The normality in question

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By VINICIUS VIEIRA PEREIRA*

The coronavirus crisis is an endogenous crisis of capitalism and, therefore, its causes must be sought in the way of life and production in which we live.

Covid-19 did not fall from the sky like a meteor. This is not a random incident, or a causal event arising fortuitously in the realm of the natural sciences. The coronavirus and its ability to spread and destroy originated as a dynamic and inseparable part of the social system in which we live, where the organization of the production of our material life, or, the way in which we live and produce our subsistence, obeys the stimuli that they emanate from the need to value capital and not from the vital needs for the preservation of the well-being of individuals and the conservation of our habitat.

Aligned with this thought, Professor Jorge Grespan, from USP, states that the pandemic only exacerbated the problems and contradictions already present in our society and that these constitute the essence of the capitalist way of life. For him, the last thirty or forty years of neoliberalism only exacerbated the already existing social antagonisms in capitalism, from the moment in which the ability of governments to competently manage public health systems and intervene quickly and efficiently in production was destroyed. of goods and services to the general population. Therefore, for him, the coronavirus crisis is an endogenous crisis to capitalism and, therefore, its causes must be sought in the way of life and production in which we live.[I].

Drawing a historical parallel, the Black Death, which decimated a third to a half of the population of Western Europe in the mid-XNUMXth century, cannot be treated as an external cause of the crisis that marked the beginning of the end of European feudal society either. The bubonic plague, transmitted by a bacterium still ignored by science until that moment, was conceived in the midst of a society in full transformation, whose ongoing contradictions were transformed into insurmountable antagonisms in the face of the development of the feudal mode of production. It seemed that the limit of material reproduction of that corporate model had been reached.

There were many factors internal to the feudal mode of production that corroborate this argument, since they were responsible for the origin of the conditions conducive to the emergence and spread of the bubonic plague in that region. The growth in the number of cities and the intensification of fairs, trade and exchanges in European feudalism, on the one hand, meant a greater approximation between the communes and the strengthening of human relations and economic exchange[ii], on the other hand, demanded the acceleration of the processes of production of goods, equipment and housing at a pace much higher than the reproduction capacity of the feudal system[iii]. The technological advances recorded in the Late Middle Ages, such as those observed in the sails, oars and masts of galleys for navigation, the three-field rotation, the four-wheel movable axle wagon, the harnessing of animals, horse traction, and the yoke front for the oxen, paving the roads, the mill and the waterwheel, as well as the windmill, all geared towards grinding cereals, the artesian well, the chimney, the distaff instead of the spindle, the candle and the cirio, the classic still for distillation, alcohol and potassium carbonate, the heavy mechanical clock, the gothic architecture[iv], among many others, while expanding society's production capacity, were unable to compensate for environmental depredation, the depletion of raw materials and the resulting extensive and predatory agricultural exploitation, so that natural resources became becoming scarce and eventually depleting [v]. In addition, grain storage and storage techniques, as well as existing problems for production circulation, incompatible with increased production, favored the rapid loss of perishable foodstuffs; the extraction of wood, essential for civil construction, manufacture of tools, equipment and as fuel, as well as the search for other sources of energy caused serious environmental imbalances[vi]. The cutting down of forests and accelerated deforestation, the pollution of rivers and streams, the drainage of swampy regions influenced the recurrence of sandstorms, long periods of drought and torrential rains. The depletion of the soil and nature, therefore, added to this scenario and responded, in turn, with the fall in production, while population growth pressured the dispute for the agricultural surplus and arable land available, generating bloody conflicts in the fight for the land[vii]. Areas of enormous demographic voids began to coexist with intensely populated regions, marked by human agglomerations[viii].

Faced with this process, the need to expand the economic territory and the conquest of new fertile, arable lands or rich in precious metals provoked a first movement of world expansion. Even the Crusades, which although constituted in military expeditions based on a religious dispute, showed, throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to be a war against the Muslim East for the conquest of economically and politically strategic areas. It is possible that this resulted in a first and important process of economic, commercial and financial rapprochement between Western and Eastern civilizations, where commercial agreements, monetary exchanges, issues of bills of exchange, freight and insurance contracts, which made so lucrative “sacred” expeditions for the noble and bourgeois classes created a perennial flow of goods and people across Eurasia[ix], a movement that, when deeply studied by historian Jaques Le Goff, led him to identify, in the practices and rationalist mentality of medieval merchant bankers, characteristics similar to those of capitalists that would emerge a few centuries later[X]. The world seemed to integrate at a speed and intensity never seen before.

