The global coronavirus pandemic forces a deep reflection on ourselves, our values, our existence and what the world will be, after it is managed to control, the levels of uncertainty and anguish about the vulnerability of the human beings than the experience we live leaves in each of us.
Paolo Giordano, the author of «The Loneliness of the Prime Numbers» says that he is afraid that the current civilization is just a castle of cards and, moreover, fear of starting from scratch, but also that time will pass without anything changing.
It is about the essence, of which we have been, we are and where we are going and even when among philosophers it is customary to think that the «Owl of Minerva» only takes flight after a long day, that is, after being in the world and looking in the distance , today it is obligatory to shorten the times and lift the flight of reflection and thought to think in the midst of catastrophe as the Colombian philosopher Jaime Santamaría says.
This, because being this global pandemic an extreme situation forces us to think not only of a virus that cuts our breaths, does not let us breathe, in its contention, which is the only painful phase that we live even without a vaccine and treatment, but also of the values , in the eticity, on which the fragile human civilization has been built. I breathe, then I exist!, but with «the atman», with values that project the human future and the planet
The pandemic has made us aware of the fragility of human beings, their ways of life and their institutional and scientific structures, showing us that as always catastrophes bring out the worst and the best of human beings. Also the high degree of skepticism in our lives, and the profound presence of that tendency to trust nothing or anyone. It has highlighted the poverty of a society to which the crown virus reduces it to a purely biological condition and which is lost, in order to combat it, all other social, political and affective dimensions. Indeed, even in the consensus we give to the restrictive and crippling measures that governments take to contain the pandemic, we must not lose sight of the fact that emergencies must be transitory, that societies living in a permanent state of emergency it ceases to be a free society and in fact our societies are characterized by living in risk, in fear, where many freedoms are sacrificed to the reasons of security.
But this epidemic also puts us in the face of the need to assume that there are issues of all humanity that overflow borders and to become a global community that responds not only to individual interests but to the interests of the species.
This urgency has already opened a debate of several philosophers in the world who are at risk of being mistaken in diagnosis as the virus spreads on the planet faster than the time of reflection itself which, however, should not lead to inhibition of the Thought. For philosophy, however, it is urgent to conceptually apprehend the coronavirus, to calibrate its repercussions, the world that leaves us in intersubjectivity, in democracy, in the economy.
Michel Foucault is a first thinker who must invite this debate. The tendencies to take us to the «prison state», to the «disciplinary society», part of the Foucaultnian conceptualization defined by the French philosopher, to full control of our lives, to contain the pandemic and, at the same time, its notion of biopolitics give it a huge centrality to all his thought that by his anticipations was once called the cursed philosopher.
In the end all pandemics in human history have increased the devices and mechanisms of surveillance and isolation – perhaps the most cruel was the fight against leprosy in Europe that confined distant island such as Molokai in Hawaii and to the death of thousands of beings authority – and where authority is the omnipotent intermediary between the individual and his body or his own death or biological life.
Let us remember that for Foucault there are two paradigmatic models in population policy: the disciplinary model, which develops large surveillance devices to control the behaviors of the healthy, with the aim of regulating behavior, habits, the mobility of those who could become infected, and the sectarian model derived from the treatment of smallpox that expels the infected. It is the disciplinary model that all States apply to the current pandemic and in Foucault’s view it risks becoming a «progressive training and permanent control procedure» of each individual. It is an issue on which we must reflect on everything today, in the age of biopolitics and technological mobility and when expressions of the past arise that invoke, in the 21st century, the dark desire of a Leviatan, without any social contract , to solve everything with a firm hand.
The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote at the beginning of the pandemic in his country a column entitled «The Invention of a Pandemic» criticizing the emergency measures classified as «frantic and unfounded» that the Italian authorities took – today we know that Italy is one of the high points of the infected and the deaths of coronavirus precisely, among other factors, because measures of containment of social isolation were adopted late – and underlining the tendency there and the world to use the pandemic to install states of exception and militarization of life as normal paradigms of societies and the disturbing state of fear and collective panic about individual consciousnesses.
By the way, Agamben’s ideas go to deeper aspects than the single criticism and extend to concerns about the breakdown of sociability as a determining factor in human life. He interrogates himself about the existence of a society that has no more values than that of survival, which comes down only to a purely biological condition and wonders what happens to one’s neighbour, with human relations, with the freedoms captured by the quarantines and curfews of fear and insecurity. It concludes that in this real war the enemy is not outside, is within ourselves and that it does not want a world that then does not meet and only exchange digital messages, «that as far as possible machines replace all contact – all contagion – among human beings.»
