Thursday, December 31, 2020

Ruminations 99(3) (The Year of Infection of the Body, of the Soul and of the Body Politic): Looking Back on 2020 in Epigrams and Aphorisms


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For the last several years, and with no particular objective,  I have taken the period between Christmas and New Years Eve to produce a s summary of the slice of the year to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms.  It follows an end of year  tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here), 2017 (for these see here), 2018 (for those see here), and 2019 (for those see here).  

At the end of 2019 I wrote as the introduction to 2019's closing epigrams and aphorisms the following:

The year 2019 is ending with the great rifts--opened in 2016, exposed in 2017, and acquiring a greater urgency and revealing the power of its consequences in 2018--now exposed. More than exposed, 2019 marked their explosion, the aftermath of which, in 2020, will be marked by the start of a variety of end games in law, society, politics, culture and economics. Global divisions, more acute in 2018, finally reached moved toward climax in virtually all states, and with respect to all systems--law, compliance, religious, societal, cultural, and economic. While 2020 will likely be the year in which the climax events of 2019 will play themselves out, the year 2019 was in many ways the year of the "big bang" for the third decade of the 21st century. (Ruminations 89(1) (Blasphemies): Looking Back on 2019 in Epigrams and Aphorisms).

The year 2020 has indeed proven to be the year of end games of all sorts, the aftermath of the big bang that was now the faded memory of 2019.  It was a year that was consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  But that was hardly all--many things happened under the cover of the virus. This was the year of the transformation of Hong Kong, of the realization that governance was becoming both data driven and managed by algorithms, and of the indulgence in state killings to suit the tastes of their leaders.  It was the year that saw the return of borders and the refinement of the techniques useful for managing the movements of populations from the most to the least developed states.  It was the year the Americans were continued their civil war and in which the rupture of the aristocratic elites produced successful campaigns to demonize virtually anyone.  Indeed, beyond the virus, 2020, appears to have been the year of the demon, it was the year of  oni (鬼, demons) and yurei (幽霊, ghosts); it was the year the demons (恶魔) left hell (地狱).

In this Part 3 we look back beyond the daemons 2020 has permitted us a certain delight in creating, or the gods we have attempted to make of ourselves, to that great natural disaster that we have made our own--the COVID-19 Pandemic. In this form the Pandemic provided the great mirror on human organization, and human organization stared back. The virus that is COVID-19 in its physical form is a tragedy claiming lives and livelihoods, but it is also a virus that attacked the bodies politics and the great institutions that were created in the expectation  that they would be virus proof.  COVID-19 then is both a physical and metaphysical infection from out of which there may be no exit. That is the last kiss of 2020. 

1. The marvelous thing about catastrophe, like a pandemic, is that it is meaningless without context; and humans appear unable to judge a thing unless it is compared to another; a pandemic, then, is without meaning, until it acquires form by only when measured against other things by those who purport to know better (Think 2020 was the most stressful year EVER? Think again..... historians say it was only the EIGHTH worst time to live through in US history ("Ivy League and Oxbridge university professors have said 2020 ranks only the eighth worst year in US history, behind the peak of the American Civil War in 1862, the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919" Ibid.)).

2. Pandemics, like other great catastrophes require sacrifice for the hubris from which they arise--perhaps the Greeks had it right, every pandemic is an iteration of the plague that the gods decreed for Thebes as a reflection of the illness that affected its core leadership; incest, hubris, murder, rigidity, and a refusal to take auguries seriously. COVID-9 has produced its Oedipus; its Creon; Jocasta; Tiresias--the leadership cores that have killed their father and fathered children with their mother, surrounded by the amoral honey tongued politician and the seer who infuriates by revealing the truth. The pandemic is the manifestation of the folly (in its ancient sense of wicked unwise conduct, of its social construction as madness) of the human collective (From Trump to Erdoğan, men who behave badly make the worst leaders in a pandemic; What sets good and bad leaders apart in the coronavirus era; How Xi Jinping Blew It).
3. Every society needs an excuse to break its own rules, and every authentic excuse to break rules makes it that much less possible to even think that the rule has any relation to the realities of life in that state; COVID-19 has provided that excuse for the state which can to some excuse lose its self control in relation to its se of the police power (Amnesty International Report: COVID-19 Crackdowns: Police Abuse and the Global Pandemic).  

4. The elite in every society use the opportunity of catastrophe to both control their populations and to excuse themselves from any obligation to conform to the rules they make for others (Kim Kardashian Comes Under Fire After Flying Family to Private Island for Her 40th Birthday Amid Pandemic; Billionaire draws outrage for quarantine post featuring superyacht 'isolated in the Grenadines'; Every Mayor, Governor Accused of Breaking COVID Restrictions—and Why).

5. The pandemic has suggested that it is indeed possible to create a variation of globalization centered on the free movement of investment, capital, and goods, but not of people, at least for a little while (Which countries have closed borders over new COVID strain?; What the data say about border closures and COVID spread).; the character of global migration has been reshaped (Five Ways COVID-19 Is Changing Global Migration).
6.  Every pandemic has to be staffed; the delicacy with which we treat those we mean to protect are suspended for those who must keep society operating; for them society reserves its applause. (In fight against coronavirus, the world gives medical heroes a standing ovation; 8 Ways to Thank and Support Frontline and Essential Workers Right Now). 

7. And the rules of pandemic--social distancing quarantining and the like-- are sometimes a function of the intensity of popular feelings and the agitation that it produces; political intensity appears to overcome the vitality of the virus ( 5 Reasons Why the George Floyd Protests Did Not Increase COVID-19 Spread)

8. And yet if the weeks of political protests during pandemic had no appreciable effect on infection rates, then the basis for the population control measures appear both less necessary to health and more useful to control--but to what ends? (Protesters clash with police in northern Italy as anger mounts over Covid-19 restrictions; How Much Did Protests Contribute To LA’s COVID-19 Surge? The Data Is Still Sparse). 

9. Technology has changed the way that pandemic reorganizes society; where work can be done from home and where essential work may not be interrupted, only those who find themselves in neither category will be part of the large  class of economic victims of the pandemic (OECD: Pandemic has exposed digital divide between rich and poor; How the coronavirus has widened the chasm between rich and poor; Rich get richer, poor poorer: Two reports say pandemic intensifying inequalities).
10. Technology will change the class structure of education as well (The Pandemic Enhances Unequal Access to Education, UN Warns).

11. And the absurdities of life continue under cover of pandemic: gender equity rules constrains even as it opens doors (Paris city hall fined for hiring too many women under law aimed at fixing gender balance); police reform in the wake of race based killings produce a need for private security, sometimes sponsored by cities seeking to reduce police impact (Atlanta proposes to spend $1.6million on private police force for wealthy suburb - known as 'The Beverly Hills of the East' - as Dem star mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms admits she doesn't know how to stop crime wave after 7-year-old girl is shot dead).

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