One striking experience the covid-19 pandemic has brought is that so many show a willingness to learn from the crisis. The public philosophers are also all on the track to interpret the signs of the times. About philosophyone is a means of both peace of mind and practicality orientering for the individual, it has also always had a greater ambition: to bring truths to the square that can change the human community.
If we understand "philosophy" as a term for our basics orientering in life, we are all going through a real philosophical revolution these days, says Slavoj Žižek in the little book Pandemic!. It is based on a series of articles he has written during the Quarantine, where he also reportedly indulged in lazy pleasures and Netflix Crime, occasionally sleepless nights characterized by a latent panic and pondering the future of the world.
Already, Žižek dismisses a New Age version of the virus as a kind of messenger from the earth: the belief that this parasite's success should be nature's own pantomime, a critical gesture, or a warning addressed to us humans. The virus is a stupid mechanism that copies itself in a purposeless way, says Žižek. It is a "biological caricature" of life's blind reproduction, and thus of man. Despite our intense interest in ourselves, which often lapses into reckless self-interest, we are after all just a species among others, he continues. In nature's interaction, the virus is a pure natural coincidence, without meaning.
Still, there is endless amount to learn from the situation virus Without any predetermined plan, it infiltrates all human systems, from infrastructure and healthcare to mental defenses and prejudices – and thus operates as a carrier of a revealing truth: Everything turns out to be far more fragile and less thoughtful than we previously thought.
The simple question Žižek allows himself to ask is, "What is wrong with our system, since despite all the warnings we were really so unprepared?" Or in another phrase: "How can we be shocked that what we were told would really happen?"
"Obviously because we didn't really think it would happen", replies Žižek, recalling that nightmareone that actually becomes reality is part of the horror logic's inherent logic. If we are to learn something from the pandemic, we must first wake up from the wishful dream that this is something we can wake up from, so that everything will be as before! On a philosophical life as well as on a political level, we must see death in the white – and do a grief work where we go from denial to acceptance.
From health care and food production, from the tourist industry to the economy, we depend on an assumed normal state and imagined security.
With reference to Bruno Latour, Žižek, as many others have done, emphasizes that the corona pandemic is a kind of general test of climate change, which we have not really believed in either. The two crises also have in common that they reveal how vulnerable people's situation is and how little is needed for our systems to have problems. From health care and food production, from the tourist industry to the economy, we depend on an assumed normal state and imagined security. Latour points out that a political ecology is no longer about attitudes and values, but about systems and things – living things, dead things – and those in between, such as the virus.
Wisdom in the time of the pandemic is thus to realize that we do not necessarily return to normal, but that we must create a society that has learned to coexist with the pandemic threat. The question is whether this will be a better or worse society, morally speaking – what matters how we change it.
Deep red «war communism»
The state of emergency policy can go two opposite ways. Either way, we are moving towards greater differences and divisions, with surveillance and detention. This is a barbaric one biopolitical exercise of power as the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has described in his controversial criticism of the quarantine measures. If everyone agrees that control measures are necessary, we risk ending up in a situation where, for example, the refugee camps are really affected by the pandemic, Žižek claims. Then the most vulnerable groups of people could be shut out and treated as if they were virusa self, as dangerous foreign elements.
The virus is a pure natural coincidence, without meaning.
Conversely, the state of emergency can lead to a radical, immediate and practical form of solidarity. Žižek repeats as a mantra that we are all in the same boat – and even the selfish self-serving dictates that we help the others, to prevent a total shipwreck.
He cites measures such as Britain's temporary nationalization of the country's rail network and Trump's reluctant nationalization of factories producing medical devices as a step towards communism. It could be objected that these are temporary measures based on state of emergencyis, intended for war situations. But even this points to Žižek in the right direction: The communism pushed by the pandemic is not a rosy utopian communism, but rather a deep red "war communism" in late 1918.
Even the French philosopher and ex-Maoist Alain Badiou – searching everywhere for signs of a coming communism – has criticized Žižek for this optimism. According to Badiou will capitalismn strike back like never before after the pandemic. Žižek, for his part, sees capitalism as a colossus that is seriously cracking down in the joints: no one seriously believes that this crisis can be solved within the context of the economic market, nor that the heads of state have the situation under control.
The collapse of capitalism?
From all our metaphorical talk about computer viruses and viral videos, the pandemic throws us into a very specific virus problem, Žižek points out. He is concerned with the many levels of viruses and infections operating on, from the metaphorical to the concrete. Interestingly, he mentions Richard Dawkins' theory memene, cultural codes that spread from head to head and through media reproductions, were anticipated by Lev Tolstoy as early as the 1800th century. Tolstoy wrote about religion and ideas as infections of the brain that struggle to dominate the human mind. No one here is free from cultural contagion – and good ideas spread more and more quickly.
In line with this, Žižek talks about racism and fascism like dormant ideological viruses, which risk being brought to life by the pandemic. At the same time, he dares to hope that "a much more favorable ideological virus will spread and hopefully infect us, the virus that makes us think of another society, beyond the nation-state, a society that realizes itself as global solidarity and cooperation". Both dangerous and saving reaction patterns will undoubtedly spread. It is difficult to predict which of them will dominate civilization in the time to come.
With a somewhat cumbersome parable with reference to the Tarantino movie Kill Bill Žižek suggests that the corona crisis has already given capitalism the death blow, the mythical "five-point hit" that leaves the victim feeling unscathed until it goes five steps and the heart suddenly explodes. With his penchant for film references, Žižek misses a far more obvious point: If capitalism seems to survive coronavirus, it may be because it still survives the incubation period, where the symptoms are barely visible. Anyone who wants to know for sure what the crisis will teach us has to wait, but anyone who wants to avert a disaster – or create a revolution – must act before certainty comes. Thus, Žižek allows himself to help spread the word, which may become self-affirming, that the global regime of capitalism is falling – and that a new world is at its door.