The alleged return of the state

Clara Figueiredo, series_ Brasília_ fungi and simulacra, national congress, 2018
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By BERNARDO JOÃO DO REGO MONTEIRO MOREIRA*

Considerations on the uncritical and passive celebration of state measures of discipline, control and repression, in the name of combating denialism

No artigo “About the return of the State – the role of the State in neoliberal capitalism and its displacements in the current crisis caused by the pandemic” produce a critique of the current thesis of a supposed back from the state during the Covid-19 pandemic, using the theoretical conceptions of Wertkritik, situationism, structuralist Marxism and Deleuzian post-structuralism; having as a central point of criticism the ignorance of such an analysis of the hostile complementarity between the State and the market and the global role of the State as a cohesion factor in the unity of the social formation.

In short, the state never went away, it just reorganized itself. Here, as a continuation of that critique, I will explore a side theme of that text but central to current political debates about the relationship between the state and “crisis management”: the problematic position of strata of self-styled progressive or left-wing uncritical celebration. and passive of state measures of discipline, control and repression, in the name of combating denialism.

A cruel symptom of the decay of an effective process of self-criticism is manifested when the most undesirable opponents enunciate the truth of our mistakes. In In the pandemic, they forgot Foucault[I], the historian Jean Marcel Carvalho França, known for his self-styled liberal position and often colluding with the current president[ii], argues that there was an inversion between the “progressive” and “conservative” fields in the face of historical positions regarding state control. While progressives with a common appreciation for Foucault's work quickly defended mechanisms of discipline and control with an almost mystical belief in the good intentions of the State and the pharmaceutical industry, conservatives and reactionaries, for reasons other than criticism of biopower in Foucault, they presented themselves as critics and questioners of the current power and the state order.

The short provocative analysis by França, even if it does not fully address the problem, is a bitter text and difficult to swallow for the left that now sees itself embraced with the capitalist State, even more so when enunciated by those who serve as an “argument from authority ” for conservatives and reactionaries. However, the attack is usually not that stunning; as not entirely absent from reflection, the common catchphrase is clearly enunciated: denialism and the task of saving lives are our current priorities. We will therefore explore both aspects of this common rebuttal; not only to analyze its implicit assumptions, but also to respond to the inconsistency of denialism's supposedly questioning position itself.

The term denialism is especially complex, as its dissemination requires the concealment of the bases of its definition. The denialist is a figure of vile predicates: ignorant, stubborn, conspiratorial and insane. Such predication emerges in reference to what the denialist denies: science, predominantly personified by health institutions and authorities, in the case in question. Interestingly, the denialist position often appeals to jargon and scientistic theatrics: the use of doctors aligned with the “cause”[iii], the advocacy of pharmaceutical remedies for the treatment of diseases[iv], the skeptical insistence on vaccine testing processes[v] and the reporting of drug side effects[vi].

In general, science as such is not called into question in favor of another mode of explanation and practical application of treatment (such as religious or magical rituals). Denialism is, ultimately, a position contrary to some general consensus of the scientific community; something that can be understood as a challenge to the scientific paradigm. However, the problem lies in this detail: the denialist position is a political motto, which has been mobilized by right-wing rulers of the Trumpist wave as a way of putting themselves in the position of outsider to meet the electoral demands of rejecting the “old policy”; being as dogmatic and uncritical as its “opponents”.[vii]

As a way of discarding the scientific paradigm, denialism denounces a crisis of legitimacy, through the discursive production of a link between consensus and an enemy political agenda. With that, the conspiracy finds in all the actions of the institutions in question the influence of essentially evil forces, something explicit in the moralistic dualism of the denialist conspirator. The denialist is therefore not anti-science, but something like a heterodox position motivated by reactionary and conspiratorial political-moral inspirations.

