For whatever reason, I feel strangely optimistic about the cataclysm we're experiencing right now. Perhaps it's my way of expressing denial, but it seems that we're at the very beginning of a reckoning that's at least 30 years overdue. We've enjoyed three generations of sacrifice-free hedonism, entitlement and greedy self-actualization, without a hint of shame, remorse or consideration of anything bigger than our capacity to consume. Which is seemingly endless. Who's surprised by the noxious polarities in our politics or the acceptance of a blatantly corrupt, sociopathic conman as "Dear Leader?" Or that there would be finger-pointing from the GOP and Fox that the most deadly pandemic since 1918 would be a media concoction or a Democratic plot? We've become all transactional, all the time without the faintest regard for past or future or truth. It's bottom line or bust. Without a foreseeable profit or capital gain, we're a study in helplessness. The only collective skill we seem to have is proclaiming winner and losers. But given this virus, we're potentially all losers in this scenario one way or the other and that just wasn't what we signed up for. It's all due and payable, right now.
So as I sit here, self-quarantined in a mandated Northern California lockdown, I'm struck, not just by the ubiquity of the virus and the range of global terror it's causing, but by its immediacy and intensity. I manage a global team for a multinational tech company. I know what's happening in Paris and Singapore in real time, how my team members are coping with their restive kids who can't go anywhere and the limitations of what they can and can't buy in their neighborhood grocery stores. Ten years ago, we might have heard about a Paris lockdown and empathized, but it's Paris not Pleasanton. We'd feel badly, but go about our business, confident that the 7,000-mile distance is far enough to keep the bad stuff from coming here. But now, with instant global reach, we are Paris, Rome, Shanghai, Mexico City. Their experiences are our experiences.
The panic over toilet paper seems strangely universal--I saw people literally bolt out of their cars at Costco only to stand on line for an hour to get a chance at buying paper goods. Frozen food stocks were decimated, as were rice and pasta shelves. One couldn't buy antihistamines or over-the-counter sinus remedies for love or money. As if they'll do any good if God forbid, you get the virus. Good luck finding a box of Emergen-C.
What makes this so difficult to deal with is the scale. I've lived through deadly brush fires that came within a block of my home in Southern California. Been slammed awake at 4:30 a.m. by a 7.0 earthquake that rocked the house so hard, it felt like it was thrown off its foundation. I've lived through race riots where mobs of angry people lit up businesses for miles. But these seemed contained. And as horrific as each of them were at the time, they were local and comprehensible. It's hard to fathom that in a week or so, there may not be a single restaurant operating in the civilized world. It's the universality that is overwhelming, making it hard to see any daylight that might lead to a solution anytime soon. That leads to despair, a sense of powerlessness and the stark realization that nothing, simply nothing, will be the same 12 months from now.