But if the dynamization of the external market and international trade shortened distances, facilitated access to new goods and services and created new consumption habits for the wealthy and wealthy noble elites, they also enabled the worldwide dissemination of microorganisms and diseases previously peculiar only to a certain region. After all, the producing classes, made up of small craftsmen and workers from urban workshops, serfs and also the miserable peasants who lived in the common lands on the margins of the manors, found it difficult to keep themselves fed and warm, becoming fragile and vulnerable organisms. in a hostile environment favorable to the spread of disease.

In short, the prosperity and economic development that feudal society in western Europe provided from the eleventh century onwards, to the point that this period was equated with that of a commercial revolution[xi], also created the conditions that, three centuries later, would become antagonisms capable of generating the crisis and destruction of that society. A crisis that manifested itself in the impossibility of guaranteeing the minimum conditions of life, food, hygiene and basic sanitation in the increasingly numerous urban centers and in the most prosperous manors. A horde of fragile beings exposed to hunger, malnutrition, diseases and epidemics that might arise. At the same time, an abandoned public medicine, practically non-existent, which mixed meager scientific observations with shamanistic rituals and spiritual influences[xii]. The feudal mode of production was nearing its end and had produced, over three centuries, from the eleventh to the fourteenth, abundance and vulnerability simultaneously. It had created, internally, the causes of its own destruction, among them, the conditions favorable to the epidemic of the Black Death.

Now, within this feudal society, the emergence and proliferation of bacteria Yersinia pestis, transported from rats to humans via fleas, cannot be treated as external events to the societal model characteristic of the Late Middle Ages. In the same way that the new coronavirus, which now affects the human species and spreads with such strength and ease, cannot be dissociated from the way we live and produce our material life today. If today, those who defend the external causation of the pandemic look to the Chinese as their preferred target, in the medieval era, the blame for the Black Death fell on Jews, lepers and foreigners who, in general, migrated to Western Europe. As we can see, history repeats itself, only the characters change.

Contemporary capitalism has also tried to produce its own contradictions, or the necessary conditions for pandemic outbreaks of aggressive diseases like Covid-19 to spread in a lethal way. We don't need external causes, because if we want to find the causes of this tragedy, we must look for them in the internal dynamics of the reproduction mechanisms of capitalist society. In essence, a society that moves around a system whose functioning is based on private advantages and profit. As means of achieving them, we have the market, competition, free enterprise and mass consumption as promises of happiness. Based on classical economic liberalism, any planning of social production, or state interference in relation to social needs, is peremptorily rejected. Individual interest and self-satisfaction of needs, combined with the rational and utility-maximizing mentality of the self-made man, make the market the locus of pleasure or pain, and the only efficient allocator of resources. The market is who defines what we need. Such a society even dispenses with state interference.

Thus, in the name of the free market, everything has been commodified, medicine, health care and people's lives, food, education, nature, the environment. Everything began to serve the business and strictly obey the accounting and profit criteria. The production processes have adapted to this unique logic that guides the life of our society. No state, no government that is under the rule of capital and the free market will be able to meddle in the affairs of production. According to this logic, the state must exempt itself from the task of making agricultural policies and maintaining public health systems, for example. It must refrain from education and research, and leave the construction of housing to the private interests of the real estate market and civil construction. Spending on hospitals, laboratories and research centers should be avoided, after all, the private interest is able to do the same with greater competence. Medicines must be produced based on purely marketing criteria. It has even been disseminated that the serious state and the government committed to ethics and the people do not interfere in production chains, do not direct incentives to sectors of public interest, do not interfere in supply chains or in the logistics of production distribution, on the contrary, they are only concerned with keeping the rules of the game clear and their accounts in balance. Public spending must always be at levels compatible with very low taxes. The State truly concerned with its people, according to the same discourse, must leave all decisions in the hands of the capitalists, as these, in the fight for their selfish interests, will end up bringing well-being and happiness to all. Even if they do it without knowing that they are doing it, after all, private vices are transformed, in this magical society, into public benefits.[xiii]. The result of this is that capitalism, over the centuries, as we have seen in the case of feudalism, has produced antagonisms that now seem insurmountable and unsustainable.

