Coronavirus: what's next?

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Once the pandemic is over, it remains to be seen what moods will signal the new times: whether continuity or rupture. It's still impossible to know what will be left for all of us

By Andre Marcio Neves Soares*

With the pandemic in place, and even before, writings about the future of post-coronavirus global society have been abundant. The different shades of thoughts emerge in an erratic order and, not always, with some connection. Filtering the information that comes to us daily is an arduous and distressing task. In this text, I will try to be objective, citing three quick examples and making some brief considerations about our historical reality.

In recent days, the President of the Republic, Jair Bolsonaro, has tried to deconstruct the seriousness of the situation on several occasions, the last of which was in an appearance on social networks, when he called the pandemic a “little flu that would not bring him down”. At the opposite extreme, French President Emmanuel Macron strongly criticized neoliberalism this weekend and promised changes in attitude. As a last example, the Belgian philosopher Raoul Vaneigem, a contemporary and militant partner of Guy Debord, wrote an article on the website, last week, warning of the dangers of challenging the coronavirus, both from the health and the political and social aspects, but also trying to open a window for significant changes in the common way of human coexistence.

Vaneigem is not alone. Countless other examples account for a possible watershed between the before and after of the capitalist “lock down”. I disagree. I think that, beyond a simplistic idea of ​​a watershed, history shows that there has always been a fork in the road. Let me explain better: in division, there must be something prior, concrete or not, practical or theoretical, visible or even invisible (like the atom). At the fork, you have to think, choose a future path. A solution that is not presented to us now, never taken before and, therefore, innovative.

Now we get to the heart of the issue that spurred my participation: the post-pandemic future is nothing new. The two options that are presented – in my view, the bifurcation – are the same as in all other post-catastrophe eras along the human walk on earth. In this sense, doing a brief brushing against the grain of Benjamin can certainly help.

The first road is that of continuity, that is, the sequence (perpetuation) of financial-industrial-media capitalism that has plagued humanity for decades, notably intensified from the 1970s onwards. the great pandemic, mistakenly called the “Spanish flu”, despite the various ideological mixes that existed, the common good, solidarity and collective empathy were never a global option. It is true that some countries benefited from the period of social welfare after the second world war, especially Europe. However, if we were to scrutinize it with a magnifying glass, what would remain in the end would be the economic interest in the material reconstruction of the devastated spaces, combined with the urgent need for a minimum rescue of mass social psychology. HORKHEIMER (2015), perhaps foreseeing, and fearing, this continuity, after the euphoria of the Nazi overthrow, already warned in his preface, in March 1946:

“At the time of writing this text, the peoples of democratic nations are confronted with the problems of consummating their victory won by arms. They must work out and put into practice the principles of humanity in whose name the sacrifices of war were made. The present potential for social realization exceeds the expectations of all philosophers and statesmen who have already outlined in utopian programs the idea of ​​a truly human society. Still, there is a universal feeling of fear and disillusionment. The hopes of mankind seem farther from realization today than in the faltering times when they were first formulated by humanists. It seems that while technical knowledge expands the horizon of man's thought and activity, his autonomy as an individual, his capacity to resist the growing apparatus of mass manipulation, his power of imagination, his independent judgment are apparently reduced. Advances in technical means of enlightenment are accompanied by a process of dehumanization.”

Indeed, Horkheimer's fears came true. Instead of using the increment of technology only for the fortune of humanity in general, avoiding the trap of the increasing use of scientific progress to displace human beings from their own axis of significant autonomy, capitalism used health crises (among other , obviously, but not the subject of this article) to further justify the submission of the subject (DUFOUR, 2005).

The other path is the search for alternatives that rescue human beings in their entirety as a species. In this sense, de-objectifying people and their wills made autonomous by the misleading propaganda of the instantaneous pleasure of consumption – we only value and constitute “normal” as solvent beings – is fundamental. Indeed, isn't that what the pandemic is showing us so strongly?

Indeed, “enjoying at any price” (Melman, 2003) has been part of our lives for decades, and this logic has increased in intensity as technological facilities become part of our daily lives. It would have been perfect if this new religion, namely scientific progress, had been geared towards the welfare of mankind. If that were the case, probably pandemics such as the current coronavirus, or even past ones, such as the “Ebola”, “Mad Cow”, Sars-Covid2” etc., would be more quickly resolved through vaccines, medicines and adequate structures . Unfortunately, we spend most of our resources on superfluous objects, artificially urged in our unconscious as unavoidable needs. Thus, for better or for worse, the cultural mutation that Melman (2003) reports in an interview with Jean-Pierre Lebrun removes man's gravity. In short, it erases our once sacred cultural roots such as family, traditional religion, community and “being together”. In exchange, it offers us anxiety, individualism, fetishistic consumption, the transformation from “being-together” to “not-caring-about” to anything other than the instantaneous.

