In the imaginary industry



Covid 19: Humanity finds its irrelevance

The social isolation policy in São Paulo officially began at the beginning of the second half of March 2020. Gradually, classes at USP began to be offered remotely. Teachers had to learn, in fits and starts, how to operate virtual tools that were able to connect them with their students, especially with those who did not have Wireless of good quality. It was a blow, but USP stood up, it didn't buckle. Moreover, the academic routine turned upside down. The Covid-19 pandemic, which had already confined the populations of Wuhan, Madrid, Venice and other locations, was beginning to leave the streets of São Paulo emptier of people and more full of doubts. How would society look after that? Would we ever go back to the so-called “normal life”?

In those first weeks of the so-called “quarantine”, optimistic speeches circulated in the square. At least three of them deserve to be remembered now: the first, somewhat bucolic, said that the new coronavirus would lead us to value the simple things in life, like family life;1 other voices chanted a second speech predicting that, as soon as the plague was over, nations would develop new, more sustainable pacts for living together with nature;2 and, in third place, came the discourse that anticipated the decline of right-wing authoritarian populists who had been belittling the devastating power of the disease.3

Of course, none of these possibilities – respectable, fair and even desirable, each in their own domains – expired. Retreat at home, at least for some, provides a sense of welcome and emotional comfort, although, at least in Brazil, the majority of the population lives in homes without space, without dignity, without pleasure, without any warmth. Anyway, where the domestic idyll is plausible, nothing against it. With regard to ecological issues, environmentalists did not budge. Nor could they.

Especially in our country, the imminent decimation of indigenous populations, directly related to the advance of uncontrolled deforestation (or even encouraged by federal authorities), made the cause of the environment an issue of absolute urgency. Only the irresponsible avoided and still avoid this agenda, only criminals open fire on it. Therefore, we close ranks with environmentalists from Brazil and from all countries. Finally, as for the alleged weariness of the populists, notably on the right, it is to be confirmed. If they are swept away by the urgencies of rationality and respect for science, we would only be grateful – we would have a positive side effect, at least one, of the pandemic.

That said, there is an intriguing fact there. Seen together, the three optimistic speeches (there are others, which will not be mentioned here) seem to point in the direction of a – let's use the cliché – better world, of a markedly utopian future, which gives these speeches a certain flavor of wishful thinking. Does this hopeful look at the health catastrophe have any objective meaning?

In terms, perhaps. It is quite true that, in this season, less discouraging ethical signs emerged. An example was the social way of coping with the contagion of Covid-19, which appealed not to individualism, not to selfishness, but to concern for others. Right from the start, normal, sensible governments realized that they only had one formula to stop the spread of contagions: limit the movement of people, ask everyone to stay at home. And as normal governments, those that are not led by criminals, establish reasonable, friendly communication with society, citizens quickly understood the reason for this measure. They understood that staying at home was not an individualistic guarantee, but a collective one.

They understood that, by benefiting the collective, each one could benefit himself. The reason was elementary: someone who went into quarantine was not guaranteed to be free of the virus, but he was guaranteed that he would not serve as a vector of the virus for others. In other words, a single citizen, even if disciplined, would not be sure of escaping contamination (unless he takes refuge in a hermetically sealed bubble, with no contact whatsoever with the outside world, which is virtually impractical), but, seen as a non-individual solution, but a collective, social one, isolation would reach, as it has achieved in several cities around the world, a good level of effectiveness.

The ethical sense of this way of combating the pandemic invited us to overcome individualism in favor of collectivism. Quite a lesson. It was about assimilating the learning that the only way to stop the spread of evil – making it slower and, consequently, more controllable – was to take care of others before taking care of yourself: I have no way of immunizing myself against the disease, but I have ways of preventing my transit through the city from contaminating other people.

It was in this way, with this voluntary commitment, which implied taking on individual limitations, that communities gained some protection. It was a beautiful ethical teaching: to take care of the other first and only afterwards, as a consequence, to obtain a benefit for oneself. If this form of health prevention could be read as a metaphor for social life, the message would even be encouraging: we only get well when we mobilize so that others stay well. But would this metaphor alone authorize us to have a positive expectation regarding the future? 4 Would human coexistence improve with the plague?

