By Arash Khajeh – Miriam Jacobs – Ramin Faal
In these few months, the virus called Covid-19, changes everything in the world that is built by human. In the intra-species framework, various components of this world such as economics, politics and society are heavily affected by the contagion of the Coronavirus. The pandemic affected the most precious creature, namely humankind, more and more, and draws the vulnerability of our species in front of our eyes unmercifully. In economy, all the huge markets around the world were disturbed and flaws flourish gradually. People only concern about losing the so-called economic achievements and economic developments which are of the most essential reasons of transmitting viruses.
According to Zizek, the Coronavirus effects make capitalism to bosom some aspects of socialism and communism. For instance, interventional acts of capitalistic governments in mechanisms which have been managed independently and privately. In order to oblige large private companies to supply respiratory equipment, and also to pay unemployment payment to millions of American unemployed people in private section, Trump administration invokes Defense Production Act (DPA). For a conservative republican administration, this is a strikingly interventionist move. On the other hand, governments all over Europe are using public money to help private companies.
In France, the government prevailed partial unemployment system; this system allows companies to pay 70 percent of their employee’s salary from government’s budget in the case when companies activity decrease or suspend. As Zizek mentioned, this is no good news, since these kinds of acts do not have anything to do with the ideal communism, and in fact, it is a war communism which is of survival requirements. Having a look into the news one realizes that everybody, from citizens to politicians, worry about the Coronavirus devastating effects on economy and its subsets such as increasing of unemployment rate, decreasing of economic growth, decreasing of production, and the foremost issue, decreasing of consuming!
Probably, if an alien looked over human life, it would probably wonder about these concerns. However, for us as modern humans, it is as if the ruling (dominant) economic system is the only truth (fact) and the only danger is that the economic system is being harmed. Few people ask why humans should consume so much and suppress nature and other animals for their own benefit!! If we look only at the average global consumption of meat per person, we will find out that the consumption of meat has almost doubled in 50 years. Statistics show that 23 kg of consumption per person in 1961 became 43 kg in 2014.
This is just a small example, and it has become so commonplace that no one even thinks this staggering consumption is at the cost of massacring many other animals, and the huge destruction of nature. But in politics, things are a little different. Although, governments’ interventions in economy can be considered as a small step towards the division of interests and benefits for the benefit of all people, at the political level, the governments’ double interventions have led to the further expansion of repression and normalization in different societies.
The outbreak of a virus which can be easily transmitted from a person to another person, (apart from its negative consequences for dominant powers), may be a very valuable gift for repressive power around the world so that it can expand as much as possible. Such incidents often bring with them an emergency situation in which governments impose strict rules under the pretext of them; restrictions that remain after the crisis is over. Strict and restrictive laws are easily enacted and enforced, but are difficult to repeal! These government oversights, including quarantine and social distancing, is on the rise and is gradually increasing the dominance of power and repression.
Agamben is well aware that a society in a state of emergency will not be a free society — if we can speak of the possibility of freedom in the current ruling discourse. “In fact, we live in a society that has sacrificed freedom for the sake of so-called “security” and therefore condemned us to live in a permanent state of fear and insecurity,” he said.
On the other hand, if we agree with Foucault, the body lies directly in the political realm, and that is why governments (in the middle of Corona crisis) are so concerned about bodies (for example, if people are harmed in war, concerns are not so much rather in comparison with the situation they are harmed by diseases which is beyond of the dominant power of governments). So, they do everything for the bodies to get them out of the disease again, and take them under their control. Foucault says that the political siege of the body is linked to the economic use of the body through complex and reciprocal relations.
Bodies are the workforce, but in what conditions? If they are in the grip of the subjection system, and of course healthy! As Foucault rightly points out, the body can only be a useful force if the body is productive and constrained. Now the reason for the various governments’ obsessive concerns about the economic situation is becoming clearer. The patient’s body, the body which is at risk of contracting a virus at any time, and a body that cannot even leave the house [to go to work or shopping] is no longer productive and constrained to be able to rotate the gears of the world economic system [by the human species], that is, the repressive system of capitalism. It seems that Corona has undermined the dominance of the political economy of the body at least a little, and probably for a while, and this is very worrying for the power.
