At best theory, like art, turns in on itself, living on through commentary, investing in its own death on credit. At worst it rattles the chains of old ghosts, as if a conference on “the idea of communism” could still shock the bourgeois. As if there were still a bourgeois literate enough to shock. As if it were ever the idea that shocked them, rather than the practice. – McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street
There are no doubt plenty who thought that if there was salvation in this moment of time, it will come from the Musks of the world. Elon himself had offered to send thousands of life-saving ventilators off to hospitals in need. This was of course after he had downplayed the threat of coronavirus, calling the panic “dumb” and then saying children are immune. But with the productive capacity of the government hamstrung by Trump, his offer seemed a lifesaver. Then the ventilators arrived. And as it turns out, they aren’t the right kind of ventilator. In fact, according to some medical experts, they may actually speed up the transmission of the virus.
Wark is right. Today’s ruling class is quite possibly the stupidest ruling class in the history of capitalism. And that stupidity will get us all killed. American liberal commentators love to waffle on and on about how obviously idiotic Donald Trump is, but it isn’t just limited to him. All anyone needs to do is look at Joe Biden for proof. Doddering old fool he may be, but the real question is why would the clique controlling the Democratic Party actually thinks he stands a chance?
Coronavirus is going to kill hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions across the planet. It is going to be a protracted crisis and likely crater the global economy into a depression worse than the 1930s. It is not mere stupidity that prevents Trump or other rulers from acting decisively, providing the necessary healthcare and social safety net that will allow people and nations to weather it all. It is, primarily, class interest working through worldview. After all, capitalist realism isn’t just for us plebes.
Nonetheless, it cannot really be denied that the very, very rich are very fucking dumb. One might say that their class position necessitates it. Wark’s description of them as barely “literate enough to shock” is apt. It’s not that the rich can’t read. It’s that they don’t read. They are a remarkably un-curious lot, insouciant and insensitive to questions and quandaries which, to the rest of us, are both urgent and existential.
Pick any world leader, any CEO of a Fortune 500 company, any emissary of the ruling class. How many of them, do you think, upon realizing that this pandemic was imminent, reached for something like Love In the Time of Cholera? Hell, how many of them do you think bothered to go look up the flu pandemic of 1918? How many do you think grasped how drastically the world was about to change, not just economically but in terms of the contours and febrility of daily life? How many do you think have even the slightest inkling of curiosity for the fragility of the human condition? There are no doubt some, but they aren’t the ones most visibly calling the shots.
In some ways, it shows – in the negative – why the decades-long neglect of the humanities has real consequence for the world. Any society in which these are deemed unimportant is bound to be more brutish in nature. And here’s the rub. The left has, it is true, to grapple with the denuding of its theory, the process by which we can convince ourselves that we are more worthy of running the world simply by dint of our being smarter than them. Rulers have never been undone merely by their own boorish stupidity. At least not without taking down whole societies with them.
Ideas have never struck fear into the ruling class quite as much as the practical application of those ideas. Which is why the question of practice – real, substantive – is now being forced on us. It’s been proven that nobody is coming to save us. We have to do it ourselves. And the practice of finding ways to sustain each other – particularly those most vulnerable among us – feeds ideas and theory. More than that, it renews them, puts them at the center of new narratives through which we can live our lives. That’s the form in which communism has always been most of a threat.