No. The answer is no. During those strange days, it was already possible to know that it wasn't, no matter how much we were rooting for a happy future. Even in the course of the pandemic, other signs, many others, did not encourage optimism. Still subject to the rules of isolation, we already anticipated that those resulting from the health trauma of Covid-19 would take on different faces in different regions of the globe. Maybe in one place or another things would evolve well, but it was hard to believe that the bonanza would come and that civilization would come out of it all matured. Concerns prevailed.

Underneath the edifying speeches – many of which we would all hasten to subscribe to, as we recognize legitimate desires and projects expressed there –, a magma of opposite indications was steaming. Fleeting flagrants of these signs betrayed themselves, like symptoms, in the hypnotic flashes of the Imaginary Industry, the industry that results from the fusion of all the entertainment manufacturing complexes, where advertising, journalistic shows and other powerhouses of representation installed in global conglomerates pulsate. that today monopolize the extraction of gaze and its monetization like a skein around the planet.5 Still referenced, in part, in the laws of the Spectacle – still in force, despite being poorly read –, the flashes of the Imaginary Industry do not illuminate, they overshadow. Nevertheless, if we manage to see through them, we detect the clues of their obscurantist vortices. During the pandemic, these clues pointed to the worst cruelties.

Nothing of optimism could be taken from these clues. In the incandescent filings sprinkled like rubbish by the spotlights of the Imaginary Industry, we sensed that, instead of millionaires converted to detachment and Franciscan humility, humiliation overloads were already approaching for the poorest; instead of slogans of respect for nature, which piled up on the side of the narratives, undeclared policies for the devastation of forests loomed; to the detriment of proclaimed programs to combat inequality, the abandonment of the vulnerable.

In April 2020, the worst omens were outlined in miasmas in the clear sky of São Paulo, freed from harboring car pollution. The physical sky, in its suspicious crystallinity, emulated the electronic screens on which greed exercised a monopoly over the meanings of the word solidarity. As we know, in contemporary capitalism, where the image of the commodity contains the prevailing value of the commodity, each word demands royalties and each of them lends itself to economic land grabbing (language is disputed territory in the new property relations, since today's capitalism manufactures signs and only subsidiarily manufactures corporeal objects).

In the midst of a pandemic, the manufacture of signs and images continued at maximum speed. Capital itself rushed to present itself as the herald and owner of Christian love among human beings. The biggest banking houses in Brazil offered plastic praise to cinematographic charities in massive publicity campaigns.

Such an overdose of imagery would have been ironic if it hadn't been putrid. The viewer who had an address to confine himself to saw the demagogic bank ads in the commercial breaks of the news. Financial marketing reached the point where, in a piece signed by the three largest private banks in the market, funds were pledged to small bottomless entrepreneurs.6 (Funds would be lacking, which was the least.) From then on, subliterature with lucrative and tearful purposes only made it worse. One of the three banking conglomerates came up with the idea of ​​donating a billion reais to fight the pandemic, which, before the vaccine, earned it another tsunami of television ads in its favor.7 The ideal of community sharing, before a diffuse, instinctive, natural good feeling, without private ownership, before a community link, now disfigured itself in the spectacle that emerged from the blackened entrails of the most solid concentration of capital.

Meanwhile, the curves of the disease pointed upwards, towards the Sun at noon, in paroxysmal progressions towards infinity, in such a way that the fake – the pious propaganda of the dollar signs – would end up hand in hand with the morbid – the parade of coffins that began to open its season on the news –, in a baião de dois digital. Then the electronic screens recruited the cemeteries as a scenographic space: cemeteries turned inside out, in 'terraradas' revolts. Numerous public tombs, profiled like an Excel spreadsheet, stamped the unpaved soil of the necropolis.

On the scarred floor, matrix cocoons, lined up in dark brown, offered shallow graves for the audience. The show couldn't stop. In May, backhoes arrived on the scene to cover the anonymous coffins that arrived in trailers with lumps of clay. No, those scenes weren't burial rites, they were pavements where yellow graders leveled the ground on top of dozens of funeral urns without flowers, without tears, without anyone. Tractored diggers.

