The virality of the decoration. Social control and self-control at the time of Covid-19. First episode (of 2)

Promenade of Mondello (Palermo), morning of March 15, 2020: In the name of “go home!”, Police will congregate to lock and beat up a citizen who, alone , jogging. However, this activity is allowed – to run, not to beat those who do it – even by Conte decrees. Video here .
Here is the situation that has arisen: anyone who wears a uniform can exclaim, like Louis XIV, « L’état c’est moi! »And impose prohibitions at will, with the approval of townspeople who have become informers.
But the propaganda on “decorum” and “degradation” had already turned many people into informers, enemies of the social life of others, drug addicts of rhetoric on “security”. It is precisely the continuity between the “decorum” crusades and the management of the Covid-19 epidemic that lies at the heart of this article by Wolf Bukowski , which we publish in two episodes. Enjoy the reading.
PS Wolf’s book The good education of the oppressed (Alegre, 2019) is confirmed, in these days, an essential tool of analysis. In some passages, it is enough to replace “degradation” with “contagion”.

by Wolf Bukowski *

I start with me

Self-starting is certainly the prevailing paradigm in the lockdown narrative we are experiencing. I do not shy away from it, although I will later criticize this approach, which has now become an ego neoplasm in the center of a viral epidemic. But therefore: I too, like many, like almost anyone in these days that we would never have expected to live , have changed my opinion several times, changed positions; In short, I constantly questioned myself. The people with whom I have exchanged messages and calls know it, I have made no secret of it.

The fundamental question I asked myself, like many and many, is that articulated around the theme of «responsibility», that is the possibility of becoming a vehicle of contagion towards more fragile people. The question is certainly not unprecedented, not even autobiographically: it is the same one that, more or less, has inspired me caution in the transmission of “banal” viruses. I discovered, for example, that I already have a small supply of masks in the house, used to share confined spaces when I was constantly struck by the influences that brought my daughter home from elementary school. And therefore: I am not immune to such worries, as I am not immune to viruses.

On the other hand, however, I was struck and questioned by the continuity of the strategies of “contagion containment”, as manifested in the institutions’ provisions, with their now classic needs of, let’s say, containment of degradation , and therefore with the securitarism.

Taken from the whirlpool between Scylla and Charybdis, although firm in my Apennine cloister, a possible point of balance seemed to me the words of Pietro Saitta on Napoli Monitor . In the article, the declaration of intimacy foreshadows a reflection that is politicized and historicized, which recognizes its initial repulsion for the rhetorical device used in the contingent emergency, because it can be superimposed on the “lie” of security “which has accompanied policies on the matter for decades. of crime or immigration “. In the development of the reflection, Saitta declares that she takes upon herself the choice of «responsibility», thus ceasing to lead ordinary life and to frequent a crowded place – despitethe securitarism of government measures. Here, I said to myself, a possible point of balance, a piece of wood with which to face the shipwreck.

But it too was temporary. Shortly thereafter – it was now 11 March – the pressure of events forced me to shift my focus again. Here are three facts that are crucial to me:

1) the state has deployed its military force even more conspicuously, and extended the confusing apparatus of emergency legislation, to impose a resetting of social life without even seeking a balance between the reduction of individual freedoms and needs to contain the contagion – with the blatant exception of workers forced to leave for work, which exacerbated the indifference to that “equilibrium point”.

This development, which emerges with transparently authoritarian traits, should have opened a space for reflection precisely on its eminently political point: or on where it is correct to place the “equilibrium point” above. And instead the opposite happens, namely that

2) from the “responsibility” towards the community, taken in the moral and political sense indicated by Saitta, the positions taken by many subjects (including critics of neoliberalism) veered and I would say precipitated towards the totally depoliticized and uncritical adherence to forms, ways , even to the quirks of government discourse. The sacrosanct “we must not question the reality of the epidemic” slips, ops, in a moment, in “we must not question the way the government deals with the epidemic”; and indeed: you have to stick to the most intimate fibers. Obviously this is not always explicit, and indeed some warn that their own is not “servile apologia” for government measures, but it is simply an xcusatio non petita, and therefore accusatio manifest . In fact, it was accepted that the political space of the struggle – including the indispensable one of ideas – was cleared. Cleared, but wearing pink glasses, namely:

3) the difference between the positions of the critics of neoliberalism with respect to “all the others” is placed elsewhere, in an afterlife, or after the coronavirus . Politics thus becomes teleology; nothing differs from institutions in the way in which the present is faced but, here is the consoling fantasy, ” tomorrow we will defeat neoliberalism”.

