Seclusion illuminates much when it is foisted upon you. Some of us are, for the first time in our adult lives, having to contend with loneliness that quite literally cannot be touched by others. We cannot live our lives in the ways we’d so become accustomed: grabbing a coffee, enjoying lunch at your favorite spot around the corner with a coworker, dancing the night away at a crowded bar in Boystown. The condensation of a cocktail glass, the sticky sweat of twentysomethings you’re shouldering your way through under purple and green lights become dangerous, anxiety inducing memories of a life in past tense. In the stillness of our rented apartments, we wonder how we moved so quickly through life.
For me, I’ve scrolled my social media feed panicked about what new oppressive disaster is catching our collective attention day after day. One day, it’s how people are protesting evictions. The next, it’s what West Coast city is burning to the ground in wildfire. On weekends, I see GoFundMes for people’s medical or funeral expenses, respite from chronic illnesses or death brought on by COVD or hate crimes. I think: no one wants to live this way.
The nation is witnessing in real time the multitude of ways that, with no exaggeration, every American system was built to fail us. The reckoning is here. Our apocalypse has come.
In thinking about our capitalist system, it is unsurprising to me that things got this bad without most of us realizing. Even for socially progressive folks like me, there was a level of unconscious acceptance of the way things were. Sure, I recognized I was being overworked in accordance with my salary at my previous employer, but what was I supposed to do about it when I was so exhausted every night after work? Sure, I recognized that it’s fucked up for my insurance coverage to be dependent on whether I had a job (or a partner with insurance), but hey, I had a job so I couldn’t complain, right?
And even with those concerns in the back of my mind, I still saw fit to go out for drinks, buy that impulsive restaurant meal, snag that cute top with money I didn’t have to keep myself sane — or so I thought. Capitalism has a way of blinding you, of grinding you down to dust so fragile that you believe the only way to satisfy the emptiness and fatigue you feel is with more capitalism, i.e. buying things. Working 40 hours or more at a job that exploits you; getting two days off to decompress, have fun, and/or run errands; get paid every two weeks; blow your paycheck the first weekend on bills and frivolity and then stretch $90 bucks for the remaining 10 days. Realistically, who even had the time or energy to focus on radically changing the way our lives were running?
White patriarchal capitalism binds us in a wanting trap. It manipulates our minds into believing that if we just work a little more, just spend a little more, that we’ll feel whole inside. We work to make money to keep up with our peers and the things they have. We work to one day have the ability to indulge our consumerist whims and not feel the financial effects of it when the first of the month hits. But the gag is that we are working under greed. The hallmark of greed is always wanting despite how much one gets or has — and that no matter what it isn’t enough. There is always more to have. So we keep working, keep buying things, keep wanting things and then wondering why none of it is ever enough. You can’t please white men in suits that sneeze money. You can’t please white patriarchal capitalism.
That deep pit in your stomach that you used to go through life with (or for those that have continued working, still do) was the difficult, unspoken knowing that you may never be happy living with your foot constantly on the gas. Going, going, going. Averting your eyes at your checking account balance. Deciding between going to an escape room with friends or being able to eat lunch the next day.
The wealthy depend on our spiritual decay in order to profit from our insecurities. What I, and I hope many of you, have come to understand in quarantine, is that what I really want in life can’t be bought. Yes, I do still desire material objects in my life. But I know now that I can do without them. And I actually feel a lot better when I’m not focused on material gain or comparison to my peers. Due to financial strain of unemployment, social distancing, or otherwise, we are collectively being forced to look inward. Lesser toward what our wandering eyes want, but more toward what our hollow hearts need.
I’ve found that I need community, movement, spirituality, nature. Books, learning, creative outlets. I believe our apocalypse has come to teach us lessons. Paramount of which is: you can’t want your needs away. Fill your cup with needs and your wants will no longer drown you.