The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer: Nature vs. Culture in a Pandemic

Part 4 of 5 of the COVID-19 Series.


The Seventh Seal

As if taken from a plot of some 1950s science-fiction classic, or an episode from the original Twilight Zone series, our reality lends itself easily to the understandings produced by fictional approaches to truth:

Imagine a town, besieged by an invisible alien invader—nobody has seen the invader, some doubt the invader even exists, but everyone knows that people keep dying. All the townspeople fear that if they venture outside, the invisible invader will find them, infect them, and maybe kill them. They therefore decide to stay indoors…but then they start to slowly go hungry. First they run out of food. Then they run out of water. Then they lose their minds. Some rush screaming outside, “I can’t! I can’t take it anymore!” and are never seen again. Bossy types step forward and try to push others to volunteer (sacrifice) by sending out their children: “Let’s see what happens…they’re young, they can take it…life has to go on”. Then there are those that keep making plans to go out, they announce them to everyone, and when the next morning comes they just sink back down into the armchair: “Well at least I almost went out, didn’t I? What did you do!”—it brings to mind scenes from The Iceman Cometh.

Looking for other sources of fiction that might capture different aspects of our current impasse, I remembered The Seventh Seal, set during Europe’s great plague. In this adaptation in which we are now acting, Nature (the coronavirus) is playing the role of Death (death being a subsidiary of nature). Humanity is playing the role of Antonius Block, who was played by Max von Sydow in the film. The coronavirus has made the first move: it took one of our pawns. We tactically retreated—and with that very move, the virus pronounced “Check”. Stuck indoors now, we are guaranteed that whatever our next move will be, the virus will quietly state: “Checkmate”.

Most of us remain stuck inside our panic rooms, sitting quietly with our ears pressed to the door, listening as the invisible intruder goes on a rampage just outside. The unlucky ones who are in the stranger’s immediate path, try to flee by frantically throwing everything they can find in its path: hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, blood thinners, bleach, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, whatever. Others rush into the sunlight—apparently mistaking the virus for a vampire—forgetting how COVID-19 has already been basking in the sun for weeks in Brazil, Ecuador, Singapore, etc. What’s next? Rings of salt? Garlands of garlic?

Here is one more, provoked by the growing “reopening” frenzy that is gaining momentum in North America, particularly among business and political elites. It strikes me that we have all seen this before. Donald Trump, Governor Kemp of Georgia, or Premier François Legault of Quebec—any of them could stand in for Larry Vaughn, the Mayor of Amity in Jaws (1975). In the scene below, Chief Martin Brody, who has just issued an order shutting down all the beaches due to a suspected shark attack, is pressured to relent by Mayor Vaughn—the 4th of July is coming, and closed beaches will be bad for business in this small tourist-dependent town:

Regardless of which fiction speaks greater truth to you, it is important that we remember what brought us to our knees. It was not a war among states that took us down, not some stock markets collapsing, nor the overthrow of a government. It was a zoonotic phenomenon invisible to the naked eye.

It is an incredible shape-shifting phenomenon we are up against, and in some moments I become convinced: this one is going to win. It throws up ever changing symptoms. Now we find people with dangerously low blood oxygen levels, who don’t know it and carry on as normal. No symptom seems to be a constant feature. Few mention how the virus may have mutated, or may mutate even more, because it seems like too much. The more one dwells on it, the more the possibility seems to grow: this virus is going to beat us, and it will be merciless.

The Animal Gets the Final Word This Time

Previously I described the opposition between “health” and the “economy” as a dichotomy, at least in the manner in which politicians and the media speak of having to make “difficult” if not “stark” choices between the two. Arguing that the dichotomy was a false one, and more importantly that it is dangerously misleading when it becomes the basis for decision-making, I then suggested that the relationship between health and the economy was a duality, not a dichotomy. However, even that is misleading.

The fact of the matter is that bodily health gets both the first and the last word in this crisis. It is the constant to which we refer, and everything else is variable, malleable, and manipulable. To say that there is a health–economy duality is to wrongly imply that there is a relationship between two equal parts. The equation is incorrect because the two sides are completely different and unequal, with only one of them being completely artificial.

