Friday, April 3, 2020

The Final Solution: Microbe Hunters

As Andrew Cuomo pointed in one of his press briefings before his brother the CNN anchor was diagnosed with COVID-19, the expression “shelter-in-place” is usually applied when there's an active shooter or a case of a threatened nuclear attack like the false alarm that was ignited to Hawaiians a while back. For those who grew up in the era when Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957) was a popular novel, television programs could be interrupted when Civil Defense was testing the early warning system. Back then it was the mushroom cloud that was the monster. The moribund humor of Dr. Strangelove (1964) derived from the fear of nuclear Armageddon. Who would have dreamt that the threat to the world would ultimately be a microbe, with no political affiliation? Like the asteroid that might have created the Ice Age, COVID-19 is a value free adversary. The Ruskies that  Major T.J. King Kong (Slim Pickens) feared are in the same boat as the US of A. Even Kim Jong-un couldn’t have dreamt this one up. The closest thing was Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds (1938), when a Martian invasion threatened the earth. Now it’s like one of those dreams where you try to resist an attacker and punch at air. It’s all of mankind up against a silent opponent who’s too small to see. Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters (1926) was prescient.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Final Solution: Disaster and Evolution

Do calamities bring about cultural change? Jared Diamond’s Collapse dealt with the legacy of upheaval and Stephen J. Gould’s concept of “punctuated equilibrium” points to exogenous factors in evolution. Certainly, the Ice Age resulted in the extinction of dinosaurs, pterodactyls and other prehistoric creatures. The Black Death in the Middle Ages transformed European society. Perhaps there even was an Atlantis, a kingdom that lies buried under the seas. Global warming has already shrunken the polar caps, affecting water levels and, in some cases, totally eradicating coast lines. Venice recently was totally flooded; what compensations will occur to offset the eradication of ways of life? The current pandemic will have greater consequences than even 9/11 despite, Isis, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Obviously the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki leveled unprecedented destruction as did the bombing of Dresden, but the current pandemic is unique for being a truly equal opportunity employer. Within a relatively short space of time whole populations are adapting to radically changed regimens, based primarily on social distancing. The question is, will many of the accommodations made in the name of safety turn into viable lifestyles? Division of labor and economy of scale were two by-products of industrialization that radically transformed the nature of the worker’s relation to the products of his labor. Social distancing might be looked at as the end result of the industrial revolution, with the computer replacing the work place or work station and the communal human element reduced to little more than a relic of the past.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Final Solution: Somnambulism

Even for the insomniac who's plagued by nightmares and night sweats, sleep has become a playground. It’s the only getaway, the only escape that’s corona free—unless you happen to fall asleep in the subway. One of the side effects of the pandemic, even for those who have not contracted the virus, is narcolepsy. You hear many people complaining that they can’t keep their eyes open, that staying at home due to the shelter-in-place mandates, they sleep all day and can’t wait to get to bed at night. Sleep always had the appeal of the great children’s books like Through the Looking Glass and The Little Prince, since it’s a place where anything can happen and the mind, if not the body, can range freely. Apart from free market capitalism, sleep is the greatest expression of individual initiative. There are no regulations or certainly quarantines in the world of sleep—other than those opposed to by the executive functions of the brain or perhaps the superego, which is usually set out to pasture enough to allow the expression of the kind of forbidden pleasures that occur in sex dreams. Sleep research together with increased knowledge about what goes on in sleep may turn out to be one of the most prominent legacies of the current crisis. So much of mankind will be sleeping for so much of the day that a great trove of data will be produced by a new generation of somnambulists.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Final Solution: Art in the Age of COVID-19

