The act of putting one's thoughts in writing now, in our current age, feels like a particular form of madness but we do live in an insane time period, one where even the Christian notion of how we live in a fallen world feels less glib and more of a sincere attempt at diagnosing the problem.
But history is a parade of such moments- epochs of them, even- where insanity is the rule and violence our primary form of communication. As protests, pandemic, and authoritarians continue to roil the globe I find myself often returning to the thought of prior historical moments as a way placing the present in its proper context.
1968. It was a year of Vietnam, the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, of violent outbursts at the Democratic national convention. The chaos and turmoil of that year is undeniable- it always seems to leap right off the page whenever I read about it- and yet when I try to stack it up against the present moment in terms of raw numbers, this happens:
Per The National Archives, the total US casualties for the Vietnam War (1955 - 1975) amounted to 58,220.
Per Google, the US Coronavirus death toll (as of this writing) stands at 145,000.
So, in 2020 we have the casualties of a 19 year conflict tripled over the span of about six months. Reassuring. But what about another recent chaotic moment?
The death toll of September 11th, 2001 (an event that contributed much existential unease to my adolescence) was 2,977.
I shudder at the thought of 48 World Trade Centers crumbling into ash over the course of this year. It isn't a repeat of the same event every day- that number would be astronomical- but it gets to a certain madness in the air, whether it's in the wide eyed terror of confronting such a horrific event or the willful and conspiratorial denial that such things could take place.
If Hell is real, we'll build it for one other.
The intensity of these preoccupations seem often in direct response (and even proportionate to) the awfulness of the events that surround us. What we could never share in happiness or joy we can equally partake in fear and pain, this is a truth that holds fast to the present moment and creeps forth in tentacled machinations beneath the ticker on every news network.
Our culture, our politics, and even our concept of time have become suffused by an entity without consciousness or even much in the way of corporeal form, one which manifests itself to us in extreme forms of hypochondria or in the way in which we stand up, like the jock character 3/4s of the way though a slasher movie, to proclaim the terror over and the threat vanquished. But as is the case with all forms of denial, eventually the shadow falls and a finger taps us on the shoulder just in time for the bloody encore.