Subjectivity and pandemic


By Alysson Leandro Mascaro*

Entrepreneurship, meritocracy, attachment to faith or belief in the authority of political and religious leaders are some of the ideological constituents of subjectivities today.

Everyday sociability suffers a shock with the coronavirus pandemic. Commuting to work, school, trade, travel, are immediately limited in favor of a quarantine in homes. The contradictions of capitalist society explode: the majority of the working population depends on the sale of labor power, in largely suspended activities; various sectors, precarious, rely on the provision of services, which no longer occur; small entrepreneurs see their businesses collapse; banks are immediately saved.

In favor of containing the circulation of the virus, one should stay at home: most do not have minimum housing conditions; practically all of them do not have the psychic structure or social framework to deal with seclusion and intensely shared life; Intellectual and cultural deficiencies do not allow to enjoy moments of non-work. The health system is fraying: since the 2016 coup, the experience of the Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS) has been dismantled, with constitutional limitations on spending ceilings and incentives for private health.

Within this framework, subjectivity suffers. What is thought, what is desired, what is repressed, what is desired, all this comes from the materiality of social relations, shaped by devices that constitute the intellection of the world. In a capitalist sociability, every subject has always known that the general intermediation of relations is done through merchandise: everything is bought or sold, everything is worth money. Law is its immediate corollary: to have is to appropriate by right, to have is to enter into a contract, anything that goes against such paradigms is a crime.

Human beings have different accesses to capital: some have enough to enjoy life and buy other people's work; the majority do not have it and seek to sell their workforce to earn wages. For this reason, and obviously, the direction of life, under capitalism, is always capitalist: to profit, to negotiate, to work, to have. It is the truth of material life.

Ideology is material. It comes from concrete social relations. By selling labor power, the working classes are oriented to be proud of their capabilities: efficiency, bodily strength or dexterity, good health – body. Capital, being the foil of poverty, prides itself on its distinction: rare, special, intelligent, beautiful – brain. Within this material base of ideology, determined by the relations of production, the ideological apparatuses are rooted, which overdetermine this same materiality. Family, school, religion or mass media are concrete constituents of subjectivity.

Based on such devices, in a situation such as the coronavirus pandemic, it is not just about suffering: suffering is permeated by intelligibility such as those that say that the virus is a punishment from God, or that those who have faith do not get sick, or that with self-esteem it will be possible to exchange the job that is going to be lost for a profitable personal business. Entrepreneurship, meritocracy, attachment to faith or belief in the authority of political and religious leaders are some of the ideological constituents of subjectivities today.

Capitalist sociability traditionally strains subjectivities, but, as a rule, each one suffers his ordeal under the ideology that the fault is his or the misfortune concerns only himself. However, the pandemic exposes basic and general issues that split this ideological horizon: nature is common, health is collective, capitalist wealth is made by exploiting workers and, finally, a full and healthy life is structurally incompatible with the social forms of accumulation.

Such basic fundamentals are confronted with the pillars of ideology, such as the State and the law. It is said that politics is the common good, that everyone is equal before the law, that everyone is a citizen, but citizens from the periphery suffer from quarantine in unhealthy conditions and without a job. It is said that the countries of the world live in an international concert of sovereignty and equality between nations, however the US calmly confiscates masks intended for other countries, in an act of modern piracy.

The law also presents a block of principles such as those of social law, but the reality contrasts the right to housing for those who live in slums, the right to dignity in working conditions for the unemployed or hungry wage earners, the right to health to the absence of hospitals. Almost always, in the day-to-day reproduction of capitalism, this ideological apparatus is only broken by individual unfortunates; but, in the pandemic, it breaks down structurally.

It is a dialectic that is difficult to maintain or break: the social forms of capitalism constitute subjectivities because social relations are exactly shaped in such cuts. For this reason, even in structural crises there is a tendency for exploitation and domination not to end. Accumulation often returns, and even stronger.

In 2008, the crisis of neoliberalism exploded. In the years that followed, coups around the world, wars and the expansion of social media technology drove multitudes into destitution, but the neoliberal discourse of meritocracy and entrepreneurship only increased. It is possible that the current crisis will cause fractions of the capital to fail so that other fractions can take advantage of this bankrupt feast for greater accumulation.

But it is also possible that the crisis is structural to the point of subjectivities fraying. There may be a point at which people no longer believe in political myths, in internet hate militias, in religious discourses against science, in meritocracy in disaster capitalism. If so, a social vanguard is needed – worldwide – which very quickly amalgamates the ideology and hopes of the masses. In order to fight, there must be meaning. For the fight to be persistent, resilient and victorious, it needs to be rational: science on the functioning of capital, its crisis and its overcoming is fundamental in the present.

Health is not just the biological, the natural. Throughout the XNUMXth century until today, the best philosophy of health insists on the relationship between the vital and the social – as it is with Georges Canguilhem, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, Dominique Lecourt, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jaime Breilh. Therefore, a pandemic reveals not the virus, but the fragility of life under the present conditions of sociability.

If the economy were not for accumulation, the world would already have enough and decent houses for quarantine rest, work could be universally paused without the uneasiness of salary dependency, health would be public throughout the world, education emancipated from guidelines for efficiency could be enough for idleness to be an object of enjoyment. Capitalism instituted this present subjectivity; the crisis of capital and the pandemic break it. Urgently, that from a contradictory and fractured subjectivity the transformation of our time can come out.

*Alysson Leandro Mascaro He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP (Largo São Francisco). Author, among other books, of Critique of legality and Brazilian law (Latin Quarter).


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