The virality of the decoration. Social control and self-control at the time of Covid-19. Second episode (of 2)
Naples, 11 March 2020. The policeman who in Vomero, shouting “I am the state”, raises the elderly man who rested from the effort of carrying an expense probably heavier than usual, summarizes all the guards, vigilant and porters various uniforms that in these years of “decorum” have awakened, shaken, forced to get up, dasped and fined those who had fallen asleep , because tired or homeless, on a bench. Video here . Note: the elderly man is right («You are giving me wrong information», he says and calmly reiterates), but the Fanpage articlecheer cop. To be fair, we point out that it was published two days before De Luca’s order commented in Wolf’s post below, so extreme that it has already made many people change their approach.
by Wolf Bukowski *
[The first episode is here ]
Parks, a place of degradation and contagion
On March 13 Beppe Sala , former maître of the largest spaghetti for Italian capitalism , then “left” mayor of Milan, announced the closure of the city’s fenced parks; “Obviously,” added contrite, it is not possible to do it with those not fenced. The fence of the parks – which will continue to grow in the near future – is much more than a topos of “decorum”; it is somehow its trademark.
In New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a city that still bore the signs of the 1975 economic crisis, two movements converge. One is the outright security and police one that will find expression in Rudy Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” ; the other, less known, is that of the “quality of life”. It is what we have called “decorum”.
In the genesis of the quality of life movement, parks are fundamental. The poorly maintained parks, because abandoned by public gardening services (the municipality had cut gardeners by almost half!) Are in fact “adopted” by groups of white and middle class citizens. They – instead of using their political weight to obtain new hires in public services – wear the most stylish overalls, buy the most ergonomic shears, and play at making volunteer gardeners, proud pride. As Fred Siegel , apologist and “quality of life” theorist, writes :
“These efforts cultivate character as well as flowers. They catalyze neighborhood energies and can become an emblem of pride for local communities. “
But the redemption (class) of public spaces is an uphill road, and soon the willing gardeners of the decoration realize that they can no longer be satisfied with planting cyclamens. At night, in fact, the urban ghosts, not knowing where else to go, return to live in the parks:
“Mentally ill, homeless, transvestite prostitutes, as well as the usual drunks and drug addicts, [that] sleep in the park and use its bathrooms for sex.”
So here’s the solution: railings and gates. This creates the fusion between the response to social unease and hostile architecture which is still typical of “decorum” policies today. And here blatantly, as Wu Ming mentioned in the introduction to the first of these two articles, “just replace” degradation “with” contagion “and you’re done”.
My doctor in Milan said
In the same video message Beppe Sala announces the sanitation of the streets of Milan. Here too what happens is something that was already perfectly typical before Covid:
1) politicians and media mainstr and am produce emotional and alarming content (usually the right is the forerunner , but in this phase the left points to overtaking);
2) a fake news – a heartfelt Whatsapp audio that circulates from chat to chat: « one of our medical friends from Milan phoned us tonight» – declines that same message in order to spread terror: « use only a pair of shoes to exit: the virus manages to stay alive for 9 days on the asphalt “;
3) the content of fake news – that is, technically: bullshit – falls from the window into the public debate, and the same politicians and media who produced the culture medium in which it could develop can now interpret it firmly but reassuringly, saying: we are doing everything we need, do not panic we are there(technically: there are mom and dad).
Road sanitation spreads like a delusion (an expensive delusion) throughout the peninsula; waves of bleach sweep away any residue of reason from the streets of the country, and in the storm of sodium hypochlorite it is almost impossible to hear the voice of “science”, that is precisely that knowledge that politicians pretend to play theatrically. And science says unequivocally that this practice is useless and, on the contrary, it pollutes:
«There is no evidence that spraying sodium hypochlorite outdoors, massively, on road surfaces, can be effective in contrasting the diffusion of CODIV-19 since the external pavements do not allow interaction with the human transmission pathways. On the other hand, it is believed that targeted initiatives, aimed at indoor or outdoor surfaces intended to come into contact with the hands, can achieve better results with a view to preventing the spread of the infection. However, it should be emphasized that sodium hypochlorite, the main component of bleach, is a polluting substance which, over time, can contaminate groundwater, directly or through its degradation products. The Mayors are therefore invited to take these indications into account, concentrating their efforts in the direction of greater effectiveness of the interventions to combat COVID-19. ( Harp Piedmont, March 15 ) »
It will be investigated – in the future – how the “there is no evidence” of the scientific lexicon, which in the example cited means, roughly, “we have verified facts and literature, and it is of no use to a shit”, is lost in translation in public discourse phobic, which instead draws the opposite conclusion: “there is no evidence but let’s do the same, it doesn’t hurt so much”. When it hurts instead: because it feeds fear unnecessarily, because it diverts energy from sensible practices (sanitizing handrails), and because it pollutes.
