The paradoxes of the fear society

Image_Marcio Costa


The Politics of Chaos and Control é the way to organize power in the society of fear. Will it succeed, and if so, how will it work?

Is this kind of biblical curse that has fallen on us just a delusion of our fragile lives? No, it's not a haunting, the risk of contamination and the lethality of Covid19 are immense. If the possibility of a death toll is accepted in the United States and if the pandemic wave will still grow in the southern hemisphere (Malawi and Uganda, with almost double and five times the Portuguese population, have 25 and 12 intensive care beds), the coming months will be harder. However, we must ask: and was it not so in other cases? In fact, although there is no longer anyone with direct memory of the devastating flu of 1918, we are contemporaries of another epidemic of the same order of magnitude, that of HIV, which claimed 36 million victims in forty years. Perhaps the first is lost in memories and the second has always been whispered as an unspeakable punishment, but even that doesn't free us from that past that clouds our present. So what's new or different about Covid19? Is it just the danger, which is no small amount, of moving from a state of necessity to a state of permanent exception? More than that. The new is the society of fear. This is the language of our times, which I discuss in this essay.

the fear that é a scare

Modern societies have always lived with fear, making it a form of communication. It was this trivialization procedure, moreover, that sought to domesticate it. Absolute fear was thus accepted, as long as it referred to the unthinkable and restricted to unique events, describing moments of panic as a shock that is imposed on us from the outside and that, even for that reason, can be dramatized as a spectacle.

The most striking example of this fear at the dawn of modernity was the earthquake of 1755. There was then the optimism of the conquest and a new glow, ideas called themselves “lights”, but the disgrace that befell Lisbon, unexpectedly, even unimaginable, forced to reconsider the risks of life. However, it was not possible to attribute a reason to the mortality, since the cause was indifferent to human hand and even to the knowledge of the time: it was perhaps either a punishment or a failure of providence, the wrath of a god or his dismissal, but that cosmos would always be beyond blame. Even so, what humanity could not accept was alienation: “Lisbon is ruined and people dance in Paris”, protested Voltaire in his manifesto-poem about the disaster, while Kant was busy suggesting hypotheses about the seismology of the abysses who had revolted. Rousseau wrote to Voltaire to suggest that if there was a lesson in this, it was that evil is among us. Radicals, what in any case none of them favored was the condescension of those other philosophers for whom “whatever exists, is right”, a circular justification that they condemned and fought.

Because of the raw news, more than because of this debate in philosophical salons, the Lisbon earthquake forced Europe to give up the comfort of an idealized life under the protection of a celestial causality and to try to understand its fear. However, it was an easy answer, it only referred us to the surprising. Fear was fed by that accident in which the sky collapsed on the earth.

And if the danger is nós?

Only now, suddenly, we realize that this time it wasn't a simple chance that hit us. The pandemic is not an earthquake, unexpected and momentary. Nor is it a war, with ordered armies and known territories, however desperate metaphors for an image figure this “invisible enemy” and its “battle fronts”. What terrifies her is greater than a war or an earthquake, is that here the fear is us, our illness. Illness turns our own body into the focus of the inconceivable. We are the danger, it does not come from the depths of the seas or lands, or from an invading army. So, if we are the bearers of evil, we have to ask ourselves how it is that we became our greatest dread.

