READ THE FULL CONTENTS OF THE SURVIVAL ISSUE OF THE BELIEVER MAGAZINE ON THEIR WEBSITE FOR FREE – Here.
‘The notion of survival is inextricably bound with the concept of a future. And what can be said about the future right now, except that it is absurdly, unprecedentedly uncertain? We feel hopeful and also suspicious of that hope. We have struggled to phrase what we’re feeling. The limitations of words, and the “systematic looting of language,” as Toni Morrison put it in her Nobel Lecture, make it that much more difficult. So maybe it’s best to start with something visual. In his interview, Robert Thurman describes meditating on the image of Dick Cheney dressed as his mom in a previous life. The gesture enacts a core idea we’re circling in this issue, which is that if our society is going to make it, we need to practice compassion for others, and model ways for those we dislike to do the same for us. Survival, particularly in America, is often thought of in terms of rugged individualism. Cowboys, homesteaders, presidents named Andrew, outlaws, and, in modern times, people who start billion-dollar companies in their garages. Recent months, however, have shown us how deeply our individual survival is tied to the survival of others, including plant life, animals, and other humans. This issue intends to explore these points of interconnection. What systems of support already exist in our culture? What strengthens or harms them? Who is still struggling to survive? How can we live and make work that serves to decimate anti-Black racism and all forms of race-based oppression? How do we consciously fight white supremacy, transphobia, and patriarchy? We are being called to attention by sickness and disease, by rampant inequality, by our ailing planet. It’s time to pay attention. It’s time to ask questions of ourselves, and of those in power. Our survival depends on it.‘
‘When did the apocalypse finally arrive? Was it April 2, by which time more than a million people globally had contracted COVID-19? Was it March 26, when the United States surpassed all other countries in its number of confirmed cases? Or January 21, when the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in the United States?
The truth is that by December 2019, the mood in this country was already firmly apocalyptic. Teenage activists were demanding that politicians act immediately to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the politicians were ignoring them. Fires were consuming the West on a yearly schedule. Far-right nationalist movements were spreading unabated worldwide. President Trump was running for reelection, and the likely Democratic candidate represented an uninspiring attempt to return to a more innocent time, a time that had never existed, remember that?
When the coronavirus reached the United States, the disruptions that had long simmered on the margins spread to the center. The government told lies in official press conferences and people who listened died. A quarter of employed Americans lost some or all of their jobs, while the personal net worth of Jeff Bezos continued its upward trajectory in the twelve digits. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and others were killed, and citizens who marched in the streets to protest their murders were violently suppressed by the police. Journalists stopped talking about the climate.
Here it was, a changing of the world order. Though, for many of us, the apocalypse had arrived long ago—in 1619, in 1492—and we had kept on living.
For those of us who understood the stakes of living among other people, the viral pandemic presented only the most recent illustration. It reminded us that the lines between our bodies and the bodies of others are permeable, that harm done to one can spill over onto another. We had to acknowledge our connections with family, neighbors, strangers who shared our vulnerabilities. For those more deeply enmeshed in the American myth of self-determination, however, the pandemic was a challenge: how to lock down the borders of the self. Survival is a contest, after all, and it is played alone (at least on TV). To survive 2020 one need only a Zoom account, a fitness regimen, unobstructed access to the full range of consumer choice, and a personal firearm.
If only it were so easy! Survival, as the following writers tell us, is a group effort. It requires constant maintenance. It’s a process, a healing, a daily prayer. There is no winning—but nor is losing the inevitable outcome. Out of apocalyptic soil, new ways of existing will rise. To get us there, we rely on the same strategies we’ve always used to get us through the perpetual crisis of life.