The only way I can understand these uneasy days is to write about them. But finding my own thoughts has felt difficult lately. It seems to require more effort to keep my brains out of the muck of today’s opinion-mongers and two-minute hates, these digital screamers and bad faith dealers. No matter what I do, their poison bleeds through the walls.

Maybe there’s no coming to terms with these days of lurching from calamity to calamity while being told it’s time to get back to normal. As I write this, a hurricane is approaching the eastern seaboard, which captures the spirit of the past eighteen months: the waiting-and-seeing, wondering how bad the damage might be.

New York City’s big reopening concert was canceled midway through Barry Manilow’s set due to lightning strikes. Last week it rained at the top of Greenland for the first time in recorded history. We’re back to wearing masks indoors.

What is the best strategy for surviving the 21st-century? Does it require some sort of cool detachment? Bertrand Russell notes that Stoicism naturally took root during “a tired age” when Rome began to decay, a time when “the future, they felt, would be at best a weariness, at worst a horror. In a hopeful age, great present evils can be endured, because it is thought they will pass; but in a tired age even real goods lose their savour.”

Philosophies such as Stoicism suit a tired age because “its gospel is one of endurance rather than hope.” Maybe we’ve entered an absolutely exhausted age. But here’s why I often turn to Russell for comfort: “There is, in fact, an element of sour grapes in Stoicism. We can’t be happy, but we can be good; let us therefore pretend that, so long as we are good, it doesn’t matter being unhappy. This doctrine is heroic, and, in a bad world, useful; but it is neither quite true nor, in a fundamental sense, quite sincere.”

So I’ve been thinking about what it means to be sincere on and off the screen in 2021. This feels more productive than contemplating how to endure.

Today I learned that in 1983, Visage covered one of the most frightening songs I know: Zager & Evans’s improbable 1969 hit “In the Year 2525“, which races through ten thousand years of technological horror fueled by numbed-out consumerism. For example: “In the year 5555, your arms are hanging limp at your sides and your legs got nothing to do because some machine is doing that for you.” Both versions are catchy as hell.

The fall of Rome. 1969. Wherever we stand today. The year 2525. Real goods keep their savor.

Visage – In The Year 2525

Fade to Grey: The Singles Collection | Polydor, 1983 | More
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