Neoliberal policies, based on orthodox economics manuals, and theories that justify the need for balance in public accounts and fiscal austerity at any cost forced governments to abandon many of the sectors linked to public services of basic health care. health, food, housing, basic sanitation and hygiene. The result is that research and the production of goods linked to public health, preventive and free services were completely abandoned. Scrapped were the public hospitals and the UPA's, the popular emergency care units, the only allies of the poorest in times of distress.

According to Professor Jorge Grespan, in the same aforementioned interview, the greatest proof of the consequences of these liberalizing policies is that the countries that are suffering most from the Covid-19 crisis are those that, in proportion to their productive and population structures, have deepened the conditions listed above. USA, where not even a free public health aid program for the poorest part of the population has been approved by Congress; Italy and Spain, which suffered greatly from the fiscal austerity requirements imposed by the European Union as a way of facing the effects of the 2008 crisis. And in addition to those mentioned by Grespan, we cannot fail to mention the “Chinese furnace”, Wuhan, as called because it is one of the four largest industrial centers in China, and where production is based on an authentic international competitive model, despite being a socialist country, governed by a communist party.

A recent report by Forbes magazine highlighted a fact that proves how the productive structure in contemporary capitalist society is one of the main causes of the spread of the pandemic. Dissatisfied with the economy's inability to redirect productive resources and generate personal protective equipment at the speed required by the rapidity of contagion of Covid-19, the columnist in question, a specialist in production logistics, considered it unacceptable that we were unable, after months of pandemic, produce cotton swabs for coronavirus tests, masks and alcohol gel in the amount necessary to mitigate the effects of the disease. And it categorically states that the structure of world capitalist production needs to be more efficient, resilient and flexible, capable of adapting and meeting social demands when necessary, in addition to generating less pollutants, which would only be possible with a radical change in supply chains, which should become simpler and shorter, capable of reacting more quickly to crises[xiv].

In fact, it is inconceivable that an industry approaching its fourth industrial revolution, that of robots, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, digital life, does not have the capacity to produce cotton swabs, simple cloth and elastic masks, alcohol, protective medical equipment. But, the problem lies not in the ability to adapt, as the Forbes expert claims, but in the interest of doing so! What would be the use of modifying the entire production chain to meet an eventuality? And when the pandemic passes? Was it enough time to amortize the invested capital? And the profits of banks and shareholders, have they been satisfactorily attended to? Perhaps, the question we should ask is: what kind of society has the capitalist mode of production forged? If we try to answer this question, we will come very close to the real causes of the pandemic. All of them internal to the capitalist economy.

Now, the use of medicine and pharmacology with the purpose of meeting the interests of the market has subordinated health professionals, laboratories, universities and research centers, hospitals and drug factories, as well as spending on research and innovation to purely financial and marketing criteria. The downside of this process was the complete abandonment of public health systems, unable to provide hospital care, preventive care and free medication when tragedy knocks at the door. With the aggravating factor that the disorderly growth of cities and the precarious condition of food, housing and basic sanitation in their peripheral areas encourage habits conducive to the greater spread of diseases, such as that caused by the new coronavirus.

While drug laboratories work exhaustively to profit from diseases, economic rationale orders the abandonment of investment in prevention research. For industry experts[xv], “the trillion-dollar drug industry does not necessarily serve the interests of patients or governments, not even in times of a pandemic”. Ensuring unequal access to medicines around the world, “investments in research always prioritize medication for continuous use and more profitable active principles than antibiotics and vaccines”. In addition, the same specialists are categorical in stating that the coronavirus has exposed a dark side of the pharmaceutical market, namely, “the high degree of concentration and internationalization of the sector, where a small handful of powerful companies guide their business driven by financial interests, and not for the interest in providing well-being in view of the needs for goods and services peculiar to the field of health care[xvi].