Thucydides, in his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, which describes the confrontation between Sparta and Athens, from 430 to 429 BC, told how the plague decimated a quarter of the population of Athens and installed fear. “While the plague lasted, no one complained of other illnesses, because if one manifested itself, it would soon evolve into that one. Sometimes death was the result of negligence, but as a rule it survived despite all care. No remedy has been found, it may be said, which contributed to the relief of those who took it - what benefited one sick person harmed another - and no complexion was able of itself to resist evil, whether strong or weak; it reached everyone without distinction, even those surrounded by all medical care”. Without effective medicine, the Athenian population died. And there was worse: “But the most terrible aspect of the disease was the apathy of the people affected by it, as their spirit immediately surrendered to despair and they considered themselves lost, unable to react. There was also the problem of contagion, which occurred through the care of some sick people for others, and killed them like a herd; this was the cause of the greatest mortality, because if on the one hand the sick abstained for fear of visiting each other, they all ended up perishing for lack of care, in such a way that many houses were left empty for lack of someone to take care of them; or if, on the other hand, they visited each other, they also perished, especially the altruists, who out of human respect entered the houses of friends without worrying about their own lives, at a time when even the relatives of the dying, crushed by the dimension of the calamity , they no longer had the strength to cry for them”. The disease was contagious in all forms, death knocked at the door of every home.

Translated and disseminated by Thomas Hobbes, a century before the Lisbon earthquake, this story confirmed the memory of the medieval plagues (providing precious medical indications, which confirmed the immunization of the infected survivors, in the second outbreak), in addition to reminding the immensity of the threats and , first of all, its social effects: “the misfortune that hit them was so overwhelming that people, not knowing what awaited them, became indifferent to all laws, whether sacred or profane”. That is, fear generates chaos, which for Thucydides was indifference to the law. Chaos is the society of fear.

Each person é a rock?

The pandemic raises fear, but it is a particular fear. Fear of ourselves and others, but not all others or all in the same way: the most dangerous are those closest to us, who can bring us the “unknown enemy” in a kiss. Therefore, the first perplexity about how we are going to recognize ourselves in the post-apocalypse is this: will the threat ever end? Note that the principle of confinement, as an essential measure for public health, does not presuppose the perpetuation of isolation, rather it is presented as the condition for its end. When Manuel Alegre tells us about these “squares full of nobody”, or when we notice people hiding behind shutters and windows, one feels the aspiration to freedom that wants to overcome the emergency and re-establish social contact. Well, what if it's not like that? If we are told that we should always look with fear at those who are beside us?

One answer comes from the last century, it is Hayek's radical individualism: that's how it should be, we really are unique, each one for himself. In this narrative, freedom is, in fact, dispensable, and hence his complicity with the Pinochet dictatorship, as Hayek understood that it would be enough for society to rise on the pillar of total selfishness. It's just that you can't live in a “man's wolf man” regime and if solitude was ever exalted, perhaps under poetic license, it was never more than a lament. When Simon and Garfunkel sang “I am a rock, I am an island”, they asked for magical protection and separation from others, exile, I want to be alone. But it was only the cry of lost love, the drama of a person: “I have built walls / that no one will penetrate / I do not need friendship / friendship causes pain / I disdain laughter and love”. The song was then a falsehood, in fact I am not a rock or an island, the cruel words of despair do not protect me. There's nowhere to run. No one lives alone, not even in the society of fear. Thus, the second perplexity is this: and what will the new frontiers of this fear look like?

The answer to these two perplexities is still being outlined in the shadows of the emergency. Honestly, no one knows what's going to happen next. The days of calamity are frantic: the stock markets of the greatest economic power had their biggest drop in the last fifty years and also their three happiest days in the last eighty years. They will continue to be shocked. In the United States, twenty million new unemployed people accumulated in four weeks and it is estimated that the number could double. In Portugal, the recession in 2020 alone may be more serious than the one accumulated in all the years of the troika. In southern countries, the consequences can be huge. We therefore suspect that what will remain after this storm could be worse than what we now foresee. That is the very definition of fear.

However, perhaps there is already some answer to these concerns. For even the fear of the unimaginable is read by our eyes. We know how we got here and how we live. We understand who we are. But, in fact, this certainty is not reassuring. Even before the pandemic ran over our lives, there were plenty of reasons for concern about the predominance of a mechanical sociability and a form of communication that corrodes democracy. And when dystopian futures are sketched, they all seem identifiable in the traits of what already exists: work without a job, precariousness with a life isolated on the computer, people fed by clouds of Ubereats, monitored mobility, behavioral scoring systems controlled by artificial intelligence, politics based on lie, paranoid information. For a permanent state of exception, it doesn't seem to be necessary to invent much. As Dominic Cummings, the prophet of Boris Johnson, said, a “beneficial crisis” is the opportunity to impose a new agenda. We've seen it all.

the contact é dangerous in contact society?

