In March, I found myself stranded in the coastal village of Zipolite in southern Mexico due to the pandemic – a sharp change of pace from the past 17 years I had spent schizophrenically darting between countries. There was no official lockdown or curfew at Zipolite, but checkpoints were set up on either side of the village to restrict access and departures.
In a fraction of a second my daily routine went from being constantly on the road to lying in a hammock watching the ants parade on my stomach and thinking about all the things I could do if I didn’t. not lying in a hammock.
As the individual days passed excruciatingly slowly, the months passed. The end of the year has now come spontaneously, and I don’t see how I am still at Zipolite.
Indeed, for many around the world, a time distortion of the coronavirus has set in. As a New York Times article noted, “Google recorded a surge of searches for the day of the week.” The Washington Post notes: “Every day is Blursday”.
To Wired magazine, Duke University cognitive neuroscientist, Kevin LaBar, explains that the human brain “loves new things … It ejects dopamine every time something new happens, and dopamine helps determine the when these events occur. “
Hence the distortion of the perception of time when not much is happening. Trauma and anxiety also alter the perception of time, as does uncertainty about the future.
In my prime case of light-quarantine – in which I didn’t have to deal with additional stressors like unemployment, lack of food, or domestic discord – the time distortion featured an element of ‘coronastalgia’, If you want. Oddly, I found myself missing the very situation in which I have not yet come out of my confinement in a village.
But while my brain has apparently decided to see the present as the past from a projected future point of view, others experience a “feeling of being stuck in the present,” like Felix Ringel, a time anthropologist at the Durham University, written in Conversation.
Ringel observes that, for many, the feeling of “blocking” is not new thanks to the “acceleration of time” produced by neoliberal capitalism, which has “put humanity in crisis for several decades” by making it disappear. welfare states and job security and generally relegating the masses to infinite precariousness.
To be sure, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future before the pandemic began – and not just in terms of capitalism-driven planetary self-destruction.
Capitalism itself is traumatic for the non-elitist majority of the world’s population, on which the perpetual misery of the entire system depends. And timeline limbo has long been the norm for many refugees from imperial wars and neoliberal destruction, not to mention climate change and related evils.
Consider the experience of Uyi, a Nigerian artist who attempted the notoriously perilous sea crossing from Libya to Europe in an overcrowded dinghy in 2016. The boat was intercepted in the Mediterranean by a migrant rescue vessel. In the new book Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry, Uyi recalls the effective suspension of time at sea: “We stayed on this boat for what looked like days. It was so horrible. You pay to die. It’s like this: you pay to die.
Likewise, murderous economies are at stake on the U.S.-Mexico border, where countless migrants have also perished in search of a less uncertain future. Those who make it through are likely to be detained and deported on a prolonged basis by the US government, which is the same entity tasked with making the countries of origin of many migrants physically and / or economically inhospitable in the first place.
The uncertainty that characterizes the detention and deportation regime – particularly when both activities have resulted in the deaths of migrants – can produce traumatic time distortions given the frequent absence of a clear timetable or any end in sight. .
There is also no certainty about the future in the Gaza Strip, which the United Nations previously predicted would be unlivable by 2020. Existing under siege, regular bombing and others Ongoing forms of torment by the Israeli military, Palestinians in Gaza may be suffering from a variant of PTSD: permanent stress disorder – rather than post-traumatic stress disorder.
All of this with the help, of course, of massive aid to Israel from the seat of world capitalism – the United States – and to the great benefit of the arms industry.
If time flies when you’re having fun, then it can almost stop when you’re not. When you’re in the middle of a pandemic, it seems like it can hang around, fly, and cease to exist simultaneously. And for Palestinians and other already traumatized populations who are now stricken – often disproportionately – by the virus, the temporal distortion is probably even more distorted.
As you might expect, capitalism is committed to fixing the pandemic, you know, by taking care of the rich countries and leaving the poor in a deadly situation. As the coronavirus clock stops and starts and time flies, it’s the best time than ever to stop and think.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.