The means of necropolitics

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By ANA AMÉLIA PENIDO OLIVEIRA* e EDUARDO MEI**

Facing the crisis requires exceptional or authoritarian measures and, under the pretext of fighting the pandemic, an exceptional regime is promoted whose enemy would not be the virus, but the Brazilian people

Around the world, the advance of the covid-19 pandemic motivated the use of military terms to refer to what would be a war against the spread of the virus. Although this is not surprising, since the solution to the problem involves politics, strategy, tactics, logistics, etc., in countries with a strong authoritarian culture and which have military dictatorships in their recent memory, such as Brazil, it is convenient to look into the 'conduction' of this war to avoid two misunderstandings: the first involves a misunderstanding of the war and, as a result, a misunderstanding of the war and the spread of the virus. The second, more important, is to consider that facing the crisis requires exceptional or authoritarian measures and, under the pretext of fighting the pandemic, an exceptional regime is promoted whose enemy would not be the virus, but the Brazilian people. Regrettably, these two possibilities are the order of the day.

War as a metaphor[I]

The war against the Covid-19 pandemic is nothing new. The vast majority of the Brazilian population fights a permanent war for survival. In Brazil, many wars are being waged: against poverty, against drugs, against illiteracy, against dengue... and, despite this being covert at times, the instruments of “legitimate” coercion by the Brazilian State are continually employed. internally under the logic of the internal enemy, in particular against those considered “undesirable”: the black, the indigenous, the poor. Deaths and wounded/infected also contribute to associating the pandemic with war and it is not by chance that the development of surgical techniques and the professionalization of nursing are related to warlike confrontations. Exceptional measures, such as those provided for in the state of public calamity, budgetary measures and the restriction of the right to come and go — trenches and sanitary barriers — also evoke the memory of war, even in countries very distant in the time of the so-called interstate wars, such as is the case of Brazil.[ii]

War is the continuation of politics by other means

Not treated Of war, the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz defined war as the continuation of politics by other means. With this, he defended that politics determines the ends sought in war and that such ends were themselves the consequence of political relations, that is, every war takes place in a specific and unrepeatable context.[iii] Therefore, if we consider that fighting the pandemic is a war, it is worth asking what kind of war it is and what are the ends sought through it.

As an eminently political phenomenon, war is subject to broad socio-historical interpretations. We emphasize one aspect: the violent confrontation between politically organized groups. In this sense, it would only be possible to think of war between organized groups of society and the government in the dispute over tactics to face the crisis, and not exactly a war against the virus.

Given the impossibility of examining the purposes pursued by the various actors involved, we will focus the analysis on the federal government, as it is the one that would have the most resources to face and overcome the coronavirus crisis. In the face of war situations, political leaders call for unity and national cohesion, call on the people to make an effort in favor of a “greater good”, and adopt a belligerent discourse directed at the opponent. Bolsonaro's performance in the face of the crisis is absolutely different. The president insists on political polarization, adopts a belligerent discourse aimed at the institutions and even against former trench partners, and issues confusing statements to the population, sometimes contrary to other members of the government itself, about the measures to be taken in the face of the pandemic. . Times of wars and pandemics require government capacity to mobilize society and state structures (such as the armed forces[iv]) to respond jointly to such a challenge. They require command, strategy, planning and execution capacity, which Brazil obviously lacks at the moment.

In times of war, the national emotional identity is amplified, and solidarity initiatives arise, even between different social classes. In turn, in epidemics, social classes are affected differently, and a selfish feeling is generated, either on the part of the States (commercial sabotage for the purchase of medical supplies), or on the part of individuals (stigmatization of more vulnerable groups, such as elderly or Asian). It should be clarified that, if a segment of the Brazilian population dies more than another, it is not mainly because of the virus, but due to the political, economic and social conditions of those affected.