Observing the situation in the US might be very useful for understanding this. Corona is conquering every single state in US and gradually this is going to make this country the center of Coronavirus in the world. The country which is the most powerful state and the center of power across the world, now is very weak in face of a natural system. There is an extremely significant point here: it seems that the construction of power [at least temporally] is changing.
Doubtlessly, that doesn’t mean that the complex network of power with all those different mechanisms and techniques is surrendered to the Coronavirus. On the contrary, [power] with using the variant techniques for keeping its dominance, is assessing the condition precisely to be able to use all tools including Technology for renewing its superiority on body at any cost. Why we say renew [not restoration]? Because, methods of surveillance and beside that exertion of power will be updated.
The surveillances which at the present time more easily become expanded with the help of technology. Twenty-first-century technology which have a close and direct relation with knowledge and therefore [with] power, now and in the crisis of Covid-19, provide new tools of surveillance for power; in order to power (governments) can renew its domination over bodies and political economy of body again. The most notable case is China. But, this issue is not only limited to Chinese government and recently concerns about misapplication of personal information is in increase in US. For instance, Edward Snowden is warning about the US government collaboration with Facebook and Google to use location data to keep track of coronavirus cases.
The Coronavirus has made it usual to monitor via countless cameras, smartphones and various software under the pretext of fighting the pandemic. Of course, the use of data and information by different corporations and governments in the direction of their own interests is not a new issue, but the new and important point, as “Harari” puts it, is that “over the skin” surveillance is becoming to “under the skin” surveillance. Now, if we go a little beyond the intra-species framework, we can take a broader look at the scope of the debate beyond humans and examine the effects of our species on the Earth and other creatures.
Systemic approach, greedy humans and great forgetfulness
A very brief definition of a systemic approach must first be provided. The word system is rooted in the Greek word Systema, which means to put together. A system is a set of interconnected elements that interact to achieve a common goal. A system that is part of another system is called a sub-system (for example, if we consider the Earth as a system, the human species is a sub-system in this supra-system). From a systemic point of view, diversity is very important; components are different – and each has its own importance – but they form a whole.
On Earth, all the components, or sub-systems, are in direct contact with one another. Humankind, being part of this system, must naturally maintain a direct connection with other components and make every effort to maintain the health of the earth. But do we behave like that? It seems that not only we (as humans) have not tried to communicate properly with other sub-systems, but on the contrary, we have been very greedy and we are destroying the Earth instead of keeping it healthy.
It is now clear that the emergence of unknown and frightening diseases and viruses has been rooted in the greed of humans. David Quammen, who recently published an article in the New York Times, says: “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are that new host.”
Human greed has caused not only the human species not to act as a subsystem in order to communicate properly with other subsystems, but also to destroy other subsystems by over-interfering in nature –which will lead to ruin the Earth. This behavior is not only harmful to other parts of the earth, but has also transmitted various diseases to humans. (When a part of the Earth is damaged, other components, including us, will also be damaged.)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals. Doesn’t this tell us that we have interfered too much in the affairs of other animals and nature? Wouldn’t it be better to think of “nature distancing” instead of the idea of ”social distancing”? Distance from nature and other animals can help us see and recognize them and remember that they also have a right to life. Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California says: “They [viruses] were always present and have been there for generations. It is our interactions with that risk which must be changed.”
We have forgotten that we are just a component and sub-system on Earth, which has to keep direct and constructive communication with other components. This great oblivion is rooted in an illusion that makes the human species different from other creatures and are constantly ignoring diversity. These illusions have been reinforced by various perspectives –that each perspective assumes itself as a truth- including religious (humankind is the best kind), scientific (human is rational), and humanistic (only humans matters) perspective. A very simple but practical example of this could be the way we deal with the deaths of millions of animals in Australian fires and the rate of human deaths due to the coronavirus. Humans must stop this delusion as soon as possible in order to put an end to this great forgetfulness.
