Discover more from David Moscrop
Does Something Feel Off To You?
We are living through a time of insecurity as we face persistent and overlapping crises. Things bad and could get worse. The way out is through collective action and community.
The writer’s job is to know something and to share that something with the reader. What they know might be specific or general, targeted at a niche audience or broadcast to a population at large. Sometimes, what they know might be liminal, existing between a clear thought and speculation.
I try to be as clear as I can be as often as I can. Direct. To the point. In the last few months, I’ve been thinking more about an under-specified sense that’s hard to pinpoint and put into words. It’s a feeling, something beyond the clarity of rational apprehension. It’s a feeling that something is off. That feeling is insecurity.
We often hear that everyone is tired. Frustrated. Anxious. In a funk. I think that’s true. But that’s not quite it. We also hear that people are being squeezed beyond the limits of the usual 21st century market crush. Of course, that’s to say that people are being exploited. Which they are. We’re being exploited on several fronts, at work, at the grocery store, when we pay our rent or mortgage, and so forth.
The pandemic years have added up, and they’re still going. The uncertainty, fear, illness, and grief that have accompanied this time are physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. As those years proceed, they do so against the backdrop of climate catastrophe, with its attendant anxiety-inducing extreme weather from fires to floods to heatwaves to drought. We know that extreme weather makes our lives more difficult and more expensive. We know things will get worse.
Even on the nice days, there’s a nagging voice somewhere just within audible range, reminding us that the beauty of this sunny, clear, crisp moment is a contrapuntal melodic line, a contrast that is made both more beautiful and more dreadful by the inevitable crescendo that will follow by way of a firenado or flood of biblical proportion.
And who’s going to save us?
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For years, we’ve hollowed out government. Through anti-government crusades, market orthodox interests have not only advanced a politics of social welfare state retrenchment, but they’ve also worked to advance a “common sense” belief that the state can’t get anything done and shouldn’t be permitted to try. So, when a global financial catastrophe or pandemic hits, the immiseration of day-to-day people is cranked up to 11.
Despite some initial hope that the critical juncture of a mega-disaster will lead to a revitalization of the social welfare state and an active role for government in public life, market orthodoxy prevails, life gets considerably worse, and hope for something better faces. The last three years has been such a time: a disaster followed by (imperfect) government action, some relief, and then a degradation of quality of life.
If Covid relief programs in Canada and the United States helped to lift people out of poverty, the state’s abandonment of those efforts sent them right back, along with an affordability crisis that drove desperate people to the edge and beyond.
We are now living at a time of prolonged and overlapping crises at home and abroad, domestic and geopolitical. The pandemic, climate change, war, unaffordability, and runaway housing costs meet us at every turn — them and other challenges, too. And we’ve buried our best hope, collective action through state intervention. We’ve landed on a dangerous island and burned our ships.
It’s hard to imagine a time in the foreseeable future where things are going to be better. The affordability crisis will linger. So will the housing crisis. Covid-19 is surging. Climate change will continue to produce extreme weather, crop failure, refugees, and conflict. The free market will exploit workers and the rise of high-tech automation and artificial intelligence will undermine labour power, putting us at high-risk of even lower-paying, precarious jobs.
Our world is a world of insecurity. The feeling that something is “off” comes in part an expression of anxiety, recognition that we are in deep, deep trouble and that we’ve been abandoned, without sufficient resources, to sort it out for ourselves. As our communities collapse under the weight of exploitation and life moves further online — where we can be lonely together — it will become harder to shake that feeling.
To the extent that there is to be hope of something better, there must commitments to community-building, social movement building, and state capacity building. Shaking the feeling that something is off means rebuilding our collective lives while securing them with material resources that allow us to meet daily needs and to prepare for, and deal with, present and future crises. Until we commit to these things, until we insist on them at the ballot box and in the streets, we’ll continue to live through an era of decline and, if we’re not careful, fall.