Today, like 3 days before in 1945 Hiroshima, marks the 75th anniversary of the American deployment and detonation of the “Fat Man” nuclear bomb over the city of Nagasaki. Those apocalyptic moments, in the thick of a ferocious World War, mirror our ongoing struggles to defeat a stealthier enemy in the middle of a pandemic.
There are lessons we can learn from 1945 that go far beyond contemporary calls for nuclear disarmament: one, defeating an enemy is costly, but nurturing a worldview that proliferates enemies is costlier. In the present “war” with a virus, some are gently pointing out that a vaccine is unlikely to address the multivariate matters that are the condition for the emergence of this virus. The hidden crisis is human centrality, the assemblage of ideas and practices that make it possible for us to think of ourselves as “in control” of “nature”. Performing centrality is an expensive enterprise to sustain in a world where everything that is not us is potentially against us.
Two, what we do to the “outside” is often a symptom of what has already happened on the “inside”. Power is neither linear nor unidirectional. The world fell into the so-called Atomic Age when the United States inflicted its own supremacy on itself by detonating the first-ever nuclear device at the Trinity testing site in New Mexico – on July 16, 1945, a few weeks before the Truman-led administration bombed Japan. Today, the effort to scrub the world into a rational, sterile version of itself may make us feel safer, but the Trumpian walls of safety are always inhabited by microbial stowaways, hidden Trojan horses, and toxic comeuppances. The very agents that effect the cleansing of the “outside” become poisonous to our own bodies.
And finally, lesson three – perhaps the most difficult one to appreciate: world-endings usually produce fugitives – people who are no longer at home. The thing to do when this happens is not to try to kick-start a fresh new order of being, try to quickly imagine the next, or rush into new manifestos. The thing to do is to consult the corrosive agency of greater intelligences, seek to be defeated and shape-shifted by these “others” we must meet at crossroads, and stir up an alchemy of descent which might allow us build new coalitions of becoming in response to the world around us. The thing to do is to go underground – not so much to survive as it is to study the new and alien notions of living and dying that are suddenly present in our bodies, which the mereness of survival may not understand.