Day 14: the Shape of Things To Come

Can I scream?
We lack the motion to move to a new beat!
How can we expect anyone to listen if we are using the same old voice?
We dance to all the wrong songs
We enjoy all the wrong moves
— Refused: New Noise

As the dead pile up and the living struggle to meet ends meet around the world, I resign myself to this reality and try to focus on the here and now in our small, safe-for-now village. But my head spins as we are thrown into the peak of the coronavirus crisis while the dual shadows of a decaying and depraved globalized economy and climate breakdown lurk beyond.

I try to stay calm and present with the myriad micro-joys: the kitchen table where I (gratefully) work and write; the small patch of grass where Alqo sunbathes in the early spring mornings; the short walk up the carretera secundaria that exposes a footpath to wander the monte without being noticed by passing guardia civil patrols; a reluctant Amazon order of eight books of fiction and theory to allow myself a break from screens and the news cycle; a beautiful and simple daily routine of meditation, fitness, work, creativity, and delirious vegetarian gastronomy; the mobile panadería that feels even more essential and convenient to avoid the town.

The macro-agonies that I cannot outrun: immediate family members in a densely populated state that must continue to work; the ineptitude of the ruling class to help working people; an American stimulus that will barely cover a month’s rent and nothing else while leaving the many with either nothing at all or delayed disbursement; the prioritization and love of money that will prioritize illogical, fossil-fuel guzzling industries; the awareness that this is an overture and we will surely have another crisis within the next decade.

I’m not living up to the aspiration of stumbling toward hope. I can’t even stumble. It’s of my own doing. Talking to a few friends who are less tuned-in, maybe I could avoid things better, log off, dive into working on writing those novellas more, care less. Human brains aren’t equipped to soak up so much negativity with so little power to change or dismantle those culpable.

En fin. Unfortunately for me and possibly many others, the macro is consuming the micro. And this is just the beginning

Staying Inside: Solidarity from Solitude

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone“ — Blaise Pascal

Day X of lockdown, quarantine, self-isolation, etc. Any word I use is lacking. The Spanish government has extended the confinement period until 12 April, past Semana Santa. I knew this was coming. Frankly, I think it’ll extend past this. The epicenters of the coronavirus crisis in Spain are brutal and the numbers of positive cases (to say nothing of unconfirmed cases or people thinking they have symptoms but cannot receive a test) are rising. Doctors are in tears on social networks lamenting the difficult decisions to pull elderly patients off respirators to give them to younger patients and begging us to stay inside to flatten the curve and stop the spread.

Outside of the Spain and other affected countries like Italy, I see the rumblings of the governments of the United Kingdom and the Unitedl States; simultaneously lying to the population about its preparedness, how deadly this can be, and prioritizing their economies over human lives. It breaks me a little bit. It breaks me, someone far away and relatively safe, because people look for leadership in times of crises. And those leaders are already diluting their advice to stay inside by suggesting we might need to stop that for the sake of the economy. I’ll say it a thousand times more and I’ll say it everyday. The capitalist class does not give a fuck about you.

People of the Occident have become so alienated and atomized from their fellows that to ask us to stay inside, to practice social distancing, to think of the more vulnerable in our society is beyond many.

Twitter isn’t a good measuring stick, but I see people being reckless about our current situation. They say we’re hyperventilating, they try to compare numbers of other illnesses and their mortality rates to for some good ol’ whataboutism, etc. How about we listen to doctors and nurses instead of people who received an email from their cousin who lives in his parents’ basement and crunched some numbers one night?

Look, there are many people who cannot stay inside; the unhoused, service sector workers, medical staff. I get that. But for the rest. The ones who can work from home, self-isolate. By all means, go for a walk alone, but don’t half-ass this. You could be responsible for saving lives just by being at home.

Have some solidarity. If we do this right, we could avoid much harm. Then we can start reorganizing this society to be more coherent and human-centered.