But the internal causes of the pandemic do not stop there. The intense process of urbanization, inherent to industrial capitalism and accelerated by real estate speculation, has developed eating, living and hygiene habits that make our health and our immune system vulnerable to attack by more resistant microorganisms. Food produced based on the lowest cost-benefit logic and medicines consumed daily, via self-medication and stimulated by lucrative advertisements such as “pay 2 and get 3”[xvii], combined with work routines that favor increased productivity, have become risk factors for people's health. Affecting the body's resistance in moments of viral or bacterial threat, this way of life left individuals more exposed to the contagion of various diseases. Thus, functional, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, obesity, depression, lack of vitamins and proteins, diabetes, among others, have become common among us, which are now listed among the pathogenic and prognostic comorbidities that affect a large part of the population. of the world population. Not to mention agriculture, or rather, agribusiness, which abuses the use of pesticides and focuses on the production of raw materials for the foreign market, rather than concern for food sovereignty and the quality of the food that goes to families' tables. .

An inseparable ally of these causes, the intensification of the flow of people and goods between the most different regions of the planet and the speed and dynamism of these displacements created the necessary conditions for the rapid transformation of an outbreak into an epidemic and, from this, into a pandemic. Intrinsic in nature and inseparable from the economic and social system in which we live, the incessant pursuit of profits makes the essence of capital be to give vent to its vocation, to expand over the largest possible area of ​​the globe, reducing the time of production and circulation in order to complete the investment appreciation cycle in the shortest possible time. Capital, whether in its industrial, commercial or financial form, is constantly breaking down barriers and dismantling geographic, diplomatic and institutional boundaries. Forcing the reduction of taxes and the deregulation of their movements and transactions, their holders have demanded, more and more, the flexibility of the rules that limit the free mobility of goods and investments. And this process of integration of people and things that gives capitalism its cosmopolitan face needs to be constantly expanded, as a way to guarantee the maintenance of profit rates, even in critical moments. But this nature of capitalism brings its contradictory consequences. The first confirmed case of coronavirus in the world occurred on November 17, 2019, in Hubei province, whose capital, Wuham, an important commercial and industrial center in the People's Republic of China, was marked as the city of origin of Covid-19. At that time, it was a 55-year-old person.[xviii]. Six months later, there are already more than five million people infected in 182 countries in the world and approximately 300 confirmed deaths, almost 19 of them in Brazil alone, according to data from May 21, not to mention the recurrent problems of underreporting. Ports, airports and city entrances are being closed as a way to contain the further spread of the virus. But, stopping the spread of the virus means the same as preventing the appreciation of capital, a suicidal process for contemporary society.

The destruction of nature and its biomes must also be listed among the causes of Covid-19, as well as the illicit sale of wild animals that violates laws protecting animals and increases vulnerability to zoonotic diseases due to the destruction of wild habitats[xx]. Destruction of forests and preservation areas, climate change, silting up of rivers and predatory fishing are just a few internal factors that have led to the forced migration of wild species to regions close to those where animals are raised for human consumption. Evidences of the recurrence of similar processes are many. In a very enlightening report, Juliana Gragnani, from the BBC, shows in detail how the corona virus may be repeating the same process that led to the Nipah virus, in Malaysia, in 1998, to infect and lead to the death of hundreds of people in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and India, from the moment when the migration of hungry bats took them to an area close to the pig farm and the virus, until then only present in the bat, contaminated the pigs, mutated in the swine organism and transformed it into turned into a lethal virus for humans. Richard Ostfeld, from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in the USA, is one of the ten specialists who, in the same cited article, state that deforestation, the expansion of areas opened up for agriculture and livestock, and the strange groupings of species that never that had occurred in nature are causing the emergence of diseases in the human race derived from other species. And Ostfeld concludes that "we are neglecting the bigger picture (...) because the high population density of humans and the intense connection between individuals and wild animals favor the emergence and spread of diseases". According to the specialists heard in the report, we must conserve biodiversity, taking it more seriously. “We shouldn't subsidize industries that don't care about the results caused by their activities, after all, science is telling us that we should reevaluate our relationship with nature”[xx]. Finally, the fact that the natural habitats of these species are not respected and everything turned into an arena for profits are unequivocal causes of the pandemic that is now devastating humanity.

