Pessimism in the Age of COVID-19

Pessimism in the Age of COVID-19

Confession time. The COVID-19 crisis has been liberating for a career pessimist like myself.

According to media experts, both social and anti-social, I can feel and think almost anything I’d like right now. I can either do, or not do, a host of new things in quarantine, and pat myself on the back either way. Choose to wear a mask, or not (science be damned), and feel good. About me. Nice! I’m even allowed to complain about being soooooo bored in lockdown, even as tens of thousands of fellow human beings are dying around me and society itself frays and fractures.

Most importantly, though, corona has given me the opportunity to see what I long suspected was the true ethos of America laid bare. Fully. Elected sycophants, from my home state no less, are no longer watering down the “let’s liberate souls for the sake of the dollar” corona message with bromides about elderly sacrifice. Instead, they’ve now gone full Death Cult. Letting thousands of people—any people—die is simply the “lesser of two evils” compared with “opening up the economy.” And the politician who can “put on big boy pants” and boldly choose Dow Jones over someone’s Uncle Dave is a true patriot.

Welcome to the New Dark Ages, folks. Grab your relics and stoat pelts, your Tiger King and moldy protein bars. Things are about to get medieval. And I suspect you’ll need a lot of vapid bread and circuses to distract you from all the dying, and from all the rent you’re paying for the opportunity to service your new feudal lords in their covenant-controlled playgrounds.

“Uncle Dave…and now grandmother…are dead, sire, yes. But here’s your medium-rare shell steak. Thanks for so graciously opening up the economy and allowing me to serve you, m’lord. I do hope it trickles down.”     

But Clark, Corona is so depressing! It’s making me anxious!  

Good. It should make you depressed and anxious to hear that Uncle Dave (and now grandma) are nothing more than economic statistics. Nurses wearing trash bags to work, mass graves being dug in New York City, leaders who don’t understand the fundamental differences between a viral infection and a bacterial one. Honestly, how could you look with non-deluded eyes at what is going on right now and NOT be depressed and anxious?

Mostly, though, this crisis should make us all angry. Angry enough to speak out. To do something.

But Clark, I want to look away! I just want things to be normal again! 

There is no “normal” anymore. Believing that your loved ones, friends, and John Prine are coming back from the dead, that somehow those millions of lost jobs will still be there, waiting to be filled again, is nothing short of phantasmagorical.

Reality has fundamentally shifted at a vomit-inducing speed and angle. Many people know this but are terrified to admit it. So they look away. Some because they’ve had it really good and want to keep it that way. Some because they didn’t have it so good but fear it could get even worse. And then there are the ones who look away simply because they miss football and drinking bad Mexican beer unironically. It’s so much easier to just let it all wash over you. Isn’t there an app for that?

But Clark, anger is such a bad color on you!

Now is not the time. Swallow your anger. Be diplomatic. I’ve heard it all so often in my life. But we’re no longer living in those kinds of times, and arguably haven’t been for a while.

Maybe the truth is that I haven’t been angry enough, that we haven’t been angry enough, for years now.

If anger gets me out of bed in the morning, so be it. If it goads me into filling my days with more important things than The View and snooker replays from 2017, why swallow it?

The truth is that pessimism is keeping me grounded in the real world right now. It’s constantly saving me from the traps of magical thinking. It forces me to turn my own idea of “normal” on its head, and reminds me that change—real change—always requires tough choices, critical thinking, and hard work.

There’s no app.

And if you think this makes me miserable and hopeless, remember that corona gives you license to believe anything you want, so you’re not wrong! At least for now. How liberating that is for you. Start a podcast! Give online pep-talks! Make a God Bless Wall Street Bundt cake!

Remember, though—you’re not necessarily right, either.

Look, I won’t stop you from hoping. Choose Jesus, or indeed any of a wide host of religious characters, as your personal corona savior if you’d like. Take a more secular approach and believe you can make everything better with your “good thoughts,” your vibes or auras, or whatever. Keep throwing light on my shade, Yoda. Bring balance to the Force.

But please remember Uncle Dave. And grandma. Oh, and now your roommate from college. Sorry about that, but Boeing desperately needed a bailout. Just don’t blindly tell me that “normal” is right around the corner.

It really isn’t.

And even if it were, we’d do well to be wary of it. Because it’s what got us—all of us, pessimists and optimists alike—into this mess.

Is it, though? I wonder….

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