Some notes from a work process and life
from Akseli's 'home residency' in the spring 2020
27.4. "Did we not think of any of these questions before there was a life-threatening crisis?"
A list of questions about society in a 'state of exception'
Are we motivated by empathy or by fear? What do people really need and what not? Are the chosen actions based on understanding of what is essential and what is necessary – are the ideas of what constitutes essential and necessary justified? Based on which principles? Do we see the consequences further off, or are we acting short-sightedly? What makes a threat or a danger tangible? Whose lives and what kind of lives do the actions value and protect? Whose lives count in politics? Whose suffering counts in politics? Whose interests count in politics? What is deemed external to political practice? How do we relate to that which is externalised from our politics? Are our societies only reacting to sudden threats? Do we not see what develops more gradually? Are we willing to give up things we may not really need, or are we holding onto what we have? Why are we holding onto what we have? What is worth a sacrifice? What are the powers we ask for actions when we face a crisis? Who is responsible for what? Is everyone responsible? What is the society that we want? Life that we want? Do we have an idea of what we want? What to do when we disagree on what kind of society and life we want? What if something needs to be done, even if we disagree? Who will make the decisions, while people disagree? Who do we let to make the decisions? Who will force their decisions on us? What do I do when I don't agree with the decisions? Didn't we think of any of these questions before there was a life-threatening crisis? Why does crisis demand centralised power? What constitutes a 'crisis'? Who defines it? Why do people need to be ordered to do things that they already agreed they should do? Who do we trust? Who do we not trust? Are people not willing to take decisions on 'unusual' measures? Who is authorised to take decisions on 'unusual' measures? By what justification? Whose orders do we follow? Whose suggestions do we follow? Do we give orders? Do we give suggestions? To whom? Who is entitled to disagree? Who is entitled to veto? Why is there so much hassle over a lot of stuff that doesn't produce food, shelter or protection from death or disease? Why are we concerned of losing that stuff? Why do we see it fit to ban some of that stuff? Why do we see it not fit to ban some of that stuff? What are we fighting for? Are we fighting for something? Who is this 'we' anyway? What is this 'we' anyway? Who decided on that? Did anyone disagree? Why is it so difficult to stop making references to that 'we'? Is there any agreement in a society? Does there need to be agreement in a society? Why is there a society if people do not agree on anything? Why haven't we still answered any of these questions that have been asked since philosophy was invented (and long before it was invented)? Did we forget the answers? Did we forget the questions? Did we just not bother anymore? Who answers the questions that I forgot to ask?
20.4. Looking back to liberalist sociology and ideas of technocratic progress
I somehow came to think of the books of liberalist sociology, like 'Industrialism and industrial man' by Kerr et al from 1960 — the ones that took industrial progress as the driving force of society, aspired to study its management — and mostly promoted faith in market economies (in an explicite, if academically correct, opposition to Marxist theory). It is this line of thinking that also gave rise to the idea of ‘end of history’ as well, the proposal that technocratic management of endless wealth production would basically replace politics as we used to know it. Maybe there is some strange consolation in looking at them now, when it is has been hammered to our face how wrong this habit of thought was. Even the most devout neoliberal believer cannot deny it anymore.
Is this the ‘original hubris’ that created the catastrophic world we now live in? We, the western colonialist society, believed that our factories, banks, and our internet, made us god-like. What Clark Kerr and his fellow liberalist sociologists did not see coming, though, was the dominance of the financial sector. The title of that book beautifully illustrates this. They were still rooted in the industrial phase of capitalism. Back at the time I first encountered this I only a read some parts of the book, as at that time I was mainly interested in the class concept it presumed. If Kerr et al believed that growth would, or at least could continue as it was, if it was managed well, or if they had any hunch of the dwindling profits from industrial production that, in part, lead to the rush to information technology and financing, would require another look.
The illusion of endless industrial wealth, that was then patched up with financial capitalism, when it started to crack up. By the time the business models of financing created the subprime crisis, the willingness of people to just accept the story of endlessly victorious market society was seriously dented. Now we have received another blow, as we practice our privileges by sitting at home. Are we coming to a realisation that we need an entire paradigm change?
18.4. Differences between the covid19 pandemic and the climate collapse
What is similar
- the threat is global. - minimising damage requires changes in the ways we live, across the society. - it’s too late to prevent them entirely, but the scale of the catastrophe can be influenced a lot. - science is telling us a lot of the threat itself, but solutions need political change. - poor people suffer more than the rich.
What is different
- the pandemic is a large single peak of a lower level threat (new infectious diseases), climate change is a collossal threat, causing single ‘peak catastrophies’ all the time (e.g. all the wild fires of 2019). - covid19 pandemic will be over in a couple of years. Climate change is already irreversible, and in best cases might progress in some degree for at least half a century, in some scenarios consequences are unrolling across millenia. - we have all the tools for slowing down climate change, but incredibly few measures have been implemented. We are using most of the tools we have to slow down the pandemic, while we lack the tools to solve it as fast as we would like to. - averting the climate catastrophe requires permanent social change. Controlling the pandemic requires measures that we believe to be short-term. - to the degree that the pandemic is a transient, short-term threat, it does not require major revalution of the fundamentals of our societies. Preventing climate collapse requires precisely that. - the pandemic has thus far killed much more Europeans than non-Europeans. Climate change has kiled far more people outside the Western nations than within them. - climate change is not an immediate personal threat to the life of the ruling class of the West, while covid-19 has, in fact, infected some of them. - while the conditions likely to give rise to a new pandemic disease may have resulted from human activities, the continuation of the pandemic is not entirely in our hands. Climate change is pretty much in its entirety manufactured by humans, and progresses mainly because humans continue to fuel it. - destroying the climate continues to be greatly profitable business to many industries and many investors. There are far fewer business options in the pandemic. While measures to control it are reducing economic growth, there are no that much better profit prospects in not controlling it either.
17.4. Is this what capitalist totalitarianism is like?
Shops are now allowed to open again. (On 16 April the German government announced that the order to keep shops closed will be lifted from shops less than 800 squaremetres in size.) It is starting more and more to seem we have entered a form of capitalist totalitarianism. We are allowed to consume, in fact encouraged to keep on consuming, while we are forbidden from protesting. Moreover, we are forbidden from practicing what are some of the most lovable aspects of community and society, namely meeting friends, throwing parties, dancing, making and seeing art, and learning together. Our freedom has essentially been reduced to expression of our opinion on social media. That expression will stay segregated in the social media, our final refuge, which, too, is plagued by ever increasing surveillance.
While measures are adjusted to keep consumption running, the society is not making progress in human rights issues, nor in averting the climate collapse. Some goverments have taken their chance to pass oppressive laws when meaningful political protest is effectively banned. Even those less malign enjoy a convenient cover to obscure their failure to make progress. Is there any guarantee the 'state of exception' will subside to progressive politics? Not if it is for the climate change to determine: climate collapse is going to scorch us faster than we are willing to understand — and it will bring with it more troubled society, more inclined to revert to totalitarianism. Some of it on the grounds of 'exception', some perhaps not needing such pretext anymore?