The Israeli filmmaker, Amos Gitai, recently signed a petition that circulates worldwide among artists and scientists whose watchword is “No to normality”, a petition launched on the internet at the beginning of May, on the initiative of the French actress, Juliete Binoche. The conclusion Gitai draws is that we need to understand what indirect message this virus is trying to convey to humanity in general. In addition, according to him, “this pandemic requires a deep reflection on our way of living”, because “in the world after” there should be no place “for practices that destroy the Amazon”[xxx]. The first step towards this, however, is to accept that we need to stop producing the causes of our own destruction.

*Vinicius Vieira Pereira He is a professor at the Department of Economics at UFES.

Notes

[I] Tutaméia interviews Jorge Grespan. Available in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxypqCEDPwY

[ii] PIRENNE, Henri. Economic and social history of the Middle Ages. São Paulo, Master Jou, 1982

[iii] ANDERSON, Perry. Passages from antiquity to feudalism. Sao Paulo: Brasiliense, 1991

[iv] CALAINHO, Daniela Buono. Western Medieval History. Editora Vozes Limited, 2019.

[v] WALLERSTEIN, Immanuel. The modern world system. Porto: Confrontation, 1990.

[vi] BLOCH, March. the feudal society. Lisbon: Editions 70, 1982

[vii] ANDERSON, Perry. Passages from antiquity to feudalism. Sao Paulo: Brasiliense, 1991

[viii] DOBB, Maurice. The evolution of capitalism. São Paulo: April, 1985

[ix] HUBERMAN, Leo. The History of Man's Wealth. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1981

[X] LE GOFF, Jacques. Middle Ages Merchants and Bankers. Lisbon: Gradiva, 1982

[xi] LE GOFF, Jacques. The Apogee of the Medieval City. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1992.

[xii] LEVI-STRAUSS, Claude. Structural Anthropology. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 1967, p. 113. Available at:   https://edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfile.php/5224782/mod_resource/content/1/L%C3%89VI-STRAUS S%2C %20Claude.%20Antropologia%20Estrutural%20%281%29.pdf.

[xiii] MANDEVILLE, Bernard. The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices and Public Benefits. São Paulo: Unesp, 2017

[xiv] The Coronavirus Pandemic Shown Why We Need Shorter, Simpler Supply Chains. Available in: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelmandel1/2020/05/12/the-need-for-shorter-simpler-supply-chains/# 6d5c5d165290.

[xv] Fighting the coronavirus exposes drug industry concentration. Available in: https://economia.uol.com.br/noticias/bbc/2020/04/30/combate-ao-coronavirus-expoe-concentracao-da-industria-de-medicamentos.htm

[xvi] SANTOS, Silvio Cesar Machado. Improving equity in access to medicines in Brazil: the challenges imposed by the dynamics of extra-price competition. [Master] Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, National School of Public Health; 2001. 180 p. Available in: https://portalteses.icict.fiocruz.br/ transf.php?script=thes_chap&id=00004304&lng=pt&nrm=iso

[xvii] Drug advertising on the internet and social media. Available in: https://ascoferj.com.br/noticias/propaganda-de-medicamentos-na-internet-e-nas-redes-sociais/

[xviii] First case of the new coronavirus. Available in:  https://www.gazetadopovo.com.br/mundo/ primeiro-caso-novo-coronavirus/

[xx] Zoonotic diseases, those that pass from animals to humans. Available at: https://mar semfim.com.br/doencas-zoonoticas-passam-de-animais-para-humanos/.

[xx] From the Nipah virus to the coronavirus. Available in: https://noticias.uol.com.br/meio-ambiente/ultimas-noticias/bbc/2020/04/07/do-nipah-ao-coronavirus-destruicao-da-natureza-expoe-ser-humano-a-doencas-do-mundo-animal.htm.

[xxx] For filmmaker Amos Gitai, the pandemic requires a reflection on our way of life. Available in: https://www.msn.com/pt-br/noticias/mundo/para-cineasta-amos-gitai-a-pandemia-exige-uma-reflexão-sobre-nosso-modo-de-viver/ar-BB14pWQj?ocid=spartan-dhp-feeds.

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