The Submergency of the Pandemic

When time changes, everything changes.

Nora Bateson

The pandemic has stopped the traffic. But it has not stopped the noise. Like an ant hill that has been kicked there has been a wild scurrying, and reorganizing, a constant chatter, and an every-which-way attempt to figure out how to go on. This is punctuation, marking in the in-between. Life before the dramatic arrival of this virus is no more, and what happens after it is an unfolding path. There have been some reveals.

The meta message:

Vitality or life, is created through relationships that build relationships that build relationships and so on. Think of soil, and how soil becomes a forest or meadow where birds and insects find their homes, and where lovers walk hand in hand. The most important aspect of a healthy body, or healthy family or a healthy community is not the health of the individuals, but the the relationships between them. A family is several generations of relationships in multiple directions, within a culture, within history. The relationships matter and each communication within them also matter, this relational process is what life is made of.

Beyond the din of people arguing about the binaries of incomplete research around masks, transmission, lockdowns and going back to how things were- beyond all of that mess… there is a meta message that has a nasty bite to it. The deeper disease, the one that many of us have been pointing to for decades, has shown its rash, again.

The meta message is that the era of the 'individual' is going to be hard to get out of. There is something like an addiction taking place, and cold turkey is scary as hell. Going from individuality and personal freedoms to recognition of interdependency is an invitation for all the trickery of the addiction. What is more comfortable is to be selfish. So, the array of justifications not to change that individualistic image of self is fantastic. Have you ever had an addiction and heard yourself make contortions of logic to make it not-wrong to have one more cigarette, or just on the weekends, or to find that shred of research that proves that some people show no signs of illness from smoking? The acrobatics of addictive logistics are spectacular. The human mind has an unmatched capacity to reason that which is unreasonable. There is no lack of imagination, it is just placed toward the project of keeping the addictions in place, rather than living differently. The world of industry, distribution, banking, advertising, consuming — is what feels familiar, and even if it is killing us and the planet, it is what we know. The pull to return is strong.

The meta message is that most of us are not habituated to recognize the health of others as our own health, and therefore to consider this interdependency is an unacceptable course of action. After all, what good will it do me? This is not how the soil builds richness.

My health is not my own. My health is the whole community’s, it belongs to the elderly, the youth, and even to the biome of organisms that live in my body and in the soil. This, is the opposite of everything that the last centuries of manufacturing, education and politics have forged into societal infrastructure and even the making of identity.

It is easier to identify myself by my profession, my address or my car than to recognize that I am a living system in relation to other living systems. I am not me, I am a vessel of the past and the future. In this moment what is asked of me is that I recognize the harms the systems of the past have wrought, and make radical changes so that the future is not burdened with the same destructiveness as the past.

That means, no more malls, supply chains, luxe items, imported pineapples in Stockholm in December. That means noticing the slow pace of human speeds of movement, farming, caring, building. That means: where do all the toasters come from? Toilet paper, as it turns out, is a perfect symbol of the urgency to re-path out of the existing system. It is a tell-able tale of the most personal and detailed consequences of radical change in industry and supply chains. The hoarders actually grasped a vision of interdependency in their panic, though perhaps not consciously.

I am not so worried about whether the masks work to protect against the virus or not. I am not so worried about whether immunity is granted to those who contract the virus or not, or for how long the antibodies can resist a potentially mutating life-form. I am also not so worried about which countries did what when in their response to this viral emergency. We are only just getting to know this novel Corona 19, there will be new reports galore in the coming months and years.

Rather, I am disturbed deeply, by the attitude. I am disturbed by the way the communication and information has been both delivered and received. The revving up of the cry for the loss of personal rights, has grafted onto certainty that the super-tech surveillance of a future of military cyber dystopic life lies ahead. I don’t like surveillance, or militaristic dystopias, but I am more worried about how this vision is manifesting in the actual relationships between actual people. Fuck the government, the banks and the militaristic nightmares. I am good with that. But take care of the other human beings and the natural world we live in.

I am worried that the melting of the existing system has begun in full, and that people are still hoping the old structures will protect them from actually having to care for each other.


Hold on. Let’s go back to normal long enough so that we can get things normal again, then we can go back to trying to get that grant for systems change.

So, we need the existing system to be healthy enough to provide the assets to build the bridge to the next system, but at the same time we need the existing system, (that is all of us btw) …to be frail enough that it gives up wanting to survive. Because if it can muster the strength to survive, it will. Addiction.

