Worldwide, human subjects experience an imposed control and restriction of their personal freedom in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually all governments resort to the same measures: self-isolation, social distancing, total lockdown, restrictions of free movement, ban of all ‘non-essential’ travel and socializing. The argument is that this is the way to ‘flatten the curve’; slow down the spread of the virus and make sure the minimum amount of people are infected at once, so national healthcare systems can cope. This started off as advice by the Other –governments, scientific community- and quickly developed into statutory imposed measures effected by the police and the army.
No one really doubts the necessity of this -given the proven rapid spread of the virus- and most subjects stick to the imposed rules for the ‘common good’, and seem to be tuned to the force of this real that threatens and disturbs them. I had a debate with some friends living in Greece when all the strictest measures had been imposed there, on whether it is appropriate to criticize governments for having abandoned national healthcare systems, resulting in the present global lack of medical staff and resources. My initial response was that this discussion should be reserved for a post-crisis time, as now we all had to be united and focused not on criticism, but on providing realistic solutions.
However, when the strictest measures were imposed in London, I found myself having a completely different response; I was suddenly taken aback and was mad! I discussed this change of attitude in my session over the phone. I eventually concluded that what really shifted my position was that the lockdown now affected me personally; it was not something I observed happening in another country, but something that was happening to me. After all, all politics is personal deep down I said, and I was trying not to feel guilty about this. I employed a Greek saying: “Outside of the dance, you can tell many songs.” This means that from an external point of view, you can offer multiple opinions on a subject –which do not necessarily correspond to the real of the struggle at stake- because you are not personally affected.
My analyst agreed that all political opinion is subjective, and added that this situation affected me primarily on my body. I do not know if my new subjective position is an effect of what I said and of my analyst’s interpretations, but here it is nevertheless: There is a societal battle with COVID-19. However, it is not restricted to eliminating the virus, but extends to fighting the conditions that make such extreme measures necessary.
The degree of state control and restrictions on the subjects’ free movement, is analogous to the degree of lack and deficiency in the Other: The more national healthcare systems are lacking in medical staff, resources, and facilities -and so are inadequate to tackle the virus if it spreads- the more every subject needs to be deprived of their freedom, so as to ‘flatten the curve’.
In other words, what is really happening in this pandemic is that the Other demands from every subject to limit and ‘sacrifice’ their body –you are literally forbidden to go to certain places, or meet people- in order to cover up this lack in the Other and protect its collapse. In order to maintain the image that the Other is complete, able to cope, and will emerge triumphant from this ‘tragedy’, each subject has to pay the price, with their body, by surrendering their social life and freedom. There is a new signifier for this: ‘individual responsibility’. The Other is willing to pay almost nothing. Even now, governments are reluctant to seize control of private healthcare equipment and facilities, to recruit more doctors and nurses, to buy and distribute widely tests, to freeze outstanding bills and provide guarantees of sick pay. Even now, governments are not willing to ‘put their money’ on public healthcare.
As I said, I believe most people do acknowledge the necessity of the measures, and of ‘individual responsibility’. However, if people keep refusing to see the lack in the Other, they will have to pay with their body again, for another ‘crisis’ this time.
Stop clapping on the balconies and tapping governments on their shoulder. Demand that the Other takes responsibility now. Change is possible only in the gap opened by the real, exposing the incompleteness in the Other. Is this a hysterical demand to make? Perhaps it is, but it is a way forward.