(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
Of all the essays Charles Eisenstein has collected in the book The Coronaproduction, I find the memories of the Zika virus to be one of the most striking. The Zika virus has been forgotten by many, but in "Zika and the Mentality of Control", Eisenstein reminds us that we are willing to go to great lengths in exchange for protection from imagined – and real – threats.
The Zika virus poses a limited threat to most non-pregnant people, yet fear of the virus prompted parents to heed calls to keep children indoors in the middle of summer. "For me, the greatest madness was that no one else thought it was madness", wrote the American writer two years before the coronavirus arrived.
Is it that simple? Couldn't writing off our collective acceptance of sometimes very significant freedom restrictions during the pandemic as madness testify to an unwillingness to accept that security is our primary need? It is far from the first time in history that people have willingly given governing powers greater power at the expense of their own freedom (and that of others) because they felt safer that way.
Fear and power in the Middle Ages
Countering Foucault's view of power as a self-reinforcing concept, the Russian-American historian Dmitry V. Shlapentokh has explained how the extent of central power increased quite drastically in the Middle Ages. According to Shlapentokh, it was because the threat landscape changed in a Europe where the cities were getting bigger and bigger. Crime increased, and not least diseases spread much more easily. This meant that most people wanted more surveillance, more police and more control. They accepted that a provisionally small state authority increased its power at the expense of their freedom. "One is compelled to acknowledge that the rise of police surveillance in many cases was directly related to the spread of pandemic diseases", writes Shlapentokh.
One can argue that modern man should have a different relationship to freedom than our medieval ancestors had. After all, we have studied and conceptualized it, we have lost it and won it again, and we have built an entire social structure with "freedom" as its foundation. Of course, it's shocking that it didn't take more than a virus to topple the load. But maybe it was human?
In the interesting essay "The Banquet of Whiteness," Eisenstein reveals how condescending our Western culture tends to be, even when we don't want it to. This, he believes, came out even more clearly in the debate surrounding medicines and vaccines against the coronavirus. It is difficult to read the essay in any other way than as a call to respect also the truths that are advanced with a different logic than our own science. In any case, to open up the possibility that they can have something for themselves.
An unwillingness to accept that security is our primary need?
Perhaps we should therefore also learn from history and accept that throughout the ages people have never hesitated to sacrifice freedom for more security when it has felt logical and necessary. Why should we be any different today? This does not mean that the importance of freedom is less than before.
Was it worth it?
Eisenstein partly spends a lot of time arguing that it is not enough to avoid death in order to live. The pandemic deprived many people, especially young and old, of the very core of joy in life: contact with others. "Is it worth it?" he asks in the essay "Numb".
In retrospect, it is tempting to answer 'no' to Eisenstein's question. The damage we inflicted on certain groups was significant and perhaps should have been avoided. However, we tend to forget what happened in the first months of the pandemic. In particular, I think of the images of the military trucks that drove coffin after coffin out of Bergamo. In the northern Italian city, the death rate increased by over 500 percent between March 2019 and March 2020. Despite the fact that in Rome, where I live, it decreased by almost ten percent during the same time period, at the time it was not difficult to accept the deprivation of liberty imposed by the authorities us. We didn't know what we were facing!
Last winter, a special trial was opened in Italy. The relatives of the many who died in northern Italy in the first months of the pandemic are accusing the Italian authorities of not having done enough to prevent the virus from spreading. It may be worth remembering when we criticize the covid restrictions as too radical.
Eisenstein concludes The Coronaproduction with a dream of a new model, a new way of being human that takes into account all the many shortcomings that the pandemic revealed in our way of life after all, and on which Eisenstein makes many insightful reflections. I'm just afraid his conclusion is crazy – I think any new model will soon look reasonably similar to the old one.