Jason Siegelin | February 2021
A socially-distanced audience at the funeral of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020
“Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason.”
- George Orwell, 1984
“The greatest guilt of today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting...”
“Technique has taken over the whole of civilization. Death, procreation, birth all submit to technical efficiency and systemization.”
In this fleeting moment beneath the sun, for what function, what purpose do we live?
The individuals, they were indistinguishable from one another. It would be an impossibility for a bystander to discern the facial features of these men, women, and children. All wore surgical masks, sometimes, two. Many wore sunglasses in the bright northern day; many wore winter hats.
None spoke. The only sound in that somber environ was that of passing cars, atoms flowing by across the cracked pavement, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
Many could not hear this. Many walked, placated by strange rhythms and voices flowing between their ears, some of these voices from thousands of miles away. As if they were not concealed enough from the world, these individuals had little devices lodged in their ears, reporting to them, demanding to them, soothing them. None spoke.
It is sufficient to say that these individuals had become shadows, unidentifiable to other such individuals, unable to hear anything pertaining to immediate reality, unable to speak without letting a muffled and formless voice emanate from behind their masks.
And when the time came for two such individuals to walk past each other, each gave the other an excessively wide berth, avoiding eye contact, each striving to calculably minimize the time spent within a specific radius of the other. Like trying to connect the same poles of different magnets together.
The sun, so bright, worked its way into a young boy’s bedroom, awakening him with its brilliant warmth. Following his daily routine, he dressed himself, brushed his teeth, put on his mask, and headed to school.
This particular boy had a robust set of aspirations, hopes, and dreams. He had seen pictures of the past, when men, women, and children could congregate and see each other smile. When others were dignified human beings with names and jobs and beautiful complexions, rather than mere biological specimen to avoid. A time when individuals could deliberate in public, discuss such concepts as truth, polity, and freedom face to face, rather than doing so seeing pixelated faces and frozen images upon a computer screen. This boy had seen pictures of a past so distant, so strange, yet one that exuded a warmth so recognizable.
After he looped his mask over the backs of his ears and placed a hat over his flowing blonde hair, the boy walked to school. He had no friends, as most other first-grade students did not during that time, unable to see each other, unable to interact with each other except from a governmentally ordained distance. “Play” was an ancient word to these children.
Sometimes the boy would cry. Alone, deep in the black winter night, he would remember a photograph he had been shown, a photograph from the past. It depicted what had been called a “concert.” The boy imagined, which proved quite difficult, a stadium filled with individuals, all right up against one another, screaming and laughing, all eyes reverting back to the guitarist upon the stage. A far cry from the solitude and silence he had experienced throughout his short life. The boy wanted this, even yearned for this as the elderly yearn for youth.
He would yearn for a past that was not his. He would yearn for a fantasy-world where children could play, fight, laugh, grow up together. He would yearn for an old-fashioned time when individuals were not mere forms gliding across the concrete, faceless, cold, self-preserving. Photocopies of public consensus.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
Yet soon enough the boy grew accustomed to this sound of machinery, a utilitarian, technocratic machinery focused on the individual and the individual alone. The sound, so soothing, so efficient, it made him forget about that distant past where humans joined hands and lived up to the term body politic.
The sound became not dissimilar to the wind blowing through the pines on his walk alone to school...
s the sun climbed above the pines and the gnarled branches of the winter landscape, the chilled stage of a momentary and cruel drama was set, and the characters moved into the light. The shadows of the swaying evergreens stretched out upon the pavement, creating an absurd play between light and dark, dark and light, as the individuals walked silently towards their destinations.