As Gabrielle Drolet said, “this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a series of increasingly alarming events we slowly become desensitized to.” How many crises will we live through, before we realize that there’s no normal to return to? And how do we live with that?
News has always, by design, been stressful. It’s a drama, writ large, with the omniscient assumption that someone should do something. But this impotent ‘democratic’ injunction has been easy enough to ignore. Until now.
Now the news—all coughs and elbows—intrudes on ordinary life. We read the news not to see what is happening there, but here, and that’s a dreadful way to be. It means that far from consuming other people’s misery, you are the misery. Being in the news is dreadful. You’re very close to the obituaries.
Things like health indices have long existed, but when you start checking them for your health, you’re one step closer to the infirmary. And now we’re all familiar with this—infection rates, hospitalization rates, the corruption of those rates—all the accounting and discounting you need to make before making simple decisions, like sending the children to school, or going out for tea. It’s exhausting, and that’s before you start coughing, and wonder what it might be.
Exchange rates, also, have always been changing, but once you start watching them, you know that something’s gone topsy-turvy. In my country the currency is now less stable than crypto, but now everybody has to think about inflation and wars and policy statements because they might affect your ability to eat. All of these things that used to tick across day-trader’s screens become part of the daily routine.
And so here we are in year three of our Lord COVID-19, living in a mess of both cyclical and spiraling dramas which—far from being on TV—are lived reality. It’s a constant low-level of stress, the background noise of suffering that now remains even if you close the laptop or shut off the screens. It’s not just the terror of the browser window any more, when you open the actual window you don’t know what you’ll see.
This is the way the world ends. A series of alarming events that don’t even set off alarms anymore. When emergencies are constant, are they even emergencies? Emergency implies that something is emerging, but when it’s another wave or another conflict or another climactic event, is that what’s really happening here? It feels more like submerging. Just watching wave after wave, from under the sea.