The fall of all human values
If we are even a little punctilious, we can see that after the outbreak of Covid-19 we are all equal. Nothing can separate us anymore. It is true that, unfortunately, this disease is more painful and deadly for poor people, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re rich or middle-class or any other hypothetical class; whether you are American or Italian or Palestinian, for as long as you are a human being, you are in danger of this virus. Labels doesn’t help here. But perhaps this great threat has an opportunity beside this!
If Nietzsche were alive, he would probably be one of the happiest people on Earth. Why? Because the Coronavirus shows that human values are unsubstantial and very weak in their foundation, and this is what he always told us. In fact, the nihilistic world that Nietzsche warned of, has now come to fruition. Scientific, religious, and other perspectives that have claimed to be universal have all failed in the face of this natural system, and so it is time to accept that none of them were and are not absolute truths.
The virus has given us a golden opportunity to continue what Nietzsche was looking for: revaluation of all values. Of course, many questions arise about this revaluation. For example, from what perspective do we question the old values? How do we justify these new values? Are we to justify them by new assumptions? Who is qualified to establish new values?
Clearly, answering these questions is not easy and requires a lot of time and energy. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think about revaluation of all values. Imagine for a moment that all the values we have created -and forget that they are our own reconstruct- made the Earth’s condition improved or worsened with all the creatures in it including humans…
As mentioned in the previous section, one of the most destructive of these values is the illusion of the superiority of the human species over other components and species on the Earth planet. This has been repeated so many times throughout human history and made us think that this is a truth. Yes, all species and creatures are different, but their existential value is no different. From shape and appearance to abilities, the human species is different from a jellyfish, but that does not mean that our species is of more value on Earth. On this planet, all species are equal in living, and all components have their own importance and fundamental role; and this [diversity] is the law of nature and the most comprehensive and realistic law on Earth.
If Nietzsche’s idea of the revaluation of all values began with an attack on Christian values that he said threatened Europe, our starting point for revaluation of all values should be the humankind’s illusory approach to nature, its species, and other creatures. We must stop the illusion that the Earth belongs only to human beings. We have to forget the idea that humankind is the best creature!
Through this review, our economic, political, and social values will also be re-evaluated, and perhaps after that we realize that our current consumerist lifestyle which is rooted in the “idea of progress” and its result capitalism, is not an ultimate truth and could have alternatives. The history of progress and prosperity of [wise!] human has been closely linked to the history of the extinction of other human species, the widespread extinction of animal species, the change in the order of nature, and the disturbance of the ecosystem balance.
We are on the trajectory of destruction and it seems that our next destination is the [dystopian] city like we see in the movie “Blade Runner”. A city with buildings that were once magnificent but are now in ruins, crowded streets, countless shopping malls, garbage dumps, and boring rain. But Coronavirus abruptly stopped the process, at least for a while. Apart from the actions it takes to overcome this crisis, humankind must always think about prevail over current values and respect to diversity and nature.
Other possible ways to live
As many people say, the world after Covid-19 will no longer be the same as before. If we accept this [statement], we must also accept that our way of life will not be the same as before. Probably a lot of new medical care will come into our lives and a lot of habits will be suppressed and forgotten; From now on, everyone will probably be careful about the relation between their hands and mouth, and strengthening the immune system. Online shopping will be one of our main concerns!
This is not a new thing, but the humankind seems to have forgotten that throughout its history, various events, actions, choices and etc. have changed the way we live. We didn’t live like this from the beginning, and we went through different stages. For example, at first, we were hunter-gatherers and about 8,500 to 9,500 BC, we started agricultural life. Hence, the discourses have always been changing. The fact is that humankind has experienced different forms of existence throughout history, so the current way of life, which is not very old, is not the only way to live.
Our current life, with all its aspects, from staggering consumerism to the mechanisms of political or economic administration, is not the ultimate truth and therefore it can change. Maybe, every time we wash our hands in order to keep away from this virus, we should think about other possible ways to live for a few seconds. Because if we overcome the Corona crisis, but do not change, the next and more evolving viruses will hit on us harder.
