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Horizon loss

Yesterday the NYT published this piece, describing what appears to be a veritable mental health pandemic among Gen Z and late millenials in the developed world, ostensibly resulting from the COVID-19 social distancing measures.

The article reports that youth psychiatry wards in many European countries appear to be filled to record capacity, while in the US a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds have seriously considered suicide.

It is not only the loneliness associated with social distancing, but also the loss of purpose caused by economic collapse and gigantic youth unemployment. There is a massive spike in anxiety, depression, and a sense of guilt from ‘missing out’ on the bright future of carefree consumption promised by the global media-entertainment complex.

Someone in their early twenties describes how they are struggling to envision a future after a year of social distancing and massive job losses. The NYT aptly frames this as “a world with a foreshortened sense of the future.”

I would describe this as a catastrophic horizon loss.

The future is not ‘foreshortened’, it is completely absent. The horizon has been disappeared. Where? Perhaps somewhere between planned obsolescence, environmental collapse, a parasitic global financial system, forced isolation, economic collapse, deliberate social atomization, a global ersatz-culture celebrating hyper-consumption, and a gerontocratic global elite completely out of ideas and utterly divorced from the everyday reality of the 99%.

This horizon loss has nothing to do with the Gen Z and late millenials who are on the receiving end of its arrival. I also don’t think it is caused by the global reaction to COVID-19. The pandemic only sped up and made it visible earlier than it probably would have been otherwise. The disappearance of the future was baked in the paradigm whose death spasms we are living through now. After all, when Fukuyama celebrated the ‘victory’ of global liberal democracy as the death of history, he also inadvertently announced the death of the future and the arrival of an eternal present.

The good news is that this brief and terribly destructive 30 year paradigm has come to an end. There are no more horizons left within it, and many possible futures outside of it.

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