I’m sure that you know Rene Magritte. If not by name, then by one of his surreal works. One of his best known art pieces is a painting of a pipe (the kind used to smoke tobacco). Under the pipe are the words, “Ceci N’est Pas Un Pipe.” This is not a pipe. And, of course, it is not, because it’s just an image of a pipe, not a real one.
Our world, I am thinking, is no longer a real one. It has become a surreal world, a world of irreality, ever since Donald Trump was elected President.
But surreality has become reality more recently, as we suddenly begin to stay at home in order to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The result has been a crash of the jobs market, as jobs disappear, the economy begins to drizzle away, we can no longer go to bars or restaurants or meetings, political and religious and literary gatherings transfer from meeting rooms to virtual meetings, we can no longer hug or kiss for fear of transferring disease. And lurking in the background, behind all these immediate problems, is the reality of climate change, which Trump considers to be a “hoax.”
For those millions of us who support Bernie Sanders in a struggle to replace Trump, that fight has seemed to disappear and he has gone into the hinterland, leaving Joe Biden as the only one remaining against Trump.
What will happen? No one knows.
But what we do know is that the resources of America are a lot higher than has been admitted. Congress authorized the spending of over $2 trillion in order to combat coronavirus. Yet only $1200 went to individuals to help them in a time when many are going to unemployed. As a percentage of GDP, the U.S. expenditures aren’t the highest or lowest in the world, but we do seem very low in terms of expenditures for individuals as opposed to large corporations. This is part of the U.S. surreality. We do not help the real people who suffer, but instead offer help only to entities that exist in law but not in surreality.
Let us compare this time of surreality with a time of reality. Say, World War II. Men (and women) were sucked into war. The rest worked hard, but were paid for doing so. The corporations were transformed from producing consumer products to war products. But no one starved, and everyone had a job to do to protect the community.
Today, in our surreal world, we are fighting coronavirus. To do this, we have to give up our jobs, and we have to stay inside and do virtually nothing. All that we produce are products to fight illness, and provide services to combat illness.
Jobs still disappear, and earnings disappear. People have nothing.
I am sure that this is our future, as artificial intelligence takes over more and more. Jobs will continue to disappear, and income inequality will get worse and worse. And the earth will get ever hotter, in a blaze of surreality.