What a discovery is society!
Faced with the risk of dying of contagion, millions of human beings are discovering that their own and others’ actions have a real effect on society, i.e. on themselves and their fellow beings. After decades of liberal ideology according to which “society” was a sort of dark hole into which anything could be thrown, now the principle of responsibility is being rediscovered all of a sudden. It’s been discovered that workers are cannon fodder; that profit comes before health; that behind the famous “public interest”, it is the State that makes the decisions along with its police. Given that viruses have effects even if they can’t be seen, we are discovering a “materiality of the invisible”. Digital technologies – to which scientists and governments are entrusting our fate – are anything but immaterial. In order for millions of people to be connected while they are shut at home, you need servers, energy, cables, antennas and above all rare metal and soils, whose looting means wars, plunder of the Earth’s crust, nuclear radiations, semi-slaves (often children) forced to work in mines, entire areas of the world transformed into landfills, i.e. conditions for new epidemics. Can a principle of responsibility exist by command, in the empire of fear?
What does “you can’t go out” mean?
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this period is precisely the State’s attempt to make responsibility coincide with obedience. If we think of the tragedies that obedience caused in the Twentieth century (not by chance, «I was just obeying orders» was the phrase most repeated by the Nazis in Nuremberg), such an imposition should make us tremble. Why, then, do we stay at home? Out of a sense of responsibility? Because the government says so? For fear of being fined? Millions of people would certainly answer in very different ways. What is ethically and socially unacceptable is to confuse obedience with responsibility. Let’s give an example. If we were to read the government’s regulations carefully – without letting ourselves be terrorized by the announcements from loudspeakers – and follow them to the letter, what would happen? If thousands of people were to go out at the same time to “exercise near their homes”, what would happen? If instead the same people went for a walk in isolated areas, indeed breaching the regulations, would they be putting anyone’s health at risk? The sanction was never an issue.
Obligation and prohibition
While in some “Not democratic countries” normality has become that of tracking all data on identity, frequented places, encounters, in the “Liberal west” too they are considering the guidelines for the 4.0 restructuring of social life. In various areas in China (where contagion cases are almost zero), you can’t access any public place without a smartphone in your hand that “guarantees” your status. Not possessing certain instruments is beginning to look like being clandestine or suspicious at the very least. In order to get an idea, it is sufficient to see who the 17 experts chosen by Conte’s government to plan “Phase 2” (i.e. «rethinking the organization of our lives and prepare a gradual return to normality») are. At the head of the task force (complete with references to the inter-ministerial committee of 1945), there will be the former CEO of Vodafone, Vittorio Colao, who will be backed up by many technicians and experts including Roberto Cingolani, the current responsible for technological innovation at Leonardo (the biggest Italian arms producer) and director of the Italian Institute of Technology. Meantime 5G is becoming a reality. «Any technology carries obligations and prohibitions with it», Günther Anders wrote. And what can be more secret and invisible than a technology that is confused with daily life itself?
We are still in time
Announcements and programs are accumulating to transform “social distancing” into something semi-permanent (given that pandemics are already integrated as “side effects” of techno-industrial production). In this way, not only will we be distanced from our fellow beings, but also from the individual and collective possibility of defending ourselves from the administrators of coercion. If we can’t meet and organize ourselves, how can we react to increasingly totalitarian surveillance measures or, more banally, to layoffs? If we rely on a technological-bureaucratic apparatus in relation to the “contagion problem”, the most effective solution – the only one that doesn’t put the apparatus itself in question – is total control. Not because techno-bureaucrats are evil or because they are part of who knows what global conspiracy, but because technical solutions need to disregard ethical-social considerations, structurally speaking. And even more so in the name of an emergency. Freedom, precisely because it is unpredictable, constitutes a factor of disturbance for algorithms; the value judgement is always human, too human, while calculation presents itself as objective. What is the most effective solution when a child makes too much noise? To tie him/her up or administer them psychotropic drugs. If parents don’t do so, it is not because they think it is ineffective (cost-benefit calculation), but because they think it is wrong (ethical-pedagogical judgement). Make no mistake: not falling ill will never be a certitude. The question, which no artificial intelligence can answer for us, is always the same: what are we prepared to renounce in life in order to be able to keep on living?
