From “COVID and the Tyranny of Comfort“, Matt Purple. I had a retrospective post planned for today, the observation of the one-year mark of the coronamania episode in Alabama, but this piece from TAC fits the bill.
But it’s still been profoundly inhuman, this exchange of the authentic for the artificial, this bargain of freedom for comfort. It was what the Savage protested against at the end of Brave New World:
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
I’ve always thought that’s the greatest howl against tyranny in all of literature, acknowledging as it does that life and liberty are still worth it even if they don’t gratify us as we wish. Yet it also, perhaps intentionally, sets up a false antithesis: comfort and unhappiness. In fact, we can be comfortable and still be deeply unhappy, as we’re now discovering. Freedom and happiness are vibrant, social things; they’re rarely found when you’re sedentary and alone, cozy though you might feel. If nothing else, this last year has been a reminder that community and liberty go together, that both are needed if we want to be happy.
No wonder, then, that the lockdowns have seen spikes in loneliness,suicidal thoughts, and interest in crackpot schemes and ideologies that promise liberation while reducing man to the abstract he is on the screen. And while we can’t be certain how life will look once the pandemic is over, it seems unlikely that the isolation will fully abate. Economists are now chattering about a “K-shaped recovery,” meaning a deeply unequal one, where America number one gets richer and America number two falls off. For the first group, telework is likely to become the new reality. For the second, unemployment will mean more time at home. One is clearly worse than the other, but both will feed into our auxiliary plague of loneliness.
Still, that’s yet to come. First, we need the virus to end and society to reopen. Because this is no way to live. And I say that as someone who’s never run low on toilet paper.