eternal pandemic

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The eternal pandemic is the apotheosis of society's complete subjection to the market

Time is an ingenious craftsman. It's God and the Devil, dancing in the wind, in the middle of the street. It's the rust that eats the steel of the knife and hits Riobaldo's head. It puts to sleep the passions that we awaken and knows how to pass. We do not know. As the days go by with the new coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down its proliferation in Brazil and other countries of the global south, re-emerging in other waves in the countries of the north, and with its lethal dance in US lands, normalizing discursive modulations are emerging. These discourses move, by accommodation or pressure, from registering the health emergency to adapting, conforming.

The time when the discursive formula was that only those who perform essential activities should leave home seems distant. A position that was never taken over, as is well known, by the head of the Brazilian Executive Branch. This one preferred, by simple imitation of its American counterpart or by the most authentic alignment with a genocidal and eugenic posture, to assume denialism. The experience of tiredness is the very definition of who fights this political posture, supported by the unyielding thirty percent of popular support. The denial of reality, the lack of empathy, the rejection of solidarity, the desire for death, defended so forcefully by those who govern the country, exhaust those who oppose madness.

Many, out of exhaustion, out of necessity, out of loneliness, give in. Little by little, the flexibilization formula took shape. The masks were raised from the condition of a protective accessory, used in case of need, to a fetish object, a key to open the door of the house. A kind of pandemic magic carpet. Those who could not protect themselves from the disease at home to put food on the table were bumping into hedonistic flâneurs. These wanderers are not like the man in the crowd in Poe's story who, emerging from convalescence and, from looking out the window so much, walks around feeling strange in the crowd and seeing his own solitude in the crowd. They, instead, parade the pride of distinction, the triumph of their own unaltered worldview, the glory of pure individuality over collective drama. As professor Ricardo Benzaquén de Araújo drew attention to in the readings he made of this story in his courses, everyone who comes out of a cycle of illness goes through a change in their perception of things, like a radio that does not perfectly tune in to the station's frequency. The ballet of those who broke social isolation for a futile reason is, on the contrary, the pure assertion of superiority over the other, the one who will not have good medical assistance, who will wait in agony for the intensive care bed, which will be attended by doctors and nurses. exhausted and precarious. Whether by deliberate and intentional gesture, or unconscious manifestation, that's what it's all about: the certainty of superiority and the denial of vulnerability, this coefficient of equalization. Many are, therefore, caught, between one drink and another, between one prank and another, humiliating public health inspectors or municipal guards who draw their attention to observing the measures to prevent contagion. The beer drinkers in Leblon and Urca's wall are the very expression of the dismantling of society denounced by Wendy Brown as the core of neoliberal ideology and politics. A Hayekian celebration.

Without any epidemiological parameter to guide policies, in the Brazilian case, measures were adopted to reopen shopping centers, gyms, pilates studios, restaurants, among other activities. In this process there is a silencing of the official numbers, a subtle make-up, which without us noticing disappears from the table, increasing the misunderstanding. The desire for a regime of individuals, of a pure market, without society, has prevailed. It's the market and the pandemic, hand in hand, in the wind, in the middle of the street. An exclusive and individualizing synergy. Social solidarity is being murdered from the top down, physically and symbolically. An expanded feeling of each one for himself, deepening social hypocrisy. For some, it is optional, for others, duty and obligation, without choice. The pandemic offered, on the one hand, the opportunity to let the killable ones die and, on the other hand, to make precarious and control those that remain as docile and available labor. Many of those who believe they are above these standards, those who repeat “Citizen, no! Civil engineer. Formed. Better than you!"[I] will be pushed to one side or the other of this pandemic-neoliberal game.

The game of enslavement through the absolute precariousness of work is played out from the perspective of eternal pandemic. This perspective engenders a discourse that has, among others, the following formulas: “there are no horizons beyond the pandemic”, “we have to adapt to this new reality”, “we will not return to the same previous reality” and the already famous formula of the “new normal”. The idea of ​​an eternal pandemic is that of the consolidation horizon of the Hayekian paradise, of the complete dissolution of society. It is the elevation to the maximum degree of a regime in which the State is destroyed, leaving the individual with only traditional values ​​and the market as a reference[ii]. Digital communication tools are the fundamental instrument of the eternal pandemic. There are, therefore, unprecedented conditions for the consolidation of the “uberization” of work, as defined by Ricardo Antunes[iii].

The eternal pandemic prohibits the possibilities of defending the agendas of denial of the precariousness of social and work relations. Instead of establishing pandemic control measures to shorten the periods of need for social isolation, what we are seeing is a stimulus for the pandemic context to last as long as possible. It's not about economics versus life, but a project of dissolution of society. A way of silencing, of generating dependency, of creating walls, of control. In place of a controlled, planned and temporary social isolation, where the economy reactivates itself respecting life and society, we see the neoliberal game. In the case of Brazil, for example, pushing the contagion curve upwards so that the time dilation of the health emergency makes it possible for the maximum number of work activities to be pushed to precarious standards. Public money is poured massively into financial institutions, while small entrepreneurs and workers are forced into unemployment. Those who do not die will be assimilated into ultra-precarious forms of work. Those who keep their jobs will be pressured to carry out their activities on digital platforms, working from home, or in home office, since foreignisms are a hallmark of the rhetoric that gild the pill of the destruction of labor rights in peripheral countries.