What is thus hidden is the fact that, having renounced to politicize and criticize the choices referred to in point 1, as well as the emotional automatisms of point 2, it is very likely that the “after the coronavirus” never arrives, exactly as we never got out of the 2007-2008 subprime crisis.

Moreover, as explained here and here (but I will come back to it), this could be true, for a long period of time, even from the strictly health point of view.

Repoliticize (“decorum” and containment measures)

A great concussion.

The effort – a salmon effort, exalted on the sides of the stream to throw stones – made on these pages was immediately to repoliticize the totally depoliticized, technicalized and sanitized. That is: the response of the public authorities to the epidemic. Already in this we have a dazzling similarity to decoration. Questioning the “decorum”, for years now, has meant being held up as “painkillers”, “snooty and marginal”, from the right and from (with even more bitterness) is missing: “it is you who make the right win” . Because “degradation”, you know, is unpolitical, you can see it with your own eyes, it is “a matter of common sense”.

“You live in the neighborhoods well, Daddy’s children, how dare you say that decorum and security are right-wing stuff? Come here »: this was repeated ad nauseam and against all evidence to those who wrote about it, but also to the movements, social centers, individuals and individuals who opposed the (racist and class) rhetoric of degradation. «Come here to see»: totally emotional direct testimony, in which the «facts» are represented so simplistically as to become a caricature of the facts. It is as if choosing, decoding, selecting and commenting on one fact rather than anotherwere not an arbitrary operation, even in the noble sense of the term. As if it were not, precisely, the space of political struggle, affirming a fact among the thousands and making it important.

This mechanism was seen in the collapse of history over memory. “My grandfather knew someone killed by the partisans, and says he was a very good person” becomes the historical fact in front of which it is essential to take a position, not the trickle of an overall process; and, worse, taking a position on that tragic detail becomes the unassailable pretext for not taking a position on the tragedy as a whole, or for taking a ma-anchist and Veltronian position. This same primacy of the witness can be seen in action today – by heart from the social networks – “here we die, what the fuck I care if people are fined around and what the Wu Ming say about the epidemic”.

The “what the fuck do I care” is evidently the denial of the space of politics, of public reflection. But it is also, in a more subtle way, the “here you die”; when, on the other hand, if you try to reflect and therefore face problems, you need to know how that here is constituted (that is, to say, in which health system, with which history, which choices upstream and downstream) and also that dies ( how you die, in what historical series of deaths, in what relationship with other deaths, with what individual characteristics, etc.).

This approach is exactly the same that we have seen a thousand times in action in the campaigns against degradation. “Degradation is fought here, not politics”; and also: “if you don’t live here you can’t understand”. Where that here , again, is an agitated word to affirm the exclusive right of the witness (but then often: of the self-styled one) to draw general conclusions, eliminating the space of public reflection. Public reflection that is not a joke habit, as it is implicitly suggested, but it is the only way in which systemic problems can be tackled and eventually resolved (as is an epidemic, as are social unease and crime).

In the politics of decoration, politicians – the first to sow and reap depoliticization, in only an apparent paradox – make herry picking of requests that come from citizens and, from those more congruous than their intentions, draw and shape the myth of listening: “I listen to the citizens, Tizio and Caio wrote to me asking that the social center be cleared because it produces degradation, drug dealing and noise.” Obviously it is a myth, and like any myth it feeds on an accurate (but hidden) selection of material. For example: thousands of Bolognese citizens and citizens have written and demonstrated to ask that XM24 be left in its “historic” location, and remained totally unheard. On the contrary, the few who have signed the squalid pro-eviction petition of the zombie sections of the Democratic Party in the neighborhood become the citizens who are “listened to”.

