The smallness of our existence can acquire dimensions that we had not before suspected and, by contrast, lives accustomed to passing by without limits run up against an implacable barrier. Confinement and the norms of social distancing have changed the rules of the game, and isolation puts to the test the resources of each and every one of us. On the one hand, the pandemic is a political event, independently of the cause that has triggered it. It is a political event that reveals the idiosyncrasy of nations, the priorities that states establish, and the things upon which efforts are concentrated. It is political because it brings to light the truth that is dissimulated, negotiated and corrupted in local and international organisations.
“We might have a parallel pandemic of authoritarian and repressive measures hot on the heels of the sanitary epidemic”, said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, spokesperson for the United Nations on questions of counterterrorism and human rights, in reference to the decrees that a great many countries are passing, and which it is not clear they will withdraw once the catastrophe is over.
It is a political event because it uncovers the socioeconomic differences that determine different degrees of suffering. Here, in the supposed First World, there are children and young people who cannot do their virtual classes because they do not even have at home a single computer or mobile phone. A video filmed in a poor neighbourhood of South Africa shows the army impossibly attempting to keep ten member families shut up in their ten square metre shacks constructed with cardboard boxes and cans.
The infection is biological, but the pandemic is clearly political.
It is political because, once again, the ruling class takes advantage of the misfortune in order to profit from the trafficking of its opportunistic discourses. Dutch and Belgian supremacists consider that the Spanish and Italian health systems are not a question that pertains to the European Union. The Mediterranean custom of caring for the elderly is a habit that is unhealthy for the economy. Silicon Valley brought us the good news that we will live for 120 years. But now Dan Patrick, vice governor of Texas, ruins the party by announcing that those over 70 should sacrifice themselves to save the market and the American dream. Lacan, with reference to Nazism, spoke of the sacrifice to the “dark gods”. The current gods are not dark at all. They are transparent like the water of yesteryear (today’s, thanks to pollution, no longer is), and are known by the names of the Dow Jones, Nikkei, Nasdaq and Ibex 35, to mention just a few of these modern deities.
But the pandemic is also an experience that sends shock waves through the most intimate resources of each and every one of us. Just as an organism reacts in an unpredictable way to the action of the virus, each subject’s response exceeds the limits of any standardised psychological protocol.
The extent to which we are born, live and die confined to the interior of a virtual reality that we manufacture to our measure is once again confirmed, this reality having existed much before we could imagine the invention of the internet. It is something inherent to our condition as beings who breath in an atmosphere of chatter. The virus does not only feed on our lungs, but also swallows up the vocabulary to express such suffering: there are not enough beds, ventilators or words to account for what is happening.
Confronted by such scarcity, it is understandable that all kinds of wishes proliferate that augur a new world, a regenerated humanity, a conscience purified of the excesses to which we have given ourselves over. Discourses that call for repentance and contrition compete with others that begin to seriously consider that we might do without all governments and entrust to Amazon the management of the affairs of state: it is always reliable and delivers everything on time. No reality exists that is not virtual, as we saw in The Truman Show, until non-sense intrudes from behind the screen and we begin to lack air and speech.
The virtual reality that the speaking being fabricates is the simple and everyday amnesia that makes us forget the body to which we are finally reduced. It is better that we forget everything possible of this body, for when it manifests itself this is never to announce something good. Many people wonder when we able to kiss each other again, and whether with the passing of time there will not return the definitively unhygienic behaviour of spitting or urinating in the streets. We thought we had seen everything, but this is not the case. Luckily, in the global madhouse there are always free beds…
Translated by Howard Rouse
Originally published in Zadig España, on 9th April 2020. Available online.