For too long, especially in “Western civilization,” we have nurtured an opposition between “mind” and “body”. Even worse, we have held the body hostage to the mind. What the mind wanted, came first; what the body needed, came maybe second. This radical disarticulation, this dismemberment of our very being, has been at the root of so many of our contemporary illnesses. Even the treatment of illness follows this same bifurcation: medications may be prescribed, but without psychological therapy. It is now more important than ever to let people’s minds become re-assimilated to their bodies, to restore balance.

Parallel to the body–mind dichotomy, which is itself an analog of the nature–culture dichotomy, we have inherited the animal–human distinction/division. This ideological formula bears the imprints of humanity’s first major apocalypse: the invention of agriculture and the formation of permanent settlements. We need to continue questioning the artificial boundaries we created between “humans” and “animals”. These boundaries have plagued us since the onset of settled life in “civilized” societies. Such classifications—human and animal—were the arbitrary product of ideology to begin with; they are not simple transcriptions of natural facts. Opposing ourselves to nature, we launched an unwinnable war against it. We just lost yet another battle.

Marxists like to place economic production at the base of society in their definition of a mode of production—and the domination of nature is as central to Marxism as it is to other progressivist ideologies, including capitalist ones. Marxists reduce society to production, as if production is the deepest one can go when looking for a base. Libertarians in this pandemic sound like they are in agreement on that basic principle: production is prioritized by them as well. Production is at the root of all being, and sometimes it really feels that way. Where I differ from both the Marxists and capitalist political economists, is that I cannot see economic activity as the root or the engine of social life, other than as a delusion based on artifice. It is a form of mystification, of misdirection, of myth-making that falls in love with and fetishizes the artificial products of our own artificial processes. We mislead ourselves into thinking that “man” could ever conquer “nature”. If any man has ever conquered nature it could only have been in the act of committing suicide. Nature is always first and foremost, before and after, now and always.

Nature, the Animal Kingdom, Biology, Health, the Body—whatever you want to call it—has an absolutely paramount primacy. Health must always come first, and it simply is not open to debate. It is one of those rare things that is not open to question, because there is no point questioning it. Questioning it would be on the same level as trying to challenge the sky for daring to be blue or demanding that water be less wet. As long as we continue with our anthropocentric delusions, we will continue the folly of challenging “nature”—the very thing in which we are deeply embedded, and which is deeply embedded in us—but we will also continue to foolishly believe that we are in control, in charge, at the top of the food chain. Funny how quickly humans can forget that they are at the top of the food chain when swimming among sharks, or when faced with something as tiny as a mosquito, or even something as microscopic as…a virus.

A tiny invisible virus is leaving a massive visible global footprint. All of its proportions look out of order, and in turn the virus calls all of our proportions into question as it disorders them.

The Great Global Freezing

We are at an impasse. Can we afford to keep workers at home indefinitely, without suffering economic collapse? Can we instead afford to expose workers to infection, thus inevitably leading to economic collapse further on? We are stuck, and without a vaccine that is freely available, and administered as widely as possible, we are and will remain in an unwinnable situation. Manage it all you like, it is just managing loss. If governments clamp down too long, assume too many authoritarian powers, and attempt to box people up with no end in sight, they could eventually lose all control. Almost untouched by the virus, Grenada imposed a curfew, with only a few hours allowed each day for getting goods at small neighbourhood stores. New Zealand, some complained, had become a police state, with measures familiar to Canadians and Europeans. In the UK, police exercised their new powers with an excess of zeal. Already some small-scale rebellions against authority have erupted in different parts of various countries. A total lockdown, without any off switch, seems like it would lead to eventual social breakdown. Then what about governments and corporations that knowingly push workers into the line of viral fire? Is that any more sustainable, and would that not also lead to social breakdown? Who likes to feel like they are being used, and that their lives are being sacrificed?