Thus, a question emerges: why has science been discursively constructed as a single, cohesive entity, without contradictions and good, with the aim of combating a radicalized stratum of rebellious reactionaries? An indication may be in Giorgio Agamben. His position of viewing the entire pandemic process as a state strategy to extend the State of Exception and the biopolitical mechanisms of discipline and control is, to say the least, naive and too localized in Europe; the accusation of negation against him is also shallow and out of context.[viii]

Agamben's critique, which underwent changes throughout the development of the pandemic process, emphasizes an issue that explains the problems of the dogmatic and cultic approach to science: “Science's triumphs appear today before our very eyes, and they determine in an unprecedented way every aspect of our existence. This conflict does not pertain, as it did in the past, to general theories and principles but, so to speak, to cultic praxis."[ix]

The dogmatic position towards science is frontally contrary to scientific principles, in their most basic formulations. Agamben's denunciation is, therefore, referring to the uncritical acceptance of what is presented as a scientific consensus, such as a dogma; something that is revealed in the very discourse of defending the truth against false information. With that, the accusation of negationism would be that of a deviation in relation to dogma, and not of absolute rejection of science as such; which explains the use of the same term as an indictment for both Agamben and anti-vaccine reactionaries. While the reactionary position must be rejected for its also uncritical and dogmatic assumptions, the position of criticism of scientistic dogmatism, assumed by Agamben and other thinkers in the critical field, must be analyzed carefully.

With that, we return to the central theme of this text: what is the relationship between the scientistic dogmatic position and the celebration by the “progressive” left of the control and discipline mechanisms of the State?

The relationship is made explicit through the analysis of the second priority enunciated by State enthusiasts: the task of saving lives. In Soares and Collado (2020), there is a frontal criticism of the way in which the concept of Life is abstractly produced as a way of reducing singular life to mere spectacular survival, “reducing the bios to pure zoé, mere animal life”.[X] Something that, making reservations for Agamben, guides Jappe to state that: “What finally explains the reduction of human beings to “bare life”, to being just “simple living bodies”, is nothing other than abstract work (...) . This leads to two contradictory movements. On the one hand, the need for live work to feed the appreciation of value requires the preservation of life. On the other hand, the valorization process cannot be interrupted, and we are ready to accept the sacrifice of human lives to guarantee the continuity of the economy”.[xi]

In this way, we can understand how the combination of biopolitics (control of life), necropolitics (condemn to death, both by direct violence and by the characteristic letting die of denialist politics) and thanatopolitics (control by fear of death) are mediations articulated by the State to to produce life as a mere resource for capitalist accumulation. The incongruity between the lives we hope to save and the lives that are “saved” to fuel capital's sacrificial machine shows us that total confinement or laissez-faire of the virus are different sides of the same coin.

The issue is therefore oriented towards the distribution of such policies, something especially evident in the current (January 2022) management of the Omicron variant crisis. After almost two years of the pandemic, central countries are flooded with booster doses and virus control technologies, while the periphery is left to die with its fragile health infrastructure, directly resulting from the historical processes of permanent primitive accumulation to which it is relegated . With this, a precedent is opened for the even greater segregation of marginalized populations, while Americans and Europeans with a “strong passport”, as Spivak would say[xii], are allowed free movement.

I provoke this point here to emphasize the innocence of sectors of the progressive (or rather, liberal) “left” in the face of the good intentions of the State and health authorities and their appreciation of our “lives”. As long as our life-forms are reduced to the status of a resource, the bio-/necro-/thanato-political combination will continue to operate through the sentencing of who should live and who should die, but especially how they should live or die. There is no possibility of a safe bet on the tyranny of Capital, which can operate both with denialist and pro-WHO rulers.

