Capitalism has produced a class of people rich enough to avoid domestic commitments. I get it. To accept others as family is to shack up with death. The day I got engaged I fixated on one of us burying the other. That’s why today’s elite prefer the primordial monotony of Mars over familiar but perpetually decaying worldly paradises. Mars is the permanent second chance, a hack only dreamable by those who can afford to see its remedial effect on life and death. This vision may be better than sex and other Earthly delights, but I could never take it seriously enough to think it through.
My mom and dad are getting old, neither are in great health, and they’re raising my sister’s four year old son. Covid might hand them a really bad deal; I’ve lost sleep about it. My nephew was born three days after my mom finished chemo for breast cancer. Their hair came in at the same rate, and even though they’re best friends, they drive each other crazy. She insists he observe the same grammatical mandates trained into her by Catholic nuns half a century ago (e.g., the word “of” never follows “off” and it’s trashy to say “sure” when you actually mean “yes”). Growing up I thought that proper speech indicated proper character, which made my classmates hate me.
So I have a lot of these domestic ties. There was a romantic nihilism to getting married in the early days of the virus, like we mattered more than These Unprecedented Times. I put on a Johnny Cash record and made a makeshift nuptial boudoir of my bedroom. We shared a drink in the kitchen — I hid my gown and makeup beneath a floor-length coat and surgical mask.
Two days before the ceremony, my twin brother tested positive. He was relocated from the group home where he lives with other nonverbal autistic people to an “extremely comfortable” quarantine — my mom’s description, and she expressed gratitude to New York state taxes. I told my fiance that’s socialism working, my cruel attempt to give his pain political meaning, and it’s not the first time that sort of detachment’s been a comfort. Champagne-drunk I announced his diagnosis to my wedding guests and it struck me that it’s not political at all.
Like everyone I know, I’m more sensitive to Twitter’s sophistic brand of bullshit than universal inevitables. Year-end accomplishment lists, internally consistent and Borgesianly precise that sort of thing. They’re more conducive to sanity than the big nothing which lies where political discourse should have a beating heart. The timeline scaffolds the illusion that there’s a positive center to the world-pain rather than a void of meaning.
For years I’ve charged social media with advancing capitalist realism. It’s a staple of my writing career. It’s still easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, but honestly, I find the thought experiment less useful than ever. These days my working response is that even the most improbable fantasy has a price tag. Finance lays claim to anything intelligible. If you poke them enough, every weird amalgam of colors, faces, and desires turns into a commodity.
I started writing this on New Year’s eve. Four days later I learned that my friend Will died. They found his body on the side of a road in Macon, Georgia. It was a hit and run accident; now there’s a criminal investigation. He was 36.
Will was building his own idiosyncratic version of the reset, an unfucked / pro-social variation of the Musk-Bezos-Gates otherworld rendered in websites, novels, community projects, relationships. That’s not why I loved him, but it’s worth mentioning. The word visionary comes up in his eulogies. He loved public commons and hated private cars.
We dated for three years; for a while I thought we’d get married. I’ve thought of him as family for over a decade. So I’ve mourned him twice now. Of course I prefer this over any sterile extraterrestrial fantasy. Will was not a normal person, but to paraphrase one of his favorite authors, the only abnormality we should care about is the incapacity to feel. Maybe my hypothetical noncapitalist future is only reserved for those who are okay with death. That might be the political radicalism I’m chasing.