Agamben is answered by the French philosopher Jean Luc Nancy in his column «Viral Exception» by saying that care must be taken not to hit the wrong target given that an entire civilization is in question. There is, he points out, a viral exception, which in turn in biological, computer-scientific, cultural, which is a pandemic still without a cure and governments are nothing more than shameful executioners and «taking it out on them seems more like a diversional manoeuvre than a political reflection or philosophical.» Therefore, Nancy responds by drawing attention to the growing role of technological hyperconnectivity in the contemporary world and that it is she, rather than governments or a conspiratorial maneuver to take away from us, that imposes a true state of exception acquiring the character of a «sovereign technique», even though Nancy places hope and solutions of the future in it.
For his part the Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito, whose works are well known in Latin America, gives light on the very term «viral» pointing to a biopolitical contamination that encompasses the political, social, medical, technological, united by the same syndrome immune, I recall that Derrida already used the concept of immunization in philosophy philosophically, which is understood as a polarity semantically opposed to the lexicon of communities. What Esposito proposes is the constant deployment of biopolitics, given the intervention of biotechnology in domains that were once considered exclusively natural, such as birth and death, and where all conflicts have their core in the relationship between politics and biological life, including the origin of the crown virus itself.
It emphasizes its disagreement with Agamben and argues that it is an exaggeration to think that the legal exceptionality that governments resort to can jeopardize democracy and calls for separating the levels and distinguishing long-running processes and events and events recent demands and recalls that medicine and politics are related for at least three centuries which has led to a medilicization of politics, without an obvious ideological burden, and of a politicization of medicine that has gradually been inscribed with a social control that does not belong to it, which obviously leads to a deformation, a change, of politics in its classic sense since its objectives no longer comprise individual individuals, classes, but segments of the population differentiated according to health, age, gender, ethnicity, how we relate to nature. Espósito notes that what happens in Italy and most of the world affected by coronavirus with the overlapping of powers dictated by the authorities relates more to a collapse of political power than to dramatic authoritarian control.
Moreover, and in the face of the expressions on social media of people who live in quarantine and who resemble them to live a prison period, I attest, like anyone else who has ever suffered in his life deprivation of liberty in a prison or in the field of concentration, that there is no possible comparison, except that in both cases you start to crave very simple things : walk freely through the streets, see their loved ones and friends and embrace them, which should lead us to think about the importance of sociability once the pandemic is over and to recover that humanism lost within us in the heat of a life already accustomed to competition and debauchery consumerism and individualism.
Undoubtedly, one of the strongest and most controversial opinions have been poured by the Slovak philosopher Slavoj Zizek – who must be read to understand his linguistic and thought fury and always place him in the relativity of the explosive concepts he uses as a an intellectual provocation – in an article entitled «A clear element of racist hysteria in the new crown virus» wonders, and it is pertinent to do so, where do the facts end and where does the ideology begin? And in an even more daring second text titled «The Crown Virus is a blow to Kill Bill capitalism that could reinvent communism» raises the ultimate crisis of capitalism and the birth of a renewed communist approach as a way out of the crossroads , with stronger national states operating in defense of the weakest. This reinvention of communism must be based, Zizek says, trust in people, in science, and on a much more active role of the state. It denounces that the entire political and social spectrum is imbued with apocalyptic visions, threats of geological catastrophes, fear of Muslim refugees and inundated by politically correct thinking.
Perhaps the most significant reflection, because it is philosophical and historical and allows to understand the cultural difference between East and West and the way they have treated the pandemic, is that of the South Korean philosopher, based in Berlin, Byung-Chul Han, author of «The Society of the weariness» that departs permanently answering Zizek by saying that nothing that the Slovak philosopher augurs will occur: neither the fall of capitalism, nor the collapse of the Chinese regime, nor the arrival of a dark communism. In his essay «The Viral Emergency and the World of Tomorrow» he points out that after the pandemic capitalism will continue with more strength, that the viral revolution will not take place since no virus is capable of making a revolution.
However, Han is critical of what he calls «destructive capitalism» and says that it is all of us who have to rethink and restrict this kind of capitalism. This is because the social implication of the virus is negative since it isolates, does not generate a strong collective feeling. The solidarity caused by the virus and the restrictive measures that governments take is to keep mutual distances, not one that allows us to dream of a different, fairer society. That’s why, Han says, we can’t leave the revolution in the hands of the virus.