Belief and Dogma in These Times

An small anecdote. An eminent conservative traditionalist scholar of Islam from a certain country tweeted about their country’s mosques re: the coronavirus pandemic. In it, he stated that those coming to prayer must have gloves, a rug of their own, must not shake hands, and that it is not necessary to line up shoulder-to-shoulder. I glanced down and saw a reply:

May Allah reward you well…would you kindly provide evidence that “the worshipers do not have to line up and do not converge” in this case?

In this new era, where everyone will have to adapt in order to protect each other, someone is asking for evidence. Is there a precedent, I imagine a hadith, that is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that confirms this change in the prayer in extraordinary circumstances?

Here is an example, one but not unique, of the line of thinking that leads to dogmatic (and perhaps fatalistic) religious worldviews that secular people rightly cannot understand. I’m sure this person was being sincere, so maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. And I do not mean to paint with such a broad brush, but it is a sample of the conversations and experiences I’ve also experience in Muslim communities. I see this and worry a bit. Do we need evidence to keep our distance in practicing our faith without the worry or threat of contagion, endangering not just the men standing next to you but their families and anyone they come into contact with as well?

Belief doesn’t need to rely on looking back to old world thinking or an over-reliance on others. For me (because I always only speak for myself) it is an opening up to possibilities beyond the material and should aid in our progress towards an appropriate mission, caring for the material and spiritual needs of all creation. It brings confirmation that the human journey is much longer and deeper than what we experience it, not as some deviation from a more pious past.

Another anecdote. A different scholar, American, but no less traditionalist, tweeted regarding mosque closures in other countries. This is in response to someone sharing a link about why UK mosques have remained open:

In other times, it’s an amusement at best or a nuisance at worst to see ill-trained students from madrasahs try to flex their literalist muscles against critical thinking and common sense. Right now, this attitude will inevitably cause deaths and cannot be tolerated. Avoid socializing!

More rational, yet quite a few pushed back on and felt scholars and their institutions were being attacked.

This is why I haven’t chosen to ‘self-quarantine’ myself away from the orthodoxy. This is why I have to look more closely and critically into the history, the power relations, the primary and spurious secondary sources of my adopted belief system much more than following personalities, also swayed by their education, yes, but by their own histories, reactions, and opinions to the times.

And this is what belief brings me. It brings me some sense of serenity (some, I say) to prepare for the oncoming of what the troika of crises (coronavirus, climate, capitalism) will bring about. It is spiritually lonely, I admit. But it squares with my reality much more than arguing about mosque closures. Talk to some Muslim women who have been boxed out of the mosque explicitly or otherwise for their entire lives and pray at home.

The Qur’an, the starting point and end point of Islam, is dynamic, filled with signs and admonitions to reflect upon. But it will only remain so in the hearts of dynamic, open-minded individuals who choose to prioritize it over the whims and opinions, however educated, of other humans. The times are strange and filled with uncertainty and disinformation.

Beyond Bernie: Assessing the New Politics by the Collective Power Network

Collective Power Network, a Democratic Socialists of America caucus “focused on realizing DSA’s potential to become a mass political organization of the working class”, wrote a statement in their publication The Organizer about the crossroads the left finds itself in with the Bernie campaign winding down and the global pandemic ratcheting up:

Even though we are in the midst of a crisis, it would be a serious mistake to believe that left politics are off the table or to resort to doomerism. Democratic socialist demands, which eight years ago were the fringe of the fringe, have gone mainstream, with demands like Medicare for All polling with incredibly high favorability and “socialism” polling at 47% in states like Tennessee. This is a jaw dropping shift in consciousness in the U.S., one likely to be heightened by the exigencies of widespread public health and economic crisis. While both right-ward and left-ward shifts are possible neither are by any means certain. […]

These campaigns are especially powerful when DSA acts within an alliance of organizations raising common demands. At a moment when elected officials and neoliberal institutions are scrambling for solutions, forceful demands from broad coalitions have an opportunity to shift official responses towards meaningful social-democratic reforms, simply by reacting quickly and being loud.

It’s also important that such campaigns do not remain confined to the local level, and that we take advantage of our capacity as a national organization to apply local campaign lessons across chapters and regions. The recovery from the immediate effects of the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout will be a sustained national political issue. This creates an opening for socialists to advocate for lasting social democratic reforms on a national scale.