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Taking the world’s temperature

Isaac Cronin

Platypus Review 127 | June 2020

Isaac Cronin is a veteran of American Situationism and the author of a forthcoming dictionary about Coronavirus (COVID-19) titled Sick.

WHAT HAS AN EXISTENTIAL EVENT COME TO MEAN at this moment in our lurching history of crises, lies and mediocre distractions? One that makes it necessary for the individual and humanity as a whole to examine and make each decision of daily life in relation to an external independent force that could threaten the physical survival of the species?

The constant vacillation between reassurance (go about your daily routine) and stating the worst case in order to appear to get ahead of all future outcomes demonstrates that the real weakness of the current world order is that it must at the same time make exploitation seem inevitable, a habit we are not aware of, and make all the frightening uncertainties of the world appear to be part of a predictable future. The faster the cycles alternate the more social anxiety on a mass scale risks generating an overall social breakdown, paralysis, that can lead to abandonment of our already deeply troubled compliance.

For who amongst us on a bad day thinks this world makes any sense at all?  If we all have a bad day together, which is the one thing our rulers fear most, all bets are off.

We are required to submit to the authority of our rulers each time we literally leave our homes to work and shop.  We are reconfirming our allegiance to the market each time we “go about our normal routine.” That continuity is now open to question on a mass scale for the first time since perhaps the flash points of the Cold War when it seemed possible that nuclear weapons might be used and we were hiding under the dinner table with one eye on the news.

A habit, a routine, even when it appears as an externally imposed necessity (making a living, surviving), is in fact an ongoing series of choices that are seen as a single reflex, the sum total of which always works to reinforce the status quo of the market — work and consumption — and master-slave relations. Routines and their interaction constitute a “normal life” punctuated by surprises that may temporarily modify or undermine these fixed pathways.  Even so called deviant behaviors such as addiction have their own narrowly defined and regimented behaviors. These events such as traffic accidents, natural disasters, crimes or medical emergencies (overdoses, for example) and their negative consequences are generally experienced individually. We suffer through them alone, which diffuses their power to bring into question the overall notion of a routine life. The opening closes quickly with self-help groups, family support and professional service providers there to corral any impulse to question the world that makes routine an essential component of mature adult behavior and, like AA, provide a new routine to supplant the old one.  We cannot wait to get back to the habitual even if it now lacks the thrill of hedonism. The seduction of predictability cannot be underestimated. 

How quickly the whole thing falls apart in this sad world we call modern society. After six hundred years, 30+ generations of capitalism, of homo economis, of showing up for work and thanking our bosses for the right to serve them, the notion that doing what we did last week could be deadly hits like a nuclear bomb across the globe. We question each decision in our day. Is it worth it to go to a restaurant, a museum, a movie, even the store, to send our kids to school, to take a vacation, to report to the office? If the Internet were not here to soften the blow, provide an alternative, the shock would be even greater.  Questioning these individual actions become a social stance, which though it is beginning as a defensive survival posture, poses the question for each refusal: is it essential, can it be changed or eliminated?

Nobody thought that global warming would also take the form of thousands dying from elevated temperatures in their own bodies. We were prepared for a drawn-out assault by nature in epic terms: flooding, the ocean slowly dying, species extinction, forest fires, true environmental chaos that along the way created endless marketing opportunities.

But capitalism, as perverted as it is, is a social order that requires human interaction always mediated by and benefiting money, but human interaction nonetheless. A consumer, a competitor, a fan, there is the veneer of civil behavior that governs most daily encounters masking layers of mistrust and contempt. What has happened in this time of post-modern cholera is that the underlying truth of our world, that the system of social relations is killing us all at what was until now a workable pace, has accelerated dramatically. 

The rich will not necessarily get sick, certainly not as nearly much as the poor, but we will become increasingly sick of them because they will be forced to choose between compassion and the market in very visible ways and they certainly will choose the market. It is clear that the blame is being transferred from the pillagers, who have developed the last open spaces between country and city in the cities of Asia and Africa and undone the fragile balance there, onto the dietary practices of the Chinese and the Africans. If only they would clean up their act.

Fuck sports, fuck tourism, fuck trade shows, fuck elections, fuck school, fuck work, fuck religious events, fuck concerts, fuck the Olympics, fuck the job, fuck nursing homes, fuck Amazon. We want to live.

For the first time in history the police are serving a useful function trying to keep humanity from doing itself greater harm.

The personality of a virus, like a rebellious twenty-year-old testing the limits, happy at getting away with it and knowing that a mature response spells doom. Not being taken seriously is its greatest hope — “light compared to Ebola.”

It is almost perverse to see the way people respond to the so called restriction on their freedoms, especially the freedom to travel, because that so called liberty is already so narrowly predefined to include a specific menu of choices dictated by the market and imposed on traveling workers and tourists along with its supporting belief systems that define expectations for luxury, exoticism, convenience, local subservience and what the industry calls adventure.| P

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