Modern Hell #4: System collapse (Part 1)
Our personal breaking points may help us recognise the many others that surround us
In fairness, I joined the line late, in the mid-afternoon. Tasked with now trying to find a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, I duly lined up at a pop-up drop-in clinic at a school near my house, only to be told after about 30 minutes of waiting that all the adult doses were already gone or assigned to people ahead of me. There was grumbling and sighing along the line. The woman behind me moaned that this was her third time being turned away in just one day. The security guard just kind of shrugged. Someone had come to stand in line at 4:30am, ready for that site to open at 10, she said. Like I said, under the circumstances, I was late.
While I’d waited, my phone had pinged a series of back-and-forth messages from friends in a different province advising one another on which pharmacies might have capacity. A couple got in, another did not. It was all very random, just luck. Such is the state of things here, a few days before Christmas in 2021.
The vibe is jumpy.
There seem to be two sets of reactions to Omicron from those who’ve taken this pandemic seriously from its start, at least in North America (I’m ignoring the anti-vaxxers, as one should). One set of people is retreating into deepened, renewed anxiety about, well, pretty much everything — and fair enough! The other set is those who are throwing caution slightly to the wind, chancing it a bit more and just saying, well fuck it, I’m taking this vacation otherwise I’m going to go crazy. And maybe fair enough in that case, too.
We are either newly terrified or newly nihilistic. Either way, we are operating with the knowledge that just because our society has kept working to this point, even through the start of a pandemic, there is no reason to believe that it can or will continue to do so. Omicron has come and all bets are off. We thought we knew how to exit this thing. But now, what comes next is really, truly unknown.
Throughout this pandemic, a lot of people — including me — have said a lot of things about the systems that undergird our lives, and how they work and (mostly) don’t, and our general capacity for necessary change. The pandemic has not only made clear which parts of our society are either exploitative or ruinous, or both, it has also exacerbated them at the same time.
And yet, despite this clarity of vision — despite how we can now see how obviously precarious everything is — the appetite for change appears to be very, very limited, short of a complete reversal of time itself. What we seem to mostly want is to change back to the way things were. Change in any forward sense, given our new perspective, appears even more daunting than before. The end result is what we have now: a society running on a weird kind of self-delusion. We can’t go back and we’re too afraid to go forward, so we’re just… here, deluding ourselves in the hope that, just because society hasn’t collapsed yet, it won’t or can’t. In reality it’s only survived for lack of sufficient force. Its strength is always relative.
It would be too early to declare this delusion over. But maybe reaching our own breaking points will finally allow us to more properly assess all the others that surround us — and to place blame accordingly. For instance, I’d like to blame Covid-19 for the fact that I might have to show up before dawn at a vaccine clinic to be assured a dose. But the pandemic is telling me, has always been telling me, something else. That the fault is actually mine — and yours. We’re the ones who built things this way. A society that works for some until it doesn’t for everyone. And after that?