What is emerging is a blur. A fight for individual rights, a sea of conspiracy theories, all sorts of agenda laced “research” that is exciting particular groups it is delivered for. All of them are right in a way (who can trust anyone anymore?), and they are also muddling up the possibility for mutual care. The communication and information realm is actually insane right now. Mired hopelessly in cultural double binds, and traumas. When I take a break from being horrified, have to admit that I find the whole world right now to be utterly incoherent.

Do you remember when the news stories came out that said research proved that drinking wine 2–3 times a week was actually Good for you? In that moment every slightly guilt-ridden booze lover was vindicated. There is no way to take that story back. Tell the people what they want to hear, and that becomes etched in stone. Every group has a youtube guru now, saying with full authority exactly what each group must re-post to prove their position. Tell them the Chinese did it, tell them the masks don’t work, tell others the masks do work, tell them herd immunity is possible, tell others herd immunity is not possible, tell them a vaccine is coming, tell them it’s the 5G, tell them it’s the 1%, tell them it’s a spiritual opportunity, tell them it’s a hoax, tell them it’s not political, tell them the government has done well in its response…It has all gotten very messy.


But what is submerging is more concerning. What is the sentiment, the attitude the tonality of sense making that is currently going down, into the underground, into the hidden places that invisibly inform each action? That is what is worrying me. Is this global frenzy of contradictory information making people cold? The deep freeze does not bode well. This is a time to find human impulses in the shards of the broken structures. Maybe the structures are not yet broken enough for us to be released from them.

The confusion is layered and stewed in epistemological tangles. It may be the only way to get to clarity.

This Corona virus is the beginning of a set of crises that have been coming: the ecological damage done is a several decades future calendar of hellish weather and other emergencies, the economy based on exploitation is another set of emergencies, the technological pursuit of product over living systems is another, the political shitstorm of drama loving attention seekers is yet another… But warmth toward each other and the world around us in every small instance is the better path now.

I do not mean that in any shallow new-agey positive gooey way. I mean that in the full rigor of the epistemological issue that is at hand in this moment. Seriously, at present there is nothing to gain and no way to make a case for the need to be respectful of life without dipping into the valuations of the confused existing system. What is the measurable value of changing the education system so that the next generations may be more proficient at complexity and systemic understanding than their parents? What is the measurable value of achieving any of the falsely described Sustainable Development Goals? What is the value of changing the entire socio-cultural system so that it does not need the precarious life-support of capitalism? Wrong question. The question is: ‘Why are these the questions?’

This is the reveal. The deep hunger in the existing system, however destructive, is to keep going. The justification for the coldness is numbers.

I don’t care if that mask you wear is really going to keep me from getting the virus. I care that you care. The wearing, and not wearing of protective bandanas, gloves, or whatever… is a message. You know that. I know that. What sort of a world is it that day to day life takes place within?

But no. Normal is beckoning. Normal is urgent. Normal is the survival of billions of people. Normal is a reboot of the inter-systemic death machine that got us here in the first place.

Normal is a double bind. Go back to normal and we all end up in more global catastrophes, but if we do not go back to normal, it is a global catastrophe. And to say this in writing… is to trigger a thousand blades of snickersnack comments to slice the writer into coleslaw.

“That things ‘just go on’ is the catastrophe.” — Walter Benjamin

This is the dystopia. Its counterpart is the vitality of caring and tending to each relationship in each moment. In the supermarket, in the living room, in the social media space.

It is also a small hint of a path.

It is not what is said, or unsaid, but the relationships in which the saying is taking place that give the meaning. When people get sick other people care for them, and when you get sick someone cares for you. This is deepcode. Does the shared vitality of life itself matter? Not because it is economic, or political, but because it is the soil upon which the future grows.

Yes, it matters — more than ever. And perhaps in this moment some of the shine of the other distractions will fall away. Perhaps in slowing down the pace of life there will be an opening for more earthbound senses to receive the information that is here. The truth is slow.

“i don’t pay attention to the
world ending.
it has ended for me
many times
and began again in the morning.”
― Nayyirah Waheed, Salt

Filmmaker, writer, educator, lecturer, President of the International Bateson Institute. Books: Small Arcs of Larger Circles 2016, Warm Data *upcoming 2019

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