With glassy eyes, the locked-in middle class envisioned the end of all funeral ceremonies. If death no longer deserved ceremonies, it was because life was worth nothing, or almost nothing. Viewers were not called upon to mourn their dead. They were not called upon to watch over them. They could only watch and wait. Their fragile middle-class vanities evaporated under the abrasive and searing action of the two forces of the industrial imaginary intertwined in the baião de dois: the fake publicity and the journalistic morbid. The morbidity of the news left the fake but fake. On the other hand, the fake of bank advertising made the morbid even more sadistic, just as it turned optimism into a dismal mirage.

The melodrama of the money lords' advertising campaigns now had the look of a smile from a photoshop. Capitalist commiseration was unconvincing, although it abounded. Impossible to believe that the bank believed in what it sold. By then, the damage to come was already clear. Capital managers knew that Brazil's recovery would not be quick, and they knew that the country would emerge from this story weakened.8

Banking was not – is not and never has been – an uninformed or naive industry. For this reason, in view of that financial marketing celebrating little children9 and sentimentality, the most plausible assumption was that, under the guise of rescuing human beings from indigence, the goal was to rid the entire system of generalized default and subsequent fatal liquefaction. It was necessary to save the trust (that currency) in the heart of credit takers (that other currency). Banks don't move to save lives, they move to save themselves, even if, to do so, they have to be so bold as to save lives.

The compact mass of bank advertisements tried to inoculate an antidote against fear, but the eyes of the middle class, including those who imagined themselves to be tall, did not buy the illusion. The subjectivity of those who depended on a sense of privilege to feel self-confident had been shattered. His pretensions were no longer hand in hand with conceit. What was in the dazed eyes in front of the screens was now a “class melancholy”, that is, an affective helplessness of the class that is only class when it identifies itself in libidinal ties with the whims of the ruling class. Resentment of a classless class.

This state of discouragement was established from one week to the next. Was fast. First, the middle class of fanciful perks, still believing themselves to be the incarnation of aristocracy, dedicated themselves to clogging the garage cupboard with packets of toilet paper. He liked it, he saw it as a competitive sport. Then came the scavenger hunts for barrels of gel alcohol and surgical masks. In the lives of Instagram, celebrities posed with designer masks. The hysteria around drugs with stony names, such as hydroxychloroquine, also broke out. But, after the consumerist fevers passed, and everything in fast forward, left the desert of fallen vanities. Orphans. By this time, obscene kindness had become the imagery trump card of official usury and the plague was advancing in the outskirts, eating bodies like trucks.

The self-esteem of the well-heeled underlings crumbled in sandstorms. From one month to the next, those who could no longer boast of niceness learned that they didn't matter a nickel, that they were nothing more than anonymous in the courts where they were presumed to be guests of honor. They found themselves a cackling lumpesinate, dismissed from illusions. The pandemic killed the air of counterfeit noblemanship, and it did so with such clumsiness that it no longer needed to kill their organism. In the vacuum of fear, hatred grew.

These lines, the same ones that your eyes now run over without much interest, were written at the end of May without much conviction. So lacking in conviction that they had to be built, deconstructed, and rebuilt many times. As soon as they straightened up they disappeared, like the self-esteem of those on the mend. At template underlying the impedant whiteness of the canvas, the letters closed their row, marching forward, then retreating. The phrases came and then were erased by the keyboard backspace, that historical marker more imperious than any zeitgeist. A hand's breadth from the scribbler's nose, the cursor went, to the rhythm of the characters in a row, and then came back, under the fury of the backspace dresser.

In the idas, prepositions and verb forms were compressed into unstable formations. A couple of seconds later, they had been deleted. Each line is followed by a line deletion. Now go. Now it won't. Another line and another deletion. Sentences were balanced and dismantled. In the void left by the dismantling, remodeling of the same timbre walked unsteadily.

