The Titanic Impact of Covid

Covid is shaking our society's assumptions and core beliefs.

As the world entered the second decade of the twentieth century, mankind seemed on the brink of a golden age.  Distance had been conquered through railways, steamships, the telegraph, the telephone, and, for the rich, the newfangled motorcar; night had been defeated by Thomas Edison's light bulb.  Even the most remote American farmer had access to the wonders of modern technology, through the good offices of the U.S. Postal Service and the Sears catalog; true poverty, while far from defeated, was on a very visible long-term decline.  There seemed no problem that science could not eventually fix.

These optimistic dreams of utopia took a hammer-blow on the night of April 15, 1912, when the world's most lavish and modern passenger liner, the RMS Titanic, sank after a collision with an iceberg.  Our demented modern media would describe this as a "mostly successful" voyage; the more honest "yellow journalism" of the day rightly painted it as the unmitigated disaster it was, with the most up-to-date of technology failing utterly to protect even the richest of men.

Any residual optimism died forever in the trenches of World War I, where mankind was forcefully reminded of his fallen and animalistic nature.  Despite decades of further progress, the happy views of the late Gilded Age never really returned - or so we'd thought.

Looking back, it's surprising how many over-optimistic similarities we see with the "End of History" era of the most recent turn-of-the-century, where, this time, global poverty seemed on its way out, the rich travelled freely around the world in ultimate luxury, crime rates were plummeting, and even ordinary people seemed to have hope for the future if they simply "learned to code."

The 9/11 atrocities reminded us that not everyone wants to live in the modern world; the Obama Recession hammered home the lesson that our elites, like those of the Soviet Union before them, are still not wise enough to vanquish the business cycle.  Through it all, though, the Western upper-middle-class' way of life was hardly altered.  Teens still sought out four years of debauchery and a free-life-pass diploma at an Ivy League college; their parents glided from office to fine restaurant to vacation home to alma mater to, if desired, elective or appointed office.

No more!  With the advent of the Chinese coronavirus, the globetrotting days of the jet set have come to a screeching halt, with even the richest of world citizens trapped in whichever of their mansions they happen to find themselves.  Most colleges are operating purely online, charging the same astronomical fees but denying their students the invaluable opportunity to "meet and mate" with their fellow elites.  The world-class joys of our world-class cities are now but a dust-gathering memory - Broadway shut down indefinitely, countless thousands of trendy restaurants out of business, "the arts" purely online if at all, and the great shopping emporia following them down the bankruptcy drain.

What's the point of living in New York City and paying its egregious taxes if all the museums and restaurants are closed and your penthouse building may at any time be set upon by a rampaging mob?  "Two weeks to bend the curve" became... forever.  Even if a vaccine is developed, and even if most people accept it - far from likely, after a year of bald-faced lies from our supposed health experts - who's to know when some other adventurous Chinaman will whip up a fresh serving of bat soup, or a Mao-suited Chinese Communist Party apparatchik will push the wrong button in the lab, and we'll be back in the same boat with Covid-21?

For reasons not entirely clear but visible as far back as the dawn of recorded history, wealthy elites like to congrate in cities, but in an era of pandemics both real and imagined, a great city is positively the last place you want to be.  The Wuhan flu has accomplished what Obama's economic fecklessness and Osama bin Laden's Islamic evil failed to do: make cities, and our elite's preferred urban way of life, untenable in the long term.

Our elites are now suffering the overturning of their lifestyles that more normal Americans have endured for half a century, and plutocarats don't like it any more than peasants do.  Indeed, without the comforts they took for granted, what's the point of human existence at all?

Six months into the pandemic with no end in sight, many of us have been feeling a sense of unease that goes beyond anxiety or distress. It's a nameless feeling that somehow makes it hard to go on with even the nice things we regularly do.

What's blocking our everyday routines is not the anxiety of lockdown adjustments, or the worries about ourselves and our loved ones -- real though those worries are. It isn't even the sense that, if we're really honest with ourselves, much of what we do is pretty self-indulgent when held up against the urgency of a global pandemic.

It is something more troubling and harder to name: an uncertainty about why we would go on doing much of what for years we'd taken for granted as inherently valuable.

What we are confronting is something many writers in the pandemic have approached from varying angles: a restless distraction that stems not just from not knowing when it will all end, but also from not knowing what that end will look like. 

If your entire worldview revolves around control over your own life, and that's wrested away, what's left for you?  For some, it's their children and grandchildren - but we've been told that the end of the world is 12 years away by global warmists for 20 years now, so why concern yourself with kids who'll never make it to graduation?

