Tag: pandemic (page 2 of 13)

Why go back to normal when you weren’t enjoying it in the first place?

Shop shutters painted with sun mural

Writing in Men’s Health, and sadly not available anywhere I can link to, Will Self reflects on what we’ve collectively learned during the pandemic.

In it, he uses a quotation from Nietzsche I can’t seem to find elsewhere, “There are better things to be than the merely productive man”. I definitely feel this.

[T]he mood-music in recent months from government and media has all been about getting back to normal. So-called freedom. Trouble is… people from all walks of life and communities [have] expressed a reluctance to resume the lifestyle they were enjoying before March of last year. Quite possibly this is because they weren’t really enjoying that much in the first place — and it’s this that’s been exposed by the pandemic and its associated measures.

The difficulty, I think, is that lots of people (me included at times) had pre-pandemic lives that they would probably rate a 6/10. Not terrible enough for the situation by itself to be a stimulus for change. But not, after a break, the thought of returning to how things were sounds… unappetising.

We all know the unpleasant spinning-in-the-hamster-wheel sensation that comes when we’re working all hours with the sole objective of not having to work all hours — it traps us in a moment that’s defined entirely by stress-repeating-anxiety, a feeling that mutates all too easily into full-blown depression. And we’re not longer the sort of dualists who believe that psychological problems have no bodily correlate — on the contrary, we all understand that working too hard while feeling that work to be valueless can take us all the way from indigestion to an infarct.

I’ve burned out a couple of times in my life, which is why these days I feel privileged to be able to work 25-hour weeks by choice. There’s more to life than looking (and feeling!) “successful”.

It’s funny, I have more agency and autonomy than most people I know, yet I increasingly resent the fact that this is dependent upon some of the very technologies I’ve come to realise are so problematic for society.

[I]t might be nice in the way of 18 months of being told what to do, to feel one was telling one’s self what to do. One way of conceptualising the renunciation necessary to cope with the transition from a lifestyle where everything can be bought to one in which both security and satisfaction depend on more abstract processes, is to critique not just the unhealthy economy but the pathological dependency on technology that is its sequel.

Ultimately, I think Will Self does a good job of walking a tightrope in this article in not explicitly mentioning politics. The financial crash, followed by austerity, Brexit, and now the pandemic, have combined to hollow out the country in which I live.

The metaphor of a pause button has been overused during the pandemic. That’s for a reason: most of us have had an opportunity, some for the first time in their lives, to stop and think what we’re doing — individually and collectively.

What comes next is going to be interesting.


Not a sponsored mention by any means, but just a heads-up that I read this article thanks to my wife’s Readly subscription. It’s a similar monthly price to Netflix, but for all-you-can-read magazines and newspapers!

Walking the Covid tightrope 

I’m sharing this article mainly for the genius of the accompanying illustration, although it also does a good job of trying to explain an increasing feeling of English exceptionalism.

The results look increasingly alarming. In pubs, in shops, on public transport and in other enclosed spaces where the virus easily spreads, many people are acting as if the pandemic is over – or at least, over for them. Mask-wearing and social distancing have sometimes become so rare that to practise them feels embarrassing.

Meanwhile, England has become one of the worst places for infections in the world, despite a high degree of vaccination by global standards. Case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths are all rising, and are already much higher than in other western European countries that have kept measures such as indoor mask-wearing compulsory, and where compliance with such rules has remained strong. What does England’s failure to control the virus through “personal responsibility” say about our society?

It’s tempting to start by generalising about national character, and how the supposed individualism of the English has become selfishness after half a century of frequent rightwing government and fragmentation in our lives and culture. There may be some truth in that. But national character is not a very solid concept, weakened by all the differences within countries and all the similarities that span continents. Thanks to globalisation, all European societies have been affected by the same atomising forces. England’s lack of altruism during the pandemic can’t just be blamed on neoliberalism.

Other elements of our recent history may also explain it. England likes to think of itself as a stable country, yet since the 2008 financial crisis it has endured a more protracted period of economic, social and political turmoil than most European countries. The desire to return to some kind of normality may be especially strong here; taking proper anti-Covid precautions would be an acknowledgement that we cannot do that.

Source: With Covid infections rising, the Tories are conducting a deadly social experiment | The Guardian

Opting out of capitalism

One of the huge benefits of the pandemic has been that it’s allowed people to reflect on their lives. And many people, it seems, realised that their jobs (or work in general) makes them unhappy.

The lying flat movement, or tangping as it’s known in Mandarin, is just one expression of this global unraveling. Another is the current worker shortage in the United States. As of June, there were more than 10 million job openings in the United States, according to the most recent figures from the Labor Department — the highest number since the government began tracking the data two decades ago. While conservatives blame juiced-up pandemic unemployment benefits, liberals counter that people do want to work, just not for the paltry wages they were making before the pandemic.

Both might be true. But if low wages were all that’s at play, we would expect to see reluctant workers at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and content workers at the top. Instead, there are murmurs of dissent at every rung, including from the inner sanctums of Goldman Sachs, where salaries for investment bankers start at $150,000. According to a leaked internal survey, entry-level analysts at the investment bank report they’re facing “inhumane” conditions, working an average of 98 hours a week, forgoing showers and sleep. “I’ve been through foster care,” said one respondent. “This is arguably worse.”

Source: Lying Flat’: Tired Workers Are Opting Out of Careers and Capitalism | The New York Times