They thought that calling them “heroes”…
While health workers in Piacenza have declared they are prepared to go on strike if factories are reopened, two hundred Greek doctors and nurses have signed a document making seven demands to the Health Ministry’s “Committee of experts”. Here are some of them: «What sort of scientific approach imposes the circulation of our citizens with gloves and masks in the open air and on the contrary treats with irony and “it doesn’t matter” the issue of the absolute necessity from a hygienic and social point of view, of guaranteeing every kind of personal protection for hospital and clinic staff?»; «what sort of scientific approach imposes the prohibition of more than two people of meeting in the open air, but DOES NOT denounce the functioning of firms and industries that produce non-essential items with dozens of workers ammassed in closed spaces without the necessary protection equipment?». Recruitment of more health workers; provision of protection equipment to all operators; immediate and unconditional requisition of normal and intensive care beds, lab and clinical instruments from the private health care sector: with these demands gatherings were organized outside 25 hospitals in 20 provinces in Greece. Workers from many other sectors, pensioners and students took part in the initiatives. During one of the gatherings, the police intervention was pushed away in a collective form of solidarity. Among the slogans: «we are the slaves of our conscience alone» and «prohibition of movement won’t stop the struggle».
Resisting the emergency, challenging the prohibitions
31st March, Milan. Picket of workers (those who are not yet ill) of the Fruttital warehouse, who risk losing their jobs. In the full swing of the emergency, the firm had announced its closure and relocation. Moreover, in the previous days workers hadn’t been given any protection against the contagion.
1st April, Calliano (Trento). Some prisoners’ relatives had called for this day’s bar-beating to resound outside jails. So, in order to explain the meaning of the bar-beating that was going to happen in the evening, a small group of anarchists thought of inverting the institutional practice of spreading sinister warnings and announcements from loudspeakers by going around the town with a sound system and talking in support of the struggle inside the prison. Within a short time, carabinieri patrols, plus vehicles of the local police and Digos, arrive on the spot.
8th April, Turin. “Food delivery” is considered an essential activity but repair shops are shut; firms such as Glovo and Deliveroo have never taken care of the maintenance of the bikes used by delivery staff: riders gather in a piazza with bicycles and tools for an “itinerant workshop” so that those still working despite the lockdown can repair their bikes.
14th April, Rome. Revolt in the Refugee Centre in the Torre Maura area. Operators prohibit people from leaving the centre, those locked-up respond with fires and damage. In the previous days there had been protests, self-harm, fires, escape attempts, hunger and thirst strikes in several Repatriation Centres.
15th April Carmagnola (Turin). Picket of health workers in a care home where 46 cases of contagion (out of 50 residents) were reported. The demand: face masks and swabs for all staff. The response: police and carabinieri turn out, the cooperative Socialcoop declares they have “proceeded with recruitments to cover personnel absence”… infected personnel.
15th April, Turin. Itinerant sellers of the Porta Palazzo market take to the streets (maintaining social distancing); the market is the only one in the city not to have reopened, perhaps because it is situated in an area under intense “redevelopment” (more and more investments for the rich, less and less space for the poor).
16th April, Massalengo (Lodi). 250 workers in the central warehouse of Carrefour Lombardia go on strike against a subcontract with a cooperative that would pay workers 20% less. An agreement cancelling the subcontract is signed. Meantime news comes of the closure of Fruittital in Milan and its relocation to Verona. As Fruttital is one of Carrefour’s suppliers, the workers decide that its lorries won’t be unloaded as a form of solidarity with the workers being sacked.
16th April. Prisoners’ relatives and people in solidarity protest outside jails in several cities (Rome, Bologna, Turin, Bolzano…). In Rome police surround them and push them, not giving a shit about the much-invoked safe distancing, and take 8 people to the police station. Previously, relatives had protested outside the jails of Secondigliano, Poggioreale, Santa Maria Capua Vetere. In the prisons of Ariano Irpino, Palermo, Crotone, Bologna, Alessandria, Santa Maria C.V., Rebibbia, Secondigliano there have been revolts, bar-beating, hunger and thirst strikes.
17th April, Torrazza Piemonte (Turin). All the staff in the local Amazon warehouse go on strike: the company hasn’t provided any information on contagion cases in the premises, hiding behind the screen of “privacy protection”.
While the government and regions are reopening the places of production and trade, prohibition against going out into the open air will last at least until May. This obvious discrepancy doesn’t correspond to any “scientific evidence” (unless to confirm what a philosopher wrote more than thirty years ago, i.e. that the State has «cut the gigantic tree of science to make a truncheon out of it»). On the one hand it is necessary to produce and consume; on the other, before people can get out, [the authorities] want to have planned how to control them. There. We need to be ahead of them, if we don’t want to suffer not only the “health crisis” but also the economic reorganization that will follow. And what more evocative day than 25th April? We are launching a call to break the restrictions. While following the principle of protecting our own and others’ health. And each according to their availability. It is not just a question of affirming responsibility against disobedience, but of saying loud and clear that we don’t accept the division between those who can be sacrificed and those who can be saved; that our lives are not “data to be extracted and analysed”; that there can be no health without relations of mutual aid with others and the nature on which we depend.
We don’t want “to live with pandemics”, but put an end to the social organization that creates them.
Cronache dallo stato di emergenza 5 PDF
Translated by act for freedom now!