Recently, there has been an increasing number of pictures in the media that show us that the earth is being overexcited with Covid-19. On Sunday, March 15th, Austrians were exposed to an impact of a great Other, a government closely linked to science taking strong measures which drastically limit the possibilities of interpersonal contact. What hit us on March 15th was Covid-19 as a signifier. The exponential speed at which the virus is growing is now being represented in the flood of massive signifiers. The force of the signifiers, as well as their high speed, causes fear and stimulates excessive imaginative activity in various directions.
The Austrian Government is determined to achieve a level of infection control that will ensure that the demand for intensive care beds and related medical staff is more or less covered by existing resources. By means of such a balance model, the Austrian Government intends to gradually approach the time of an available vaccine or the state of herd immunity.
What is currently still more in the form of a sprint of accelerated measures will probably turn into a protracted marathon if the measures taken actually take effect in the intended manner.
This approach makes me think of the beginning of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology, of a system in which unrest is constitutional. A system that cannot succeed in keeping itself unexcited, must put up with a permanent supply of stimulus. It tries to keep the surplus of stimuli as low as possible, to defend itself against it, to keep it at least constant.
On May 15th, many Austrians suddenly realized that the burdensome increase in stimulus is not only one that has to do with the exponential spread of a virus, but that the imperative signifiers brought to the people by the government are doing their part. In the final analysis, who can be sure that our government is capable of realising that even in a state of national emergency not every means of control, surveillance and punishment is appropriate?
In this respect, our government relies on the mass psychological instrument of identification with an ideal. Chancellor Kurz provides an additional signifier, a surplus-signifier, in parallel to the measures taken. He conjures up a social bond to which he gives the name Team Austria.
This is a vague term that can absorb a great deal. From the idea of a bond of love, to the idea of a successful sports team that is ahead in the European Covid-19 containment championship, to simple nationalist ideas…
It is not unimportant to see that the term Team is etymologically related to the word bridle, Zaum in German. For the reverse side of this Team signifier is indeed a bridle that warns us: if you don’t obey voluntarily, things will get more violent.