Low Hum // High Hum
When the noise barrier stops working.
IDK if you heard, but Covid is bad again. And with it has come the return of Covid anxiety, Covid despair, anger at our government for doing nothing. I have regressed—I feel emotionally stunned, and thus all I can do is listen to Nü Metal (Seether especially for some reason (“My philosophy is things are just as wrong as they seem // I believe it's gonna end this way // Atrocity”)) on high volume and distract myself with video games (Cities: Skylines right now).
But there is nothing new about this current wave except its intensity, its temporal concentration. And there is nothing new about Covid either. In this country there is always a low hum of death, often just quiet enough to ignore. It of course wears on us, but we usually cannot name it—the car crashes, the preventable cancers and slow-moving environmental catastrophes, the suicides and overdoses—always there, but rarely loud enough to disrupt our lives fully, instead building day by day until it mutates into things detached from their cause (depression, DSM disorders, the things that bring you to a therapist or yoga studio).
So we learn to live with the hum, and that has, until now, perhaps been one of the most genius characteristics of American capitalism—its ability to abstract the inherent death enough, to put noise barriers around it like a highway through a residential neighborhood, so that it does not, in most times, feel unbearable.
Covid has broken down the noise barriers, or maybe just made them ineffective, the traffic is too loud, made the low hum high, made it plain how little our government cares, how actively it promotes death for the sake of profit. And so we have now been able to name our anxieties and depressions and states of shock for what they are—logical responses to the world we live in.
But eventually, whether in a few weeks, or a few months, and as happened over last summer and fall, the high hum will again become low, the traffic will ebb to bearable levels. We will be happy to get back to our lives. We will be happy to be able to ignore.
I have felt it necessary to see the world this way so that what is happening now does not feel so new. Contextualizing it has allowed me some kind of evil peace; I know we’ve been here before, I know we’ll be here again. The low hum will return, and with it so will my tenuous sanity. And the high hum will be back after that, whether because of Covid, or police violence, or war. And then the low hum will return again. Ad infinitum. Whether the noise barrier is there, the highway will still exist.