It has now been more than one year since the world that we have known all of our lives came screeching to a halt. And what a year’s it’s been. The collective unconscious roils in the throes of a bad acid trip, the realization seeps slow in the mind that the crisis is here to stay, and we are all along for the ride, tossed about by uncontrollable forces like a ship in a storm, trying to maintain some grace amidst all the fear and the confusion and the doubt.
Amidst it all, we have struggled to find solid ground. How are we to organize in the midst of a global pandemic? What is even going on? What threats should we be preparing for? How can we make sure that our loved ones are safe? What do other people think is going on?
This piece is meant to kickstart discussion around the anarchist response to COVID-19. There has been a taboo on criticizing the authoritarian measures that the state has taken over the course of the last year. We see too many anarchists are setting aside their core beliefs in the face of the current crisis. Worse, some are twisting and contorting those ways that are antithetical to the principles that anarchism is based upon. Many seem to be conforming to the state-sanctioned groupthink, convincing themselves that doing so is some grand act of solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our societies.
We write this today to call all true anarchists home, to the warmth of the fire of freedom that burns in the heart of our tradition. It is for the sake of freedom that we fight, for within us dwells a desire to be free. For each of us to be a sovereign unto ourselves; to determine with the free will which Spirit vested in us what our lives shall be.
That is why we write today. To reach out to our comrades to call for a serious effort in political reorientation. The old world is behind us, and we do not know how to relate to the new one into which we have been thrust. There is no shame in this. Things have changed extremely quickly, in ways that none of us were expecting. There are many factors that have contributed to a sense of complacency. But now the time has come to look at ourselves in the mirror, and ask ourselves: What have we become?
We have watched over the proceeding year, meekly, quietly, as other anarchists have toed the lines drawn by state bureaucrats. We have remained silent whilst witnessing acts of hostility towards those who have refused to comply with state mandates. No longer. Nevermore.
The impetus for this behaviour amongst anarchists seems to be rooted in their desire to do well by those in need, and as this particular crisis is being caused by a virus, that seems to unfold as an enthusiastic willingness to accept state mandates and to shame those who would violate them.
It is admirable to want to do well by the elderly and infirm, but is genuine concern for the elderly really what’s motivating people? We don’t think so. If it was, there would be a much greater degree of collective soul-searching about how our society treats the elderly. If the government was genuinely interested in improving the quality of life of old people, it would be investing in fixing long term care. Of course genuine concern is part of the mix, but many people are also acting out of selfish fear, be it fear of getting sick themselves, fear of getting others sick, or fear of the disapproval for others.
No wonder anxiety is at an all time high. When so many social norms are turned upside-down, people are at a loss of what to do, how to carry themselves. And so, in such times, when we don’t know how to act, we look around to see what others are doing. If others are doing it, it must be safe to do. If it’s safe to do, it must be right to do. And so a new conformity begins. No hugging. No shaking hands.
All this happens subconsciously, and is not a function of ideology. It is normal human adaptive behaviour. If you were to travel to a foreign land, you would do likewise, absorbing the social cues of the land’s inhabitants. Across different cultures, it is respectful for a guest to observe the customs of the locals. Now we all live in a strange land, and we are seeking to adapt ourselves to its strange customs.
The difference is that this strange new world is not familiar to anyone. There are none more qualified to interpret it than we are. The time has come to weave this all into a story, to imbue what is happening with meaning that can guide us towards wise action. We need to cast a new spell.
The good news that courage and inspiration are as contagious as fear and depression. It is imperative that we search within ourselves for the courage to do what we must do to ensure our survival in an increasingly tumultuous world. Perhaps some of you are in denial about this, but the old world ain’t coming back. The other crises facing the world didn’t go away when COVID hit. We are still staring down an ecological crisis of epic proportions, not to mention an economic crisis, the possibility of war, etc… We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but the likeliest scenario for the next ten years is of one crisis flowing into the next, or, if you prefer, one continual crisis. The ominous phrase “Winter is Coming” has proven to be true. And we’re one year deep.