In an interview with Tutaméia, Fiori (2020)[v] points to the short and medium-term economic impacts as a common trait between the pandemic and wars. “But unlike wars, epidemics do not usually destroy cities, infrastructure, physical equipment, factories or any other economic activity.” Although less destructive, pandemics require general and localized economic responses. The pandemic has awakened speculative capital from the dogmatic dream[vi] of fictitious capital. The obvious effect of the crisis, as the IMF and World Bank have already announced, is a global recession in 2020, with an increase in the already high levels of unemployment and poverty. In this scenario, in addition to sanitary and social isolation measures, facing the pandemic and the economic crisis necessarily demand countercyclical measures, such as those adopted almost everywhere in the world, including large state investments, but also measures that allow sustaining a long period of time. of social withdrawal, such as minimum income and supply guarantees.

The pandemic is the continuation of necropolitics by other means

Examined from a strategic perspective, inspired by the Clausewitzian theory of war, it is worth asking: what are the ends pursued by the federal government in confronting the pandemic? Political ends, maintenance and expansion of its power. By denying the seriousness of the pandemic, and presenting the defense of lives and the economy as antagonistic activities, Bolsonaro made a risky bet. If state measures were successful in controlling the pandemic, Bolsonaro would validate his speech that the pandemic is a cold. If they didn't work, he would blame the state governments for the crisis in the economy, reinforcing his 'anti-system' speech[vii] and declaring war against other institutional powers. In his gamble, the president lost. Brazil is on its way today to become the epicenter of the pandemic in the world, and it is heavily blamed. It must be said that the economic orthodoxy that guides government policy has changed little. This is the classic neoliberal recipe: budgetary asphyxiation and privatization of the State.

For Mbembe (2016), the maximum expression of state sovereignty should be care for its citizens. However, he takes citizens as enemies and adopts a policy of systematically killing citizens deemed undesirable, adopting necropolitics.[viii]. Thus, if war is the continuation of politics by violent means, the pandemic is the continuation of necropolitics by sordid means. According to Lugano report[ix], there is nothing new in the hecatombs caused by conquests and wars, hunger and pandemics. “The difficulty is to make them durable”. It seems that the federal government has learned its lesson in this regard. He takes advantage of deaths to expand his power, in a war not against the pandemic, or the virus, but against the people themselves.

*Ana Amelia Penido Oliveira is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Public Policy and International Relations at UNESP and at the Tricontinental Institute of Social Research.

**Eduardo Mei Professor of Sociology at the Department of International Relations at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences at UNESP (campus from France).

Notes:

[i] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/military-metaphors-distort-the-reality-of-covid-19/

[ii]            https://elpais.com/elpais/2020/04/02/opinion/1585822472_869082.html – The virus and military language

[iii]           http://editoraunesp.com.br/catalogo/9788595463004,dicionario-de-seguranca-e-defesa?fbclid=IwAR1CGr6keJ6bTjnElSqpbr77dIaHbS6py9os-yURByAazEjARKFe1qdb47s

[iv]           https://jornal.usp.br/artigos/um-balanco-da-atuacao-dos-militares-brasileiros-na-pandemia-da-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR0q0hLvc01P0jlDi69hfGmiwlt-9wH8P2nzZ-UsIrg0lSYrqS8VfY04ND0

[v]             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU4uzpxTDcQ

[vi]           It is symptomatic of the accidental onset of the economic crisis that other factors could have triggered it. It is notable that, in December 2019, Nouriel Roubini, who predicted the 2008 crisis, did not consider the pandemic as a relevant economic factor. To see https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/aug/23/global-recession-immune-monetary-solution-negative-supply-shock e https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/29/ten-reasons-why-greater-depression-for-the-2020s-is-inevitable-covid

[vii]          https://www.thetricontinental.org/es/ba-research/amlatmar20/

[viii]         https://revistas.ufrj.br/index.php/ae/article/view/8993

[ix]           https://www.boitempoeditorial.com.br/produto/o-relatorio-lugano-38

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