Why can’t history leave us alone? I want to return to my bubble

I’ve been preoccupied by a phrase used by Anand Giridharadas in his most recent newsletter. As he puts it, some people are clearly “wanting to be left alone by history for a little while”. It points to the hyper-mobilisation which characterises contemporary society, as well as the exhaustion which can follow from this. As Trotsky once observed, people “cannot live for years in an uninterrupted state of high tension and intense activity”. Under current conditions, the range of people who can no longer ‘float freely in their undisturbed balance’ has increased more than ever and for those whose privilege previously enabled them to exist in a bubble, it can be disorientating and exhausting. How is this manifesting itself as a political symptom? If we accept a political psychology operating at this level of speculative abstraction than it seems plausible that we can tie this mechanism to the politics of contemporary centrism. As can be seen in the tendency Giridharadas notes to want everything to go back to normal, as we prepare for a third term of the Obama administration:

When David Dayen tweeted a story in The American Prospect, which he edits, on Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, and his work on behalf of corporate clients while out of government, the editor’s replies exploded with this sentiment of wanting to be left alone by history for a little while. “For God’s sakes, he’s not Mike Pompeo — isn’t that enough??”, wrote Alex Beam. “Dude, we’re still dealing with a president who used the OFFICE to enrich himself. Let’s try to chill for like 5 minutes,” wrote @HakunaMatt_tata. “Somewhere, there’s a barefoot mountaintop shepherd whose only garment is a hair shirt. That’s who MUST be our next Secretary of State,” wrote Daniel Timm. Timm’s bio is commendably simple: “#Resist.”

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