a pause button (apocalyptic dreaming)

Journeying Together
sculpture of person thinking

Bronze relief sculpture by Paul Day in St. Pancras station, London

We tolerate evil because we are afraid there is no alternative; we keep participating in great harm because we aren’t able to imagine any possible ways to stop. An apocalypse is meant to change this.

The word “apocalypse” (which has understandably been trotted out a lot lately) means “revealing” or “uncovering,” and it is associated with a genre of writing that uses imaginative, wild metaphors to refer to a time of radical change, to a re-ordering of the way the world worked, to the falling of empires.

Well, here we are in a season of radical change. What’s being uncovered?

There have been lots of eloquent descriptions of how this season has revealed some of the best of humanity as well as how broken our former “normal” was. I won’t add to this cataloguing here.

The world has a pause button! Who knew?

I only want to focus on one amazing thing that has been revealed during this time. The world has a pause button! Who knew? We have an ability to hit the brakes and bring a significant fraction of the normal activity of the world to a stop. And, for all the arguments about blame and acting too slowly or covering up the reality, we did this based on remarkably few deaths – about 6000 by mid-March when the brakes started to be applied. It was based on a combination of emotionally and intellectually convincing factors: a few vivid examples of suffering (most notably northern Italy) and the foresight – the predicted consequences of not acting. We must remember, of course, that such foresight has been remarkably lacking about most global and social dangers.

Now think for a moment of what is possible if we have a pause button: 1) If a critical mass of humans were emotionally and intellectually convinced that the climate crisis is real, then Boom! We could slam on the brakes. This is an option. It’s not outside of reality. The world, in a somewhat unified way, could act in a dramatic fashion and consider new ways to live and maybe even save the planet. 2) Similarly, a critical mass of humans could be emotionally and intellectually convinced that the dehumanization and exploitation of a significant fraction of the world’s population is horrifying and creates at least as much damage as a novel coronavirus. And this could be seen as our shared problem even if we’re among the privileged people who don’t immediately see or pay the price for this damage to humanity (just as we understood the shared problem of the virus even though risk factors vary greatly). Then we could respond by pausing our present system and create radical change. I could go on…

But lessons can also be gleaned about smaller pause buttons. If we can shut down the global economy generally, then we can also do targeted shutdowns. The corporate technocracy is not an unstoppable machine that makes resistance futile. There are mechanisms that motivated people (and governments) can find to resist technologies that will do irreparable damage even if these technologies would “sell” to the basest instincts of human desires and greed.

The corporate technocracy is not an unstoppable machine that makes resistance futile.

I am not suggesting that any of these things would be easy. There would be much playing of “whack-a-mole” as the corporate technocrats use their creativity to circumvent controls. And, of course, any radical pausing is going to cause its own real pain that needs to be considered. But we know – we are in the middle of experiencing – that it is possible! We can imagine, with potency, in a whole new way. We can’t afford to forget this.

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