Viral Life in the Alienocene

The experience of COVID-19 is a different kind of upheaval. If we were living in the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene or Chthulucenebefore much of the world shuttered, we are living in the Alienocene now, with no words sufficient to describe the tragedies unfolding on so many levels at once. As social beings, humans need communitas, a term the anthropologist Victor Turner used to describe a transcendent feeling of social belonging–in its most existential form, an ecstatic sense of absolute equality and togetherness, “spontaneous and self-generating” (Turner, 243). As it offers a temporary sense of escape from social structures, it ultimately reinforces them, manifesting our need for each other.

COVID-19 has made palpable both the need for and the danger of togetherness. Such is the fundamental paradox of being human. And not just of being human, but of being alive, especially as our habitats converge. It is a lesson illustrated catastrophically by the pandemic resulting from humans’ encounter with the novel virus SARS-CoV-2.

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