Once again we return to the inevitable conclusion: that without vaccination, there is nothing but the most final conclusion to our system, regardless of which path we choose to take. There are no compromises one can make when dealing with absolutes. In the US, the overwhelming majority (72%) of the public favours the emphasis on health, and support continued shelter-in-place restrictions to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Far from “flattening the curve,” another Canadian writer says this next phase of gradual reopening is a “new danger zone”.

Shopping: The Sum of All Fears

Fear is, of course, a big part of the Great Freeze we are all experiencing. Have you felt it? Have you set foot outside your house and wondered, “Where is that virus? Is it close by? It’s out there for sure, but where?” The virus is seemingly everywhere and nowhere.

I live in a rural village distant from Montreal, and went to a small pharmacy that, in the best of times, might only be visited by a handful of customers at any time. I was almost alone, wearing a mask and surgical gloves, and found myself almost hyperventilating when walking down one aisle, as if I was under pressure to move quickly and get out of there, as if I was in the act of committing some crime, or found myself in a war zone. I have not felt that way before, not even when in actual war zones. The staff were behind Plexiglas barriers, and they wore gloves, masks, face shields, and white lab coats. One had to wash one’s hands before entering the pharmacy in a special sink that had been installed in the main entrance. You would be asked if you or anyone in your family was sick, by the very pleasant attendant placed on guard duty at the entrance. Gentle muzak played, which only seemed to make everything more sinister. Coloured lines were taped to the floor to direct traffic in one way down each aisle—which I ignored because I did not understand them at first—but no matter, as I was virtually alone and nobody instructed me to change my path. No cash transactions though. Scan and bag your own items. Two people waiting in a line outside, metres apart. Quick shallow breaths; sweat breaking on my forehead.

Everything spoke of danger. It was out there, in here, everywhere.

Is that—wait a second—is that a sore throat I am now feeling?” A bag of nausea expands inside the stomach and a dark tinge descends on one’s field of vision. There’s a slight hissing in the ears.

Groceries were delivered by a man who looked absolutely anxious when I opened the door, as if he wanted to shout: “Stay away! Don’t even look at me! Don’t talk to me!” He moved so fast that he was a blur. No tipping was possible. A UPS driver tossed the package at me through the open door. In stores some look at you apprehensively: “Are you infected? Are you the one who is going to cause my lungs to bleed? Am I going to die alone in a hospital bed, on a ventilator, because of you? Because I picked up this can of peas? Because I forgot to clean my hands with sanitizer after I put gas in my vehicle?” In Quebec, a number of IGA supermarkets have been shut down because of outbreaks of the virus among employees. Places we previously thought innocent, neutral, or even dull, are now the sum of all our fears. With grocery stores now talked about as “stressful environments,” grocery shopping has turned into a Conradian journey down a dark winding river of fear.

A supermarket in a nearby town, with customers “social distancing,” waiting their turn to enter. A sign in French, about prices, could easily have been about COVID-19: “Unbeatable, period”. Photo by Maximilian Forte.

Every step of every rare outing has become a great calculation. What was previously taken for granted has now been mapped out in 33 tiny steps and moves, with sanitizing and protection at every step. Outings have to be charted and planned, and that is if there is any outing at all. We learn something new at another pharmacy: no latex gloves allowed to be worn inside the store—they don’t know where the gloves might have been, and the only safe measure is to have everyone wash their hands on entering the store, and keeping their hands bare thereafter.

On March 20, “social distancing” was still relatively new to shoppers at this Walmart in the Laurentian region. Photo by Maximilian Forte.

Fear surrounds a virus that acts like an invisible fog with a conscious purpose. Having been banished from almost everywhere, one would think that the coronavirus was itself destined to die a lonely death. Presumably the virus was left to die in the deserted streets of major cities once crowded with people and jammed with cars; it was supposedly cast out from schools, restaurants, bar, gyms, nightclubs and churches; and, we think it was ejected from airplanes and airports rendered still and vacant. Seemingly, the virus had nowhere left to go.

Such scenes lasted only a few days after March 13 in this northern region. It resembled what highways in Canada used to look like, back in the 1970s, when another vehicle was a rare sight. Photo by Maximilian Forte.

