The best days we’ve had on the planet for the past 100 years (at least) were during the first few weeks of the world-wide lockdown, with almost no airplanes flying, people ensconced in their little boxes, no traffic, no human interference with the environment – well at least not as brazenly as before and after the lockdown.
I’m not a great fan of human beings. Most of them are filthy and loud and captured by magical thinking of one kind or another. Many are besotted by brutality and view cruelty as part of the natural order. Of course there are people who have empathy and are altruistic to a certain extent and strive to make the world we live in a better place. I’ve met plenty of them. They are usually the ones who get herded into football stadiums in Chile, get thrown out of helicopters into the sea in Argentina and get murdered by gun worshipers and police in the USA. Empathy and altruistic thinking are seen as fatal weaknesses in character these days by the rising tide of authoritarians around the world.
So, what do we do? Is there a way to maintain empathy and altruistic behavior and still resist the darkness of fascism? It happened in France and in Italy during the second world war. The Resistance in those countries took up arms to fight the evil that had risen to power. The same in Spain during the war against Franco. Read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Many good people were there to fight. Many good people lost their lives. In Italy and France the resistors returned to family life, despite their losses, after the war was over. They didn’t expect utopia, though most of them did support the communist parties that flourished in the post-war period in both of those countries. In Spain they had to wait until the beast expired in 1975 – “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”
The lockdown in 2020 was a period of calm and meditative peace imposed on everyone, not with an iron hand, with troops patrolling the streets, but through a worldwide lightning flash of reasonable caution. Of course you had the usual gaggle of complainers, but even they stayed out of the public sphere, somehow knowing that during this moment of general caution it would be foolhardy to step out of line. And for what seemed like an endlessly wonderful moment in time the dolphins returned to the canals of Venice, ducks took over the streets with their long line of babies trailing behind them, the green world crawled back quickly in the most unexpected places to give us a glimpse of how easily nature will wipe out all traces of humankind once we eliminate ourselves from the planet.
Summer 2021 has now hit the northern hemisphere and here in Europe people are getting ready to go on vacation. They will be traversing from north to south and east to west and reveling in their ability to travel – by car and by plane mostly, as before – to the same old hot and crowded destinations to do the same old sunbathing on humanity-drenched beaches, dance in packed hotel discos, eat what they regard as exotic food (unless they’re Brits, who eat the same old crap they eat back on their island home). And COVID-19 variant Delta is already weaving its way through Europe. Lisbon was on lockdown once again a few days ago; anti-vaxers, mixed in with the partially vaccinated, are triumphantly spitting out their droplets at the European Championship public viewing locations; masks are seen less and less in public; caution is knowingly or unknowingly being thrown to the wind. American baseball stadiums are at full capacity. The CDC is spinning its wheels in the deep sand of controversy. The Old Joe pot is calling the Putin kettle a killer while pretending the USA is still the shining beacon of democracy in the world.
It feels to me like I have a front row seat in the theater, watching a play so absurd that Ionesco would have had to acknowledge he could never have ever written anything more baffling. It was only a few weeks ago that I watched Rhinoceros (1974), with Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and Karen Black. Wilder was as wild as he was supposed to be and Mostel the epitome of the absurd, and yet, it made much more sense to me than what is afoot in the world today. The text that appears at the beginning of the film could apply perfectly to the political absurdities being carefully woven in the present by those who abhor critical thinking and the application of logic to discourse.
“What you are about to see could never take place.
Several eminent scientists have assured us of this fact.
For, as they are quick to point out … the world is flat.”Eugène Ionesco
The tragedy of the absurd in our terrestrial society is that what we are seeing is taking place. The country that used Operation Paperclip to build up its military might with Nazi scientists, has succumbed – or is succumbing quickly – to the ideology that enabled those scientists to throw ethics in the trash when pursuing their deadly projects for the Old Reich. The New Reich, financed by the same types of oligarchs who financed the previous one, actually has people in the core of its military and political system who believe that a nuclear war can remain limited and can actually be successfully carried through to victory. MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – has disappeared from the political vocabulary. War is the new perpetual profit machine, but a slight flash of reason was exhibited by General Martin Dempsey, despite his normally belligerent mien, when he was able to pull the US back from getting mired in another sand trap in Syria back in 2013.
What a beautiful breathing moment for the earth when the lockdown started. One week in and I felt the tension release in all the muscles of my body. Two weeks in and my Buddha nature was awakening. Three weeks in and I felt as if this would finally turn out to be Satori for humanity. Then the lockdown eroded, slowly but surely people found ways to make work possible again. Here in Hamburg the infrastructure, roads, bridges, rails, were the first things targeted. A good idea actually, since traffic had practically disappeared. But then came Zoom work and conferences and cars returned and now, here we are, back to summer vacation with pollution rising, forests burning, oil still being sucked out of the earth for profit, and the authoritarian pea-brainers sitting in the catbird seat ready to dictate the dystopian future to mankind.
The next lockdown will not be so wonderful I fear. Our names have been gathered by big data, our political predilections have been profiled, we are all targets now, for industry as consumers and as potential converts or victims for the new batch of Grand Inquisitors.
Forever Lockdown is on the horizon, but not the kind of lockdown I was so happy to have experienced in 2020.
Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany