I’m Burned Out on Collapse — And I Bet You Are Too

It was around the beginning of the summer that I noticed that all I wanted to do was sleep. And it wasn’t (just) the heat. My mind felt bruised to a livid purple welt. Just thinking felt — disturbingly — painful. My bones felt as weary as dust. And that fine dust seemed to cover everything, leaving my world cloudy, hazy, foggy, slow-motion, indistinct. The dust sang sweet lullabies of slumber.

Just sleep, it would murmur, please, let yourself rest, doesn’t it feel sweet. So one part of me would plead with another for sleep, for rest, over and over again. The other part, annoyed and alarmed in equal measure by such self-indulgence, such laziness, replied sternly: you’ve slept plenty long enough today! And commanded me to sternly to leap up, write, work, meet, discuss, talk, go, do — like everything was fine, normal, pretty good.

You listen to your internal signs and signals, the movements and pulses of the strange and unknowable thing called a body, its rivers and oceans, its beats and murmurs. And yet I couldn’t pin down just why I felt so tired. So sleepy. So utterly exhausted. Lethargic, drained, done, like all those rivers and oceans had turned to deserts and parched earth.

By about a week later, I was a walking zombie. I’d toss and turn at night, then leap out of bed, groaning with frustration, and pace from the living room to the bedroom to the bathroom and back again. Wait — wasn’t I worn out? So why was sleep eluding me? Then I’d sleepwalk through the day. I’d wake up, and — snap! — my mind would go numb. It would simply shut itself down. Every cell, feeling, sensation in my body seemed to want was to hibernate blackly as if through the darkness of a white winter.

It took me a week or so to put my finger on it. I don’t have a particularly stressful life. Or do I?

I rouse myself, go have tea, write. It’s pretty low-key. I can’t manage much more, to tell you the truth. There’s a reason none of the storybook vampires ever have nine to five jobs. And yet nobody who can’t sleep, can’t think, feels so inexplicably tired all the time can tell you they’re not feeling some kind of acute, systemic stress. So what the blazes was it that was stressing me out?

So I confessed to my friends. Weirdly, they were all feeling more or less the same way, they admitted reluctantly, when I pressed them a little. Sleepless — but restless. Exhausted — but wide awake. Sleepwalking through the day. Worn out, drained, wrecked. Minds numb. Fatigued and stunned — all at the same time. What the hell was wrong with all of us? Was there something in the drinking water? And then it hit me.

I was burned out on collapse.

Our lives might not be particularly stressful in some kind of narrow personal sense — but they’d become profoundly, severely distressed in what you might call a psychosocial one.

Living through an age of fracture and decline, of pandemic and planetary collapse, of indifference and helplessness: it’s an exhausting, soul-crushing thing.

I’m burned out on collapse —. and I’d bet you are too.

It’s not easy living in a time like this. It sucks the life out of you, drains you, changes you. Just being there. Just watching it all go down. Just going on to fight through another day. That’s the truth. Give yourself a round of applause. You deserve it. Cry a little tear for yourself. I mean it. You deserve that, too. You’ve been tested — in a difficult, deep, and painful way. Not just from a pandemic that shows no signs of ending — a pandemic that capital doesn’t want to end, because they’re making the greatest profit in human history. Not just from the rising totalitarianism around the globe. Not just from the climate grief — of knowing that we’re destroying the planet and watching the devastation unfold in real time. But also from the sheer indifference to it all that elites seem to have. Their inaction, their indifference? It leads to our helplessness. And that is a soul-crushing feeling, my friend.

But let’s think about what all those emotions really mean.

Now, I won’t give you the usual rigmarole.

You know: get-off-the-internet-and-practice-self-care. I think all this cuts a little deeper than that. I’ll simply talk you through what I noticed in myself, and you can judge for yourself if it applies to you, too. You can be honest — nobody’s listening but you. (And let me say emphatically that isn’t a plea for pity, though it’s always nice to know that you care about me. It’s just a little reflection, that I thought I’d share with you, about the psychological price of living in an age of collapse.)

The first thing that I noticed, if I looked at myself, was that almost the instant I woke up, my mind was shutting itself down. Snap! It was like it decided, all by itself, to operate at a quarter speed. I’d struggle for words, to make decisions, and so forth. Any good psychologist would probably have noted that this was a kind of protective measure — a defense mechanism, kicking into high gear. Technically, several at once: denial, compartmentalization, possibly regression, maybe even a little bit of dissocation. But from what? Such a sudden, intense defensive posture tells us that a mind is under acute pressure, tension, conflict. It prefers the bliss of ignorance to the anxieties of a dreaded reality. Snap! Shutdown.

In the case of you and I, I think the cause of that tension, that pressure, that conflict, is pretty easy to understand. Who wants to wake up and read the news?

Who wants to pore over the grim headlines anymore? We say casually that they’re full of bad news. But the truth is a little tougher to bear. To constantly read a litany of things like your society’s broken, the pandemic’s not ending, the planet’s melting down, elites have left you broke, and the fascists are rising — it’s psychologically ruinous.

Human beings don’t need to awash in a warm bath of good news — that’s destructive, too. But when reality itself has turned into something like a grotesque, bizarre dystopia — then just making contact with it is deeply psychologically stressful.

How stressful? Like me, during the course of 2021, many of my friends began to develop trouble sleeping. Not just minor-league trouble — but staying up many nights a week levels of trouble. Now, all this is doubly ironic for me, because I stay up all night anyways, because the sun can melt my blood. So there I was, staying up all day…staying up all night. No sleep till the apocalypse. It should have occurred to all of us sooner, I guess. If we’d talked about it, noticed, we would have soon uncovered the next thing a good psychologist would: we were going into hyper vigilance and hyperarousal. Another sign of severe psychological distress — this time, bordering on trauma.

Now, another irony was I’d written many times, over the last couple of years, that I thought this era was leaving many people with low-level PTSD

How absurd and funny then that I didn’t see it my friends and myself, when it was right in front of me. Really, you might wonder, PTSD? Come on! But that’s exactly what I think a good psychologist would and should say about many of us today — maybe not that we “have PTSD,” but certainly that we have been traumatized. To be traumatized is to be exposed to death, of violence, to feel threatened with one’s own nonexistence, or that of a loved one. And a good psychologist would know that none of that has to be “direct.” You don’t have to be the one who is hit by an abuser to be traumatized by abuse. You merely have to be in proximity to such a thing, for the experience to ripple out and strike you, too.

But isn’t that precisely what this age feels like? Proximity to, if not direct experience of, relentless, gruesome, needless abuse after abuse? Abuse of power. Abuse of societies. Abuse of democracy. Abuse of technology. Abuse of the planet. Abuse of women. Abuse of our health, for profit. Violence against the vulnerable. An indifference to life and truth and decency. Predatory profiteering, greed, devastation. Fire, famine, flood. Skyrocketing poverty amongst soaring riches.

Wouldn’t watching all of that make sane person burn with rage, pound with anxiety, shudder with dread, go cold with panic?

It does me, and I think that you the only person you’re kidding is yourself if you pretend it doesn’t do just that to you, on some level, too. This, my friends, is a traumatized time, generation, milieu, society, world.

Imagine watching your house burn down. Imagine being in a car crash. Imagine watching a highway pileup happen in front of you. Every day. Over and over again. We might not be there physically — but that is precisely where we are psychologically. We are forced to watch our house burn down, — or be burned down — every day. The house of democracy, the planet, the future, society, prosperity. Forced to watch our neighbor suffer while we look on, helpless.

What’s worse, it’s addictive — and it’s always on, like a weird, gruesome spectacular machine of destruction. It’s a click away.

Just tap Twitter, Facebook, whatever, and wham!! There’s this age’s choice of catastrophes, on auto-repeat, every instant of the day or night. You can’t really escape it — unless you decide to forsake the modern world and become a hermit. And it’s not just always going, this machine. Sometimes, it feels better to watch it than not to watch it — because at least bearing witness is the responsible, mature thing to do. And so we watch our house being burned down by this giant machine of ruin, obsessively-compulsively — never quite fully knowing that the price is anxiety, dread, panic, powerlessness, hopelessness. In short, trauma.

That’s probably why we’re having less sex, why we’re so depressed, why we’re so unhappy, why we’re committing suicide more and more. We’ve been traumatized — “burned out on collapse” — and we don’t quite know it. But only a traumatized world, society, time, generation, place, ends up like that. Feels so powerless, hopeless, desperate, guilty, ashamed, bad. You can tell me you don’t feel those things, and maybe you yourself don’t. But what else does it say when the pulse of society is taken today — and what it beats with is despair, fury, and sorrow?

It’s obvious to say that people worry these days — what happens if I get cancer? Will I have to off myself so the kids don’t have to pay medical bills? But that is being traumatized. It is not a thing that anyone should have to worry about in a remotely normal, or decent, time, society, or place. And yet that’s just the beginning.

I’ve come to think that we live in something like an age of trauma. Many of us are instantly traumatized from the moment that we wake up.

Today, this school was shot up. See that poor guy? He had to crowdfund insulin. Those little children got Covid because their parents refuse to give them masks. The planet’s melting down. The rich are profiting off a pandemic. Your income hasn’t gone up in decades. How are you going to survive? These are just everyday thoughts that might be provoked by simply glancing at the news, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. But they are also the stuff of panic attacks, of palpitations, of profound distress that must be buried deep where it isn’t seen or felt. They are the stuff of trauma. They are the living essence of a constant exposure to death, to nonexistence, to violence.

I’m burned out on collapse, and I’d bet you are too.

We need to take better care of all of us. We need to take better care of the wounded parts of us — individually, as societies, as a world.

And to do that, the reverse, strangely, maybe beautifully, is also true. We need all of us to take better care of each other, too.

So hang in there. Stay loving, stay gentle, stay kind. Sleep, rest, breathe, eat well. Taking care begins with the basics. Above all, stay true. It’s OK to admit it. This has been a terrible, unforgiving, horrific couple of years. It’s been a psychological catastrophe for all of us. You don’t need to keep it inside. It’s the greatest gift that you can give, to share your burdens, sometimes. That way, we grow.

COVID Has Become A Permanent Fixture

If you haven’t heard by now, after the government has issued this advice: COVID vaccine booster shots are now going to be in your near future. Let me translate that for you: COVID is now officially become permanent. Now I am not one to be the bearer of bad news but…

This is NOT good news. It’s actually very BAD news.

Whenever I am out in public — where everybody’s still masked up, and social distancing’s in place. How long are these types of protections going to last? The answer that is emerging is this: for the foreseeable future. Life is NOT going to go back to “normal” anytime soon, or gulp maybe ever.

What does this perma-COVID look like? Well, part of the answer’s above. We are going to need to accept certain fairly drastic changes in our lifestyle as we know it. A more sophisticated, better answer goes like this: perma-COVID goes on wreaking social, cultural, and economic havoc.

Many people like myself are happily wearing masks. Maybe you seen how school board meetings are irrupt Ing into violence, because, well, the Trumpists think that their kids wearing masks is like the gas chambers at your terminal Auschwitz. I’ll know that this doesn’t make sense, but what does when it comes to the American Idiot?

COVID going permanent is going to continue accelerating and exacerbating social tensions. Ultra conservatives don’t “believe in” masks and vaccines. I put it in quotes because facts exist whether or not you believe in them. And yes one thing the Americas Red States and the Taliban have in common is that they don’t want people to get vaccines or to wear masks, unless you mean burgers. That’s how regrets of the American conservative mind is: on the issue of COVID, it’s neatly aligned with… The Taliban.

And it’s willing to, thanks to Trump, use violence to make itself felt. Hence school board meetings and town halls and so forth — the small, everyday expressions and institutions which a functioning, modern civil society is made of — are not working. What are you supposed to at a school board meeting when Trumpists mob you and, screaming at the top of their lungs, threaten your life?

Again: shades of the Taliban, for whom, too, local governance is an exercise in brutality and stupidity and violence.

COVID exacerbates the fractures in our societies is not a joke or some kind of minor league issue. Conservatives have seized on the issue of COVID in many, many ways. In Britain, COVID’s been politicised to the point that government data is questionable at best — the Tories are deliberately using it as a bludgeon with which to break the NHS, so that they can then privatize it. But what happens when the Brits get American style “healthcare,” which mostly means bills nobody much can pay? They grow impoverished, that’s what.

So the cultural tensions COVID’s revealing and accelerating — a match dropped on an oil slick — have very real consequences. Do you want your kid to go to a school where masks aren’t required? How about college? Do you want to live in a state where the governor bans masks and mask mandates, like Texas?

This is where cultural tensions become political and social boiling points. Places like Texas and Florida have long been heading toward becoming failed states — and darn proud of it too. COVID has actually made them failed states. Florida was the world’s hottest COVID zone — it’s most virulent incubator — until a few days ago. Texas is a place where the rule of law has broken down completely, school boards and principals defying the governor’s edict against masks.

Those are huge, huge breakdowns. What does it say about a state, county, or city where people are openly defying the governor’s edicts? It says that the rule of law doesn’t work. That matters can’t be settled with formal institutions, because they don’t work anymore. People have taken matters into their own hands. Let me make clear that in this case, that is a good thing. Nobody should obey something as incredibly, painfully foolish as a ban on wearing masks.

But that America’s now the kind of place where civil disobedience is required to fight a deadly pandemic — well, that points to what a failing state it is. And who wants to live in places that are failed states? Florida has sunshine and Texas has… well… I truly don’t know what Texas has. Still, having to put up with such levels of dysfunction is a VERY real price that people must pay. When you have to engage in literal civil disobedience just to keep your kids healthy, to protect them from harm, malice, ignorance, and stupidity means that something is very, very wrong with society.

In that sense, COVID is pouring fuel on America’s burning state of collapse. Yesterday, your average sane Texan or Floridian didn’t have to engage in civil disobedience just to protect their kids from harm. Today, they do. But where does that cycle end? The Trumpists aren’t going to wake up anytime soon. COVID’s gone permanent — and unfortunately, their stupidity is forever, too. Only now it’s lethal.

The Trumpists provide an economic rationale for their willful stupidity. It hurts the economy, they say, to go on taking the basic precautions against COVID. Of course, that’s not true. It doesn’t hurt the economy to wear a mask, or even to social distance, except maybe on a Friday night in a downtown bar.

Yet, perma-COVID is going to harm the economy in a much deeper way. Do you understand how, let’s first into the idea of public health. What is it, really? It’s what economists call a public good. That means we all share it. That’s why you should have your vaccines — you getting vaccinated benefits me, and vice versa. COVID make a mockery of individual list of countries like America, and their approach is to health, reviewing them as shallow and naïve. Private health is no match for public health.

Yet, COVID is a grave and serious threat to public health — the most severe in a half a century or more. It’s probably the first new deadly virus humanity has experienced in the global still in the modern age, period.

Public health requires an investment. Again, think of America — Americans live the shortest, cities lives in the entire rich world, precisely because there is very little investment in public health. There are starting high bills for private healthcare, sure — which is the opposite of public health.

Now put those two concepts together. You have a new pandemic shopping away at public health — one that’s going endemic. That means higher levels of investments are going to be required to sustain the same levels of public health as before, if those can ever really be hit.

What does this mean in the real world? It means more nurses, more ICUs, more ventilators, more oxygen.

It means more trips to the hospital for more people, corridors overflowing with Covid patients, who require intense treatment and care, hundreds or thousands of them a day, and that’s just in one region, state, city. My wife, the doctor, went to her own doctor yesterday — and there, she saw a woman desperately struggling for breath being wheeled out on a stretcher. Multiply that by a thousand, every day, and you begin to have some idea of the stress COVID places on healthcare systems.

But every dollar we need to invest as societies to take care of Covid patients is one that we’re not investing in any of the following: climate change, global warming, ecological collapse, reversing the mass extinction of wildlife, cleaning up the oceans, reforesting the globe, clean energy, green raw materials like steel and concrete.

You begin to see the magnitude of the problem. At a macroeconomic level, the simplest and best way to visualise Covid is as what economists call a “deadweight loss.” That’s a terrible way to put it, and yet it’s all too accurate. Now we have to invest colossal sums at a social level, across the globe, caring for the ill — sums we desperately need to fight the existential threats already beginning to wreck our civilization. You didn’t have to look too hard this summer — California and Canada on fire, Asia and Europe flooded — to see the globe warming with shocking, brutal speed.

It’s not just treating COVID that diverts investment. It’s also developing new vaccines. When I say something that makes me angry — The Pharma industry‘s been betting on COVID going permanent — Americans give me their empty, dumb, blank stare.

It shouldn’t have been this way. The Pharma industry has just won one of history‘s largest jackpots. It wants to charge every one of us — you and I — A few hundred dollars a shot. Let’s call it $250. Now multiply that by 8 billion people. Now multiply that by every year. From an economic perspective, this is what’s called a perpetuity — A dividend without end. Do you know what it adds up to? About $2 trillion a year.

That $2 trillion has to come from somewhere. It’s going to come from our pockets, you and I. Added up, what it amounts to is $2 trillion not being invested in climate change, clean energy, green systems, saving the world’s ecologies, reversing mass extinction. It’s just money that goes straight into the pockets of the Pharma industry. From there, it goes to CEOs and hedge funds.

Do you see the problem here?

Let me make it even clearer. It never should have been this way. We should never have relied on capitalism to solve a problem like COVID, because it was never going to. What would anyone with a basic knowledge of real economics — that’s not you, most Americans, because you’ve been brainwashed by propaganda, ads, infomercials masquerading as news and culture — have predicted capitalism would do if and when it met a pandemic?

Exploit it, mercilessly. If you’re a good capitalist, good at your job, what do you do with a pandemic? You don’t let it stop, you don’t let it end. You make sure it a) goes on forever so b) you can sell your treatment forever at c) increasing prices under conditions of d) artificial scarcity. Marx would have guessed it, Baudrillard would have left and predicted it, Braudel would have called it obvious.

They were right.

Capitalism met its first real global pandemic, the first new virus humanity’s encountered for a millennia at a global scale. And instead of solving the problem, eradicating the virus, exploited it for maximum profit.

Hence, the world has a massive vaccine shortage. Why? Because figures like Bill Gates lobbied for vaccines to be privatized — and bang, they were. But all COVID vaccines were developed with public funds, at public institutions.

Therefore, everyone on earth has a right to a Covid vaccine. Remember, when it comes to public good, I benefit when you have access to them as well. The economics of COVID vaccines — the real ones — Say that we should distribute them as far and wide as possible, because they were made publicly, created with public funds, and public institutions, just sure up a public good, healthcare.

Yet, because COVID vaccines were privatized, they can’t be produced on the scale nearly enough to match or meet the globe’s needs. Instead, Canada and Europe have — shamefully, disgracefully, deceitfully — When did vaccines at the WTO, as if the fact that these vaccines were never made to be exclusively used for profit never existed or happened at all.

So here we are. COVID’s going permanent. Going endemic. It didn’t have to be this. It shouldn’t have been this way.

The head of the WHO recently pointed out: global vaccination is now losing the race against new cases. That is, less people are vaccinated per day the new cases emerge, globally. Obviously you can’t stop a pandemic that way. What happens that way is newer, deadlier variance, like clockwork — seasonally. Right now, it’s Delta. By winter, it’ll be Lambda. And on and on and on into oblivion. That is because capitalism is undersupplying the one thing the world needs most — vaccines. It is deliberately creating conditions of artificial scarcity to jack up profits — calls upon source Covid vaccines have come from around the world, but falling on deaf ears because America, Canada, and Europe want Pharma profits to soar more than they want a Covid free world.

That’s the grim, sinister, ugly truth.

And what that really means is something even darker. Our elites don’t care if we die. In fact, they’re quite happy to kill us off. They seem to revel in misery and suffering they cause. Why? It makes no sense — at least from history‘s eyes.

Elites do this — they kill off their underclasses. It leaves them worse off in the long run, because then there are fewer people to do their dirty work. Hence the great peasant liberation I have always followed die-offs, like the Black Death. But in the short run, killing off underclasses is great for elites. They get to jack up profit by exploiting people to death. They enjoy the sport of pitting person against person, too, emperors watching gladiators fight to the death.

And they seem, as ever, to genuinely delight in the suffering of others, like sociopaths. Causing death and misery on an eminent still seems to produce in elites the feeling of strength, the meaning that’s missing from their lives, the sense of entitled superiority they’ve always had, but fallen short of proving to themselves.

In that regard, our era is no different from other dark ages. But that much should be recognized. Die-offs are a feature of dark ages — die-offs aided and abetted by elites, who exploit them and their desperation, scarcity, and misery for profit. We’re in a dawning dark age, and our elites total indifference to COVID going endemic — when just a few decades, as the world, we conquered smallpox and polio — is visual proof of how rapidly we are going backwards

That leaves me with one last point. It’s no ordinary dark age we are entering. It’s going to be an especially grim and obscene one. Why?

It’s one thing for elites to do what they do — profit from suffering and exploit desperation. It’s another one too, when the future of the planet and life on it literally hangs in the balance, keep on doing it anyway. How bad — malicious, greedy, selfish, stupid, obscene and ugly — are our elites, really? The world is burning. And there they are, so wealthy and powerful they have more money than they to spend in 10 lifetimes, yet they’re exploding a deadly pandemic making it go endemic, to get even richer, even if they don’t have a planet left to live on.

That, my friends, makes a mockery of the word sociopath.

It didn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t have been this way. COVID shouldn’t have gone permanent.