“Spray, spray, what ain’t bad!”
Spread fear rather than contain contagion
The pseudoscientific bad faith of the street bleachers has its perfect correspondent in the abrupt abandonment of some basic legal presuppositions; on the contrary, of what governs the whole system, the so-called “principle of freedom”, expressed in article 13 of the constitution:
“No form of […] restriction of personal freedom is allowed, except by reasoned act of the judicial authority and only in the cases and ways provided for by law.”
The point is not – it is necessary to repeat it for the hard of understanding – to exclude that, even in this situation, a strong restriction on personal freedoms is necessary. I am not doing “virus denial”; let alone small libertarianism (the intertwining of civil and social rights we have discussed extensively here ). I am saying that the stronger those restrictions are, the more precise and properly delimited the “cases and ways required by law” must be.
Instead, the DPCMs in force are built exactly the opposite: their provisions ultimately contain a single message, that which “there is a prohibition”. And, as Luca Casarotti explains in his precious post ,
“[N] in the logic of the emergency, letting the specter of a general ban hover, without specifying its boundaries, induces fear.”
Click to enlarge.
The spread of fear, not the “containment of contagion”, is the first treatment practiced by the political class on the social body – in perfect continuity with securitarism. Legislative vagueness produces confusing effects: Sandra Zampa , Undersecretary for Health, tries to clarify the possibility of doing outdoor activities (sports or walking), and says that it can be done . At the same time, on the police website, we use an involved formulation with which it is “recommended not to go for a walk (if everyone did, one would find themselves en masse on the street) or to go and find a friend”. Wording in which a conceded thing (the walk) is mixed with a probably forbidden (visit a friend); and all on the basis of a motivation that has the same logical significance as the 2006 “World Jump Day”, the flash mob with which, jumping in a coordinated way, one imagined being able to move the Earth’s axis. Always at the same time, the same state police run an infographic that says that you can do physical activity outdoors.
This situation translates – and is before the eyes of anyone who wants to see it – in the total arbitrariness granted to the police, in the suspension of legal certainty (a bourgeois value? Yes, of course: that bourgeois value that allowed you not to end up cage without at least one trial), and opens a path to two complementary phenomena.
The first is paralyzing terror for citizens, who fear they won’t be able to do what they can do – and that has nothing to do with the spread of the virus. People who would need to do physical activity and do not do it, people who believe it is mandatory to wear a mask in the car by themselves, others who think that while living together they must walk a meter away …
For some, this terror is reversed in its opposite: the immense voyeuristic pleasure of spying, taking action, sending photos on social networks pointing to others who are also behaving perfectly according to the rules.
The ground for the fascism of society, torn by the ideology of “decorum”, is now flooded with seeds; tomorrow abundant crops will sprout.
The second effect is recognizable in the undisguised enjoyment of the local political class, which finds itself invested with the almost unlimited power to revive upwards any prohibition provided for by national emergency laws. Personal and public paranoia and idiosyncrasies act in imposing measures without any rationality with respect to the epidemic, as well as the mayor’s protagonism, the poisoned fruit of his direct election, unfortunately desired by the parliament in 1993 (with the favorable vote of the ex-PCI ).
A sån sté a la fira and San Làzer… mo an i era ‘nción! A desert.
The aforementioned Isabella Conti , Renzian mayor of San Lazzaro di Savena, declares by order the ” ban on using bicycles for recreational-recreational reasons” , and soon is generated at the bottom of the video in which she announces ita real onslaught of fanatics towards the few who ask for respect for the law (that is, being able to do sports, so as not to devastate themselves in the body as well as in the spirit). Fanatics write things like “go fuck and stay home without breaking my balls”; or «but why for once we don’t all try to do what we are asked instead of always wanting to do first in the class ???» (as if it were not Conti who wanted to take the first class, imposing bans not foreseen by the law!); «Crazy stuff. A country on its knees and this one wants to ride a bicycle! “; «… the decrees are going to be combed but … common sense / civic sense must now be used …».