Hence this collective stupefaction, translated into hysteria, in the face of something present throughout our history (pandemic), but outside our eyes as beings focused only on immediate satisfaction. How, everyone began to wonder, was this possible in the 2019st century? Wouldn't we already have the material and scientific resources needed to stop such a huge danger to humanity itself? In the current model the answer is no. Support for this denial can be found in Jappe (XNUMX), which clarifies:

“The triumph of capitalism is also its failure. Value does not create a viable society, even if it is unfair, it destroys its own foundations in all domains. Instead of continuing in search of a 'revolutionary subject', it is necessary to go beyond the [automatic subject] (Marx) on which mercantile society is based.”

Jappe emphasizes that the transformation of the society of men/women/other genders into a superfluous, a garbage society, translates the main problem of humanity. Far from being able to solve problems like the current pandemic, society is devouring itself. Instead of taking advantage of technology to promote its emancipation, human society uses it to return to barbarism.

In this vein, it is interesting to note how the narratives of two apparently antagonistic presidents, Macron and Bolsonaro, perpetuate this state of affairs that has existed for over two hundred years, with the evolution of capitalist society, even though they are so disparate in the media.

Bolsonaro speaks clearly, bluntly, without guilt, a characteristic that is all too common in ignorant people who are useful to the commodity production system. The “little flu” will pass and we will return to the splendor of the world dominated by machines and the increasing virtualization of life. Heidegger's “being-in-the-world” becomes the “self-in-the-world”.

Macron, a man originally from the financial market, puts “gloves” on words, so that the resounding slap in neoliberalism is kid-friendly. To say, at a time like this, that neoliberalism has failed as a model of civilization and that the State needs to be strengthened, seems to be an opportunistic rhetoric of shallow understanding of what has been the attempt, until now successful in most of the world, to annihilate the potentialities of the state in favor of the community. In short, it is more likely to be a hoax to make momentary public spending measures more palatable to the market, aimed at saving the country from social pandemonium. It is certainly being followed by others.

Finally, Vaneigem's article presents the lucidity and utopian naivety so dear to thinkers after the 1960s. It is difficult to disagree with him, when he writes:

“What cynicism it is to attribute the deplorable inadequacy of the medical means used to the spread of the scourge! The public good has been compromised for decades, the hospital sector paying the price for a policy that promotes financial interests to the detriment of citizens' health. There is always more money for the banks and less and less beds and caregivers for the hospitals. What antics will hide longer than this catastrophic management of catastrophism (emphasis added) is inherent to the globally dominant financial capitalism and today fought globally in the name of life, the planet and the species to be saved.”

However, indicating the collapse of Leviathan and, at the same time, rebuking the possible lack of audacity and self-confidence of the common people, suggesting that the oligarchic State will hand over the power rings of symbolic configurations of concessions, constructions and autonomous realizations in the hands of willing collectives to reinvent the call of natural life, perhaps it is the result of a desperate search for the great Lacanian Subject, that is, the Name-of-the-Father, in full transition to post-modernity.

Vaneigem forgets that this “Name-of-the-Father” has already been re-institutionalized by capitalism since the end of the great wars: democracy. No wonder, after this twin union between capitalism and democracy, the world wars were appeased, leaving for the war machine of the willing countries the regional conflicts, obviously stimulated by the main warring countries.

In this sense, reinventing the capitalism-democracy duet is impossible. You have to overcome them. The system surpassed the barrier of mercantile irrationality. I remind skeptics that just as capitalism is a historical economic system, and will therefore pass away, democracy is a political system of the same strain. It came and went, only to reappear with even greater force, spread by its chemical brother. The coronavirus is just shaking the foundations of a relatively new structure on the outside, the aforementioned capital-universal suffrage partnership, reinforced by the neoliberalism of recent decades, but rotten on the inside for being so old, as it was precisely in the moments of the greatest social turmoil – right there in the ancient Greek region, considered the cradle of Western civilization -, which itself proved to be inadequate, incapable of meeting the wishes of the entire population, precisely because it is a political system that does not serve everyone, but an oligarchic minority that manages coercion in the wind of their moods.

Finally, once the pandemic is over, it remains to be seen which moods will signal the new times: whether continuity or rupture. It is still impossible to know what will be left for all of us ordinary people. But if a storm blows from paradise under rubble called progress LOWY (2005), according to Benjamin in his Thesis IX, the reasons for optimism are few. Even so, you must never give up. It is necessary to continue to reflect and discuss which sense of EQUALITY we want to have in a world fed back by the transformation of abstract work into more capital.   

*Andre Marcio Neves Soares is a doctoral student in Social Sciences and Citizenship at the Catholic University of Salvador - UCSAL


  1. HORKHEIMER, Max. Eclipse of reason. São Paulo. Publisher UNESP. 2015, pgs. 7 and 8;
  2. DUFOUR, Dany-Robert. THE ART OF REDUCING HEADS: On the new servitude in ultraliberal society. Rio de Janeiro. Freud Company. 2005;
  3. MELMAN, Charles. The Man without Gravity: Enjoying at any cost. Rio de Janeiro. Freud Company. 2003;
  4. JAPPE, Anselm. THE AUTOFAGIC SOCIETY – capitalism, excess and self-destruction. Lisbon. Antigone Publisher. 2019, pg. 330;
  5. VANEIGEM, Raoul.;
  6. LOWY, Michael. Walter Benjamin: fire warning. São Paulo. Boitempo. 2005, p. 87.
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