It was a cost. Each syllable was laid down like a brick, one after another. Heavy bricks, every one of them, and then disappearing in the air like soap bubbles. Bricks, almost all, defective. To pile them up, the tense fingers, in their dull tap dance, drummed aimlessly. Painful and volatile hesitations in a go-no-go rhythm.

These words were born in the midst of a bloody or, worse, bloodless cosmos, in such a way that now it is too late. The “deletant” impulse, after all, did not overcome the dilettante impulse. As can be seen, pessimistic dilettantism prevailed. And for what? For whom? What are these stories for? By the way, let's look into the distance: why History, the one with a capital H? At a time when the performative behaviors of populist leaders are guided by the chaotic disorientation of what excites social networks, what will memory be worth? What good is coherence? What is the use of logic between one act and another? What would these lines be worth then? And, again, what is history worth? This is the point. This is the question mark.

In any case, while these lines came and went, these ones here, it was idle to observe once again that, in our Portuguese language and, moreover, as in Greek, as in Latin, people write to the right and describe to the left. . (Is this the case with all Indo-European languages?) When he tapped his weak syllables, the scribbler watched the cursor move to the right. He was a solitary being pulling a plow across a dry patch. When he tithed them - give him, backspace –, I felt relieved to see the same cursor returning as a brushcutter, clearing ideas towards the left bank. In those pandemic days, days and nights that still linger, describing would have been wiser. The left margin wants the describable from us, but the right margin, which prefers productivity, demands the ready-made text. So be it. As a gravitational field, the right bank overlapped the other.

In the useless advances and retreats of the typist who saw himself as a conjurer, a prediction usurped the authorial motto of what remained: the plague that rained down on us will bequeath us desolation and lightness. Desolation why is that there. Lightness because, for the rest, it no longer matters. We will come out of this smaller and more expendable than we entered. Light as a drop of saliva in the air. Fungible to exhaustion. In the end – if there will be an end at all – money will remain, it is just unknown in what currency, and violence, it is just not known to what degree of explicitness. The orphans of fallen vanities will now cling to violence with their whitened teeth. They will be deadly, even though they are irrelevant. Not just them, by the way. Henceforth, humanity will recognize itself as irrelevant, and such recognition will not come as a tragedy, but as a sterile banality.

Before deciphering irrelevance, let's deal with mortality. The warning that civilizations are mortal comes from the French poet and essayist Paul Valéry. Not that, in the celebrated text of 1919, Valéry told us anything new. He just warned, and right in the first sentence, what was already known: “We civilizations now know that we are mortal”.10

And why wouldn't we know? Civilizations, puny or exuberant, died copiously, including those that were aborted, those that were deleted before opening a paragraph. Civilizations have died in such abundance that, a century ago, Valery admitted: “We feel that a civilization has the same fragility as a life”.11 Let's translate: the same fragility of a stray dog, a rattlesnake in the wild, an equatorial toad or a hibernating banker on a farm.

The awareness of the mortality of civilizations has been so assimilated that it has already worn out, but before Valéry's phrase is thrown at the commonplace label, something that would add little, it is worth remembering that this idea was already traumatic, once there was, rather, those who believed that civilization, the one in which we are embarked, would cross the portals of time, unscathed like a stream of neutrinos. Today, those who believed that way are dead. In the 2020 pandemic, the theoretical finitude of civilization is nothing but platitude. In its place, more impactful or sensationalist sayings sprouted, such as those that – pour épater le petit bourgeois –announce the total death of humanity.

It is fashionable to talk about the disappearance of the human species. Our extinction frequents a vast amount of writings, academic or otherwise, like party rice or funeral snacks. Sometimes, in the midst of the noise surrounding global warming, the thesis erupts in more or less alarmist verbiage.12 There is talk, and talk without the slightest ceremony, not just about the disappearance of the Homo sapiens, but in the calcination of all forms of life on the planet. When not so much, there is talk of the end of intelligent life (self-praise goes awry) and, in the most conservative forecasts, there is talk of the extinction of a considerable part of the Earth's biomes. No drama.