In Messina the mayor Cateno de Luca is forced to withdraw – but from time to time reiterates, with small changes – ” curfew ” orders in open contrast with the regulations issued by the government; and the other De Luca, Vincenzo , from Campania, “forbids walks” with an order that the jurist Alberto Lucarelli considers unconstitutional . I can easily imagine the reaction-photocopy of the regime- haters : “Ah, the professor goes to comb through the constitution but … you have to use common sense / civic sense!”.
All this takes place by means of “ordinances”, ie the instrument used and abused since 2008 against the fake emergencies of “urban security” and “decorum”. Although apparently, in this case, the use of ordinances is legally more founded (the mayor is responsible for public health matters), they are used substantially in the logic of “decorum”, and not in that of “containment of contagion” . They satisfy, but above all provoke and amplify, the lowest instincts in the electoral base; they shape a population that asks to be governed with fear, not with some form of reasonableness (not even with epidemiological reason). On the other hand, as a cloying poem says circulated online last week,
“An imposing, speechless voice
now tells us to stay at home, like children
who made it big, without knowing what,
and won’t have kisses, won’t be embraced.”
We are children who made it big; and fanatically neoliberal politicians, almost entirely responsible or complicit (for party membership) in the dismantling of public health, are mum and dad . In Sardinia, caring, they even worry about checking the news that could reach sos pitzinnos : “it’s not a program for children, change the channel!”. We are faced, on closer inspection, with one of those rare and painful cases in which the revocation of parental authority would be appropriate.
Rejoice lambs, it’s almost Easter !
Or again, in a riot of self-defeating docility images , we are not only children but sheep frightened by the wolf-virus:
«A flock of sheep or goats walking along a path together. Is the sheep really subjugated to the shepherd? Or what determines the link between the shepherd and every single animal, I try to suppose, is above all the feeling of trust, the practical and safe logic of trust, something that runs between one and the other like an energetic link? “
Bucolic, huh? Too bad that what runs between shepherd and sheep is economic exploitation, and finally the blade of the knife.
In the flock you are safe. Here is a lamb.
But this infantilization and ovinization are not new in the cultural landscape. We are in the field widely analyzed by Daniele Giglioli , that of the victim paradigm, in which it takes place
«What the current hegemony requires today to be, that is, submissive, frightened, in need of protection, only desiring to be governed – well possibly; but it’s the same. ” ( Critique of the victim , Nocturnal, 2014)
Being a victim defines us, says Giglioli, as subjects worthy of listening based not on “what we do, but [on] what we have suffered, what we can lose, what they have taken away from us”. All the ideology of “decorum”, on closer inspection, is grafted onto victimhood. And this just as, in an apparent paradox, the offenses of “degradation” are often victimless offenses . Who is the victim of a homeless person sleeping on a bench? He and he alone: first of all of capitalism which took away a house, then of the “decorum” which will also take awaythe bench. Well: the magic of “decoration” is to make the whole city imaginatively “victim” of “degradation”, and therefore the victim of the homeless who sleeps among the cartoons. It is therefore not surprising that an imaginary victim emerges on this occasion; it, like almost everything that happens now, was already there.
Milan, Sant’Ambrogio ,. Antiviral benches. SchiZo Pictures .
The space of social discourse is occupied militarily by those who assume the posture of giving voice to the victims , of speaking “on behalf of the victims”. And so we try to silence those who think about the social complexity of this crisis because it would be – in the unquestionable opinion of the self-declared spokespersons of the victims – not empathetic enough . In reality, even those who act as spokesmen for the victims are not doing anything concrete for the real victims when they speak . He is not, for example, building a respirator: he is reasoning abstractly. Just as those who think about the complexity, but with the mostto shake a club rhetoric.
