Vaccinations, riots, curfews and the coming collapse
And so it escalates further. The virus is sending our societies into a tailspin. Most economies have shrunk over the past few months with some suggesting a ‘double-dip recession’ might be just around the corner. Millions have lost their livelihoods or remain isolated from loved ones. Inequality has soared. None of the pledges from the Paris Climate Accord have been met. 2020 was not just the year of the pandemic. It was also the hottest year on record. Many of us crave a return to ‘normality’. But what if this is it? What if that which we are witnessing is collapse?
Vaccinations have begun, but bureaucracy, logistics and murky decision-making processes now raise the specter of a much longer drawn out ‘recovery’ process. In the Netherlands, where I’m from, a curfew has been put into effect. Nobody is allowed out, unless they can somehow prove their movement is necessary. The first few days saw widespread rioting and military police battering protesters. But the voices of those demonstrators belong to the far-right, which seems to be exploiting the very real fears of disenfranchisement and loss. The anger that is on display is not one of hope, but one of exclusion, violence and retaliation.
That anger runs much deeper than the pandemic. It is the frustration of ever decreasing security, the disappearance of unionized jobs, flexible contracts, a lack of social provisions and the fading prospects of a better future for a generation which has been raised on celebrity culture and social media. For them, ‘freedom’ has acquired a completely different meaning. It has never been shaped by collective struggle or community — any opportunity for that has been undermined by spending cuts and replaced by mantra’s of ‘responsibility’ and consumption — they are the true children of Thatcher.
For most, freedom is individual, a ‘choice’ to buy or not to buy. The reality that some can and others cannot seems not to be structural, but down to individual failure. In a society which is so fast-paced that social interaction has been commodified (where are the public areas where we can interact without having to consume?) or individualized through our separate, individual screens, freedom is quite a limited concept. It becomes even more meaningless when the people we can vote for all end up offering us more of the same. No wonder many Americans clung to Trump — he captured that feeling of being trampled upon. ‘They’ don’t care about you. That feeling of betrayal can hit you quite strongly.
Some of the ‘freedoms’ we have grown attached to are threatened and we distrust our institutions. Of course we do. So we empower ourselves by making choices — at least that’s what we think — to boycott certain products or to NOT take the vaccine. It’s what we’ve been taught — that’s what freedom is — to buy or not to buy. Has not our healthcare — a social provision — been wholly commodified? As I said in an earlier blog, Pfizer is set to make billions. Of course it is. That’s what Big Pharma does.
The virus mutates. Of course it does. That’s what viruses do. But putting a vaccine into our bodies is not very different from consuming a mobile phone. In both cases we are feeding a machine of greed. And what about the food we eat? Chicken nuggets from China? Really? More than half our populations are overweight or obese. They are at risk in any case. Are we addressing their ‘freedom’ to consume? Most newspapers in the UK feed racism and sexism. I have the ‘choice’ to read about murder, football or sexual violence. And so on and so forth.
The internet monitors my surfing (is that even still a word…?) behavior and algorithms me into an echo chamber. I occasionally debate someone on social media, but arguments quickly turn personal and fairly soon the over-familiar “I just have a different perspective and get my news from different sources” statement ‘settles’ whatever the dispute was about. I don’t learn or grow wiser, just angrier and more gloomy and frustrated.
Just until Amazon kindly senses my gloominess and suggests a shiny new product to lift my mood. I will happily take the vaccine. It will be added to the giant heap of commodities I have accumulated. Perhaps it will help me to once again see my family and friends in the Netherlands. In my modest view, there is a greater good there.
But I somehow have the feeling this collapse is far from over.