The coronavirus as a declaration of war

An essay by Santiago López Petit

(el critic 18/03/2020; comite disperso 19/03/2020; lobo suelto 19/03/2020)

In the morning, I conscientiously wash my hands. I can thus forget the eyes torn out by the police in Chile, France or Iraq. Before eating, I wash my hands again with a good disinfectant to forget about the migrants piled up in Lesbos. And, at night, I wash my hands again to forget that, in Yemen, every ten minutes, a child dies from the bombings and hunger. So I can fall asleep. What happens is that I don’t remember why I wash my hands so often or when I started doing it. Radio and television insist that this is a measure of self-protection. By protecting myself, I protect others. The silence of the deserted street enters through the window. Everything that seemed to be impossible and unimaginable happens in these moments: closed schools, prohibition to leave home without justification, whole countries isolated. Everyday life has been blown up and all that remains is to wait. Last night, It was nice to hear the applause that people dedicated to the health professionals from their balconies.

We remain locked inside a great fiction with the aim of saving our lives. It is called total mobilisation and, paradoxically, its extreme form is confinement. “The greatest contribution we can make is this: do not meet others, do not provoke chaos,” said an important leader of the Chinese Communist Party. And a mosso [an officer of Catalonia’s regional police] working in Igualada [Catalan municipality] yesterday added: “Remember that if you enter the city, you will never be able to leave again”, while commenting to a colleague: “fear achieves what no one else can.” But people die, right? Yes, of course. However, the current naturalisation of death cancels critical thinking. Some delusional individuals even believe in the “we” invoked by the same power that declares the state of emergency: “We will stop this virus together.” But only those who urgently need money go to work and expose themselves on the underground.

Each society has its own diseases, and those diseases tell the truth about this society. The interrelationship between capitalist agribusiness and the etiology of recent epidemics is all too well known: runaway capitalism produces the virus that it itself later reuses to control us. The side effects (depoliticisation, restructuring, layoffs, deaths, etc.) are essential to impose a normalised state of emergency. Capitalism is murderous, and this claim is not a consequence of any conspiracy claim. It is simply its operating logic. There are drones and police controls on the streets. The militarised language recalls that of the counterinsurgency manuals: “In modern warfare, the enemy is difficult to define. The limit between friends and enemies is within the nation, in the same city, and sometimes within the same family ”(Library of the Colombian Army, Bogotá, 1963). Remember: the best vaccine is oneself. This coincidence is not strange, given that total mobilization is above all a war, and the best war – because it remains invisible – is the one that is waged in the name of life. Here lies the deception.

If the mobilisation unfolds as a war against the population, it is because its sole objective is to save the algorithm of life, which, of course, has nothing to do with our personal and irreducible lives, which matter little. The “invisible hand” of the market put everything in its place: it assigned resources, it determined prices and benefits. It humiliated. Now it is Life, but Life understood as an algorithm formed by ordered sequences of logical steps, which is responsible for organizing society. The skills necessary to work, learn, and be a good citizen have been unified. This is the true confinement in which we are detained. We are terminals of the algorithm of Life that organises the world. This confinement makes feasible the Great Confinement of the populations that is already taking place in China, Italy, etc. and that, little by little, will become common practice because of an uncontrollable nature. The Government is founds itself anew as a State and political decision returns to the fore. Neoliberalism shamelessly puts on the dress of the war state. Capital is afraid. Uncertainty and insecurity content the need for the state itself. Dark and paroxysmal life, that which is incalculable in its ambivalence, escapes the algorithm.

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