Image from Pixabay
The pandemic has exposed a serious problem in our culture, and I have no suggestions on how to solve it. I honestly wish I did. It’s baked into the system, our laws, and how we function as a society. And that problem is rugged, toxic individualism and its marriage with unbridled capitalism.
I firmly believe it’s tied in with toxic Christianity and all of its problems but that doesn’t provide any additional insights beyond “all of these problems are toxic and are creating one big, toxic stew.” We’re in a pandemic where “every person for themselves” has been pushed on us literally to death and at the expense of the chronically ill and disabled. It’s created a society of people who actively hate the poor, the unhoused, the disabled, and any and all marginalized communities. After all, if any problems one has is strictly theirs to deal with, why help them in any way? A society of individuals isn’t a healthy society and can’t survive for very long, and will indeed (and has already) leave a trail of dead people in its wake.
It gets worse when rugged individualism is weaponized by bigoted, even hateful people with agendas and supported by religious beliefs. After all, anything bad that happens to you must be your fault; there must be something spiritually wrong with you. Or in occult communities? It must be that you aren’t an effective witch/magician/occultist. This gets into prosperity gospel, toxic positivity, and the notion that only “good people” are healthy and wealthy. The idea that “everything happens for a reason” is bunk, and anyone who has dealt with any sort of trauma knows it.
I can also fully comprehend why such a philosophy can be seductive. After all, people like to feel in control over their lives. If they chose such-and-such circumstance before they were even born, they can feel that control. Life becomes less scary in their minds, easier to deal with. But the reality is that terrible things often happen to good people with very little reason, and when that happens it can make people question their faith in an all-knowing, all-seeing entity or entities that supposedly cares about them and their choices in life. It can also create the illusion that if we have that much control, then we don’t need to care about other people. They should be on their own, or obviously they aren’t doing the right things in their lives.
After all, why help out others if they can simply just pray harder, think positive thoughts, and they would be totally fine? And anything else is just something they somehow brought on themselves.
Society can’t and doesn’t work that way. We evolved as humans to work collaboratively; it’s how we’ve survived for eons. It should collectively care for those of us who have less regardless of their contributions to society, for the sheer fact that people’s lives fucking matter. Basic needs in order to survive shouldn’t have to be earned. No one should have to fight in order to prove they deserve to live. Healthcare shouldn’t be an industry that turns a profit in a pandemic that’s already cost the United States alone a million lives. Housing shouldn’t be so prohibitively expensive that people are sleeping in tents. Access to clean water (looking at you, Flint) and food shouldn’t be a struggle, either. And people shouldn’t die because they can’t afford insulin. The list goes on, but you can ultimately trace far too many issues to two simple facts: rugged individualism and capitalism are literally killing us.
No healthy society can survive this way, not in the long term. Things are so incredibly broken that I’m honestly shocked that they’re not breaking down faster. Unfortunately these toxic ideals have been passed down from generation to generation and are a source of pride for some people. They got theirs, so why should they have to care about anyone else?
“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.” -Morpheus, The Matrix
It’s extremely messed up that we have to explain to literally anyone that they should care about other people than themselves. It’s also unfortunate that most people don’t know how broken our society, institutions, and systems are until they face any sort of trauma including job loss, housing loss, chronic illness, and/or disability. One would think that a global pandemic would shove that in our faces, but some people are genuinely unaware still of all of the problems. How people’s lives are currently being sacrificed at the altar of “the economy” or as it should better be known as, the ultra rich 1%. How healthcare industries are getting rich off the pandemic, people’s illnesses, and even deaths. People are still fighting to protect this broken system, likely due to the belief that if they just work hard enough, pray often enough, they’ll be a healthy and wealthy billionaire too.
Because that’s the American propaganda/dream/opportunity, right? That supposedly anyone can just “work hard enough” and make it through, and anything else is a criticism of that belief. And how DARE you not love your country and think it’s perfect in every way.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. “Thoughts and prayers” won’t end a pandemic, give people free healthcare so that when they inevitably become sick and/or permanently disabled due to COVID they can afford all of the tests and treatments, end voter suppression, or give us affordable housing. It won’t allow us to continue to work from home to protect ourselves, nor get the most selfish of people to wear a piece of cloth over their faces to protect the lives and well-being of others. It won’t make us rich, give us the ability to afford basic necessities, or guarantee our continued health and well-being. And it certainly won’t give us back our loved ones who have died during this time due to the pandemic.
Is societal collapse immanent? Yes, but not in any way that people would readily expect or identify it. Most people’s risk assessment is terrible; unless there are drastic, overnight changes they don’t see impact or consequences before it happens. One can see this problem when dealing with the climate crisis, for instance. Which is one more thing that we are barely even able to focus on with everything going on. There are just too many things that are endangering us both as a society and as a species, and they’re all piling up on us.
We are all boiling frogs, and the pot is starting to run over. And there aren’t enough people taking the time to prepare and take care of their own because understandably, we are all too traumatized and too overwhelmed with current circumstances to do much of anything further. Even worse, it’s very likely that a good number of the people most likely to see these issues and/or be able to potentially help others are the ones who will be too busy putting on their own oxygen mask to assist.
And I want to take the time to address those people: you are valid. You have to do what you have to do in order to stay afloat, because everything has fucked us over so very, very good. If you are drowning you can’t help others not to drown, and that’s just the sad reality. You are not failing people, people have failed YOU. This entire society has failed you, and I’m so sorry. It’s the not-drowning ones who need to help the drowning. It’s 100% not your fault, and I want you all to know that no matter what anyone else might want tell you.
It’s the perfect storm, we’re all in our respective boats, and some of them are leaking water faster than others. In short if you have rescue boats or lifevests to offer others and are capable of doing so, I’d start now. And if you have any suggestions on where to start to unpack any of this and possibly save others, I welcome them in the comments.