Eruditon has been generated under all manner of conditions. Though everything is existential there are undoubtedly examples of philosophic premises like Wittgenstein’s “The world is that which is the case,” the first proposition from the Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus, which exist in an ether. A field like language philosophy might seem irrelevant to war, though those who traffic in ethics and game theory like "prisoner's dilemma" or especially "the trolley problem" (which is unfortunately exemplified in many recent medical instances where equipment is scarce) would naturally find an application in situations in which there's great conflict, like our present pandemic. But the history of thought is unpredictable. Does the ivory tower provide the repose necessary for the generation of great ideas or are the trenches where the human spirit is tested, the places where great insights into the nature of both art and humanity are to be found? Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, Remarque’s All's Quiet on the Western Front and Picasso’s Guernica are all products of the battlefield. Yet what about Emily Dickenson who worked in complete isolation from the world? One can only wonder what the esthetic products of the current calamity will be. The fact that coronavirus is an equal opportunity employer poses perplexing questions since there are no haves or have nots—no one is unaffected. Darkness at Noon and l984 were responses to totalitarianism. Wings of the Dove and The Remembrance of Things Past might be said to derive their impetus from the project of Art itself while Stephen King's The Stand and Steven Soderbergh's Contagion were plainly the product of fear.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Final Solution:The WPA

The natural human tendency is to think life will return to normal. The soldier goes to war and comes home expecting to continue on where he left off—and there are many cases which illustrate that happening. Many veterans have come home and extended their educations courtesy of the G.I. Bill. The high school sweetheart or wife they left behind was waiting for them—or not. There are many people who think that after the period of disruption caused by the coronovirus, life will return to normal. Donald Trump is one of them and he plainly believes it will even be better. The appeal of his rhetoric is understandable Who wouldn't want to indulge the fantasy that those who lost their jobs will get better ones? The Hoover campaign of 1928 offered a chicken in every pot. Now it’s around $1200. But is it pessimistic to believe that the current pandemic will live up to its name with its effect being truly global? The United States economy will not simply pick up on its own since its interconnected with so many others which have taken terrific hits. If America gets up from the canvas, it’s hard to believe that the fighter will still not be sent staggering into the ropes after taking subsequent hits from failing economies elsewhere which suck out energy like a black hole (not to speak of the fact that the virus may strike back again). It’s great to hear the American economy will be even more robust and Trump's skyrocketing approval ratings reflect this. However, with as much as a possible 20% unemployment from the collapse of so many businesses, perhaps what’s called for is a new WPA. That's in essence what those like Governor Cuomo want when they're asking the Federal government to employ private industries--and by proxy millions of layed off workers--to get the job done.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Final Solution: Rock Around the Clock

You may be one of those who have exulted in terminal uniqueness. You have tenaciously held onto the love of extraordinary people with larger than life personalities, who seem to be impervious, invulnerable and insouciant and who seem to have written the music for the march to the beat of that different drummer. Well, it seems like coronavirus has drained all the exquisite eccentricity out of the world. All the proto-Edwardian dandies, the Oscar Wilde clones, pundits and insouciant fops, the "Kubla Khan" loving Coleridge-wannabes with the world-weary views have all been displaced by EMS workers in their hazmat suits. How is it possible to be different and special when the world is falling apart? The whole bohemian rhapsody has been eradicated in the face of a disease. Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet? Down the tubes, at least for now. In the era of social distancing Verlaine and Rimbaud wouldn’t get close enough to have it out with each other. The dyspeptic Bob Dylan, with his whining complaint is an afterthought. No one is rocking around the clock. Do you really want to see Mick Jagger performing the social distant version "Gimme Shelter" wearing a mask in front of an empty seat bank? What about The Remembrance of Things Past in the time of coronavirus?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Final Solution: Social Distancing

Social Distancing is a pithy little meme. If it weren’t being invoked to prevent the spread of a pandemic, it might be employed by a novelist and screenplay writer of manners like the late Nora Ephron or a playwright like Jules Feiffer. Social Distancing could stand next to Little Murders as a document of metrosexual life, the kind of thing Candice Bushnell might have written and that Larry David would have a starring role in. Social Distancing aka Curb Your Enthusiasm. It could also be the title of a porn film. Someone like La Cicciolina, the former wife of Jeff Koons, would be perfectly cast since she was a porn star who went on to have a career in politics. Obviously, the phrase was created as part of a health alert, but it could easily turn into a legacy of Coronavirus. Socially distancing is a far cry from social rising which was the theme of novels like Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy and Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. Or certainly from sexual liberation a la Portnoy’s Complaint or countercultural rebellion, the seeds of which constituted the plot of The Graduate. In its current iteration, social distancing has little to do with “plastics" or alienation from the culture of prosperity. It's a survival mechanism.