What thus presents itself to us is the risk of life in chaos, which is the order of fear. This way of living is, however, paradoxical. The remedy that prevents it is isolation and, as a result, society is torn between two parallel dimensions, in one we live in confinement, in the other we live in maximum intensity of contact, via virtual sociability. One feeds the other. It seems that the immediate effect of the pandemic was to transfer us from life to social networks, abdicating the effect of symmetry between these parallel worlds that tenuously balanced our sanity. YouTube has multiplied its total daily views by seven since March 15th. Facebook posts grew by 50% in the hardest-hit countries. These days, we get used to living on the other side of the mirror.

Also from this dive into the virtual one will say that it is the old normal. Before the pandemic era, this world had already begun to change the world, rebuilding languages ​​and, above all, popularizing dissimulation behind projected statutes. On the net, I can be my avatar, a comfortable illusion for all repressions. Thus, in this Facebook model of identity, I can be someone else, projecting an arbitrary, even heroic image of myself. However, it is artificial or, as Diderot commented about the flutenerves of its time, this is a cafe where some dedicate themselves to “a theater where being accredited is the prize”. Now, since individuality is falsifiable and rewardable, the sociability that reproduces it is also fanciful, moreover, the more outlandish the denser it is. Jealousy in this example: if, in a small community of 1234 “friends”, each one shares two posts a day, a video and a photo, this network moves more than six million messages daily and on the page of each one almost five thousand, four per second. The problem is that this communicational explosion, with its agglomeration effect, is nothing more than a specific form of isolation, under the pretense of popularity. On the other hand, the “community” does not know each other and, the larger, the more opaque.

Yes, the plunge into the new normal took place years ago, but the fear society is amplifying it in two precise ways. The first is that this form of life isolates but communicates, and it does so intensely in a panic mode. The second is that fantasy, which is the way of being of the social network, manufactures its own reality, as already noted in 1928 Thomas's theorem, which found that, “if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences". Both have profound consequences for the society of fear.

What stays and what changes

To analyze these two powerful changes, communicative intensity and the reality of illusions in the new world, I must add another argument to explain their success. It's just that the ground had been prepared, some time ago, by the social model based on consumerism, the rule that attributes a social status to those who display objects of desire recognizable by all. Now, desire is infinite. The so-called Law of Eroticism, which Proust would have formulated or repeated, reminds us that the more inaccessible, the more desirable the object of our passion, which is why the eroticization of merchandise is the triumphant advertising strategy. Therefore, consumerism has no limits, it does not accept any barrier of material capacity, new desires will always be invented.

Another form of this eager communication has not changed either: social networks were already devices in which the machine mediates friendship. Interestingly, Facebook, the largest of these networks, which now covers a third of the planet's population, is a case of the creature inventing itself, since, when it was conceived by Harvard students, it served to promote personal encounters, not to stage them. Meanwhile, it became a simulacrum mechanic and that's how it became a global network, the most powerful multinational in the history of our planet.

Therefore, the consumerist desire and the machine that standardizes communication organized, even before the pandemic, the continuity of everyday life. And it was on this map that the changes were imposed: if this civilization had universalized discourses of permanent tension, with the explosion of iterative communication it amplified anguish. This is the breeding ground for fear to settle in. We now discover that the two paths through which this fear became natural were the frenzy of communication and the shift from politics to the spectacle.

