New York, March 12, 2020 | Link to original
Dear Friend and Reader:
Despite this week’s harrowing news about the spread of the “novel” coronavirus, and the dire projections of what is about to happen, and the stock market’s nearly 30% (so far) plunge from this year’s peak, I propose that this is a good time to look at the potential benefits of the situation.
So let’s just mark the moment. All it took for world financial markets to first stagnate, then crash, was a disease outbreak in China, and a few cases in the United States? It’s that fragile? It’s that driven by psychology, meaning fear?
This is the product of the venerated capitalist god of greed. That is impressive. We’re told that this fantastic system works the best of all. Turns out, it lacks the resiliency to handle something as basic as sick days, or taking care of the sick.
For a moment I’m going to speak mainly to Americans, who tend to have a worldview different from other Western countries. One other thought before I continue: the more we do now to avert this crisis, the less drastic the final results. There is a lot we can do, in terms of prevention, on every level. The question is, will we?
OK, now for my message to Americans.
For many, many decades, the United States has lived as if it could do no wrong, and worse, as if the wrong that it did would never have an effect. Though the “trickle down” theory of economics has proven to be a mere political talking point, the attitude of our corporate leaders has certainly trickled down to a large segment of the population — the ones who will believe anything that makes them feel good, no matter who may get hurt.
War after war, with environmental catastrophe mounting season by season, there seems to be little will to take care of our problems. Nobody was ever elected to Congress on a platform of ‘raise taxes and be responsible’. There is this little problem of wanting everything for nothing — such as the functioning of society itself.
We do not generally view society’s role as taking care of others. Our notion of society does not involve a community ethos. It has involved a spirit of what I can only call greed and immodesty that I know is beneath the true ethics of many who aspire to it. Many who partake in so-called conservative politics are in fact caring and charitable people.
The little kid in me wonders about this, somewhat painfully: why do good people go along with such plainly evil ideas, such as denying people access to medical care? Or thinking all Mexicans are criminals? Or thinking it’s OK for the president to manipulate elections and cavort with sworn enemies of our country? Why do people vote against their own interests?
What is this love affair with billionaires, while so many are homeless and hungry? What is the love affair with believing blatant lies? Lies so obvious a child could spot them?
This is an Opportunity
In the course of about one month, we have watched the world change irrevocably. Whatever that past environment was, it’s over. We are now waking up to the new territory we’re in, which will require the rearrangement of our way of life, our values and our choices.
Coronavirus is a before and after moment that will shape society for the rest of our lifetimes — any society that it touches, though I think particularly the United States, as we’ve become a culture that is rigid and set in our ways. Now that is about to change, as every way we are set in will be shifted, a little, a lot, or entirely.
The events of one decade after the next have happened to “other people.” They have been local or regional events: hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes. Each time they have happened, for most Americans, they’ve happened over there. Now, coronavirus is happening right here, or somewhere close and coming closer. To put it bluntly, we all know people who will get sick, and some who will die.
That is new territory. It’s territory where we’re going to need to take care of ourselves and one another. It’s a new zone of history where we will be forced to think about what is truly important. We will need to distinguish a want from a need from a preference from something utterly irrelevant.
We will need to learn how to cooperate, and how to organize our communities. We will need to learn how to make conscious decisions together, and stick to them: as families, as schools, as companies, as friends, as small groups of associates.
Whatever else happens, many, many people will do this — including most of you reading, who tend to lean a little more into self-care and self-awareness than the average gremlin. To whatever degree possible, every last person must learn how to take better care of themselves — for everyone’s sake. That means staying cleaner, healthier, better fed, better hydrated. And my take is, this will be one result of what we are going through now.
This is a wakeup call. For example, what would you do if you had 30 days to live? That’s the situation many people are about to face. It’s a good question, too.
An In-Body Experience
Here’s another way to think of it. The impact of the internet has been to drive us out of body. This started with telegraph, radio and telephone, though we’re now a century and five orders of magnitude beyond that.
We are now, collectively, having an in-body experience, of dealing with an actual problem on the physical plane of reality. We are being forced to think about what we touch and the air that we breathe.
The central problem we are existing with now is how many people think that life is all a fantasy, a kind of virtual or enhanced “reality.” You may not walk around thinking, “I’m not really here,” but you’ve been carefully conditioned to not really be here.
I understand that from the standpoint of metaphysics this is “all an illusion,” or “all part of the great maya.” Though for that matter, not everyone who takes LSD or ayahuasca is an enlightened master.