We live in an era where we deal with the death of everything quite naturally. Civilizations die, species disappear, ecosystems turn to dust. None of that bothers. The only thing that may be a problem is that, in the dystopian environment of production relations we are entering, with the uberization of everything, even true love, the human loses weight and centrality. If we're really going to disappear, it looks like we're going to disappear without a shine. This, yes, maybe this is a problem.

More than being unemployed, the great transnational masses, migrants or not, miserable or not, proletarianized or sub-proletarianized, have no perspective of being integrated into the productive process, which constitutes an intricate topic for medium and long-term scenarios. What to do with it? Distribute minimum income so that generations condemned to uselessness do not starve to death in landfills? Is it enough?

It's not just the bodies and muscles of multitudes that lose function – the human imagination has also been cornered. Even more humiliating than the perpetual unemployment of the majority is the way in which Artificial Intelligence and machines capable of “learning” keep displacing and deactivating the spirit – the spirit, here, in the exact sense that Paul Valéry gave it.

What spirit is this? It is not the Cartesian spirit, the intellect at work, what leads the philosopher to say, in the first person, that it is “just a thing that thinks”. Nor is it about the Hegelian spirit, which, in its highest manifestation, would embody the superior reason that would govern nature and rational beings (because “the real is rational”). It is a spirit that does not completely remove itself from the milestones that preceded it, but dares to overflow them.

Among us, the one who best teaches us about the spirit in Paul Valéry is the philosopher Adauto Novaes, in the magnificent essay “Mundospossibles”, with which he introduced one of his cycles of lectures – a cycle that had a title, so to speak, descriptor, The future is not what it used to be –, Adauto noted with remarkable conciseness that, for Valéry, the spirit is “power in transformation”. One of the roots of this proposition goes back to Saint Augustine, for whom the spirit could be understood, still according to Adauto, as “the permanent work of intelligence as a power of transformation”. This apprehension of a perhaps poetic sense of “spirit” leads us to discern a thinking vibration that, being matter, exists as a power endowed with imagination that, with unconditional freedom, acts on the world to transform it. The human spirit is the one that invents the human that invented it.

And so it invents and (self) transforms, until it hits a limit (a limit that has been the essential theme in the recent work of Adauto Novaes). In our time, the spirit would have bumped into this limit and, consequently, would be in check, threatened with death, or even mortally wounded. But hurt by whom? Threatened by whom? Well, Valery will answer, by the spirit itself. Let's continue with Adauto Novaes.

It happens, says the poet [Valéry, in the essay “Notre destin et les lettres”], that the spirit – this power of transformation – subverted the world in such a way that it ended up turning against the spirit itself: a world transformed by the spirit, in which accelerated inventions are born and in a short time modify customs, politics , ethics, mentalities, social life, in short, the world of technical and scientific transformations “no longer offers the spirit the same perspectives and the same directions as before and poses entirely new problems, countless enigmas”.

This is how, on the philosophical path, the painful fate of the spirit that empties the spirit is revealed. Adauto reacts: “What happens to this power of transformation [The spirit] when modernity seeks to transform the spirit into a superfluous thing, as Valéry also claims?”.

This expression, “superfluous thing”, is incredible. Let us concede that the French poet's vision comes to us a century later. Valéry witnessed the upheavals, not only technological, but also political and aesthetic, in an era marked by the First World War. Certainly, he saw beyond what he witnessed, but the time he said what he said seems to go a long way now. Since then, bumps and ruptures have grown exponentially in extent and acceleration. On certain occasions in our days, the theoretical sensation that surrounds us is that the old spirit, the same one that was declared a “superfluous thing” a hundred years ago, is now nothing more than an accessory.

A Poliana might claim that we are exaggerating. After all, as Poliana would say, the ultra-secret and opaque algorithms, themselves, the algorithms that impassively govern the flow of opinions on social networks (one of them with more than three billion active users in the world13), are nothing more than prodigies of the human spirit. Therefore, they are human creations. Poliana will also be able to argue that the conglomerates that monopolize, on a global scale, the Imaginary Industry and the tools that extract the gaze, constitute a work of the spirit. So it is the spirit that is still at the center.

