Controversy and despair, hope and isolation, courage and division, withdrawal and reunion. How can we find meaning within this complex Covid moment–and emerge renewed?
My newest book compiles my best Covid-era writing, with an added prologue, epilogue, and mini intros to each essay. It includes and is named after my April 2020 essay, “The Coronation.”
Since the amorphous end of the pandemic, Covid has sunk partway into the political unconscious. Formerly hot-button issues are no longer quite so politically charged, no longer quite so freighted with social dynamics of identity and belonging. That means people are ready, maybe, to expand their sense-making and meaning-making around Covid.
My essays in 2020 and 2021 went beyond articulating a contrary position on the issues of the day. Yes, I critically engaged current issues, but always with the aim of embedding them in a bigger picture. Therefore, none of the essays are dated; if anything they are more relevant today than ever, as the passions and allegiances of the Covid era subside. Unfortunately, much of the nuance and complexity of what I was saying was drowned out at the time by a storm of primal social and psychological forces: hysteria and counter-hysteria, mindless conformity and reflexive defiance, mob morality and mass psychosis, unprocessed death fears and latent social resentments.
Now, as the storm subsides, I am sensing a new openness to what I have offered. Therefore I have woven my Covid-related essays of 2020 and 2021 together into this book, mapping an outer social and inner psychological arc of the pandemic. I believe that, with a little distance, The Coronation will aid a vital sense-making project over coming years. Yes, vital. I feel a sense of urgency around this book. The social forces that erupted during the pandemic still seethe beneath the surface. The ideological machinery that exploited them is still intact, and its attendant technologies of control more highly developed than ever. History can easily repeat itself in even more extreme fashion, if we let it.
In my initial Covid essay, “The Coronation,” I described the pandemic as an initiation: an interruption in normality that would reveal what lurked hidden within and among us, that would face us with new choices and demand of us new capacities. A coronation, I said, is an initiation into sovereignty, where heretofore unconscious choices become conscious. Covid shone a light onto where we have been headed: an alienated, locked down, technologically mediated, ideologically polarized, authoritarian, medicalized world under ever-intensifying control. These trends did not all of a sudden start in 2020. Now that we have seen clearly our destination, it is no longer inevitable. We can choose another based on what we hold sacred.
The Coronation draws from various competing Covid narratives without being thrall to any of them. At one point in 2020, I said on a podcast somewhere that we will only be able to make sense of Covid when we each let go of at least one dearly held belief about it—a belief, perhaps, that glued reality together. Because, whether it was the full-on orthodox reality delimited by the public health authorities, Facebook, Twitter, the fact checkers, and the mainstream media, or the most far-fetched conspiratorial alternative universe, or something between those extremes, the Covid reality we inhabited was forged not only from evidence and reason. Now that some of the passions have abated, we can begin to reassemble the shards of the shattered old normal into a sane and coherent new understanding. The Coronation aims to serve that process. It certainly doesn’t answer every question around the pandemic—how could it, when new revelations appear practically by the day? But I can promise you that it will bring new clarity and agency to at least one question: What world shall we now choose?