Watching The World Burn on Our Phones

Watching The World Burn on Our Phones

There's this play by Eugene Ionesco called, "Rhinoceros."

You should read it sometime.

It's about an ordinary dude named Berenger, a Lebowski type who drinks too much and never shows up anywhere on time. Things get interesting when he meets up with a friend for coffee, but their conversation gets interrupted when...yep... a rhinoceros charges through the town square. Over the course of three acts, Berenger watches everyone he cares about, including the woman he loves, transform into a rhinoceros.

Nobody believes him.

The transformation into a rhinoceros starts off with a mild cold. As people transform, they get cranky and aggressive. They accuse Berenger of paranoia. They tell him to stop obsessing over rhinos.

They lose all their empathy.

They start talking about letting everyone live their own lives and getting back to normal. It's ironic, because after they transform, all a rhinoceros wants to do is chase people down and turn them.

Scholars have described the play as a metaphor for the spread of fascism, but it applies to a lot of situations these days. I never thought I'd live through something like that, and yet here we are.

The heat index hit 120F (48.9C) today. Honestly, it doesn't feel that bad. I've gotten used to it. I get out and walk in this every day.

I know, it could kill me.

We're in the middle of a Covid surge, but almost nobody wants to talk about it. We all know someone who doesn't know anyone with Long Covid. Suddenly people who were in the ICU have no memory of it, or they pretend they were never sick. People are forgetting entire conversations.

Sometimes, even the media can't help but report on the undercurrent of fatigue and resentment that pervades public life.

Everything feels... off.

There's no end to the depressing stories. An entire town burns down during a firestorm. Teachers mock disabled children. Schools punish kids for talking during lunch. They're replacing libraries with detention centers.

Newspapers publish stories about experts "baffled" by sudden spikes in heart attacks and chronic illness. They blame environmentalists for holding up progress on renewable energy. They report on labor shortages and broken supply chains. Then they report on the avalanche of studies showing the organ and brain damage caused by the disease everyone wants to ignore. They want to hold everyone accountable except the ones responsible.

They're pulling a rhino.

There's a relentless pressure to act happy now. You have to go to the office. You have to go to bars and restaurants. You have to go to concerts. You have to go on vacation. You have to post about it.

You have to talk to strangers.


You can't talk about all the friends and family you've lost. You can't talk about how tired you are. You can't talk about politics. You can't talk about climate change. You can't talk about the wildfires or that town that burned down. You can't talk about living through the hottest days in human history. You can't talk about masks or air purifiers. You can't talk about student loans. You can't talk about the wars we're fighting or getting ready to fight.

You can't talk about anything that matters.

You can only talk about the latest shitty superhero movie. You can talk about Barbie. You can talk about celebrity gossip. You can talk about the vacation you pretended to enjoy. You can talk about yoga.

You can talk about your morning routine.

You can talk about sports.

The conspiracy theories are getting even crazier. Now people don't believe in viruses at all. They don't believe in polio. They don't believe in the flu. They don't even believe droughts are real anymore. They believe the government is hiding endless supplies of clean water deep underground. They believe the government is starting fires with space lasers.

They're turning into rhinos.

There's a reason why everyone's so tired and miserable. It's not because of climate change. It's not because of the pandemic. It's because of this tedious, soul-sucking normal we're forcing each other to endure.

It doesn't have to be like this.

We don't have to turn into rhinos. We could ditch this normal for something else. All we have to do is stop pretending.

It would be easy.

We have the knowledge and tools to survive. We could build tiny houses for everyone. We could build root cellars. We could build earth tubes. We could leave these shitty jobs and ugly McMansions in the desert. We could localize our supply chains. We could let go of beef. We could build rain catchment systems. We could get around on carts and bicycles.

We could ration energy and electricity.

We could be happy.

We're not miserable because of viruses or heat indexes. We're miserable because this system forces us to participate in our own destruction. We're miserable because we know deep down that we're in trouble, that we have to adapt, but we're still expected to sling lattes for assholes, all the way up until the moment a wildfire or a flood engulfs our neighborhood.

We're miserable because we're forced to watch the world burn on our phones, and then we're accused of doomscrolling.

Isn't that something?

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