Really? Be optimistic. What to say when algorithms and the conglomerates in which they hide confine the creative spontaneity of flesh and blood people? By engendering such devices - Artificial Intelligence, the big data, the algorithms and the monopolistic conglomerates of technology and gaze extraction –, the spirit made them the executioners of the spirit itself (its Frankensteinian monster, to use a metaphor here, also a century old). In what was most human, the spirit so named by Paul Valéry and Adauto Novaes lost its place, was reduced to a “superfluous thing” and, poor thing, he even lost his job. Like the great masses, it wanders without occupation. Artificial Intelligence entails the compulsory retirement of the spirit. At most, the spirit managed to get a decorative and poorly paid job in a board advisory from Amazon or Facebook.

Or from IBM. Not long ago, the technology giant adopted a slogan advertising that says it all: “Intelligence ready to work”. That slogan it sounds everywhere, like an obsessive IBM mantra. But what does that mean? What did they have in mind – head without spirit – the publicist who invented this slogan and the executive who approved it? As much as thinking today is an unacceptable apostasy, let's think a little. What kind of semantic links were activated by the synthesis of this catchphrase? How can you understand the meaning of the word “intelligence” there? What is certain is that “intelligence”, in the context of slogan, is an entity that “works”.

In IBM's promotional texts, the texts that support the slogan, it is emphasized that the brand's equipment and services helpfully resolve the impasses faced by customers. “Intelligence”, therefore, has a direct application in productive companies, in organizations that need solutions to function better. We are talking, then, about an “intelligence” that delivers results and generates profits, since, in addition to being intelligent, it is also artificial (the company invests in studies and projects linked to the concept it has of “intelligence”). artificial”), the solution sold by the company works very well, it works like a charm. Therefore, we are talking about a well-formatted, well-programmed, well-trained and profitable “intelligence”.

The noun “intelligence” subsequently gains a new form of appropriation in this era in which capital appropriates signifiers and plants its barbed wire fences on the ground of language. The noun “intelligence” comes to mean what IBM reiterates all the time that it means. In the IBM vocabulary, which extends over the common vocabulary, “intelligence” is dissociated from its critical sense, since “intelligence”, in this vocabulary, instead of being critical, is obedient, solicitous, helpful, diligent.

“Intelligence” now contains the competitive advantage of the uninterrupted “work” day. The most disruptive factor in all of this (the so-called big tech enjoy babbling about “disruptive” scenarios just as they talk about “initializing” and “discontinuing”) is that, now, with technology, nothing less than “intelligence” could finally be “ready” to “work” in direction the customer chooses. Note, now, the miracle of silicon: it is no longer intelligence (the thinking and imaginative spirit) that designs the place of work, but the exploitation of work that gives employment and guidance to “intelligence”. “Intelligence” is subordinated to a criterion that itself, “intelligence”, is unaware of, in order to “work” on something whose effects it does not master. Thus, the fabulous hybrid of alienated “intelligence” is founded.

It's that or nothing. If not, intelligence will be of no use. By the way, speaking of useful beings, what will poetry be used for now? Will she have to be “put to work” too? And has it not already been put to work, beyond the spirit? What will happen to Philosophy? Has the unlikely reader noticed that projects for universities without philosophy and without the arts are in vogue today? Have you noticed that these are spiritless university projects? And what will happen to contemplation, that state of mind described by Aristotle as the highest degree of happiness? Will all this become superfluous? No one needs more elements, in addition to those already given, to answer this type of question. One way or another, behold, the former attribute of the spirit once called intelligence (or prudence, in the Greek virtues) falls into disuse. Unless, of course, "it's about being ready to work." Unless you get a job at IBM.

And look, it wasn't without warning. In the XNUMXth century, Karl Marx had already scribbled something about the “world without spirit”. He didn't go without warning anyway. More than a century later, the fissure between the spirit and machinic super-modernity has opened wide, which, although architected in part by the imagination of the spirit, walks without the spirit and prefers to walk that way. The hyper-realistic portrait of the new world without spirit – the expression “post-spirit world”, which would be unfortunate and in bad taste, is a millimeter away from being patented – are the graves in military formation in the graveyards of backhoe loaders. The pandemic anticipated the announced trauma. The pandemic has demonstrated, with motorized gravediggers and empathy trust banks, that the spirit that made men a humanity is economically superfluous, just as it has proven that humanity itself is an irrelevant state of matter.