But we learn that the virus was lying in wait. As soon as a few hundred workers assembled in a far off pork processing plant in a small town in Quebec—the virus invaded like a fog. Nobody goes to that town, come on, pigs wouldn’t even go there to die if they had a choice, and yet the virus was there. It was as if the virus stood invisible at the door, watching hundreds of workers file past, and quickly filtering in behind the last employee to enter, it slammed the door shut behind itself. It then rushed to grab hold of hundreds.

For where two or three are gathered…there am I among them”.

Just put any group of people together, anywhere, and the virus will be there. On an aircraft carrier, far out at sea, there was COVID-19, stalking the entire crew and taking hundreds down. Cruise ships departed for distant voyages, with a lethal and pathological stowaway. Residences for senior citizens have served as free-fire zones for the virus. An oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico has been taken by COVID-19, with dozens infected. Anywhere, anywhere on earth, where people cluster together and are confined in one space, the virus makes a surprise appearance almost as if it had always been there.

If I were to write the script for a horror film based on this event, there is little room for additional invention. I might have the coronavirus appear as tiny droplets suspended from power lines and tree branches, just waiting for anyone to pass underneath before letting go and dropping on them. I might show a community that is so gripped with fear that it never believes the virus has passed, even many years after it disappeared. They persist in remaining indoors even as everyone else has long resumed normal lives. One has to wonder what long-term anxieties and phobias might grow as a result of this pandemic.

Imagine those who are forced to be “out there” every day to sustain the rest of us. How are they not being paid a dozen times more than the usual wages? Why are they often not being treated like the essential, front line health workers that they all are, whether a cashier, a truck driver, or someone on the line in a meat packing plant? Are their jobs “unskilled”? Funny, because I seemingly lack the “skill” to knowingly expose myself to sustained danger to perform a service for others. If courage-management, fear-containment and dedication are not skills, I really have no time to listen to what others might call skills. Others instead seem to be quite at ease in taking all of this labour for granted, as if we were all somehow entitled to it. Poorly paid, poorly protected, and poorly trained, in Quebec they are ordered to the front lines of long-term care homes where certainly they will become engulfed in the virus. Those who resist, are threatened.

A disturbingly ugly social system that for too long has been afforded the opportunity to mask its brutality, has now had the mask torn off. Extreme inequality previously papered over, and high-handed disregard for workers, are now very much on the surface. Everyone is watching. Finally the media are listening. The leisurely narcissism of identity politics is too much of a useless luxury. The New Victorianism, obsessed with folding coloured tissue paper into peculiar shapes, was too delicate and frail to stand up to a real social crisis.

The Great Thaw

Sometimes when things thaw, they spoil. A rushed “reopening of the economy” seems likely to furnish COVID-19 with a succession of human buffets. Just when it seemed like the virus would have some lean days after being put on a starvation diet, we are about to fatten its gullet. The virus stood quiet outside the door to see if we, suckers that we are, would poke our heads out—and sure enough.

I have been writing of the virus anthropomorphically, but merely for style, and I am assuming no one takes it literally. Not so with politicians when they speak about economies—their reification is quite literal. Thanks to politicians who mystify economies and endow them with human attributes—such that they imagine economies can “die”—we will now be treating the virus to new snacks. We have had too many people in power taking their own metaphors too seriously, and too literally, and then making decisions on that basis. We have thus had a “war on the virus,” which assumes a military-style response, or the belief that economies are like biological bodies and need to be “fed” or they “die”. The economy is now a more human body than actual human bodies. We are willing to speak of humans as “herds,” and we busy ourselves devising policies for deliberately infecting them. We have politicians assuming the right to command people on what to do with their children.

A friend in Trinidad put it this way: “Dead people don’t buy things”.