Society as anxiety

A society absorbed by its own virtual representation demands the continuous production of an exuberant combination of information and entertainment, colonizing the public space. This is only possible if this production is based on the image, as only the image absolutely monopolizes attention. I note, before continuing, that one of the consequences of this process is that it establishes new forms of dependency and inequality. In a book on “Consumer Children”, a co-operative, Ed Mayo, and a professor at the University of Bristol, Agnes Nairn, demonstrated that, in the UK, poor children are nine times more likely than those of average families to eat to see television. The PISA survey revealed that 60% of 15- and 16-year-olds in the OECD read newspapers in 2009, today it has dropped to less than 20%. Four out of five young Arabs between the ages of 18 and 24 only find information on social media, a number that has tripled in four years. In the XNUMXst century, the most respected relative is the screen.

The absorbing use of the image to standardize contemporary discourse promotes a new form of consumerism, whose norm is no longer the object used, but the time of attention dedicated to it. For all information technology companies, the result is now measured by the time captured by billions of users. Thus, the value of the company is established by each person's dependence on its services. The virtual cannibalizes the real. The consequence is that the bulk of investment by companies (and by the States) is predominantly directed towards gears for controlling and identifying users, organizing the supply of services for each segment of consumption. The screen becomes the needy consumer's confidant, tutor and partner.

In any case, the consumer is given an instrument of sublimation and that is why this system is so attractive to him: he creates his own representation, he feels free, but for that he needs to dramatize his personality, to make himself heard . It is suggested to him that he has power, that he is power. The consequence, commented the essayist Sarah Bakewell, is that “the XNUMXst century is full of people full of themselves and fascinated by their own personality, screaming for attention”. Naturally, this mode of communication enhances aggressive behavior and, in particular, imposes a condition for success to this shouting, so necessary to be heard: you have to show indignation. To verify this, a researcher carried out the following experiment on one of the most popular social networks of the Portuguese far right: she published, in the face of general indifference, a post (about the exploitation of shift workers) and, some time later, republished the same text , but this time punctuated by intense protests, which already mobilized an enthusiastic response. Pavlov's instinct of today is triggered by the exclamation point, readers are trained to react and multiply the language of anger. This is, in fact, the reason why Ventura tried to turn the cry of “shame” into his alter ego parliamentary. For these cultures, if life is public, all of it transmitted online (on Instagram what we eat, on Facebook what we like, on WhatsApp what we comment), we live in a performance mode, directed at an unknown public. , in which an identification that mobilizes attention is necessary: ​​it is fury against everything and everyone.

It is a drift of the political compass. In 2010, a veteran of the anti-Nazi resistance, Stéphane Hessel, wrote his appeal book, “Indignem-se”. The “indignados” occupied the Plaza del Sol, in Madrid, the following year. In contrast, the virtual society intends to absorb and trivialize the insurgency, reducing it to an energetic graphic sign, a protest that does not bother but pretends to be a carrier of energy. This indignation is resignation.

The problem, more than the artifice, is that we had never lived like this. All modern societies have been intensive in communication, which, incidentally, is one of the essential characteristics of human nature, given that what distinguishes us from other animals is the ability to express a complex language. But if, throughout modernity, public communication was created with intermediation, certainly disputed by the powers that be, be they the sovereign, churches, newspapers, scientific discourse, parties or other figures of authority, at the same time that we have always sought to maintain a private, emotional communication in the reserved space. In this way, we defended a stronghold of freedom, even when control of public space threatened us. The problem is that anxiety technology, or the hyper-communication society, has subverted this mode of communication. Instead of this intermediation in the public space, we now have an intensive emotional contamination in the presentation space, in a networked world where everything is said and everything is seen; at the same time, technology invades the data in our reserved space to dig its mines, an apt analogy for mission control. We thus have maximum individualization with maximum control, supported by an illusion of autonomy and even participation.

