This is the irony. COVID-19 in no way brought about a new normal. There were changes in routine and movement necessary to slow the spread of the pandemic, or flatten the curve as it were. That’s really superficial though. What the strange virus did, no matter its origins, is expose normal. It forced many of us to see our world with a new set of glasses. What normal is, is the truth that most of us live with a blithe disregard to the truth of poverty, and inequality and at the core of all that an inherent malice within us. It’s a malice born of privilege and creates a willingness to allow hardship to continue, and for pestilence and disease and racism, and essentially hate to continue as long as we can go to sleep with Netflix and wake up to brunch. It would be nice to say that we were unaware but that’s not the case. We always knew but chose the anesthetic of consumer good and comfort foods.
Sounds like an indictment, doesn’t it?
The truth is always there right over our shoulders, as the bear sits in the image above, right over Mr. Herzog’s shoulder. It recalls, for me, the image from Castaneda’s Teachings of Don Juan, where the old shaman speaks of death always right back over his left shoulder awaiting the right moment to tap him out. We know the truth though and the difference between a good person and a bad person comes down to the degrees to which each individual will turn on his heels and face it. It’s never been a matter of not knowing.
COVID-19 just forced people to slow down enough and see it. The anxiety surrounding the pandemic isn’t even so much related to the fear of catching the virus and dying, or fear of our loved ones dying. It’s about withdrawal symptoms. We are detoxing from our routines. It’s led me to rethink even the nature of addiction or substance use disorder. It’s as much about patterns burned into the brain as it is a chemical dependency. Everyone is chemically dependent and bound inextricably to the chemicals coursing through their brains and triggered by patterns. I do this to escape. I do that to unwind. This helps me sleep. This helps me wake up. We are all, do some degree, addicts.
We are addicted to the routines and beliefs that allow us to stay in denial about the condition of the state and the state of our condition. Take away the diversions and we are left with our bodies and our eyes. I won’t speak for the rest of the world but I witness enough Americans speaking and it’s clear that we’re all sitting here with our eyelids pried open and still trying to deny reality. We keep saying that none of this is real and things will go back to the way they were. They very well may, as they did after every other catastrophe. The will to sleep and stay in a dream state is strong.
But for now…
So why Werner Herzog, by the way?
Because despite his undeniable talent (not that he has never made a bad film) he has been ridiculed for his dogged pursuit of real human nature. He has been made the subject of countless memes and parodies for chasing what we call darkness. There’s an irony that we have come to name truth as darkness. It should be lightness, no? But we have also come to equate lightness, as in lack of weight, to lightness as in illuminating daylight. We’ve created a word-trick though. It’s all backwards. Daylight, or enlightenment, isn’t the same as weightlessness or at least not in every context. There is a dark truth that revelation and enlightenment aren’t always pretty. COVID-19 has shed light on all this and here we are.
I’ll keep Werner Herzog up there for the simple reason that through film he would project dark truth with a machine that uses light to create moving images. When is fiction not fiction? When Herzog is telling the story.
I do realize that I’m getting repetitive with all this. It’s just an attempt to put it all as briefly and succinctly as possible. One of these posts will be the right one.