Crisis and Control
Resisting the end of the world by proliferating new worlds
COVID-19 is the culmination of a decade of contagion movies, the beginning of the worst. Every little anxiety baked into the liberal order is now being expressed with PSAs reminding us we are all vectors responsible for the spread of the economy’s epochal pandemic. Governments the world over scramble to impose restrictive measures, some ham-fisted, some half-baked, others just horrifying.
What was left of public spaces and social life has been forcefully retracted. Appeals to embrace “social distancing” replicate the deadly isolation we were already living. Brute repression now seems to carry its own justification. Millions on lockdown, public assembly banned, borders closed and flights grounded. 14 days of hell for anyone who might have come into contact with the virus.
No less frightening than the carabinieri guarding the highways are the new measures of technological governance being openly deployed. Facial recognition to identify anyone breaking quarantine. Dronestalking villagers with the nerve to leave their homes. Private communications monitored, locations tracked, access to public spaces determined by mysterious algorithms. Such are the ambitions of all those who rule and the inescapable logic of these technologies.
If planetary quarantine has been normalized in the span of two months, what horrors might we expect of the coming years? We take no pleasure in predicting, as others have, that the novel coronavirus is a preview of pandemics ushered in by a new climatic regime. A slew of strange illnesses unleashed by thawing permafrost and the displacements of humans and non-humans alike, forced out of drowned cities and fragmented habitats. When activists demand a “climate state of emergency” or wartime mobilization, what’s happening now should be taken as the likely shape of their hopeful futures.
More than sudden illness, what has been shocking is the speed with which power sheds the polite fictions of a stable democratic order. The logic of crisis always serves to excuse the deepening of control. The terrible irony is that a virus – a scientific quandary, questionably neither dead nor alive – has become the occasion for managing life itself.
But life cannot be contained or managed so easily. For each new technological ploy, there are the kids who defeat it. For each new zone of abandonment, there are those in revolt. For each measure of distance imposed, there are new forms of conviviality. Not to mention all those everyday acts of courage and compassion, as communities around the world care for themselves amid failing healthcare systems. Ensuring that the elderly are checked up on, that people have enough to eat, that there is still a communal fabric even as governments seek to tear it further – these are the small triumphs of decaying circumstances.
Power’s hold over us is equally demonstrated by emergent forms of social control and by the utter disregard with which they cast aside our lives. Our inability to survive outside their broken system is rapidly being confronted by our dwindling chances of surviving within it. To resist their control has become inseparable from the urgent need to care for one another. How to treat illness, how to care for the vulnerable, how to overcome isolation, how to reinvent presence, how to live with dignity and perhaps how to die with it. These are among the revolutionary questions of our times.
As a counterpoint to global paralysis and despair, this month’s issue of Territories features two clear-sighted accounts of those getting organized against the end of the world.
First we have a reflection on the ongoing blockades in Canada from Frances Nguyen, extending the call to shut the system down and halt the destruction of colonization and extraction.
We’re also pleased to share a newly translated analysis of the coronavirus situation from Frédéric Neyrat. And for more on the pandemic, check out the Reading List we compiled at the end of this issue.
Reflections on shutting down Canada
Forests, rivers, mountains, beings, traditions, ways of life. We are in a war of worlds, between those who want to plunder what’s left of the world and all those who fight for the worlds they still inhabit. Frances Nguyen draws on the recent Indigenous-led blockades in Canada to reveal our capacity to shut down the sadistic logic of the economy through determined, coordinated action. While the conflict over Wet'suwet'en lands has since entered a different phase, the creative possibilities discovered this winter have opened new fronts and new horizons of planetary rebellion, a future on and for the earth.
We must put ourselves and our struggles in common to bring more life to a dying planet. Finding each other at a critical crossroads between the past and what is to come, we have a choice to tow the line or to shut it down. To live now is to resist. To resist now is to live together in dignity for a chance at something else: new forms, possibilities, and magic.
Developing new technics for new worlds
Over the last three decades, Silicon Valley seems to have embedded its fantasies just as much in our heads as it has throughout our everyday environment. Reality as an equation to be solved, technology as means of control – ideas just as ubiquitous as the screens cluttering the world. Our friends at DeepMay are running a collaborative experiment in breaking Big Tech’s hold on just about everything. What else can technology be? What else can technology do? We’re excited to feature this overview of their program, laying out where they started and where they’re headed next.
The dominant technological episteme progresses by mapping complex landscapes, reducing uncertainty, and demonstrating control as rapidly as possible in order to capitalize on the results. This continued acceleration has acute mental and physical tolls – long hours in front of a screen, unforgiving deadlines, and the systematic transmutation of our passions into exploited labor. Liberating ourselves from this progression requires a new operating system and a different set of collective practices.
Frédéric Neyrat on political virality and competing separatisms
Courtesy of an anonymous friend, this new translation from Frédéric Neyrat takes up the political stakes of the coronavirus pandemic and its relationship with climate change. As the global order comes apart, Neyrat traces competing separatisms and their incompatible visions of the future. Will the rich get their way, casting off from the rest of us and all life on earth, leaving behind an impoverished and confined planet? Or will a great terrestrial wave of revolt finally shatter their perverse ambitions?
At a time of climate collapse, the danger for states is as follows: to not reveal their separatism from above, their contempt for the people, and the elite’s attempts to protect themselves for as long as possible from the effects of environmental destruction. Such evidence would indeed risk generating a political separatism with revolutionary aims. It is this separatism, neither from above nor from below but collective, terrestrial, and planetary in vocation, that could make governments afraid.
A reading list on coronavirus compiled by friends of Inhabit. Featuring Chuǎng, Mike Davis, Giorgio Agamben, Angela Mitropoulos, Anne Boyer, and more.
5 Demands for Emergency COVID-19 Survival
Found circulating online this weekend. Spread it far and wide.
Quarantined or not, we’ll see you next month. Stay safe in the meantime.
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