Symphonies are written, buildings built, children conceived in the present, but always with a future in mind. What happens to our ethical bearings when we start to lose our grip on that future?

Our forefathers had an answer to this problem: they believed in an Almighty God Who was in complete charge of everything that happened, had a comprehensive plan for all of history, and could not be wrongfooted or foiled.  Faith told our ancestors that, even if they themselves weren't the center of the universe, Mankind was the center of Almighty God's attention, and thus would continue until that selfsame God decreed otherwise.

Thus, as our self-worshipping elites ridicule them, the religiously devout aren't particularly concerned with global warming, nuclear winter, or any of the other "End of the World" scenarios our media loves to scare us with.  The world will end when God ordains it to, and not one moment before.  Even then, each man's individual soul will continue on to its eternal rewards.

But what if you don't believe in God, souls, eternity, or rewards?  The "Lost Generation" of the 1920s-30s experimented with sybaritic pleasure, trying to drown their existential post-Great-War sorrows in an orgy of alcohol and sex.

Not only didn't this work for them, our current zeitgeist has been attempting the same thing for half a century without anything like the legitimate horrors experienced by Ernest Hemingway's cohort.  World War I was truly ghastly, World War II was worse, and Vietnam, while far more limited, was no fun for anyone actually involved in it.  What have modern Millennials, and really anyone younger than the Boomers, actually suffered?

Yet the tiny possibility of catching a flu and keeling over induces our special snowflakes to demand that the entire world stop so they can get off.

The Real End of History

There's a longstanding meme about "First World Problems", premised on the reality that most citizens of the First World don't actually have any real problems worthy of the name.  As with the theory that modern middle-class allergies are caused largely by a lack of childhood exposure to dirt and actual pathogens that your immune system really needs to learn to deal with, some sociologists theorize that human nature includes a default level of unhappiness, such that a near-Utopian environment with little to actually complain about will result in people simply making problems up or straining at gnats.

We certainly see this on our streets today.  Is American society, our law enforcement, and our judicial system perfect?  Absolutely not - and yet it remains the case that all these are the closest to racial and sexual equality and justice that has ever been known in the entirety of human history.  Mass rioting and arson are ludicrously disproportionate responses to a problem of single-digit-numbers of questionable police killings in a nation of a third of a billion people.

Yet we all know that this unassailable logic makes not the slightest shred of difference, now or in the future.

What all too many of our younger generation are experiencing is the result of never encountering a childhood situation which once was common and now is unheard of: "Stop your crying, or I'll give you something to cry about!"  By their actions, these overgrown children are working hard to create a genuine crisis and catastrophe that will give everyone just cause for worry and fear - much as the shock and cracked foundations brought about by the Titanic disaster led into the horrors of the First World War and consequent loss of faith.

We've had the modern equivalents of the Titanic, where the bankruptcy of our elite overlords stood revealed for all to see.  We've long since suffered the loss of faith, and now we watch as "some people just want to watch the world burn."  Will we never miss the water until the well runs dry?  Is the only way for human beings to truly value what is important and valuable, to have it taken away from them?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Our world may not be ready for the grimness of this long view...yet, but, it's getting there.

October 2, 2020 1:46 PM

It's just boredom. Eric Hoffer pointed out that that's what starts most revolutions.

October 2, 2020 4:13 PM

The real shame we ought to be experiencing is the lack of awareness that too many people seem to have that everything we know from history is actually no different than the way these events would appear to our present-day selves, regardless of all the inventions, discoveries, new knowledge and refined information that have come about since.

The historian Doris Tuchman has a name for this. She calls it "presentism". To anyone truly interested in what came before us and how prior societies, cultures and nations came to realize these issues, we must be able to understand these societies, cultures and nations as they actually were, not as we expect them to be, nor as we suppose them to be, certainly not as they would be if they were magically moved forward to our present day.

October 2, 2020 5:49 PM

Of course, context is everything. Mean truth doesn’t exist. What we experience as truth is uncertain, driven by the variance of the context. But struggling to discover average truth has proved to be useful to improving our standard of living. We have been continually trimming the context to everyone’s benefit, but as the population grows, there are numerically many more outliers which can be magnified by an overwhelmed communication media. Slow down decision making by increasing general involvement. Require more people to be involve in every article, in every governmental decision. Emergencies require special quickness, like martial law. This approach doesn’t. necessarily squash dependence since increased participation encourages more people to have an opinion.

October 3, 2020 12:32 AM

Your citation for the "Obama rescession" was written while Bush was still president !?

October 5, 2020 3:12 AM

The Titanic sank in April, not August. Just sayin..

October 20, 2020 9:11 PM
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