Biosecurity as a regime of political rationality

Image: Bayram Er


Health security, which has never been fully removed from political calculations, is becoming a central part of political strategies.

“Reality is terrifying not because it is beautiful, but because it threatens to become it” (Patrick Zylberman).

Globalization presented a crucial dilemma in the configuration of power and authority in the late XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries. The main problem is the disjunction between the territorial limits of the State and the pressures to protect it, closing access to it by external enemies and possible “unwanted”. In contrast, the deterritorialized global capitalist system demands open borders and free movement of goods and “people”.

It is true that believing in this last circulation requires faith in providence, only valid for those who now allow themselves to complain pietistically or hypocritically moved by the sacredness of life, when we do nothing but build a world from the inside and one from the outside, of included ( those who, having a house, can confine) and excluded (those who, being outside, have no prospect of isolation). A world in which people succumb on the threshold of representative democracies across the Mediterranean or in the Gaza Strip, whether fleeing war or extreme poverty, risking death for the will or interests of others, those who have nothing else to to lose and walk towards the barbed wire, through vileness, foolish contamination or through diseases that could well be cured in the face of the indifference of pharmaceutical companies and “civilized” States.

Health security, which was never fully part of the political calculations, is becoming a central part of state and international policy strategies. What Patrick Zylberman, emeritus professor of health history at the Haut Conseil de la Santé, published in the book Microbial tempêtes: Essai sur la politique de sécurité sanitaire dans le monde transatlantique (Gallimard, 2013) the first quarter of 2020 was verified. Thus, according to Zylberman, the “transatlantic world” would have passed in terms of public health governance, from a logic of prevention to preparation, as a new regime of rationality.

The dystopian scenario in which no one will recognize themselves by looking at faces, which can be covered with a sanitary mask, but can be recognized by digital devices that will recognize biological data compulsorily collected in any “concentration”, whether for political reasons or simply for conviviality, affinity or friendship. “Social distancing” thus became a model of politics without politics and of a humanity that can hardly be considered human in the absence of sensitive relationships that transfer and hold corporeality, whether the acuity of pain or the possession of a kiss.

What Zylberman was beginning to see is a kind of health terror as an instrument to govern what was defined as the worst case scenario. And agree with this logic of the worst when already in 2005 the World Health Organization announced millions of deaths from avian flu, which suggested a political strategy that at the time the states were not yet prepared to assume. Zylberman shows that the suggested device was arranged in three axes: a) construction, based on a possible risk, of a fictitious scenario, in which data are presented in such a way as to favor behaviors that allow governing an extreme situation; b) adoption of the logic of the worst (“logique du pire”), as a regime of political rationality; c) the comprehensive organization of the citizenry body in such a way as to maximize adherence to government institutions, producing a kind of superlative civility, in which imposed obligations are presented as proof of altruism and the citizen no longer has a right to health (not just health security, but the conditions that make it possible), however it becomes legally linked to health (see Riflessioni sulla plague by Giorgio Agambem).

Science is the key to risk analysis, at least the risks we face now, those of an epidemic. There is no doubt that science has the best method for making basic predictions based on past infections. The adjusted mathematical models took into account the experience of past infections with other viruses. But the generalized increase of a “threat reason” does not fail to question the relationship between the State and the citizen. The problem arises when, after evaluating the risk of infection and exploring strategies to control it in contexts where the imposition of health measures by coercion is politically risky, the rise of a “superlative” conception of citizenship (the process of precariousness of the allows governments to hide their responsibilities, transferring the political commitment to end the crisis to individuals), blaming everyone for the failure, a pillar of neoliberal logic, in which the citizen no longer enjoys only the right to health security, but he becomes responsible for his own health and for others (biosafety), which ends up configuring the operational limits of a new risk governance regime, says Zylberman, but on which it would be necessary to question whether the alleged change of a probabilistic reason for a fictitious reason does or does not constitute an increase in rationality.

It is even apodictic that, in addition to the emergency situation linked to a certain virus that in the future may give rise to another, what is at stake is the design of a paradigm of government whose effectiveness exceeds the forms of government that we have come to know.