Viral populism

The same mayor from Bologna, Virginio Merola , repeats the operation on March 13 when, to justify the closure of the parks – which aggravates the living conditions of the people forced to the domestic lockdown – relaunches the supposed message of a citizen, but of a citizen who , according to the professional category, becomes the bearer of an indisputable truth, then again of a depoliticized and faceless truth:

«It must be understood that normal life cannot be continued. Yesterday I received numerous reports of alarmed citizens, among these the one that struck me most sent me a nursing coordinator who, returning home from work, saw the park crowded and felt a strong sense of frustration with respect to his daily work. […] As of today, 32 public parks and gardens have been closed, and municipal gardens are also closed. »

Click to enlarge.

Obviously the impression of the nurse (indeed: “nursing coordinator”, note the squalidly hierarchical detail) has no scientific basis; it is, in fact, an impression from social media, which however produces effects that have been validated twice: and as a citizen listened to by the authority, and as a “competent person”. The testimony does not convey precise situations: only the “crowded park”, which may have been crowded but at a safe distance. We are like this, with the Merolian revival, full of criminal populism , within which

“[S] I speak, reason and release the declarations on the basis of social clichés and widespread convictions, almost always to support them, hardly to contradict them […]. In a logic of destatisticisation, the perception of risk and its amplificability in a context of public debate becomes more important, to the point of obscuring it, than the real picture of phenomena. Manuel Anselmi in Criminal Populism: an Italian perspective , 2015). »

Thus was born – but the merit does not go to Merola, we do not even overestimate this little mayor – the viral populism .

Energy Park, Rome. Energetically closed. Photo by Michele Bavaro.

What a parent and child who walk in the park or play ball – and live together – what the heck of contagion can they produce?

What level of psychological suffering can a parent, and perhaps the other parent, and their son and sister, who live in a small house, even if they can no longer go to the park?

Or, to ask the question on a higher level: is there a space, in the interstice between specialized knowledge, for politics?

And again: there is a space for specialist knowledge that is not only those of the virologist but also those of the overall public health, of the psychologist, perhaps also of the cardiologist (which will consequently have the reduction of motor activity on the elderly to whom it was put on the fear even of the lonely walk, considering also that the elderly will struggle to resume the lost habit?). No, the answer is no.

“I have self-certification, I bring the shopping to my grandmother …”
“And where is the mask?” Click to listen to Little Red Riding Hood in times of emergency, by Filo Sottile .

And, changing the point of view and assuming – with discomfort – what Filo Sottile in an extraordinary apologue calls the gamekeeper mentality, is there the possibility of obtaining an intervention aimed at dispersing the cases of real gathering in the parks? Real, and not therefore four people who, at the law, throw a basket ?

No, it doesn’t exist, despite the mobilization of law enforcement and the army. The space of politics therefore does not exist; but there is not even the space for a punctual execution of the laws: to dispel that gathering, to fine those determined subjects … There is only the zeroing of the public space.

So, just as you did (how to do it) for the decoration by removing the benches, via the basketball baskets! Here is the mayor of San Lazzaro di Savena, the hyperrenziana Isabella Conti :

‘Do you think I don’t mind having to remove the baskets? Do you think my heart doesn’t cry having to tell you that you can’t play? In these years we have worked like crazy to make our parks perfect places to be together, but now you can’t » .

After having imposed the decor on the parks, in short, all that remained was to make them perfect – that is, to eliminate that residue of degradation that still passed through them: human beings.

But on the parks I will also return in the second part.

[End of the first episode]

Wolf Bukowski writes on Giap , Jacobin Italy and Internazionale . He is the author for Alegre of The dance of the mozzarella: Slow Food, Eataly Coop and their narration (2015), The holy crusade of the pig (2017) and The good education of the oppressed: a small history of decorum (2019).

@Giap