A Pandemic of Possibilities Powered by Words

When constraints become an accelerator for good

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New brain, who dat?

The pandemic seems to have rewired my brain into a different configuration from its original machine gun wonkiness, i.e. the kind of chronic depression that can incapacitate you for years, taking away all your words. I got close, so close I started building small unidentified editorial objects at one point, like text macros about pistachios and raspberries. Instead of stepping away from words, I had a sudden urge to play with them because my survival depends on my ability to keep writing so I don’t lose the mental habit of meandering between ideas and the propaganda of a head parasite that still wants me dead.

Every word I commit to the page is a victory against the darkness within and without.

Like everyone else, I went inward, I carried out a life audit, and I asked myself what kind of world my words were contributing to. And it’s definitely not this epic orgy of greed playing out in pixels and data packets on our devices, a zeitgeist of dumb that has empowered the worst of human traits and turned deceit into a bona fide occupation that yields enormous rewards if you’re bold enough to play the game.

The ‘trumpification’ of communication is as difficult to combat as it is to deflect. Desperation is palpable everywhere you look, especially among marketers, scammers, and profiteers of all stripes. Desperation is palpable among those who care deeply about words and are watching them being bled of meaning a little more every day. Desperation is palpable among those who urgently need to stay afloat financially and are handing over their last dollars to anyone who promises a solution.

Desperation is the lens, the filter, and the film playing out on a loop online, not because people cannot help themselves but because many of them are helping themselves to the proceeds of human distress and disempowerment. In short, everyone is whining about how terrible everything is without expanding any intellectual effort to look beyond what is.

Keeping our eyes closed won’t prevent the future from happening though.

Ideas are like toothbrushes

There’s this odd concern among people who write on the internet someone might steal your ideas. Ideas may be similar but execution is always different. You can steal my toothbrush but I’m pretty sure we don’t brush the same way. Sure, you sometimes find your words and turns of phrase in someone else’s copy but genius… steals. Take it as a nod, language is common property, and some folks evidently still read with attention. And they chose to read you.

But greed doesn’t brush its teeth, it gorges and belches and brags. Every single one is optimized for maximum unpleasantness and there is no mask in the world that can prevent you from catching a whiff of it. When the internet came into its own as a lifeline that tethered us to our loved ones, our jobs, and our sanity, I stood poised for innumerable random miracles powered by remote human warmth. And then I got cramps, shook myself up, and faced the real world: Not only has it been burning since 2016 but the flames are intensifying.

I froze. America is about to careen off a cliff yet lack of self-awareness endures. It is terrifying. That’s when I remember I’m not there anymore and yet down the rabbit hole of limbo I go, without the mental bandwidth to deal with any of it. My words begin to disappear again but panic subsides the minute I look away from my screen.

American internet though, and we all use it.

People are inherently good

I force to remind myself the above as I read another thing about someone boasting about how much they can afford to save when living a mostly quarantined life. I feel nauseated again. In America, human life really is a dollar value and if you have no money or make very little, you simply do not exist, you do not register, you do not belong. And if you do have (some) money, you must brag about it to signal how virtuous it makes you.

My French parents and I once watched a documentary about adopted kids in the US who were being ‘re-homed’ if the ‘family’ no longer wanted them, the process and costs involved, and the businesses servicing such a market. Everyone was interviewed, from kids to parents via enablers. Be bold, don’t edge. Despite being excellent investigative journalism, it was utterly incomprehensible to a European audience. You could sense it in the way each story was told to give reason every chance to prevail and it was impossible.

Holding unchecked capitalism accountable is something the internet has made possible and social media platform users have always been trying to do. But no one can hear us when we’re being silenced by greed.

Yet if people are inherently good then what’s going on here?

Greed is a feature, not a bug

Fear of scarcity is inevitable in a system designed to keep you down while keeping you wanting more. And unless you can afford to have the courage of your opinions or feel you have nothing left to lose by airing them then fear of scarcity will keep you docile and compliant, in line with the zeitgeist of demagoguery, deceit, and dumb.

Although tech has belatedly woken up, many social media platform users have not.

What if we did though and chose to work together for the common good and to save democracy for just a couple of months?

This is the sprint of our life, America. And those who can’t run will have to walk, and those who can’t walk will need someone to carry them as we cannot leave anyone behind this time around. Alas, the money still has to come from somewhere, we all need to survive right now so we might get a chance to thrive later. The pandemic may have pared life down to essentials, exposed many fallacies, and shattered appearances but whenever there’s panic, there’s groupthink and folks who lead others to safety at great personal cost and others who lead them astray to better rip them off.

The next few weeks are going to change all our lives as the pandemic keeps pummeling us. If only we could locate some hope within, shout it from the rooftops, and grow it as aggressively as if it were a personal brand then reason might just catch on?

Regardless of mental, physical, and financial exhaustion, I know I’m done for if I lose my faith in the power of words. The personal is always political and I’m as disheartened and as lost as the next person most days but what other choice have we got than to invest our hope into words when thinking itself has become counter-culture? To quote Donald Trump — because it has regrettably come to that — “If you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”

But what if words could lead us to safety this time around?

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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