23.3.20

Phenomenology of The Disaster: Introduction

BOULDER, CO – We’re over a week into the extended, indefinite period of the first National Emergency over public health that I have experienced. This morbid new normal is coinciding with inevitable tsunamis of angst, reflection, and creativity worldwide – the phenomenology of this response is my main interest, as an existential journalist and non-attached philosopher.

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For many people, creative impulses will emerge through home-bound and neighborhood reporting, and authoring a plethora of communiques, using Web-connected devices. Surely, there will be a global deluge of novel uses of technology, first-person narratives, and home crafts in the wakes of this pandemic’s shocks.

The desolation unique to a global plague must coincide with brave reflection, and creativity, and this can happen in fundamental respects because it is The Disaster. The bonds between fear, death, suffering, the suddenly stripped-down circumstances of our lives, our transcendent experiences, and the Arts are getting re-clarified – and fortunately.

But our interest in those hopeful connections – more precisely in the real upshots of this lamentable situation – may seem to conflict with the epic pain of a glocal catastrophe. Even our own perceptions and interpretations of The Disaster are getting mediated across great distances by sensationalist or trumped-up news, the moodiness of deserted public spaces, and the myopia of feeling ‘stuck’ at home. That is, unless one directly experiences the front lines or knows stricken people. For most of us, however, this is the first war that must be fought by becoming hermits.

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I have been a self-declared but unpaid existential journalist for over a decade. I become accustomed to perpetual culture shock following doctoral studies in Philosophy that continued with expat life in India, where I experienced endemic forms of The Disaster as it manifests uniquely there.

Here in the States, I have hazarded the contemporary ‘poverty trap’ – with the attitude of a researcher – by supporting myself doing freelance and gig work. Prior to this National Emergency, I had observed the highest levels of wealth inequality I have seen in this country. It tempts us to think that managed poverty itself has been the goal of much of the socio-cultural matrix since the end of WWII:
A society overrun and dominated by the commercial and financial and industrial sectors organized as corporations, following the hegemony of the military-industrial-complex.
This has been disastrous for a long time already. The affront to Humanism and the Western Enlightenment is perhaps the most aggressively dissembled catastrophe, which, nonetheless is getting exposed in dramatic, mind-blowing ways by this material crisis called Covid-19.

So in the barest terms, my point of view – for full disclosure and context here – presently consists of financial insecurity, and therefore behavioral austerity, while under shelter-in-place. I am writing this series ‘Phenomenology of The Disaster’ especially for others in that situation; however, it is suggested reading for those who are financially buffered from this Disaster as well.

Strangely, with the anticipation of the creativity and expression emanating from the recent shelter-in-place orders (but after distinct waves of grieving and shock) I’m experiencing my own surge of creative activity – and its psychology is nuanced. In fact, the more one senses and perceives this rampant virus, the more meanings, experiences, and interpretations inevitably will orbit it. Yet, what is this ‘it’ in itself, in raw terms?

Let’s look at the Covid-19 epidemic (The Disaster) dispassionately, and perhaps even in childlike terms as we perceive it directly, as it is, and in its repercussions and ramifications. We must conduct a thorough phenomenology of The Disaster (in this case, manifesting as Covid-19), along with the epistemic and ontological analyses.

Tragedy and Upshots


There are all kinds of upshots of the Covid-19 crisis, and dangers, that we will perceive only as it unfolds. One captivating new reality involves people staying home, and, the blackout of commercial, brick-and-mortar America. It’s almost like the quietude of Christmas Day prolonged indefinitely. People sequestered, after dealing with the loss of income, will be forced into ongoing leisure.

This is a test for society. Will most people get creative, and at least learn to use tech tools for virtual community? – or, how many will escape into binge-watching screen content, sink into depression, or begin careers in addiction?

Let’s assume that a substantial amount of people, of households, do approach their confinements creatively, recognizing that one upshot of shelter-in-place is experiencing leisure in the home. This is just the bare phenomenon – there is bound to be a large number of people who cannot experience ‘leisure’ during this Disaster, for any of infinite reasons.

We should always keep in mind the full range of people who are confronting this health and societal emergency. We will pay attention to the socio-economic dilemmas of workers exempted from shelter-in-place, to be the workforce for Emergency Services including grocery-store and pharmacy clerks.

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The technical arena of working at home through The Disaster includes producing Internet-connected media and using home equipment (such as for making and editing videos). This presents an interesting moment in the creative process that brings in the experience of publishing to a global audience, which could be said to induce an altered state of consciousness. Specifically, it is some kind of alteration of our individualistic cultural programming, like a radical openness to the Other, albeit buffered by technology and mimesis.

This openness, together with the intrinsic possibility in Internet media to embrace all of humanity as audience/interlocutor, could be understood, at least, as not the same character of consciousness as found with hard, obsolete, American individualism.

One of the goals of this series, Phenomenology of The Disaster, is to create and bolster a conceptual bridge between the increasingly common personal experience of broadcasting to Earth as a human being (which includes doing Internet-based work), and, the prospect, and advent, of something I refer to as The Livelihood Economy – also the subject of a white paper I am crowdfunding and writing.

The next piece in this series discusses a certain understanding of The Audience who potentially engages with interests such as these: The Audience that comprises a phenomenological forum exploring our angst, reflection, and creativity at the very start of an era of pandemics.



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