If already in the progressive decline of ideologies and political beliefs, security reasons allowed citizens to accept restrictions on freedoms that perhaps before they were not willing to accept, biosecurity regulations are shown to be capable of presenting confinement, absolute cessation of all political activity and all social relations, and putting in place the ethos of digital consumption as the highest form of civic participation. Political discourse is now dominated by mind-care imagery and rhetoric – most of which benefit the status quo and its corporate allies. The result is public apathy towards politics – and a real threat to freedom, victim of the cynical doctrine that the ends justify the means. While the fight against global terrorism has provided a new rationale for states to maintain their place of privilege, there are many other reasons to request state protection, obvious to say for the local or global response to environmental or health threats. The key questions are not how the state provides or does not provide, but with and against whom it disciplines and punishes, how it does so and with what effect.

Governments themselves are constantly reminding us that so-called “social distancing” has become the policy model that awaits us and that (as the representatives of a powerhouse whose members are in flagrant conflict of interest with the role they should perform), this distancing will be used to replace human relations everywhere by their inspection, which suspect political contagion, by digital technological devices that even Nazi-fascism never dreamed of being able to impose.

It is an integral conception of the destiny of human society in a perspective that, in many ways, seems to have borrowed from religions the twilight apocalyptic idea of ​​an end of the world, but invested in the desire for “normality” (it should be called “normalization”), to “letting work”, either the normal mechanisms of democracy or the specialists, that is, intensifying what it says that a government must be allowed to work in peace and judge it at the end of the mandate, but now after the “state of alarm” ”. It seems that now we are all winners and losers, to use Walter Benjamin's well-known terminology, however, politicians who have called themselves to disobedience succumb to the “new normal” discourse.

After politics has been replaced by economics, it too, in order to govern, will have to be integrated into the new paradigm of biopower and biosecurity, to which all other demands will have to be sacrificed. It is legitimate to ask whether this society can still be defined as human, or whether the loss of sensitive relationships, of collectivity and mutual aid, of friendship and love, can really be compensated for by an abstract and presumably completely fictitious health security. Health security, previously confined to the field of infrapolitics, enters directly into the strategic field of the States.

Power can also be used indirectly to shape opinions, attitudes and desires and thus manufacture what looks like “consent” and thus much of what one has to claim or contest is not as readily visible. In a society where powerful social agencies have a strong interest in commercializing as many aspects of human life as possible and have managed to a great extent to implement that interest, it would not be surprising if people thought that the existence of a “free market” in health care, education , organ transplantation or the adoption of children was “natural” and required no further comment, scrutiny or explanation. How exactly power relations operate to generate or influence the formation of beliefs, desires and attitudes is a complex question. A "free market" requires the constant intervention of powerful social agencies to maintain its existence, but in a society where this constant intervention has been extremely successful in traditional ways, people's basic beliefs and desires will be channeled so that the "free market" market” seems natural. If that happens, actors who have a vested interest in maintaining the market (for example, companies that benefit from the provision of private health services) will be in a position to present what are in fact simply their private interests as universal interests. Because even science is not unanimous and does not always advance by cumulative and linear results, as stated in Kuhn's theory of paradigms. Therefore, when politicians justify their measures as if they were the only possible ones, dictated by science, they deprive us of discussion and the scientific spirit and degrade politics. However, there have also been cases in which scientists, entering the field of politics, demand resignations or propose measures to control the population in the media, losing scientific credibility and doing so, perhaps without even knowing it, the spearhead of the “logic of the worst”. .

In an era of yearning for hegemonic control (eg, the US and its allies' war on terror), the conclusions focus on the dilemmas of democratic accountability and how new spaces of resistance can be created. The discourse about democratic normality, now also called the “new normal”, about “letting” legitimately elected experts do their work in their own time reminds us of Wittgenstein’s aphorism “about what can't talk, he must-se shut up”. In this way, it was possible to respond to the paradox of left-wing organizations, traditionally accustomed to claiming rights and denouncing violations of fundamental rights, but which unreservedly accept limitations on freedoms decided by ministerial decrees without any legality, which reveals the fragility of representative democracies, poor in gifts and without any presence of the old ideal of magnanimous prodigality free of any selfish or calculating strategy. Even leftist politicians, or those who consider themselves to be, have increasingly argued that a true culture of government must also know how to choose between the immediate preferences of the crowd. Obviously, silence can serve as much for mystifying inaction as it can be read to bring about change, to innovate, to subvert and set in motion people's participation in political life, the very essence of politics.

But if the apocalyptic spirit, stripped of all eschatology, has anything positive, it is its ability to resurrect under the cover of the skull this ideal that is directly connected to something more than lethargic pessimism, with the glow of radical renewal and revolt.

* Gabriel Vezeiro is editor of the Galician digital magazine


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