The World At Its Darkest

Remember who the enemy is — and it is not the friends, neighbours, or family members you’re lashing out at.

“And you, Ring-bearer,’ she said, turning to Frodo. ‘I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts. For you I have prepared this.’ She held up a small crystal phial: it glittered as she moved it, and rays of white light sprang from her hand. ‘In this phial,’ she said, ‘is caught the light of Eärendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. ‘May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out’” — The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m not the only one who is seriously scared about what happens in the world. And not about that pesky virus, which overwhelmingly doesn’t harm very much ‒ I’m in the right age group and healthy, so I face next-to-no risks.

Instead, the catastrophic risk I face comes from the gullibility of others, our governments’ overreach, the laying of intellectual and political groundwork for permanently removing our rights. What we in the West thought until recently were unalienable rights, that nobody in their wildest dreams would impinge on, were removed and upended in a matter of months. And not to the sound of pitchforks and revolutions, but the masses cheering them on.

In country after country, madness ruled, and disproportionate responses took place. When the “enlightened” restrictions didn’t work — how could they, completely misaligned as they were — the leaders jammed down even more of them down our credulous throats. Not that we minded either: we celebrated their strong actions, even attacked them for not stripping us bare earlier. Then we turned on one another, and especially those who dared say “hang on a minute…”

Perhaps I’m hyperbolic here — I sure hope so — and perhaps we’ll all look back at this as a grand misunderstanding (better err on the side of caution, right?). Even so, there’s a new sheriff in town: at the mere whiff of another invisible threat of doom like this one, we know exactly what’s about to go do. From the great political and economic historian Robert Higgs we know that government powers once expanded never fully return to where they were. Over time, jumping from emergency to emergency, we end up with a larger and larger government.

What to do about this? Most of us aren’t in positions to make meaningful differences one way or another, and so we’re left to merely treading water. Endure. The powerlessness that we all feel — the inability to make plans, or meet friends, or attend weddings, or celebrate anything — is getting to millions and millions of people. Nobody else cares about your pain, and nobody else is in charge of improving it.

A few things remain for those of us who still cherish our own agency: make preparations to weather the storm.

I mean this in every sense: financially, personally, professionally, and health-wise. Hold larger buffers in your economy, as a household and as a saver and investor — keep more food in the fridge, more long-lasting goods in the pantry, more easy-to-access funds in cash and in your bank accounts. Prepare financially and monetarily for the life after the madness by keeping physical gold and bitcoin — if not now, then when? — and professionally by getting skills you want and need.

Work on yourself and your own skills. Everything can be learned on YouTube these days. With the extra time that all of us have, learn about what you need to learn about — the skills that are valuable in this economy or the survival skills that an even darker future would require.

In terms of your own health and well-being: work out, much more than you’d want to. And believe me, right now nobody wants to (every session, the line that runs through my mind is “what is the bl**dy point?!”). When all else go dark, we need to bring the light from within ourselves — breath, pushups, runs, lifts, yoga. Do them, and do more of them.

Shut off the TV and avoid news — something you should have done long ago anyway. Strip most (all?) of your social media too. Nothing could make you less informed about the world that the never-ending noise from a news anchor. If you can’t live without the quick fix from news events, at least consider more slow-moving formats: serious podcasts, magazines like The Economist, or books.

Read widely about people who lived through truly horrendous things: Anne Frank, Stefan Zweig, Zlata Filipović, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Remember that what we have is (at least so far) miles and miles away from what they had.

Some other practical advice is defensive: cheat when nobody sees; trade whatever you can on the black market; reciprocating favours from your neighbours; if you live in the countryside, try getting game or roadkill from those around you who know how to acquire them. Stack away bitcoin, out of reach from your tyrannical government. Get a cottage in the woods, or the alps, or the emptiness of whatever nature you most like.

The only upside of this terrible pandemic is the realisation — among some of us, at least — that you can’t entrust your protection and well-being on Big Government. You are in charge of your own life: you wield its agency and must secure it for yourself and others, physically, financially, and mentally.

Solzhenitsyn, reflecting on the deepest horrors that anyone ever unleashed on humanity, wrote:

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”

Remember who the enemy is: it is not your neighbour who flouted the rules or that colleague who got infected. It’s the government rules and the agents who enforce them. And even they are mostly regular human beings, going through very similar challenges to the ones that you are. Their hearts are not consumed by evil, even if one wonders about some of them.

The world is a seriously scary place and yet we must carry on. Take responsibility for your life: learn what you need, detach from what you don’t. Delve deep and find that Eärendil-like light in your own soul — the light that keeps you going, the stuff that matters.

Writer, editor, and student of money past and present. Here: mostly off-topic stories, personal finance-musings, worldly observations and reflections.

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