We are in a situation that is absolutely new to us. Our freedoms are reduced to a minimum, similar to wartimes or imprisonment. Only this time the “enemy” is invisible and our prison is our home. Catastrophes, state of emergency, curfew, pandemic, media bombardment, panic, insecurity and isolation … It’s not about minimizing or assessing the deadly consequences of the coronavirus – on a medical level I cannot judge this. But I want to formulate a critique of the authoritarian formation taking place, i.e. the state of war declared by the state and the consequences this has for us and society. While every bill and every restriction is waved through with reference to the relevant experts and no one can predict what the situation might look like in a week, we don’t need experts to know that in times of crisis and war the state of emergency becomes the normality way too fast (you remember the “war on terror” or the “refugee crisis”?)
The social misery: lonely, digital and obedient
In the always-on society, the speed and presence of the news has reached a new level. Live updates show us the number of infected people. Our insecurity grows faster … Fear of being infected, of the sick, of the fellow human being, of the neighbour. Meanwhile, politicians are positioning themselves on the front line in the war against the enemy, assuring us that they know what is best. “Stay home! Stay satisfied” this is all we have to do. Prove unity and follow the orders because after all, now is “the wrong time for critique”. And, lo and behold, we find ourselves in a totalitarian scenario of control. You shouldn’t leave the house and should even report anyone who doesn’t stick to the orders. The good citizen becomes aware of his responsibility and calls the cops when he suspects that the neighbours are having a party. In the meantime the use of internet is rising to new heights. As we are no longer allowed to venture out into the world around us, we are being made to believe that there is another world we can escape in: the digital world. Instead of moving and taking care of your social relations, life gets transposed into the digital world. Instead of going out and meeting friends, you can chat, watch series, make your home your office, get delivered everything in front of your door, watch porn, publish your critique and argue about something or just play games on the internet. In the digital intoxication, life becomes artificial and alienated. Ultimately we lose any possibility of changing anything about the reality around us. Stressed out, underutilized, overwhelmed and with square eyes bumming around within your own four walls – is this the future? Permanently locked in and scared from new horror-news. The number of those who decide themselves to put an end to such a life generally increases. As does the interpersonal and domestic violence which is mostly exercised by men against women.
Towards a permanent open-air prison
While I am writing this text, a police car is driving around in the parallel streets with speakers loudly announcing that one should stay at home. At the same time, some of the leading politicians sit down together and discuss how the curfew can be adapted nationwide. On the roof of a neighbouring house there is radio mast which collects the movement and contact data of all mobile phones in its radius. The companies Telekom and Vodafone will then pass this on so that can be analysed with whom infected persons have probably had contact and to what extent the exit restrictions are being observed. In a few days, the state will probably turn the curfew into an outright ban and abolish rights such as the secrecy of correspondence and the integrity of the home. All to examine who has contact with whom and where, who lives where and is where. The state subjects get categorized, divided and ordered or separated. Furthermore, under the call for total obedience, a global militarization of society is being achieved that has never existed before like this. Closed borders, soldiers preparing for action on the streets, prohibition of any gathering of people and helicopters searching for them with thermal imaging cameras. The fact that China is used as a model state in the fight against the epidemic shows in which direction the journey goes: drones flying above our heads, giving us orders, barcodes on our smartphones which allow us to go to the supermarket or force us into quarantine based on some incomprehensible algorithms, the lockdown of entire cities and checkpoints on every corner. The suggestion of one “expert” in Italy that people in quarantine should also be given electronic shackles to ensure that they do not leave the house, illustrates that the city has now been turned increasingly into an open-air prison and that the methods of discipline, control, administration, punishment and monitoring are applied to all citizens. Some are now content to wait for this brief period of restriction to pass and try to find amusement online. They demonstrate not only that freedom is worth nothing to them, but they also don’t understand that this condition will last more than a few days.
Normality is the real crisis
From the perspective of the ruling class it makes no sense to maintain this state of emergency for only two weeks. If you want to freeze society to stop a virus, it has to be for at least one year from a virological point of view. The consequences will be enormous even if the restrictions will afterwards be relaxed or lifted. Once you live lonely, digital and obedient, you will train yourself to behave in this way. Just a few months ago we saw protests and uprisings exploding globally, but the means of counterinsurgency and social stupidity will cause deep scars. Because those who live lonely and digital also let themselves be robbed of their possibilities and tools to discuss, revolt and self-organize with their friends. The state forbids us any social life while it puts itself in the role of protector of life and limb. But we know that it is the state and its industries that constantly kills, that disseminates wars all over the world, that lets refugees die at the borders and that for hundreds of years has been destroying and exploiting the earth. The state pretends to be the guardian of the common good, but actually it wants us to be work slaves and obedient soldiers – producing profits for its polluting industry and willing to die in its wars. First and foremost the state protects the rich and if in this economic crisis someone thinks of just taking from them what he or she lacks, the public servants will not hesitate to shoot the looters and thieves. Capitalism and the state need crises and states of emergency to increase and strengthen their power over us. The virus is not the reason, but the trigger. The state is calling on us to take our responsibility. But it forbids us to self-organize, to meet and to help each other. We are supposed to sit in front of the screen and say “yes” and “amen”. But when we abandon the role of subject, it declares war on us. If the state wants to control and prevent any of our movements and relations, we have to find ways to move and meet despite all of this. If we lack the essentials of life, we have to take it from where it exists in abundance. When we are separated from each other and locked up, we shouldn’t see ourselves as competitors or enemies, but as people with whom we can relate – as possible carers and accomplices. And as the eyes of the state become more and more omnipresent and the noose of capitalism becomes tighter and tighter around our necks, we must look for ways to cut them out and sever them.
“To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded – by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation and at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished.
It means to be exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, deceived, robbed under pretext of public utility and in the name of the general interest; then, at the slightest resistance, by the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, offended, dishonoured.
That is government, that is its justice, that is its morality. The government of man by man is slavery. Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is an usurper and a tyrant. I declare him my enemy.”
(Originally published in the anarchist Newspaper Zuendlumpen on 24.03.2020)