At Vox, Anna North writes a magnificently unhinged cry of pain titled "The world as we know it is ending. Why are we still at work?" Some samples:
For a moment in early 2020, it seemed like we might get a break from capitalism. A novel coronavirus was sweeping the globe, and leaders and experts recommended that the US pay millions of people to stay home until the immediate crisis was over. These people wouldn’t work. They’d hunker down, take care of their families, and isolate themselves to keep everyone safe. With almost the whole economy on pause, the virus would stop spreading, and Americans could soon go back to normalcy with relatively little loss of life.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Instead, white-collar workers shifted over to Zoom (often with kids in the background), and everybody else was forced to keep showing up to their jobs in the face of a deadly virus. Hundreds of thousands died, countless numbers descended into depression and burnout, and a grim new standard was set: Americans keep working, even during the apocalypse.
Now it’s been nearly two years since the beginning of the pandemic — a time that has also encompassed an attempted coup, innumerable extreme weather events likely tied to climate change, and ongoing police violence against Black Americans — and we’ve been expected to show up to work through all of it. . . .
What do people like North think would happen if we stopped going to work? Well, for starters, nobody would grow food, or ship food, or sell food, so we would soon all be going hungry. With nobody working in the waterworks and the sewage treatment plants and the power plants, our basic infrastructure would quickly crumble. Without people working, we simply can't survive.
The thing is, I get the impression that people like Anna North want something like that to happen. They want the world to be a s bad as they feel it is. They feel that we are, as North writes, "in the end times," and they want apocalypse in the streets.
I don't, so I keep working.
People like Anna North also make the strange error of thinking that we have to go to work because of capitalism, and a "break from capitalism" would mean we don't have to work any more. But it isn't capitalism that forces us to work; we have to work because it is fundamental to animal life in this universe. We tried socialism and one thing we learned from that experiment is that people still had to go to their jobs every day.
Between the pandemic, the attempted coup, and the climate crisis, misery abounds:
Making these kinds of calculations all the time is exhausting and takes a toll on mental health. The “constant, low-level stress” of slow-moving disasters like the melting polar ice caps can make everything more difficult, including work, Remes said. “It makes it harder for people to be productive, because they’re worrying about their basement flooding.”
If these things are problems, doesn't that mean that we should be working all the harder to solve them? My readers know that I think greenhouse gases are a solvable problem, but we certainly won't make much progress if we all stay home and cocoon because we're too anxious to work. Plenty of people on the left justified the George Floyd protests with the argument that political change can't wait for the pandemic to end. Pulling your blankets over your head will not help anybody, not even you.
This kind of rant would be incomplete without the (usually white) authors tossing in the assertion that things are even worse for minorities:
Seventy percent of respondents in one September survey said they were anxious or stressed about work, and 81 percent said they were more burnt out than at the start of the pandemic. Among Americans of color, who have experienced many of the pandemic’s interlocking crises most acutely, “depression and anxiety and stress are spiking in ways that are disproportionate to their peers,” Anderson said.
But mental health is one part of American life where people of color do not have it worse; despite numerous attempts to show otherwise by people convinced that the root of our misery is oppression, white Americans suffer more from all the major forms of mental illness than other groups.
The world has serious problems. It always has. But it is not ending. As Freddie de Boer put it, in a response to North's essay,
The person who wrote this wrote it on a functioning computer, passed it off to her superiors as part of a more-or-less unaltered business operation, and it was uploaded to the internet, where it can be accessed by billions of people through the use of technologies that require an exquisite amount of collaboration across vast distances of geography and circumstance. In other words, the world as we know it is apparently ending in such a gentle way that the most basic economic, technological, and communicative infrastructures of our civilization are puttering along nicely.
I find apocalypticism mysterious and fascinating. I think it is often born from a personal sense that life day-to-day is so unendurably bad that anything would be better, even the collapse of civilization, mass starvation, and civil war.
Anna North is clearly on the left, but we could easily find equally unhinged screeds from people on the right. For reasons that I find mysterious, this era when human life is by most numerical measures better than ever before has spawned a very widespread sense that everything is going to hell. I don't really understand why, but I think all this doom-mongering has become a problem of its own as big those it is supposed to be based on.