If you read me at all, you’ve probably read this quote at least three times, maybe 10, by the late Eric McLuhan, son of the even later Marshall:
“The body is everywhere [everywhere you take it] assaulted by all of our new media, a state which has resulted in deep disorientation of intellect and destabilization of culture throughout the world. In the age of disembodied communication, the meaning and significance and experience of the body is utterly transformed and distorted.”
To repeat the operative phrase, “the meaning and significance and experience of the body is utterly transformed and distorted.” We are now experiencing this problem, and trying to address it, in the context of utter transformation and distortion.
Traveling at Electric Speeds
Earlier this month, Eric’s son (and my McLuhan study pal) Andrew sent me another quotation of his father that completes the idea. Remember, he’s talking about all of us. Try this on:
“At electric speeds, we, not messages, are sent. It is an old observation that on the phone or on the air you are in more than one place at a time, minus the physical body that you once used to define identity. The cybernaut abandons his body and physical identity and self (including gender) whenever he embarks on each trek into cyberspace. The conditions for disorientation are complete: out of body, out of time, out of space.”
(Note, when I first entered the internet in the 1990s, I could feel this palpably — like I was in some weightless dimension, and it was great fun. Gradually that gave way to the feeling being “normal.”)
By this metric, you can count on quite a few people thinking none of this whole virus thing is real enough to be concerned about. Heck, Fox “News” commentators can claim that this is all a hoax to manipulate the stock market and make Trump seem like he’s not doing such a good job.
Oh really, Mr. Smith. Have these space aliens been visiting you for long?
That is what I would call “total distortion.” That is what I would call “out of body, out of time and out of space.”
On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the infectious diseases section of the NIH, was testifying before Congress. Trump summoned him to the White House during his testimony, i.e., shut him down. He was telling our elected reps we have a problem on our hands that we need to address. Trump cut the mic and dropped the curtain. Total distortion.
Now, Congress itself may be banned from meeting, in order to protect senators and representatives from exposure. Several were exposed at that conservative fest the other day; one of them, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the guy who wore the gas mask as a joke, flew with Trump on Air Force One and got a ride in The Beast (his armored limo). These are vehicles that travel through ordinary time and space at ordinary speeds. He is now under self-quarantine. We can only imagine the decontamination efforts undertaken in the presidential vehicles after he left. Heck, the Secret Service driver could get infected. [At press time,we learned that Gaetz tested negative for the virus.]
One last thought. Both Biden and Sanders canceled campaign rallies on Tuesday, and will debate next week without an audience — to protect the public. Trump’s rallies will continue, or that is the plan. The problem is that those who are out of body can have an impact on those who are thoughtfully addressing the physical plane of existence.
One Last Thought: The Fear Factor
As you may know, I’m a fan of homeopathy. Were I not an astrologer, I would be a homeopath. So I guess I’m a little more than a fan. Here is what I can tell you, from having looked into this over the years. All of the homeopathic remedies associated with flu-like respiratory illnesses involve fear.
Homeopathic remedies address physical symptoms, though all have notes about the associated mental symptoms. They read like this, just as an example: “Melancholy with timidity, fear. Anxious and pale, with cold sweat. Irritable, cross, infuriated by least annoyance.”
It might seem obvious to connect an illness that feels like suffocating to fear, though it deserves consideration. The kinds of fear connected to flu-like respiratory infections include anticipation anxiety, paralyzing fear, waking up in terror of death, we’re all gonna die, fear of going out, fear of germs, and so on.
The remedy that would resolve or prevent H1N1 of 1917-1918 was called Gelsemium, which is about paralyzing fear and anticipation anxiety. It saved a lot of lives — if someone was fortunate enough to be treated by a homeopath prior to being given aspirin by a conventional doctor. (This especially pertained to ships returning from World War I at the peak of the crisis. Some had homeopaths as the ship’s physician and some did not. The ones that did not fared very poorly. The ones that did fared very well.)
Many have commented that the real pandemic is fear. I agree that is the more serious problem, because fear itself is so distracting from rational thought and conduct. It is also the thing driving markets down, which will do some serious damage to the economy. So on the good days those traders are driven by greed. On the bad days, they are driven by terror, resulting in a massive selloff. Mind you, this is all happening in cyberspace, with repercussions on the physical plane.
So — as the worm turns, as society changes, we have some choices to make, nearly all of which involve our relationship to our bodies: whether and how we take care of them; how we feel living in them; the ultimate value we place on them.
I understand that “the body is not everything.”
However, while we are here, it remains the temple of the soul.
PS — Here is a song that I often play when the going gets rough: “Before the Deluge” by Jackson Browne. It carries a firm caution: good intentions are not enough.
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