As for misleading dichotomies that teach us little, another may be the lockdown–reopening dichotomy. The reality is more complicated: the supposed “lockdown” locked down a portion of the economy (roughly about 20% in the case of the US), so that the “reopening” is really a further opening of something that was already open. In our “lockdown” in Quebec, I was required to stay away from campus, but still remained at work. In the area where I live, which is primarily engaged in agriculture and some construction, many continued to work as workers in essential industries. What was closed to all of us were restaurants, shops, malls, gyms, and any large gatherings were prohibited. Thus the question is about damage to prior economic activity, which does not make for a catchy phrase. However, even understanding the extent of damage to pre-COVID economies, tells us little about new economic activities that can be generated post-COVID. For now, all we have are changing numbers on unemployment, public debt, and GDP, and on these fronts the impact of the pandemic has been massive, without a doubt, and the burden has been distributed unequally.

The Great Feasting

The Mayor of Amity is back. Originally I was going to write that Georgia has now become the case that the whole world is (or should be) watching, and it happened during the latest of my revisions of this essay. But then I found myself right inside the next test case: Quebec. Canada’s epicentre of the virus, which has shown no slowing in the growth of daily cases of infection and death, has just declared that “life must go on”. A small, select batch of guinea pigs (children in day care centres, kindergartens, and primary schools) are to be returned to classrooms, for a mere few weeks between mid-May and the end of June. Why is it so vital that they return at the very end of the school year? What is so pressing? Now this clearly is an experiment. Since it is voluntary, many parents are already vowing to keep their children home. However, it does not sound like it is voluntary for Quebec teachers to stay away from work—they might choose to do so in spite of official demands. Transporting even a reduced number of students is a serious problem, and many key aspects of the return to school have clearly not been thought out. The plans seem to be hasty and ill-conceived. Mass transit issues will be a problem with workers returning to retail, manufacturing, and construction industries. Details are still murky (when they should have been crystal clear), but it does not sound like the Quebec authorities will be automatically testing everyone returning to schools and places of work—it would mean testing 457,000+ people in a matter of mere days. Outbreaks of the virus continue even now in the worst-hit province of Canada. Quebec’s leaders claim that their decisions are fully consistent with the guidelines of the WHO and the Government of Canada, but that is a debatable interpretation. The backstop argument that ends every assertion is always “we cannot remain confined” and “we have to restart the economy”—statements that have nothing to do with WHO guidelines. The government of Quebec is led by a businessman after all, establishing another commonality with the US leadership.

As Canada’s leading epicentre for the coronavirus, a new surge in Quebec could potentially endanger the rest of Canada. Thus far, neither provincial leaders nor the prime minister seem to have acknowledged this basic fact. The media have also overlooked the nation-wide consequences of Quebec’s rush to reopen even as cases continue to soar in the province. What happens in Quebec, will not stay in Quebec. Leaders in Quebec—as if downplaying the virus—emphasize that the worst of it involves seniors in long-term care homes. The virus may be centred in such locations (being among the few where masses of people were still clustered together), but it has not been confined to such locations. In fact, the virus travelled into seniors’ residences via minimum-wage attendants who have had to work multiple jobs. The virus has also been carried back from seniors’ residences into the large, poor areas of Montreal where most of the support workers live. This crisis is being wrongly described as one that is contained—it simply is not, and cannot be whenever groups of people gather together to work.

The timing of events in Canada does appear to be oddly coincidental. Is it that Canadians are so resolutely mimetic? How is it that mere days after Donald Trump announced plans to push for reopening economic activity in the US, that we find Saskatchewan and then Quebec marching right up behind him? With such a vast proportion of Quebec’s economy oriented to the US market, is it possible that business leaders, governors, and federal officials instructed their Quebecois juniors that either Quebec steps up, or it risks permanently losing its most important market? Was pressure transferred downwards from the White House and into Quebec?

Then how is it that just one day after François Legault announced schools reopening in Quebec, that Donald Trump urged the same for the US? Are these ideas floating in a stratosphere travelled by conservatives only? Was an international blueprint published in the National Review? Or has there been some level of correspondence and coordination behind the scenes?

Back to Georgia. Without meeting any of the basic criteria established by the Trump administration for a Phase 1 reopening, Georgia is being marched into some very dark territory. Georgia, regardless of the will of its people, has been mandated by the “governor” to reopen swiftly and widely. The people of Georgia are being used as test subjects, just as in Quebec—to the authorities and business-owners, the working people of Georgia are disposable. In Colorado the feeling is the same: people are being treated like crash test dummies. The same holds for Texas.