Neither the human spirit nor the whole of humanity counts. Humanity is no longer a beacon. It does not precede. And it's not the end either. What, for Kant, should always be the end, never the means, was reduced to an apparatus of programmed obsolescence. The one that lent sacredness to any idea that invoked it barely holds up as a collective noun. Humanity is to humans what the pack is to wolves. Interesting, in the present linguistic context, to see scientists and politicians talking about “herd immunity”. Interesting: inhuman human herd. From a certain point of view, our civilization is dying of its temper as it grows brutal and triumphs.

In April, the news spread that, worldwide, 4,5 billion people had entered some form of confinement.14 The data was impressive for its magnitude: no less than six out of ten human beings on Earth lived in quarantine, locked up at home, without going to work, without going to school, without going to the bar or to the cinema. In large cities, only in exceptional circumstances did the authorities allow someone to leave the house: the safe-conduct was valid for going to buy food or medicine or to provide essential services, as in the case of doctors, nurses, police, garbage collectors, truck drivers, journalists. Due to its colossal magnitude, the data was also impressive for what it revealed about the productive gears of current capitalism. Even in a circumstance in which 4,5 billion earthlings suffered from severe and unusual restrictions to move around, the production of goods, the transit of money and market movements did not wither. Even with an absurd shortage of people, the economy continued.

With the advent of Covid-19, it was discovered that the physical presence of human beings, except in singular, atypical functions, could be dispensed with, without prejudice to the strength of the system. There were even euphoric ones. Everywhere commentators, chroniclers and the inevitable specialists accustomed from the media, all under confinement, praised and praised (at a distance, of course) the technological marvels that inaugurated the telematic modality of “remote work”. Once again, technology saved capitalism.

Once again, verbal celebrations signaled that technology saved the economy. In the midst of the voices, the meaning of the terms “remote” and “at a distance” changed. The word “in person” gained another dimension, mainly because human things are no longer done, pardon the crude wording, “in person”. Never has so much “virtual” love been made as in the times of Covid-19. No empirical research is needed to know that this was so.

In the pandemic, capitalism was different. He, who developed by buying “labor power” from human bodies, he too joined the trend of reinventing himself. And it was easy, because it was already reinvented.

Before, when buying “labor power”, the production line was powered by blood. The Industrial Revolution certainly modified the factory plan, but even in the XNUMXth century, or in three quarters of the XNUMXth century, production relations could not do without the physical action of the worker on the manufactured thing. The exploration took place on-site visit, body present. When the pandemic arrived, this is no longer the case. The automation of added value (added value on top of added value) requires less of the body and more of the soul. For this reason, it could afford to explode working hours measured in continuous hours. The production of this reinvented capitalism exploits the domesticated imagination, the alienated intelligence, the fallen spirit, and none of that is measured by the clock.

Capital no longer exploits sweat, but instinctual engagement. He learned to explore desire in both production and consumption, just as he learned to explore the gaze as work. In capitalism that manufactures image, sign and value of enjoyment, the human migrates from eight-hour work shifts to the connection online that does not turn off 24 hours a day. Thus, while 4,5 billion human beings were practicing the new passive sport of quarantine, capitalism severed a few more ties of dependence it maintained on humanity. In those days, USP professors, with their so-called non-essential work offered remotely, under voluntary house arrest, felt that they were working even harder than before. In fact, they actually worked harder.

This order of overlapping transformations, which reconfigured capital, revamped culture. In place of the so-called “face-to-face” meetings, other approximation plans emerged. Avatars replaced bodies, presences surrendered to telepresence,15 Public spaces have been transmuted into public telespace – where it is possible to be in different spaces at the same time and where it is possible to materially concentrate different spaces into one. Social communication has shifted from the Instance of the Printed Word to the Instance of the Live Image, which has reached multiple complexities with digital technologies. The subject was raised to paradoxical planes of existence beyond the body – he acts in the world without having to step on the world. Money travels at the speed of light. The gaze travels at the speed of light. Desire too. The speech. As for the body, it lies in quarantine.