This process has two social consequences. The first is that this system reproduces itself, like a virus that seeks to infiltrate all forms of life. With less intermediation and encouraging the fabrication of emotions, its diffusion is vertiginous. He believes in himself, creating an illiteracy of wonder. So don't stop. The second is that, even if it is said that we are on a horizontal plane, all equal, we are used to impotent fragmentation and under control, we are all only if we are nothing. The social scoring system in China, the guardianship of citizens by georeferencing in western countries, video surveillance on the streets, the power of monitoring social contacts, data extraction when we do a search or a purchase, all are examples of mechanisms of control. When the scandal broke Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg explained that “privacy is no longer the social norm”. Now, control is the other face of chaos and directs order from fear. It is true that some, at the dawn of industrial progress (when “all that is solid melts into air”, wrote Marx), had glimpsed that it was a question of a new culture. Now, that our life is being reduced to “data” and that its use is commodified, we realize that the liquid society that results may be the most subjugated.

Shoshama Zuboff, professor at Harvard Business School, last year published a book, “Surveillance Capitalism”, which gives voice to this concern about the dangers of the new frontier of power. She called this process an authoritarian coup, as it provoked the expropriation of rights that we had as part of our peace of mind. She argues that the experience of private life was the last territory to be explored in the expansion of capital. Her invasion has now become trivialized by the fear society. In fact, the fully connected society would be the last of totalitarianisms, in which there is no freedom. Nor is there equality, given that credulity about the miraculous control of everyone over everyone means accepting an absolute concentration of the power to control in the hands of a few.

Politics in the Time of Fear

The politics of chaos and control is the way to organize power in the society of fear. Will it succeed, and if so, how will it work? We don't know yet, nor has it been decided. But if we ask who is in charge, how social authority is produced and reproduced, we may notice that the contract has come to be despised, even if it was first and foremost a promise, and that now a form of authoritarianism is affirmed that reconfigures the public space under the form of the power of exception.

And here comes an illusion about the illusion, the perception of this fog as something already seen. When our instant resembles the past that bites us, the analogies with previous times are inviting. We always run away towards what is known and the past, even if tragic, is safe, it has already happened. Thus, there are those who discover in today's social modes the repetition of an animality ingrained in modern life, giving rise to predatory languages ​​as the norm of domination, a mirror of the thirties of the twentieth century. A larval authoritarianism is then revealed that would never have been extinguished, which seems to be confirmed by Bolsonaro's resourcefulness in evoking the military dictatorship, or by the electoral impetus of prophets such as Orban, Modi, Duterte, Salvini or Le Pen, by Abascal firing phrases like missiles and, above all, by Trump, with his chin up pose like Mussolini, running for a second term. It seems like a repetition, we are told, but perhaps that was all it was and it would perhaps be pathetic.

This movement is different, it is not fascism. It is an authoritarianism from the time of globalization, which uses localism as resentment, promotes the cult of the boss, uses hatred as a culture, even leads to a militarization of politics, all repetitions of the midnight of the last century but, unlike fascism, where the State absorbed society, in the society of fear it is society that absorbs the State. Also contrary to historical fascism, this new authoritarianism promotes the market as law, intends to privatize hospitals and schools, brazenly defends financial capital as the first oracle.

Although all regimes monopolize public space, contemporary authoritarianisms specialize in new forms of targeted communication. Brazil is one of the most outstanding cases of the growth of this new language, it is the second country with the most use of Youtube and the third with the most Facebook accounts, only behind the USA and India, and it was the stage of a triumphant rehearsal, the election of an unlikely president. In return, Trump used the apparatus of the Republican party. In both cases, the technology they used was the combination of intensity and immunization of their figuration, which surprised the opponents. Brad Parscale, the Facebook manager in the Trump campaign in 2016 and who is directing his re-candidacy this year, explained to the Guardian this success, saying that “the whole campaign depends on data collection”. So, in the run-up to re-election and using detailed records about the various audiences, in 2019 it paid for 218 ads, XNUMX of them to millions of readers, but most to less than XNUMX people, with surgically targeted targets. The most frequent themes of these advertisements are, in order, media condemnation (to create a parallel reference and protected from criticism), immigration (to designate a danger), socialism (to label opponents) and individual carrying of weapons . Both in the case of Trump and Bolsonaro, the intense use of support from televangelists makes this discourse resonate in a religious dimension. There are two forms of worship and this is the grammar of the fear society.