What if workers resist and defy orders to return to work? After all, as one professor put it, “these people aren’t Army Rangers—those people signed up for combat. A barber did not”. The authorities will likely cut resisters off from unemployment benefits.

Pushing and promoting this reopening have been scores of right-wing, pro-Trump protesters across several states, who have openly violated physical distancing requirements in their protests. At some of these protests in the US one could see participants holding aloft placards that were anti-gay (what gay marriage has to do with the virus is unknown), anti-socialist, or that promoted conspiratorial claims that virus test numbers had been inflated (if anything, grossly inadequate testing will have produced an extreme undercount). Supportive media have vigorously pushed for a reopening: not just Fox News, the New York Post, The Hill, Washington Times, Washington Examiner, among others (and which, it has to be said, will produce articles urging an end to lockdowns, even in progressive guises, plus some baffling op-eds that try their best to repair the image of Donald Trump, but also a fair degree of diverse opinion).

Trump has affirmed that workers who are sickened in the process of being forced to return to work, will not be able to hold their employers liable, thus removing any liability from the business class. Trump’s order that meat plants reopen was done, in his words, to “solve any liability problems”. Profits go to the business class, and loss goes to the workers.

If we are wrong about Georgia, Quebec, and others, and they prove to be shining successes, then it will cause everyone, everywhere in the world, to reexamine their own situations and to question how applicable these cases may (not) be. Success might call into question the need for the original lockdowns, at least for some. But failure will also come with a political cost, and an even bigger cost to people’s lives.

A Blood-Dimmed Tide

COVID-19 seems to have some pretty powerful connections—friends in high places, and in some low places—who serve as willing collaborators in sustaining and widening the coronavirus’ impact. Now the alleged “imperative” is for people to “get back to work”. Those doughnuts won’t serve themselves. Governments are running up deficits, we are told, so that millions of workers can stay home, and such a situation is not sustainable. Now we have to mandate that people return to the workplace, and where this happens we do so deliberately, consciously and knowingly, with a full understanding that as a direct result more people will inevitably succumb to infection and just as inevitably, some will die. Apparently, enforcing such cold-blooded decisions is “sustainable,” but in what world?

The fact of the matter is that governments need not accumulate much if anything in the way of deficits in order to sustain or increase social spending during a prolonged emergency. This “logic,” spoken as if it were “natural” and a “common sense” outcome that was necessitated by this crisis—and which in return demands that workers return to work when it’s not yet safe—is a pure ideological ploy. Some fall for it: even a supposed critique of capitalism adopts the standards of the status quo to evaluate the status quo. There was no need to generate massive new personal or public debt. Surely, in a matter of a national emergency, a dire public health emergency, it is fully justifiable to seize parts of the vast oceans of wealth that lie locked away in the private reserves of a handful of billionaires. Since when is it not allowed, when did it become unthinkable that one could tap into private wealth reservoirs for the greater good? How would an economy ever hope to function when its workers, who are the primary consumers as well, are dying off? If the health of the economy is what matters, then surely one turns to those who have the most resources to offer in aiding those who keep economies alive: the workers who are also the primary consumers.

A hefty universal basic income ought to be instituted, and some in Canada are renewing this push, and it ought to be accompanied by the fullest possible automation of the most menial, repetitive, and dangerous forms of work. A distant second-best, compared to a substantial universal basic income, would be the generalization of the sabbatical phenomenon to the entire population: like academics, everyone would be entitled to a full year of paid leave, at least once every six years. Regardless—I cannot fathom the logic, the calculation, that suggests that we cannot afford to keep workers at home for many months, or a year, during an emergency.