I do not advocate an equivalence between the predominance of one strategy or another: both, with their specific forms of violence and brutality, prohibit any opening to emancipation. If the geography of the virus is the geography of capital[xiii], the crisis will not be resolved by internal changes, in a scenario of increasingly frequent and contagious pandemics in an overpopulated world and in progressive acceleration of deterritorializing flows of Capital; with a tendency to open new invasion routes that are more resistant to security and hygiene technologies, an immuno-policy of constant panic.[xiv]

With the increasing manipulation of our lives and deaths, we move towards Baudrillard's pessimistic prediction about the future of hospital/hygienic interventions on our bodies: the child who is born in an aseptic bubble and dies the moment he kisses his mother; with the very fluxes of antibodies coinciding with the movement of control of life by the capitalist State.[xv] If there is no freedom in the denialist illusion of the end of masks and vaccines, there is little in the regime of confinement and remote work, which intensifies the drainage of our time for exclusive dedication to the production of surplus value and spectacular consumption.[xvi]

*Bernardo Joao do Rego Monteiro Moreira is studying political science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

 

References


AGAMBEN, G. Where are we now? The Epidemic as Politics. London: ERIS, 2021.

BAUDRILLARD, J. “The Child In The Bubble”. In: GARNET, E. (ed.). Impulse Archaeology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

FRANCE, JMC In the pandemic, they forgot Foucault. Gazeta do Povo, September 30, 2021. Available at:https://www.gazetadopovo.com.br/vida-e-cidadania/na-pandemia-esqueceram-foucault/>

JAPPE, A. et al. Capitalism in Quarantine: Notes on the Global Crisis. São Paulo: Elephant, 2020.

MOREIRA, BJRM On the return of the State: The role of the State in neoliberal capitalism and its displacements in the current crisis caused by the pandemic. The Earth Is Round, July 21, 2021. Available at:https://aterraeredonda.com.br/sobre-a-volta-do-estado/?doing_wp_cron=1638925598.5527799129486083984375>

PLANT, S.; LAND, N. “Cyberpositive (1994)”. In: MACKAY, R.; AVANESSIAN, A. (ed.). #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader. Windsor Quarry: Urbanomics, 2014.

SOARES, A.; COLLADO, F. The Virus as Philosophy, Philosophy as a Virus: Emergency Reflections on Covid-19. São Paulo: Glac Editions, 2020.

SPIVAK, GC Can the subaltern speak?. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2010.

 

Notes


[I] Available in: https://www.gazetadopovo.com.br/vida-e-cidadania/na-pandemia-esqueceram-foucault/

[ii] As, for example, in this jargon-laden interview with supposedly “moderate” Bolsonaristas: https://germanomartiniano.com.br/jean-historiador-ha-uma-aposta-no-panico/

[iii] View: https://www12.senado.leg.br/noticias/materias/2021/06/18/medicos-defendem-tratamento-precoce-e-cloroquina-na-cpi-da-pandemia

[iv] View: https://www.gov.br/pt-br/noticias/saude-e-vigilancia-sanitaria/2020/03/ministerio-da-saude-autoriza-uso-de-cloroquina-para-casos-graves-de-coronavirus

[v] View: https://www.gov.br/anvisa/pt-br/assuntos/noticias-anvisa/2021/anvisa-nao-aprova-importacao-da-vacina-sputnik-v

[vi] View: https://noticias.uol.com.br/confere/ultimas-noticias/2020/12/15/vacinas-se-tornam-alvo-de-noticias-falsas.htm

[vii] View: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/05/bolsonaro-agora-adepto-ao-toma-la-da-ca-ja-foi-um-feroz-critico-da-velha-politica-relembre.shtml

[viii] For a worthy response to Agamben and his critics, see: Soares, Collado, 2020 and Jappe et al, 2020; referenced in Part I of this text.

[ix] “The triumphs of science appear before our eyes today, and they determine, in an unprecedented way, all aspects of our existence. This conflict does not concern, as it did in the past, general theories and principles, but, in a way, a cultic praxis.” [My translation]. (Agamben, 2021).

[X] (Soares, Collado, 2020).

[xi] (Japanese et al, 2020: 94).

[xii] (Spivak, 2010:31; reference to how Spivak characterizes the subjectivation process of the colonizing European Subject, free of predicates and free to move around without restrictions).

[xiii] See Part I.

[xiv] (Plant, Land, 2014).

[xv] (Baudrillard, 2005).

[xvi] (Japanese et al.

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