The double-bind facing capitalist society
Sotiris discusses the possibility that community reactions to the coronavirus pandemic may occur through non-coercive democratic decision making and not necessarily through apparently successful totalitarian decisions that are creating Agamben’s states of exception necessitating increasingly coercive surveillance and securitisation.
I just note here that Netanyahu in Israel has just announced that cyber-tracking of people’s movement will be used to ensure inefficiency to quarantine restrictions and that the loss of personal freedom to privacy is a ‘worthwhile sacrifice’.
Panagiotis Sotiris argues:
that there can be a non-coercive biopolitics so that it is possible “ … to have collective practices that actually help the health of populations, including large-scale behaviour modifications, without a parallel expansion of forms of coercion and surveillance?”
He suggests that this may take place through ‘democratic collective decision making’, and cites the success of grass roots movements like ACT-UP that led to many improvements in health care for people with, or at risk from, HIV.
No doubt grass roots movements are important and democratizing in their potential but their relevance to the coronavirus pandemic isn’t clear to me at the moment.
I want to consider first the idea of coercion within the context of subjectivity formation; and then, second, the potential impacts on the psyche of a) normative demands for social distancing and b) the inhibitions on the potential to consume and exchange commodities that is accompanying the coronavirus pandemic.
Love and capitalism both take a hit with this coronavirus. My guess is that capitalism will in its death throes become even more right wing and fascist.
Can collective decision making ever be non-coercive, when even identify or subjectivity adoption is always coercive – subjectivisation works through coercion. Caring for the other could be a non-oppressive ideology, albeit subjectivism always takes place through ideological coercion. I provide a short description of subjectivity formation here, but note especially that this means that individuals never have autonomy or free unlimited choice, but are only free to choose between masters, between ideological systems that determine what we have to value and what we can’t value as good things or good ways to be.
Here I draw from a Lacanian perspective on subjectivity – how humans assume their sense of themselves or their identity. This perspective is based on a standpoint that humans can never be fully self -aware and are always lacking – lacking a complete sense if self. This lack from birth, causes an inaugural fear or anxiety of the lack of identity, which in turn leads to desire, for security through the fantasy that there is a Big Other who can provide security, leading to (in order to secure identity) a felt unconditional demand of the imagined Big Other to obey his Law.
But what about if, as with these public health ideas for containing coronavirus. caring involves essentially negative actions: social distancing, not panic buying, not traveling, not gathering in groups of more than 10 (Israel). Is this a form of negative freedom (Lockes version of negative liberty for the vulnerable, albeit a positive liberty for most people constrained to be socially distant) – the freedom not to be infected or to infect, based on a normative norm?
Caring is, according to Freud, a fully sexually-driven, libidinal, activity albeit aim-inhibited. Doing care or giving love without harming, or assuming knowledge of the needs of the other. Is it possible to care with love, using what is a sexually-driven energy, by not-acting?
In any case not-acting, a philosophy or ethics of silence or absence (social distancing) runs directly counter to capitalist-radical-empiricism’s command to a) ignore science and its rationality and b) always act – as if for action’s sake – to solve ‘the’ problem you face regardless of collateral harms. This may go some way to explaining the reluctant of far right politicians like Trump and Johnson to reduce activity, in favor of, in Johnson’s case, encouraging viral spread to develop herd immunity, accepting the collateral damage of increased deaths – in the short term, it is implied.
I speculate that caring through inaction does not involve love as such; as love for an other individual, but is narcissistic – perhaps sometimes as reluctance to take responsibility for harming the other as opposed to wishing to care for the other with love. Especially likely if the other isn’t actually complaining of anything at this moment in time; that is, if the inaction means that usual forms if showing love – like being with people are forbidden.
To what extent does, say, social distancing represent a form of inaction and unconditional collective protection that prevents inter-personal caring with love; and at the same time represents an inaction abhorred by capitalism (and the far right pragmatists) as the chain of commodity exchange breaks up.
The far right capitalist and the left wing socialist face a dilemma. To not act – to be socially distant, not travel etc. is both to obey capitalism’s incitement to break social bonds; and at the same time to disobey radical empiricism’s injunction always to act – to encourage spread, to vaccinate, to invest in more technology etc. This may mean, at a population level, that many become very stressed because of what amounts to a double-bind, leading to anger (taken out on who? to your neighbor or the state?), emotional exhaustion, and paralyzing burnout with depression
People are positively ‘acting’ by wearing mask, by blaming the foreigner, or the Chinese, or, bizarrely, by buying lots of toilet paper, perhaps, if after Freud we interpret the stool as a gift for the other, then being able to wipe away faecal matter is an unconscious way of ensuring we can be free of the responsibility to actually care for individual others. Maybe. And people in towns are negatively acting through social-distancing sometimes through no real choice with gyms restaurants etc. closing.
But whether or not subjectivisation is coercive negative public health measures face two ideological obstructions – they prevent a natural (sexual but aim-inhibited, drive to care with love for the interpersonal other), and at the same time even seems to be causing ruptures in the commodity-exchange chain demanded by capitalism. I fear a collective response to this will be an even more intensified ramping up of capitalism and a ramping up of its consequent socio-economic inequalities and spin offs such as nationalist xenophobia.