In the spreadsheets of capitalism, the majority of the inhabitants of the planet, in this generation and, mainly, in the next ones, receive a rubric less dignified than that of “reserve army” on their foreheads. Human lives not only do not generate wealth, but can disturb the account. Rubble. Industrial waste. Existential irrelevance. Material irrelevance. Metaphysical irrelevance. The human is still an instrument, but increasingly disposable.

For the first time in history, we see a ruler shrug off the death of his people. They ask him about the deaths caused by the plague, tens of thousands of deaths, and he responds with an air of little concern: “So what?”.16 Not that the disfigured, anachronistic and adulterated fascism that is there, a fascism even more abject than the original, is one of the causes of humanity's irrelevance. It's worse than that. The most likely thing is that the lowered fascism that abducts us is a paltry symptom, just one more symptom. Which doesn't stop you, or anyone else, from letting yourself be carried away by optimism.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of The raw form of the protests(Literature Company)

Originally published on Advanced Studies Magazine no. 99.



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1 One of the journalists who best detected and documented this trend was Alexandre Mansur, in an article for the magazine Examination, on April 1, 2020: “There will be a rescue of simple lifestyles, more focused on human relationships, health and happiness, and less on the accumulation of goods considered superfluous” (Mansur, 2020).

2 An excellent overview of this possible trend appears in the well-documented and substantiated article by Francisco de Assis Esteves, vice-director of the Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (Nupem), at UFRJ, of which he was a founder. See Esteves (2020).

3 Researcher Yasha Mounk was one of those who voiced this possibility. See the interview given by him to the Portuguese website of BBC News (Idoeta, 2020).

4 See the article “Why, instead of the disease, I prefer healing as a metaphor” (Buci, 2020).

5 On the concepts of “Imaginary Industry” and “gaze extraction”, see Bucci (2019).

6 Bradesco, Itaú and Santander, together for your company. Available in: . Accessed on: 42 Apr. 8.

7 Available in: . Accessed on: 8 Apr. 19.

8 A damage that, in an article signed by former ambassador Rubens Barbosa, president of Fiesp’s Superior Council for Foreign Trade, was described in harsh terms: “Analyses and studies by the main international organizations indicate that the pandemic may extend for a period longer than the advance. The vaccine against covid-19 promises to take time to be marketed. The global recession will be deep and long. The consequences for the economy and international trade could be devastating, with a serious drop in global growth and unemployment. Brazil's recovery will not be quick, nor will the country come out stronger, as some announce” (Barbosa, 2020).

9 On the pretext of honoring doctors, Bradesco aired an advertising piece in which children act, pretending they are doctors examining their toy dolls with stethoscopes. Available in: . Accessed on: May 27, 2020.

10 "We civilizations now know that we are deadly”. The electronic edition available in PDF on the Ouvres Ouvertes website (Valéry, 2020) is used here. Originally from 1924.

11 "Nous sentons qu'une civilization a la même fragilité qu'une vie” (Valery, 2020). Originally from 1924.

12 An exhaustive survey of the occurrence of speeches that announce “short-term human extinction” (as in Guy McPherson’s expression), can be seen in Wallace-Wells (2019). See, in particular, the chapter “Ethics at the end of the world”.

13 Facebook reached 2020 with 2,5 billion users worldwide. Available in: . Accessed on: May 16064, 28.

14 The Globe. Coronavirus leaves 4,5 billion people confined in the world. 17.4.2020. Available in: . Accessed on: May 45, 24378350.

15 The expression is by Paul Virilio (1995, p.131).

16 “President Jair Bolsonaro said this Tuesday (28/04/2020) that he is sorry, but he has nothing to do about the new record for deaths recorded in 24 hours, with 474 deaths, surpassing China in the total number of deaths. by the new coronavirus. 'And? Am sorry. What do you want me to do? I am the Messiah, but I don't do miracles,' he said when asked about the numbers” (Chaib; Carvalho, 2020).


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