09-06-2020Weekly ReflectionGeorge Agamben

George Agamben is a philosopher in Europe sounding the alarm about the melding of health and political control. His remarks reflect Italy which was devastated by but it also by and large reflects the situation in the United States. Here are his remarks:

Biosecurity and Politics (Annotated)

What is striking in the reactions to the exceptional measures put in place in our country (and not only in our country) is the inability to look at them outside of the immediate situation in which they appear to operate. Rare are those who try instead, as a serious political analysis would also require doing, to interpret them as symptoms and signs of a larger experiment in which a new style of governing people and situations is in play. Seven years ago, worth reading attentively, Patrick Zylberman had described (his book Tempêtes microbiennes, Microbial Storms Gallimard 2013) the process by which health-security, up to then at the margins of political calculations, was becoming an essential part of political strategy both of particular countries and internationally.

At stake is nothing less than the creation of a sort of “health-terror” as a means to govern what was defined as a worst case scenario. According to this worst-case rationale, the World Health Organization in 2005 had already announced that “one-hundred and fifty to two-hundred millions of deaths were on the way due to “bird flu” suggesting a political strategy that countries then were not prepared to accept.

(NOTE: The worst-case scenario rationale based on bad computer models from London’s Imperial College suggested two million deaths from COVID, in the U.S. which was completely wrong and based on faulty computer models.)

Zylberman shows three points which suggest the mechanism being articulated:

  1. The construction of a base of possible risk, a fictional scenario, in which data is presented in a way to favor it, which allows governing in an extreme situation;
  2. The adoption of the logic of worst-case as a regime’s political rationale
  3. The complete organization of the body of citizens in a way to force to the extreme obeying government institutions, producing a sort of super-citizenry in which the obligations being imposed are presented as proof of concern for others. The citizen no longer has a right to health-safety but an obligation by law to biosecurity.

What Zilberman was describing in 2013(!) is being verified point by point today. It’s evident that beyond the emergency-situation tied to a particular virus, which can in the future cede its place to another virus, in question is the design of a style of government whose efficacy greatly exceeds all the forms of government that Western political history has known up to now.

If already, in the steady decay of ideologies and political faiths, rationales of safety have permitted acceptance by citizens of limitations on their freedom, that they were not earlier disposed to accept, health-safety has demonstrated itself capable of presenting the complete ceasing of all political activity, all social contact, as the maximum form of civic participation. Thus, it has been able to assist in the paradox of liberal organizations, traditionally used to defending rights and violations of the constitution, to accept without reserve limitations on freedom decided by government, decrees void of all legality and that fascism never even dreamed of imposing.

(NOTE: It’s not clear what the author means by decay. Many ideologies seem alive and well in governments and biosecurity is being used by them as means to advance political control associated with these ideologies, which tend not to apply to the power-elites who advance them. As George Orwell wrote long ago, some are more equal than others. If he means these ideologies are decadent, because they are lacking in truth, this is, or should be evident, with any number of them.) It’s evident-and the same government authorities do not cease to recall it- that so-called social distancing will become the model of the politics that await us and …it will profit in this distancing by substituting everywhere digital technological devices in place of human contacts as such suspected of contagion (understand, political contagion). (NOTE: In public schools it has been pointed out that some teachers do not want the parents to know what their children are being taught in the homes when they are on the computer with their teacher, the better to be able to politicize their students rather than teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic. The Church teaches that the parents are the primary teachers of their children not the State! Marxism, socialism, fascism, are all enemies of the family precisely for this reason. They do not recognize parental rights. These ideologies view the State as the family. The continuing devastation of the family because of the so-called sexual revolution, allows the State to step in as the universal parent.

University lectures, …will be held permanently online from next year; you will no longer recognize yourself by looking at a face, which may be covered by a health mask, but through digital devices that will recognize biological data that are compulsorily collected and any "gathering", whether for political reasons or simply for friendship, will continue to be prohibited.

In question is an entire conception of the destinies of human society in a perspective that in many respects seems to have assumed the apocalyptic idea of an end of the world from religions now in decline.

After politics had been replaced by the economy, now this too, in order to govern, must be integrated with the new biosecurity model, to which all other needs must be sacrificed.

(NOTE: It’s not clear what the author means by politics replaced by the economy. Perhaps he is referring to the issue of the economy devastated by shut-downs, which now has to be subservient to new biosecurity government control, hence all the chatter about “new normals” and the designer-mask industry, as if masks are going to be a permanent part of humanity from now on controlled by the government based on an alleged “science” that remains incoherent and contradictory in many regards. You have to wear a mask to go into a restaurant but you don’t need it if you sit down to eat. You don’t need masks according to politicians if you are protesting. Incoherence and absurdities abound and can be multiplied. The author does not specify which religions he thinks are in decline and not all churchmen or laity have been supine in regard to these incoherent and oftentimes discriminatory government edicts.

It is legitimate to ask whether such a society will still be able to define itself as human or whether the loss of sensitive relationships, of seeing a face, of friendship, of love can be truly compensated by an abstract and presumably completely fictitious health-security.