This communication can only constitute a policy if it is overwhelming. Therefore, in 2019, twelve of the Bolsonarist ministers posted, on average, one tweet every 40 minutes. Trump, during the months of impeachment, published three thousand; in a single day, it reached 400. In both cases, the machine-gunning of messages is a way of mobilizing the attention of an army of “bolsominions”, who must be attached to each word and the obligation of its reproduction, as if it were a matter of of a liturgy of direct relationship with the divinity. The fog of messages closes a universe that isolates this policy from any conversation. It is not part of the domain of rationality and what allows it to delimit a separate world is precisely the fact that it is hyper-communicative. Thus, its language creates a new belief system that challenges knowledge (the earth is flat, there is no climate change, vaccines harm children, for example), mobilizes its own standards of authority (which comes to us via the internet right) and claims the prerogatives of his prophets (Trump's lawyer said that if he murdered someone on Fifth Avenue, he could continue his campaign). Thus, politics disappears, or ceases to have rationality in the confrontation of positions and proposals.

It would be naive to think that politics is merely a conversation or that social interests do not overdetermine the space of argumentation. But, there it is, the public space is still a space and that is why domination requires narratives that hegemonize and are accepted. Lying and misrepresentation are vulnerable and, for this very reason, must be shielded as if they were dogmas of faith. To investigate these dogmas, Felipe Nunes, a Brazilian scientist who studies behavior on social networks, conducted an experiment on these narratives before the elections, using a large sample. He found that 46% of people believed in a fake news that valued a person and only 38% in a pejorative fake news. Studying these scenarios, he found that denying a lie on a social network is irrelevant to changing the opinion of most people, but that professional verification, for example by television journalists (like the Polygraph) reduced by 20% the impact of a lie. Only, he found out, when the electoral campaign arrived, this effect disappeared, everything that was reproduced formed doctrine for the fan clubs in which the electorates were organized. Other investigations confirmed this conclusion. Michael Peterson and his collaborators at the University of Aarhus compared social networks in the USA and Denmark and found a constant: it is not out of insecurity about the truth and lies that these militiamen reproduce the fake news, it's really out of indifference and the cult of chaos. The secret is to create the bubble that shelters them.

However, even the metric of this communicability can be misleading. A Twitter champion, frantically shared, may not achieve effective adherence to its purposes. Paulo Pena, a journalist who investigates fake news with ISCTE's MediaLab, noticed that a PNR tweet against a conference in Lisbon by Jean Willis, a former Brazilian deputy exiled in Europe after being threatened by Bolsonaro's militias, had been the most shared text for days. Now, the demonstration that he called, having obtained the virtual promise of adhesion of thousands of people, ended up not being able to gather even a few dozen, which reveals a characteristic of this mode of expression: the "I will" simply represents a certificate of existence and not a performance guarantee. The virtual is real, except sometimes in reality. Thus, more than the sharing crowd, it takes a place of authority to turn internet emotions into cult-like politics.

There is a virus in the communicationo?

The affirmation of politics as a cult requires a technology that enables devotion and submission, the norms of obedience. And she is available. Jonas Kaiser, from Harvard University, and Adrian Rauchfleisch, from the University of Taiwan, created a monitoring system that included 13529 YouTube channels, some generalists, others commentary or politicians, and tried to explore one of its mysteries, to understand how the algorithm that, after any visualization, suggests the autoplay, inscribed at the end of the completed video, or the “related videos”, that is, how the largest social platform in the world refers its users. They discovered what they called a “great radicalizer”, or a bias that leads the platform to suggest predominantly right-wing content. If we ignore suspicions about this bias for a moment, the reason for its automatism seems evident, is that the right uses the culture of hate as a way to raise the temperature of speeches and ensure their reproducibility, which colonizes internet networks. This strategy is a success.

