The sluggish response to the current outbreak by the UK government recently pushed me to take stock of what the pandemic reveals to us about this current moment and ways we might navigate it. In some ways, the virus has proved to be politically polarizing in a way that has played out in an exceptionally revealing manner. The authoritarian strongmen in charge of two of the largest democracies on the planet, Trump and Bolsonaro, first tried to counter the rising concern with a combination of denial, conspiratorial whispers and outright refusal to allow measures to aid the general public to be implemented.
The puzzled responses to the current advice given by the UK’s chief science adviser suggesting a strategy of ‘herd immunity’, hints at what might be a darker truth that the government plans will do little to reduce the rate of infection, furthermore backed by comments by Johnson suggesting many families should be prepared “Lose loved ones ahead of their time” alongside a general lack of a desire to close down educational establishments, large gatherings, transnational transport networks and sports events.
The response of the FTSE 100 is perhaps even more revealing, at the time of writing unlike many of the countries in the far-east who took exceptional measures to reduce the spread of infection and have subsequently seen a reduction in economic performance, the FTSE 100, a share index of the top 100 companies regulated by UK law rose by 7%. There is a fundamental contradiction driving and shaping many of these responses in that contagion and commerce run counter to each other, the most effective measures as shown throughout Europe and Asia have been shown to be ones that directly hamper economic performance and capital accumulation. Perhaps, then like in line with the sadly departed Mark Fisher’s notion of Capitalist Realism, what we’re actually witnessing is the capture and curtailing of political and creative possibility which, even in the practical realm of problem-solving, becomes subjected to the requirements of capital expansion. For the ruling class the notion of a virus that broadly only seems to disproportionately impact those already deemed ‘economically inactive’ is perhaps another factor influencing their bloodless responses and lethargic press conferences, can the health of a society constituted considered beyond the realm of economic reason truly seep through to those who claimed and continue to claim that it never really existed in the first place?
Here then as pointed out by others is a true test of the concept of society, a virus that generally doesn’t kill the young, healthy and fit but can, and disproportionately has killed those who they come into contact with, meaning a more meaningful response can only come from defining a society and a civic responsibility that goes beyond one’s immediate vicinity. The concept of spontaneous organization and the principle of solidarity emphasized by certain radical strains of thought gives one template as to how we can realize this possibility, contained within the writings of Kropotkin and Malatesta is the recognition that cooperation and mutual aid have always been one key underlying principle of advancement, progress and development of living beings. Establishing solidarity becomes then less of an optimistic goal rather an already existing facet of survival obscured by less tangible notions of nationalism, competition and artificial scarcity.
In realizing a more radical notion of kinship towards others based on more than just on immediate requirements of the self, but rather how these requirements are inextricably bound up within the survival and prospering of the wider community, we can challenge the presuppositions on which some of the UK’s government’s responses are based, the idea of necessary rates of infection and we can only assume because of the poorly outlined plans to look after the vulnerable, perhaps a necessary number of untimely deaths. Any suffering rather then being held up as a kind of secular theodicy becomes then an object of condemnation and a call to action.