A Sick Economy

By now we should have realized that with ailing workers, there can be no production. Already about two dozen of the major meat processing plants across North America have shut down, because like a fog COVID-19 rushed in where people were gathered and infected them by the hundreds. Three-quarters of Canada’s beef supply has been affected by the largest plants shutting down across the country as huge numbers of workers are infected. Three plants in Alberta alone have been closed. Just one meat packing plant in Alberta, owned and operated by Cargill, has more cases than all of the province of Saskatchewan. Other meat packing plants have shut down since then, falling like dominoes. Aside from this, agriculture has also been imperilled, placing the state of national food supply in doubt now that grocery stores are also succumbing to the virus. Workers in agriculture and the delivery of food are far more essential to the economy than a single billionaire resting in peaceful and luxurious seclusion. To protect their lives for when it is once again safe to work, it is necessary to redistribute the very same wealth which their labour produced in the first place.

It is understandable that right-wingers, particularly neoliberals who dub themselves “libertarians,” would emphasize the need to reduce restrictions on mobility, scoff at warnings, and prioritize economic production. They want to rush this as quickly as possible just in case people, stuck at home and with endless time to finally do some thinking, ask themselves some very basic questions:

  • Why should we increase deficits, and later taxes, to pay for a public health emergency when some individuals have wealth stockpiled that exceeds that of most nations on the planet?

  • If it is truly a public health emergency, then why are billionaires excluded from “the public”?

  • Why should workers sacrifice their lives to serve doughnuts, but billionaires cannot sacrifice part of their wealth or income?

  • Why not use the stay-at-home opportunity to our own ends, as a de facto national strike against poor wages, precarity, lack of protection, and vast income inequalities?

One can also understand why many would want to get out of their homes and back to work. They might be feeling confined, incarcerated, and suffocated from having the imposition of isolation. For many the pressures have been intense and there is a threat of implosion: mounting financial worries, job loss, rising personal debt, inability to pay rent, wondering how they will buy food and pay bills, added to increased family tensions, the endless noise, nowhere to go, no distractions, no escape. It can be maddening. Getting back to work must seem like heaven to some of them, and I am not judging them as somehow being deficient for that. Personally I felt much of the same suffocation, even anxiety that resembled claustrophobia, but then after about three weeks it passed altogether. All I am saying is that since we are an adaptable species, and there are always many different ways of looking at the same thing, that perhaps some will need more time to discover the many silver linings of the current health–economy impasse.

First, for weeks they commanded us, “stay at home”. Then, like someone threw a switch, we are now ordered, “get back out”. Sometimes it sounds like officials have mistaken human beings for appliances.

In the meantime what I still have difficulty understanding is how even the super-rich of the richest countries cannot afford a pause that lasts even a few weeks. Just a few weeks of decreased over-production and hyper-accumulation, and it all turns to dust?

Part 5 of this series closes with a summation of the likely or possible trajectories emerging from this crisis, and where we might be going in a post-COVID world.

7 thoughts on “The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer: Nature vs. Culture in a Pandemic

  1. John Allison

    Max, thanks for this great work. It is the higher view that I and many others needed.

  2. shea05

    Great article Max, I really appreciated the literary approach to this one. You mentioned some films in the opening paragraphs, I strongly recommend Contagion (2011) which was so prescient in its portrayal of a pandemic that it feels more like a documentary than a piece of fiction.

    This whole idea of the sanctity of the economy and the health of the workers – it’s something I’ve pondered quite a bit over the last weeks, between my own thoughts, and conversations with family friends whose roles range from front line workers, to government researchers, to ordinary labourers whose perspectives I have gained. I’m going to mull this one over and return with some more articulated comments when I have some time in the next few days.


  3. Pingback: The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer: Nature vs. Culture in a Pandemic — ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY –

  4. Pingback: The coronavirus pandemic in perspective | Phil Ebersole's Blog

  5. DissenterOfGravity

    Regarding “how even the super-rich of the richest countries cannot afford a pause that lasts even a few weeks” is very much linked to how US companies, and perhaps many in Canada also, operate without ANY cash on hand. In a broad sense, financialized business operations depend entirely on persistent inputs in order to service all of their debt soaked finance games. Follow Scottish-born economist Mark Blyth for more on this hopelessly crumbling economic model which is forcing “decision-makers” to bend all of society to servicing commercial debt.

  6. Pingback: The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer – Bill Totten's Weblog

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