In this way, it is discovered that the authoritarianism of our times makes better use than anyone else of network militancy, which is its form of political activism, based on the promise to initiates of narcissistic recognition and the adrenaline of overexcitement. This is how it recruits its engineers of chaos, in the words of journalist Giuliano da Empoli, proving that, in the time of hyper-communication, there are devices of contamination and subjugation more powerful than simple coercion. This engineering mobilizes influencers as the voice of the people, promotes churches as a business model (especially the Prosperity Theology of Pentecostal groups), uberizes work as if each person were his own entrepreneur, judicializes governance to make it irreducible, uses ideology as a ban , annuls contractual social commitments. And the pinnacle of its identity is the discourse against politics, claiming a purifying exteriority that annuls democracy as pluralism. Do you hear the echo of Salazar here? These days, Trump and his apprentices are also “against politics”, they are the people against “the system”. The right has staked its future on this new belief system that rejects conversation in social life. The fact is that he won in his field. Therefore, in a few years there may not be a right that is not a Trumpist, if its leader is re-elected. And it will triumph if the society of fear is established, which demands a permanent regime of exception.

A safe democracy will survive?

It is certainly difficult to guess what is yet to come. But what we already know, the past, says little about the future. The Italy of Peppone and D. Camillo no longer exists. Neither does the France where Sartre refused to go on television. And, I'm sorry, but neither is Cavaco Silva's Portugal. Now, one of our universes is virtual and will not cease to be. Worse, in the obsessive presentism in which we live, we are told that this is the abysmal destiny, that we have rushed into a tele-society in which we are reduced to extras in a Netflix series. In any case, this world is fragmented and will never come together again. Politics will occupy new territories. The actors of the past passed away. In the opportunity of crisis, frightening figures demand absolute power.

Thus, in this unspeakable shift the spectacle of the pandemic, an apocalypse broadcast live to a world of closed and fearful spectators, could be the great inaugural fear of a new time. The disease, our evil, will not dissipate: as long as tropical deforestation continues and the inclusion of wild animals in the human food chain, unknown pathogens, to which we have no immunity, will enter the planetary circuit at the speed of globalization; as long as the planet's toxicity continues, extreme disasters will multiply. Techno-capitalism, to recall José Gil's term, is our Big Brother. Therefore, the gears of hyper-communication can be used to expand an authoritarian strategy based on these very realistic fears. The economic crisis that comes with unemployment and the precariousness of life, the trivialization of hate speech, racism, homophobia, or the diminishing of women, everything can condense into a society of fear. This could be an impetus for a pastoral state, in the form of messianic authoritarianism and totalizing social control. And yet, nothing is decided.

In the first salvos of the pandemic, contagions and deaths are still accumulating, while the most important dispute that is under way will determine the culture, language, system of references of the population. It's the one that establishes where safety is. It's not little, it's everything, society will only find itself against fear if it guarantees its safety. Safety is now the public health care service, the front line. When it is our body that brings evil, the disease that infects, it is solidarity among all that saves. The common good is the frontier of humanity.

This is where chaos engineering fails. It is a language, but it says nothing about what comes. Its institutional archetype about the future does not include a narrative about work, not even about sociability. We will live and work, we don't want life to impoverish us. We will love and it will not be by force of likes. Public space will never be completely reified and private space will never be fully domesticated. People will find each other and seek emotional contact. Ideas will continue to be a form of contamination and intimacy. Democracy, the radical idea of ​​equality, is thus the most powerful antidote to fear. Perhaps for this reason, the most difficult paradox of the crisis is to know if democracy is rejected like Cassandra, or if someone listens to its warnings in a time when fear gnaws at humanity.

*Francisco Louçã he was coordinator of the Left Bloc (2005-2012, Portugal). Author, among other books, of The Curse of Midas – The Culture of Late Capitalism (Lark).

Originally published in the weekly Express.



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