by Daniel A. Kaufman
2021 was dominated by Covid. But, competing for our attention has been the deepening and hardening of our political divisions, with Trumpers on one fringe, Social Justice lunatics on the other, and the bewildered, seemingly impotent majority of the country in between, wondering what the hell is going on and whether things ever will return to normal.
 You cannot tell people “Get vaccinated!” and then when they do, say, “Sorry, you’re locking down anyway!” This may fly in NYC and LA and a few tony New England enclaves, where people’s conception of acceptable risk is warped by an outsized sense of self-importance, but it won’t anywhere else. Nationwide vaccine mandates and proof-of-vaccination requirements for public indoor spaces are what we must do (and the best we can do), and once we have, we should all get back to normal life, even if it involves some elevated risk.
 That the Democrats have become associated with this “Covid Forever War” posture is part of the reason why the Republican party has not collapsed, as it should have, given its complicity with the degenerate Trump. Worse, this ill-conceived pose may very well get Trump re-elected, an irony given that Covid cost Trump the last election.
 Like our politics more generally, our pandemic politics have taken on a geography with crazies on the fringes and a bewildered, helpless majority in between. For as bad an idea as the Covid Forever War is, the “What, me worry?” posture adopted by Trumpers and other assorted rightist know nothings in response to Covid has been even worse. The only thing that has saved these regions from utter devastation is their significantly lower population density than places like New York City or Chicago.
 In January 2021, I hoped aloud that it would be my last semester teaching online. Well, I did it again this Fall, and I am doing it again in the Spring of 2022, due to my University’s refusal to implement a vaccination mandate on campus. At this point, it is likely I will retire before ever setting foot in a classroom again. This makes me sad, though I was already souring on the job, prior to Covid-19. I am just not the right person to teach the students arriving on college campuses today.
 This was the year that my Sophia program, now almost eight years old, was unceremoniously thrown off of MeaningofLife.TV which it had inaugurated. At this point in my life, I already had become so accustomed to betrayal and unprofessional behavior that it didn’t affect me much, and as I wrote at the time, warning signs that the platform was in significant decline were plentiful. One real upside to being independent has been that we no longer need to limit EA’s podcast output, so as to fit in with MOLTV’s schedule.
 2021 saw Kathleen Stock finally driven from Sussex University, by trans activists and their fellow-travelers. It’s all very well to fight the good fight, but when police are advising you to avoid your own place of work and to install CCTV cameras around your house, any sensible person knows it’s time to go. The main price will be paid by the young people whose educations are only going to get worse as sensible types eschew academic careers altogether. I certainly wouldn’t go into academia, if I was starting out today.
 Having spent the last several years navigating the senior health care system in the US, I now understand truly just how broken it is. Want to figure out whether a 90-plus year old, dying man is still competent to manage his own affairs? Ask him what year it is and who is President, and that’s it. Want to guarantee that skyrocketing hospital costs continue skyrocketing? Keep releasing and re-admitting the man over and over again, despite knowing he’ll be back in a few weeks. Want to destroy his wife’s capacity to enjoy any part of the remaining bits and morsels of life she might have left? Keep releasing him home, even though you’ve been told a hundred times that the care there is inadequate, and that his refusal to accept adequate home care is the primary cause of her misery.
As with the other of our society’s biggest problems today, the fault lies mainly with a calamitous abdication of responsibility and authority on the part of institutions (in this case, medical ones), fueled by a craven and cynical zeitgeist of “cover your ass at all costs,” which takes on a special significance when the costs are people’s lives.
 I wrote last year about the juvenility and stupidity involved in removing historical landmarks, and unsurprisingly, the practice continues apace, as this year will see the removal of the statue of Teddy Roosevelt from the front of the Museum of Natural History in New York City. After all, why would anyone want a monument to the President who doubled the number of America’s National Parks and who is the chief executive most associated with environmental conservation in the country’s history to stand in front of our most famous natural history museum?
Fortunately, the Italians aren’t as stupid or infantile as we are, and as far as I know, there are no plans to remove the Colosseum, Arch of Titus, or Trajan’s Column from their prominent locations in Rome (at least for now).
