Hope in the time of Covid
This essay is a personal taking-stock. Not an introspective reflection—I have one of those in the works—but a looking outwards, albeit from my, acknowledged and limited vantage.
When Covid-19 was in its earlier days, I enthusiastically penned essays about the way it shaped and reshaped time. Since then, we in the UK have been in and out of lockdown, have witnessed the absurdity of tiers constantly reinvented around the needs of capital and our leaders’ PR management rather than human life, and the Tory government absurdly hanging its hopes for abating vital public health measures around arbitrary religious holidays—most disastrously, Christmas.
All of that feels distant. Today the challenge is reconciling the expectations the government is setting up anew (that all things are heading back to normal) with the starker but apparent reality. That is, the same mistakes being made over opening schools too early, even the re-airing of the disastrous eat out to help out scheme, all inevitably pointing to further measures in response to a likely relapse into catastrophe brought about by the shocking inability of the state to comprehend its own errors.
According to the Health Foundation, 6 out of 10 people who have died from COVID-19 are disabled. DNRs have been utilised against those with learning disabilities. These facts are hard—near impossible—to describe without using words such as eugenics. Besides an escalation in their murderous zeal against the most vulnerable and mishandling of basic measures, the other facet of the Tory’s handling of Covid-19 can be summed up by the word corruption. While the slaughter of the disabled is shocking, it is hard to be surprised about that other facet of British life. Corruption is so baked-in to how things work.
All of this, the endlessness of it, the anticipation of worse, and the outright atrocity (I’m skating over much) lends a quality of hellish pathos to the first months of 2021. Time is experienced differently still, differently to time before the Coronavirus. As I explored in those aforementioned previous essays, during disaster, especially one that so separates us and disrupts our set routines, time easily goes awry. That is, how we experience time. But this is also not experienced as an aberration anymore. So, I hold still to my impressions from early in the previous year, that is, on how:
Routines calcify, days seamlessly flow; the abandonment of modern calendar time does not mean a return to some premodern cyclical time, but merely the death of any coherent orientation to the endless sequence of events.
But unlike then, now this is the custom. And the thought of that other flow of time a strange kind of fantasy. Such is our adaptability as human beings.
Where is the historical surfeit of hope in this moment? Where is Bloch’s Not-Yet-Conscious under Covid, as described in my recent essay on him? Whereof the utopian nowhere? That the Tories could have failed so spectacularly, but remain so unassailable points to the absence of some speculative route forward, one that can be projected out and believed. I do not mean the absence of a formal, electoral opposition to business-as-usual, but of even the types of social movements that can change so much as the way we think of social possibilities.
In such atomised times we so easily recourse to making our own solipsistic hope. I have been trying to push against that, looking to collaborative avenues. In these places I have found the surfeit endures, however fragile, in rare oases. In utopias-within-dystopia.
There is a genuine desire to overcome this form of alienation, the alienation of each of us from each other. This desire can be exploited (indeed, social media primarily appears to exist to do so), but it equally finds better expressions. The best of those, I have found, is in a renewed will to think our way out of our predicament. Whether it’s Angryworkers excellent and relatively new book Class Power on Zero-Hours or just talking with comrades inside and out of the A*CR, I have found of late a real zeal to understand our moment.
At the start of an online meeting with the theorist Andreas Malm and his new provocatively titled book How to Blow up a Pipeline, I interviewed the author briefly. The meeting explored many of the hardest questions facing all liberatory, socialist projects today—of strategy, of organisation, and vitally of imagination—and the conversation that ensued was by no means always easy. But there, in that meeting, was again that sense of engagement, thought, and all taking place at that crucially collaborative level.
When it comes to the end of Covid-19, we will either seek justice or be condemned to the further attritions of capital’s political representatives. There will either be a reckoning for the many disabled, elderly and others who have fallen victim to the regime’s wholesale engagement in social murder, or the regime will learn to expand further in its capacity for such cruelty. This justice can only be delivered by great numbers of people, those who produce the world however exploitered and disconnected from their real power and agency.
To seek that justice, which is ours to seek, we need to be animated again not just by anger—an anger we should feel at what’s been done to our shared humanity—but hope. A hope at how humanity can still seek something better, a world where the disabled could never fall victims to such callous evil. Where we are freed from the corruptions and incompetence of our supposed betters to remake the world however we choose.
Cliché will not get us there; we need to think deeply about our deep predicaments. We need to talk to one another and combine our knowledge. In doing so, we can unite anger with hope.
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