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Miguel Amorós: The state with the mask

An essay by Miguel Amorós in times of the Coronavirus.

Originally published by Revista Hincapie. Translated by Enough 14. Image above by Nick Bolton.

The current crisis has led to a significant aggravation of social control by the state. The essential elements in this field were already in place because the economic and social conditions prevailing today made this necessary. The crisis has only accelerated the process. We are forced to participate in a final rehearsal as a mass of manoeuvres to defend the ruling order from a global threat. The Covid-19 virus serves as a pretext for the re-armament of the ruling class, but a nuclear disaster, a climatic dead end, an unstoppable migration movement, a lasting revolt or an uncontrolled financial bubble would have served the same purpose.

But the truly most important cause is the worldwide trend towards the concentration of capital, what leading politicians cold-bloodedly call globalization or progress. This trend is related to the process of power concentration and thus to the strengthening of the apparatus of maintaining order, disinformation and repression on the part of the state. If capital is the substance of the egg, the state is its shell. A crisis that threatens the globalized economy, a system crisis, as they say today, provokes an almost automatic defensive reaction and reactivates already existing disciplinary and punitive mechanisms. Capital is pushed into second place, and only then the state reveals itself in all its fullness. The eternal laws of the market are sent on holiday without their validity being invalidated.

The state pretends to present itself as a lifeline to which the population must hold on to when the market falls asleep in the hole of the bank and the stock exchange. While it is working to return to the old order, that is, to speak in the words of the computer scientists, while trying to create a point of restoration of the system, the state plays the role of the protective protagonist, although in reality it resembles more a foolish pimp. Despite everything, and whatever it may say, the State does not intervene to defend the population, and certainly not the political institutions, but to defend the capitalist economy and therefore paid labour and induced consumption that characterise the lifestyle determined by the latter. In a way, it protects itself from a possible social crisis resulting from a health crisis, that is, it defends itself against the population. The security that really counts for the State is not that of the individual, but that of the economic system, which is usually defined as “national” security.

Thus the return to normality will be nothing more than a return to capitalism: to sardine-can-like neighbourhoods and second homes, to traffic noise, to industrial food, to individual transport, to mass tourism, to bread and circuses… Extreme forms of control such as closeness and distance between individuals will come to an end, but control will continue. Nothing is ephemeral: a state does not disarm voluntarily or voluntarily renounce the privileges that the crisis has granted it. He’ll be content to “freeze” the less popular ones, as it has always done. If we remember that the population has not been mobilized but rather immobilized, it is logical to think that the state of capital, which is more at war with this population than with the coronavirus, is trying to cure its health by imposing increasingly unnatural conditions of survival.

The enemy of the state designated by the system is the disobedient, the undisciplined, who ignores unilateral orders from above and refuses to be locked up, who does not accept hospitalization and does not keep his distance. The one who disagrees with the official version and does not believe its figures. It is clear that no one will rebuke those responsible for the fact that health and nursing staff have to work without protective equipment and that hospitals are provided with inadequate beds and intensive care units, neither the bosses for the lack of diagnostic tests and respirators, nor the administrative managers for the negligence of the elderly in special care homes. Furthermore, there is no finger pointed at disinformation experts or at businessmen speculating on closures, or at vulture insurers, or at those who have benefited from the dismantling of the public health system or who trade with multinational health and pharmaceutical companies. … Attention is always drawn to other aspects, or rather remotely: the optimistic interpretation of statistics, the covering up of contradictions, paternalistic government messages, the smiling incitement to docility from media personalities, the humorous comments of banalities circulating on social networks, about toilet paper, etc. The aim is to compensate for the health crisis through a higher degree of domestication. That the work of managers is not called into question because of “disturbing bits and bobs”. That we accept evil and ignore those who have unleashed it.

There is nothing natural about the pandemic; it is a typical phenomenon of the unhealthy lifestyle imposed by turbo-capitalism. It is not the first and will not be the last. The victims are less to blame on the virus than on the privatization of health care, the deregulation of work, the waste of resources, increasing pollution, galloping urbanization, hypermobility, overpopulation of big cities and industrial nutrition, especially through large-scale exploitation, where viruses find the best breeding ground. These are all ideal conditions for pandemics. Life that derives from a model of industrialisation in which the markets prevail in isolation: pulverised, limited, technology-dependent and subject to neurosis, all qualities that favour resignation, subordination and “responsible” citizenship. Although we are guided by the useless, incompetent and incapable, the tree of state stupidity must not prevent us from seeing the forest of urban bondage, the powerless masses willing to submit unconditionally and imprison themselves in order to pursue the apparent security promised by state power. Which does not serve to reward loyalty, but mistrusts the infidels. And in this respect we are all potential infidels.

In a sense, the pandemic is a consequence of the advance of Chinese state capitalism into the world market. The Far East’s contribution to politics consists above all in its ability to strengthen the authority of the state through the absolute control of the people through complete digitalisation at unimaginable levels. Add to this kind of bureaucratic-police skill the ability of the Chinese bureaucracy to put this pandemic to serve the economy.

The Chinese regime is an example of a protected, authoritarian and ultra-productivist capitalism that has emerged through the militarization of society. It is in China, where the ruling class will have its future golden age. There will always be half-hearted stragglers complaining about the decline of “democracy” that the Chinese model brings with it, as if what they define as the political form of an outdated period was the political form of the complacent party culture in which they willingly participated until yesterday. Now, if parliamentarism is becoming unpopular and smelly with the majority of those in power and, as a result, less and less effective as an instrument of political domestication, this is largely due to the superiority that police control and censorship have acquired over party intrigues in these new times. Governments tend to use the state of emergency as the usual means of governance, since the corresponding measures are the only ones that function properly at critical moments for domination. Nevertheless, they mask the real weakness of the state, the vitality of civil society and the fact that it is not coercion that sustains the system, but the atomization of its dissatisfied subordinates. In a political phase in which fear, emotional blackmail and Big Data are essential for governance, political parties are far less useful than technicians, communicators, judges and gendarmes.

What should worry us most now is that the pandemic is not only the culmination of certain processes that have been in progress for a long time, such as standardized industrial food production, social medicalization and the regulation of everyday life, but also that the process of social computerization is advancing significantly. While junk food as a world food diet, the general use of pharmaceutical products and institutional coercion are the basic ingredients of the cake of postmodern everyday life, digital surveillance (technical coordination of video cameras, face recognition and cell phone tracking) is the cherry on the cake. One reaps what one sows.

When the crisis is over, almost everything will be as before, but the feeling of fragility and fear will last longer than the ruling class would like. This uneasiness in consciousness will undermine the credibility of the victory of ministers and spokespeople, but it remains to be seen whether it will throw them from their seats. If they keep their seats, the future of humanity will remain in the hands of deceivers, because a society that can take its fate into its own hands will never be able to develop within capitalism and within the state. People’s lives will not be able to follow the path of justice, autonomy and freedom without breaking away from commodity fetishism, without renouncing state religion, without entering into conflict with wholesale markets and churches.

Miguel Amorós, April 7, 2020.

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