But there is worse: if Italian nationalism is historically victimized, Italian victimism immediately becomes nationalist, and these days of flags and hymns from the balcony are here to prove it; while the days that follow could see its change in Fascism (what clothes Fascism will assume is not known. Certainly not the dusty orbace: it will be more a technical fabric ). I do not exclude that the singing of the marcetta will become an obligation in schools when they reopen; but what most strikes me about the hymn – as this comment also notes – is its verse, “we are ready for death”, which today sounds not only sinister, but also mocking.
Because our society is clearly ready for anything except “to death”. A gigantic knot comes to a head here: the removal of death from our social landscape, reinforced by years of Berlusconi fairy tales – which later became pseudoscientific articles of La Repubblica – which promised us to arrive healthy and horny up to 120 years old. Then comes a bat virus and shows us that it is not so, that it is not at all like that.
What are we going to do with this agnition between head and neck tomorrow? We will bury it under mountains of late-adolescent fantasies about the posthuman , immortality and glam grafts between organic and inorganic, or we will try to retrace individual and collective roads that help us face the unsustainable, to manipulate the unacceptable that it gives meaning to our life , or its finiteness?
“There is gold, I think, in this strange time. Maybe there are d [r] oni »**
“I want fucking drones!” Click to listen Control Punk of Thin Wire .
I’ll be back, here and in the epilogue, at the beginning of this couple of articles. I said then, in summary to the bone:
1) the state deploys its military force ignoring – in the confusing and contradictory modalities that have been said – the need to find “a balance point” between the reduction of freedoms and the need to contain contagion;
2) the political space (even among the critics of neoliberalism) is occupied by an individualized and uncritical “responsibility”; and the righteous “we must not question the reality of the epidemic” becomes too easily “we must not question the way the government deals with the epidemic”.
So if the “equilibrium point” referred to in point 1 does not exist, and if there is no political and moral space that places itself outside the “contagion containment” modalities (a modality that should not be discussed: “let the experts! “), then it is clear that any control intervention carried out by the power is lawful, if it has a function – that is, if it can be credited rhetorically as – useful for containing contagion. The mirror is no longer black : the dystopia of total control is already in place, and reflects our present.
In Forlì, drones patrol the parks ; not to mention the usual Nardella who uses the main instrument of her scopophile government , the thousand cameras equipped with AI, in order to find gatherings ; the reports of the mobile phones are already commenting on the news, which would demonstrate that “people go out too often”; and more and more frequently we read almost uncritical hints to the Korean method , that is to the tracking via GPS , apps and surveillance technologies of every movement and of every social life.
If we do not question 1 and 2 , therefore, we will have to accept everything by the same logic , also because it will be a slow slip – not a “take or leave”, which it would be easy to oppose – and because everything will be in the name of the “containment of contagion”. So we will accept, among other things, the end of the possibility of fighting ( illegal gathering detected! Send the army! ) To stop the social and environmental disaster; that is, to stop also the dismantling of public health services and the ecocide that generated and amplified the epidemic power itself.
It is a real viral paradox from which it will be necessary to find a way out.
Return to me
Writes Roccosan , in a comment :
“The” birth from me “should not become […] a narcissistic operation but […] a methodological moment of an investigation […]. A day of quarantine can then be described phenomenologically as long as it serves to define the fields of force with which one enters into a relationship and the modalities of such a relationship. In this way a first diagram can be sketched in which the ego and narcissism are certainly found, but which is also a useful tool for tidying up the stories, analysis plans and interpretations available ».
Click to enlarge.
I agree; and this is exactly what Pietro Saitta does in the article I quote in that initial paragraph. My criticism of “starting from oneself” was directed instead to certain intimate narratives, to a public use without mediation of one’s sacrosanct anxieties; and finally to the rhetoric of “showing the wound”. Showing the wound is legitimate, it is right; sometimes it is personally liberating: let’s do it all and all, even more often than that, and not only in the eye of the lockdown .
But let’s do it with full awareness that it has no revolutionary potential. “Showing the wound” has long been perfectly integrated with neoliberalism, corporate coaching , increased performance through (hairy) listening . In fact, the health ministry, already on March 14, produced a regime “tag” to hang on the door (strictly closed) to learn how to “manage it”.
Show your wound, we help you manage it , but society does not change. So go straight ahead towards the next ecocide and the next epidemic.
** The verses are taken from the aforementioned cloying poetry .
* 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).