Gradually, in this scenario of the eternal pandemic, structures are materializing for its perpetuation. Harmful and illegal initiatives eliminate traces of ancestral cultures. Deforestation also means an attack on our culture, with mining preying on social spaces. Bastardized human rights become a museum piece, a document of what we are no longer, and perhaps never were. In this construction of continuity, the military guarantee the order of an authoritarian and unequal neoliberalism, with horizons turned to permanent social conflict. Perhaps a striking example of insanity is the tax reform project sent by the Brazilian government to the National Congress, multiplying precariousness and social breakdown, in the middle of a pandemic[iv]. Let's remember, only a third of the budget destined to fight the pandemic was used and in a negligent way. But, it is clear, the signs are not for securing life, but for concentrated rabid profit.

The prophets of the eternal pandemic do not sleep. The president of Santander in Brazil, Sergio Rial, suggested that, by saving money by working from home, bank employees could forego benefits and “share” these gains with the company[v]. Working from home, in addition to increasing costs for workers, since they are responsible for the infrastructure for work, food, etc., also opens up an avenue for increasing working hours. Without getting into the issue of accuracy and widespread annihilation of mental health. Frequently in the news are articles about how “creativity” has produced “solutions” for work in the pandemic. The romanticism of the crumbs of a society in the process of drowning. All these “innovations” involve the weakening of labor relations and the replacement of society by ultra-individual relationships mediated by technological platforms.

The use of digital platforms makes it possible to dismiss a large number of workers. Impersonal dismissals, with no possibilities for dialogue. The mass of app delivery people is the most finished expression of neoliberal horizons for work under the eternal pandemic. They are the new proletarians of our virtual time. And with them at the forefront, they are showing us the future and destiny of all workers. In the field of education, the pressures are enormous due to the disappearance of the student body and the teaching category[vi]. Private educational institutions promote mass layoffs[vii] and offer remote courses at very low cost with professionals who work in distance education under extremely precarious circumstances. The teacher is replaced by the tutor, mediator, facilitator. The student gives way to the customer. Education is reduced to consumption. It's easy to find advertisements for distance graduation courses at one hundred or even fifty reais a month. In pre-school education, there will be an overload on the already insufficient public network, given that private neighborhood day care centers tend to fail with the crisis, abandoned to their fate like small and micro-entrepreneurs. We are talking about an iconic moment in human development, and a space in which its absence multiplies gender differences and nullifies the possibilities of the fight for equal rights and opportunities. In basic education, restless parents dream of going back to face-to-face classes after months of experiencing the bitter taste of remote teaching offered to their children. In general, with poor results, without structure and, as always, behind the backs of educators who leave their lives for their work, little recognized even in the pandemic.

In public universities, little by little, the diffusion of pressure for remote teaching begins to supplant the commitment to teaching excellence. As if the university were limited to static knowledge transition with students watching lectures and other videos simultaneously. Remote teaching tends to undermine efforts to expand, internalize and expand access to Brazilian public universities, considering that it can serve as a trial balloon for a large part of this policy to be assimilated by distance learning platforms. You fields from the interior, whose political and pedagogical core consists of territorialization, may suffer the pressure of substitution by digital reach. An open-air laboratory. And its consequence will be the loss of the sense of inclusion of the public university. Let us remember that less than 25% of higher education is currently public in Brazil. Apparently, at the end of the pandemic experience, this percentage will be even lower, changing the profile of students in more elite environments.

Those who seek to resist the rage of remote learning are accused of being technophobic, old-fashioned, hallucinatory, myopic and retrograde. The unequal and elitist nature of remote teaching proposals is denounced by the fact that the ordinances that govern and authorize it do not fully reach medical courses[viii]. For these, the privilege of waiting is reserved. The richest will wait safely and, when everything is over, they will return to centers of excellence and access quality on-site higher education. The poorest are left with the horizons of the eternal pandemic, whose central operator is inequality.

In this process, neoliberalism has always hated solidarity, it is disgusted with a society on the street, aware of its rights, which interferes with superfluous individual needs. The pandemic castrated the streets as a constant space of struggle. Fear manipulates society, dampening the mood for manifestation, fundamental impulses of struggle. And the genocidal leader trains fears, signaling everyone with perverse solutions watered with chloroquine.

The eternal pandemic is the apotheosis of society's complete subjection to the market. Some have the world as a specter, a ghostly life, an abyss of permanent relationship with death, abandonment to a game in which the poorest produce with their bodies the herd immunity that protects the richest. For others, the privilege of superiority is reserved, the ostensive demonstration that they do not share the same vulnerability and precariousness as the others, the beer with a collar in the Hayekian style. For many, the illusion of being in the same basin as the privileged remains. Until the eternal pandemic finds them around the corner, through death or the precariousness of life.

* André Rodrigues He is a professor at the Department of Geography and Public Policy at UFF.

*Andres del Rio He is a professor at the Department of Geography and Public Policy at UFF.



[ii] A horizon that corresponds to the description of Wendy Brown in “Nas reúnias do neoliberalismo”, published in Portuguese, in 2019.







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