 Though I’ve been working towards this conclusion for some time, it really solidified for me this year: People should get what they ask for. You want to live in some wretched virtual space? Reduce your friend-circles to a bunch of Yes-Man avatars? Try to force everyone to genuflect before your bizarre self-conceptions? Turn the country into a gold-plated, Trumpian nightmare? Dress up in jungle fatigues, arm yourself to the teeth, and walk around like a reject from Soldier of Fortune magazine? Go for it. I’ll tell you that you’re stupid, reckless, etc. I’ll make fun of you (lightheartedly of course). I’ll remind everyone what sane people and life look like. And I’ll vote against you. But I’m not going to argue with you forever in cyberspace or anywhere else or spend much time engaging with you at all.
 In the 1960’s, “The Personal is Political” was a common radical slogan and indicated that personal matters like marriage, divorce, abortion, sex roles, etc., have a political dimension. Today, a more apt slogan for radicals and reactionaries alike is that “The Political is Personal,” the idea being that one’s personal life should be governed by one’s political affiliations and commitments. The first was a good idea that was sometimes misapplied, while the latter is a terrible idea with no useful application.
 If I were to have a slogan, it would be something like: “The personal is personal, and the rest can fuck off for the most part.” As I discussed in my recent conversation with Kevin Currie Knight, I find myself less inclined to argue with or interrogate my political and “cultural” opponents and more interested in reflecting on what life and culture and politics looked like when the prevailing zeitgeist was healthier and more vibrant. This is for a number of reasons. For one thing, I have softened substantially as I have settled into middle age and no longer relish in fighting, as I used to. For another, experience has taught me that argument rarely works, regardless of what philosophers might like to think. And finally, as I just said, people should get what they ask for.
 This doesn’t mean that I won’t take positions or participate in political battles here and there (my most recent one involved organizing the Open Letter, where I and a number of signatories made the case for academic freedom and defended Kathleen Stock against those who sought to defame and destroy her), but rather that in my writing, I have come to prefer showing over telling.
 Wittgenstein famously told us not to say that something must be such-and-such, but rather, to look and see whether in fact it is. In a related spirit, rather than trying to explain why our worse cultural and political derangements are derangements or find some argument that will convince the deranged to cease deranging, I prefer to point and show and compare and remind so that others can “look and see” the derangements for the things they are and decide whether they wish to tolerate them or not.
 A lot of my writing recently has been concerned with the demarcation of the obligatory and the supererogatory and what we owe to strangers as opposed to our intimates. But my main interest in this subject goes back to the question of the personal and the political. Consider the incessant, bizarre demands that people think it appropriate (and even normative) to make of people whom they don’t know and the harsh punishments they mete out to those who won’t accede. Only the thought that a total stranger owes you a hell of a lot could make sense of behavior like this, and to think this is to mistake what it would be nice if people did (the supererogatory) with what people owe you (the obligatory). (I wrote about this not too long ago in “Caring and Catering.”)
 I just found out that Joan Didion has died. She was one of the finest stylists, essayists, and social critics of the last century and an enormous influence on my writing and thinking. Her brand of essentially non-ideological, clear, unsentimental, and unflinching criticism is exactly what our country needs right now but is least likely to get. I wrote about Didion and her influence on me here.
 I’ve quoted this before, but it is among my favorite passages by Didion (from “On the Morning after the Sixties,” which is in The White Album (1979)):
We were that generation called “silent,” but we were silent neither, as some thought, because we shared the period’s official optimism nor, as others thought, because we feared its official repression. We were silent because the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, of masking for a while that dread of the meaningless which was man’s fate.
I wrote about personal emptiness and the way in which it produces a deformed politics here. The most relevant passage is the penultimate one, in which I said:
With that precondition [of a gratifying personal life] no longer met, our need to feel that our lives are significant in some meaningful sense remains unsatisfied, so we seek fulfillment publicly, politically and by way of the law. The person who has no real friends enlists the power of the state to compel others to act as if they were his friends. The person who finds himself unfulfilled by the identities he has embraced appeals to the law to force everyone to genuflect before them. The person who is frustrated by the impotency and ineffectualness that follows from a lack of investment in real people or causes will bolster himself by joining in professional ruination, public ostracizing, and all the other mobbish behaviors that currently fall under the banner of “canceling.”