04-30 by in Affect, Democratic Theory, History, Political Theory, Psychology and tagged , , , , .
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