The propagation of the Omicron

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By SLAVEJ ŽIŽEK*

The new variant shows that even stronger shocks and crises will be needed to wake us up.

The reaction to the latest variant of Covid has confirmed an unpleasant truth. Although many embrace the idea of ​​collaboration to fight the pandemic, they do nothing relevant. Will we need an even bigger crisis to wake up?

We all already know that the World Health Organization has declared a new variant of Covid-19 of concern. Named Omicron and coded as B.1.1.529, it was first reported to WHO by South Africa on 24 November. It has more than 30 mutations and is suspected to spread much faster than other variants – including Delta. Therefore, it is still uncertain whether the vaccines we have today will work against it.

The reaction around the world was predictable: flights from southern Africa canceled, stocks falling, and so on. Isn't it terrible that moves as defensive as travel bans have been the strongest reaction in developed countries to the specter of a new disaster? As Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, has pointed out, "There was not a single word of support for African countries to help them get the pandemic under control, and particularly not a mention of tackling the vaccine inequity that we have been warning about all year and [of which] we are now suffering the consequences.”

The spread of the omicron variant was facilitated by a triple malpractice scandal. First, the virus is much more likely to mutate in places where vaccination is low and transmission is high. So the huge difference between vaccination rates in the developed world and the developing world is likely to blame. Some Western countries are even destroying vaccines instead of offering them free of charge to countries with lower vaccination rates.

Second, as recorded by the The Lancet in April, “Pharmaceutical companies have benefited from huge sums of public funding for research and development. Between $2,2 billion and $4,1 billion was spent by February 2021 in Germany, the UK and North America.” However, when companies were asked to allow the free licensing of vaccines, they all refused, preventing many poorer countries – which cannot afford the price of patents – from producing them.

Finally, even in developed countries themselves, pandemic nationalism very quickly prevailed over serious coordination of efforts.

In all three cases, developed countries failed to pursue the goals they publicly proclaimed, and are now paying the price. Like a boomerang, the catastrophe they tried to contain in Third World came back to haunt them. As?

The German philosopher Friedrich Jacobi wrote, around 1800: “La vérité en la repoussant, on l'embrasse” [By repelling the truth, we embrace it]. Examples of this paradox abound. The Enlightenment, for example, really triumphed against traditional faith and authority when adherents of the traditional view began to use the rationale of the Enlightenment to justify their position ("a society needs firm and unquestionable authority to enjoy a stable life", etc.)

But is the opposite also valid? Could it be that by embracing the truth, we repel it? This is exactly what is happening right now. The “truth” – the urgent need for global cooperation, etc. – is rejected at the exact moment when government officials publicly proclaim the need for action to stop global warming or for collaboration in the fight against the pandemic. It was what we saw at the COP26 in Glasgow, full of declarative blah blah, but that little was delivered in terms of clear commitments.

This mechanism was described in 1937 by George Orwell, in The way to Wigan Pier. He described the ambiguity of the prevailing left attitude towards class differences: “We are all opposed to class distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. Here is discovered the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed. (...) If it's just a question of improving the lot of the worker, everyone decent is agreed. (...) But unfortunately, you don't get very far just by wishing for an end to class distinctions. More precisely: it is necessary to desire it, but this desire is ineffective unless one understands what it involves. The fact that has to be faced is that abolishing class distinctions means abolishing a part of yourself. (…) I have to transform myself so completely that in the end I can hardly be recognized as the same person”.

Orwell's point is that radicals invoke the need for revolutionary change as a kind of superstitious signal that tends to achieve the opposite – namely, to prevent change from actually taking place. Today's academic leftists who criticize capitalist cultural imperialism are horrified by the idea that their field of study could crumble: "We all oppose global warming and the pandemic, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. Here is discovered the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed. (…) If it is only a question of improving the lot of the common people, all decent people agree. (...) But unfortunately, you don't go very far just wishing for an end to global warming and the pandemic. More precisely: it is necessary to desire it, but this desire is ineffective unless one understands what it involves. The fact that has to be faced is that ending global warming and the pandemic means abolishing a part of yourself. (…) I have to transform myself so completely that in the end I can hardly be recognized as the same person”.

Is the reason for this inactivity just the fear of losing privileges – economic and others? Things are more complex than that: the change needed is twofold: subjective and objective.

American philosopher Adrian Johnston characterized the current geopolitical landscape as a situation “in which the world’s societies and humanity as a whole face multiple acute crises (a global pandemic, environmental disasters, massive inequality, pockets of poverty, potentially devastating wars , etc.), but seem incapable of taking the (admittedly radical or revolutionary) measures necessary to resolve these crises. We know that the order is broken. We know what needs to be redone. Sometimes we even have ideas on how to do it. However, we continue to do nothing to repair the damage already caused or to prevent easily foreseeable further damage.”

Where does this passivity come from? Our media often speculate about what ulterior motives make the anti-vaxxers persist so firmly in their stance, but as far as I know they never evoke the most obvious reason: on some level, they want the pandemic to continue, and they know that refusing anti-pandemic measures will prolong it.

If so, the next question to be raised is: what makes the anti-vaxxers want the pandemic to continue?

We must avoid here any pseudo-Freudian notions, such as some version of the death drive, of a desire to suffer and die. The explanation according to which the anti-vaxxers oppose anti-pandemic measures because they are unwilling to sacrifice the Western liberal way of life – for them the only possible framework of freedom and dignity – is true, but not enough. We must add here a perverse pleasure in renouncing the common pleasures that the pandemic brings with it. We must not underestimate the secret satisfaction provided by the passive life of depression and apathy, of just plodding along without a clear life plan.

However, the change needed is not just subjective, but global social change. At the start of the pandemic, I wrote that the disease would deal a deathblow to capitalism. I was referring to the final scene of Kill Bill 2, by Quentin Tarantino where Beatrix disables the evil Bill and glopes him with the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, the combination of five strikes with the tip of a finger to five different pressure points on the target's body. When the target backs away and takes five steps, its heart explodes in its body and it sprawls to the ground.

I maintained that the coronavirus epidemic is a kind of “Five Point Heart Explosion Technique” attack on the global capitalist system – a sign that we cannot follow the path we have taken so far, that radical change is needed. .

Many people laughed at me later: capitalism not only contained the crisis, it even exploited it to strengthen itself. But I still think I was right. In recent years, global capitalism has changed so radically that some (such as Yanis Varoufakis or Jodi Dean) no longer call the emerging order “new capitalism” but “corporate neo-feudalism”. The pandemic has given impetus to this new corporate order, in which new feudal lords like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg increasingly control our common spaces of communication and exchange.

The pessimistic conclusion that emerges is that even stronger shocks and crises will be needed to wake us up. Neoliberal capitalism is dying, but the next battle will not be between neoliberalism and what lies beyond, but between two forms of this after. That is: between corporate neofeudalism, which promises protective bubbles against threats, within which we can continue to dream — like Zuckerberg's “metaverse” — and a rude awakening, which will oblige us to invent new forms of solidarity.

*Slavoj Žižek is a professor at the Institute of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). Author, among other books, of The year we dreamed dangerously (Boitempo).

Originally published on the website RT

Translation: Antonio Martins to the websiteOther words.

 

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