Han argues that in the battle of the virus Europe is failing and establishes an explanatory cultural and historical comparison relevant to the Asian world where the virus is contained: the greater ease of applying measures that restrict freedoms in those countries which in the great European democracies lies in the authoritarian mentality of the societies themselves, of a culture of authoritarianism that is in the historical DNA of these peoples, therefore more prone to discipline, obedience, the measures of war that are impose there as they do all over the world. It is particularly critical of the police control model based on the extreme digital surveillance of every person that China uses to deal with the pandemic, which allows it to show successful results, display results to the world, and export even these forms of control that involve permanent monitoring, through technology, of the population with the permanent political consequences that this implies in the political control and movements of the population and their social relations.
For Han, the border closures practiced today by all states affected by the pandemic are a desperate expression for regaining sovereignty, albeit transiently, but stresses that it is a sovereignty in vain.
For his part the Italian philosopher Franco Berardi that the biovirus that proliferates in the stressed body of global humanity implies that for the first time a crisis comes not from financial or economic factors but from the human body and its relationship with animal species Wild. Berardi proposes a real plan to exit the crisis: income redistribution, reducing and relocating work time, social equality, abandoning the paradigm of ultra-fast growth, investing in social energies, research, health and education, and emphasizes that from this crisis or we leave alone, aggressive, competitive or with a great desire to embrace, social solidarity, contact, equality and that this will be what marks the fate of the world in the future. In a similar tune, the American feminist philosopher, who has written «The Disputed Genre. Feminism, the subversion of identity,» sharp criticism of Trump’s policies, warns of discrimination as social and gender inequalities will cause the virus to cause discrimination as the intertwined powers of nationalism, racism and xenophobia demonstrates the limits of global capitalism in the face of pandemics and catastrophes even when they affect everyone cross-cuttingly.
A group of reflections by other philosophers are placed in the role of panic and fear about the world population and the devastating psychological effects that will endure on the human mind even after the catastrophe has overcome.
Others, such as the «Complex Thought» driver of the French philosopher Edgar Morin, the coronavirus crisis shows the total complex interdependence of which we are part, the intersolidarity of health, the economic, the social and all that is human and planetary. Therefore, one cannot act disintachedly, closing the world, «by the sleepwalking that separates what is connected» and appeals to human solidarity, stating that the current crisis only sharpens and makes visible an exclusion and oppression that already exists.
Morin’s interdisciplinary vision is indispensable when we consider that coronavirus, such as avian influenza and swine, are developed in the nexus between economics and epidemiology and that they are the result of a zoonotic transfer, i.e. from a leap of animals to Human. This means that the natural world, including its microbiological substrates, cannot be understood without reference to the way in which today’s society organizes the production process and confinement that in the world’s poorest places is condemned to populations hit by famine feed on what we might call «exotic» animals.
The obvious thing today is that we will have to reconfigure, without admitting the pact of fear, many aspects of our lives, establish new priorities, distinguish again the bad from the good, because we do not know if the virus is in us, by the way viruses are born especially in areas of great human miseries, of great poverty, or outside of us, if the virus itself is us or something strange. Because in this capitalism of abundance and accumulation something serious failed and this prevents us from returning to who we are at least from an ethical point of view and it must be thought that these weeks of quarantine show us that what we do not know is not to be with others but without the others.
Nothing can get us used to the ongoing exceptions that states resort to when alerts – enemies – and the threat become permanent. Bauman says that the uncertainty of liquid society and its vulnerability leads to the use of power that needs to be relegitimated for which the easiest thing is to find varieties of fear beyond the economic ones.
The big question is whether when we have overcome this pandemic of unsuspected consequences, because it has changed our ways of life, will our subjective perception of how society is organized have changed? Will we have substantially changed each of us or will society return to its previrus rhythms? What is necessary will be a new social contract that reorganizes the relationship between production and nature, between politics and biotechnology and contemplates that together with states of strong rights, respectful of freedoms and a democracy that is constantly evolving , a 21st century welfare state is targeted. The President of France, Macron, has raised amid the crisis that she reveals that the first priority is to build a 21st century welfare state. We will have to examine whether excessive military expenditure in today’s world is of fact use or whether a part of them are concentrated in health and scientific research aimed at safeguarding human beings in all its dimensions.
We will have to place in the foreground what former President Ricardo Lagos has sustained in his column in The Third «Where did this world lose the compass»? The huge vacuum of global institutionality. «The planet navigates into the future without maps of references or shared understandings.» While the crown virus is a global phenomenon, it finds a disjointed world. Global governance is also one of the immediate tasks of emerging from this pandemic that plagues the planet.
For this is the philosophy, which conceptualizes the essential phenomena, links them to history, and makes us look in afar to create new horizons and new perspectives.
The content poured into this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.