Being dominated or dominating
In Masnavi, a story has been narrated about Bayazid Bastami. Once when he was among his disciples, a state appeared to him and he said, “There is no god but me, so worship Him.” When he returned to a normal state and heard from his disciples what he has said, he told them to kill him if such a situation would arise again. It happened again, and this time it was worse than before. The disciples pulled out their knives and attacked him. Everyone was injured in the same spot of their own bodies, as where he tried to harm Bayazid. While at the same time they found Bayazid healthy (Masnavi, Volume 4, and Section 47).
This is the story of our interaction with the world. We seek to dominate the world with endless effort. We cut mountains, build roads, cut trees, adopt plants and animals, eat a lot, and so forth. But in fact, we are dominated. Humans affected by numerous mental and physical diseases, who are devoid of self and full of dominant power and dominant discourse, alien to the world; we are no longer connected to anything. The direct result of this kind of interaction (that is, extreme control over the universe) with existence is nothing but being dominated.
Death is a concept that has been forgotten and suppressed. We are beings who deny death; we do not die, we are enriched by mediocrity, no longer threatened by any danger; it is enough to be a mediocre. What effect does these thoughts induce on us? Let’s first assess the fate that the ego (our self-consciousness) imposes on us in this situation. The dominant discourse, capitalism, rules here. What does a creature who, in a conscious state, often finds himself immortal, and it is mediocrity perpetuates his life, do? It eats, excretes and reproduces and uses all its intelligence in these directions. Viruses are such creatures.
The immortal mediocre man doing mediocrity through capitalism; He consumes and forces others to consume. As Nietzsche puts it in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (First Part, and Lecture 8: On the Tree on the mountain): “These people are the ones whose spirit have been reduced to lust. Then they lived shamelessly in brief pleasures and barely cast their aims beyond the day. “Spirit too is lust”, so they said. Then the wings of their spirit broke: and now their spirit creeps about and soils what it gnaws.”
Once they thought of becoming heroes: now they are voluptuaries. The hero is for them an offense and a terror. In fact, death is more than a point at the end of life, it is a point whose existence attached a meaning to life and forces people to distance himself from mediocrity. What is the fate of such creatures? Viruses reproduce themselves so much that they destroy their host and there is no longer an organ to survive. So does the immortal mediocre humans.
But what happens at the unconscious level of such a creature? Freud has taught us that the more a thought is repressed, the more it will affect our psyche. The suppression of death is doubling of the death drive. Such subjects, although, in their view, are always on the path to success and progress, but in fact always seek death. Such subjects have long been divided of self and have never encountered that stranger except in a dream or intoxication; hence, he\she is not connected to life. He has long entrusted his body to capitalism, and his spirit is secretly destroying itself.
Planetary health and Global Biosecurity
Hitherto, most thinkers who have been trying to come up with solutions for the current crisis were strangely engaged just with human destiny and how to bring human condition back to the situation before the crisis. Everyone is looking for a global alliance to defeat Coronavirus. But, we need to recognize this virus. Not defeat it and return to our formal lifestyle. However, in order to survive this crisis and the subsequent crises that will be more destructive, we must think about a solution which cover the entire planet Earth, instead of a solution for save the human species, which is an unattainable issue.
Our main need is not human unity to fight and defeat Coronavirus, but to reach a global consensus on the health of the planet in order to maintain all species health. Our health is inextricably linked to the health of the earth and all its creatures. We cannot stay healthy while the planet and other creatures are unhealthy. Humans should stop destroying biodiversity and move towards global biosecurity; an approach that addresses the biosecurity of all creatures on Earth, not just humans.
Since the past few years, a new idea called Planetary Health is emerging. It focuses on the inseparable link between human well-being, other living things, and the entire ecosystem. Everything is connected. In other words, what we do to the world comes back to affect us, and not always in ways that we would expect. Researchers concluded that human civilization depends on the health of the planet, the flourishing of natural systems, and the proper use of natural resources. Whereas, throughout human history, natural systems have experienced unprecedented decline, and for this reason human and planetary health has been endangered. So, if we are looking for a way to stop such a crisis, we cannot just think for ourselves. We must get out of the lacquer of humanism and raise our awareness about the importance of diversity.