Style: This Video is part of the Youtube Channel "Posthumans Go Viral".
Author: Christine Daigle, Director, Posthumanism Research Institute, Brock University
AN OPEN PLATFORM TO DISCUSS THE POSTHUMAN
Context: Recorded in May 2020 in Canada, during the (prolonged) lockdown due to the Covid-19 Emergency
Style: This Video is part of the Youtube Channel "Posthumans Go Viral".
Author: Christine Daigle, Director, Posthumanism Research Institute, Brock University
Luxurious Quarantine, Suffering Masses: Transhumanism as Oppressor and Liberator, in ‘Elysium’ + Bonus (Post-Pandemic: "Screen New Deal" instead of "Green New Deal"?)
Context: Written in 2020 in the US, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Style: Review + Editorial Comment
Author: Nikhilesh Dholakia
Bio: Professor Emeritus, University of Rhode Island
1. Luxurious Quarantine, Suffering Masses: Transhumanism as Oppressor and Liberator, in ‘Elysium’
IntroductionThe pandemic crisis of 2020 brings to mind multiple facets of the movie ‘Elysium’. Although the reviews of the movie were in the mid-range – neither gloriously celebratory nor atrociously bad – the present moment demands a relook at the multiple novel aspects of the future that the film imagined. For those who have not seen the film, or whose memory of it is hazy, let us start with a summary of the plot.
The Plot of Elysium
In the year 2154, planet Earth is nearly ruined and humanity is divided sharply – even more so than in 2020. The ultrarich live aboard a luxurious orbiting space station called Elysium, with amenities comparable to the most opulent gated communities of 2020. The vast majority, the rest, are reduced to a wretched humanity, living a hardscrabble existence in Earth's ruins.
The luxurious space station Elysium is technologically advanced. It has devices such as Med-Bays that can cure all diseases, reverse the aging process, and regenerate body parts. By contrast, the planet Earth, hundreds of miles below Elysium, is a writhing and smoldering cauldron of disease and deprivation. Suffering residents of planet Earth want Elysian technology to cure their illnesses. The curative-restorative technologies, however, are only available to citizens of Elysium. Jodie Foster, playing the role of Defense Secretary, the stern protector of the privileges of the residents of Elysium, takes all actions to guard the technologies of the space station, to preserve the pampered lifestyle of Elysium's citizens, and to prevent the leakage of the fantastic Elysian technologies to Earth.
Matt Damon, playing a brash character called Max, exposed to deadly massive radiation poisoning, and also moved by the disease and suffering of a friend’s daughter on Earth, agrees to undertake a dangerous mission that could access the medical technologies of Elysium and bring equality to the population of Earth. The mission is to jack into the central computer on Elysium, and reprogram it to recharacterize all the residents of Earth as citizens of Elysium.
There are many plot twists and turns, severe and savage battles, but ultimately Max manages to jack into the computer at Elysium, and reprograms it, even as this act kills him. The impact of reprogramming is instantaneous. The robotic entities, earlier used by their masters in Elysium to suppress and contain the population of Earth, now automatically turn into helpers and saviors of all – including residents of Earth, now granted Elysian citizenship and privileges. Hundreds of Med-Bays are dispatched to relieve the suffering on Earth.
We do not have to wait till 2154; many of the conditions of the movie Elysium started appearing in 2020, and accelerated suddenly with the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the luxurious space colony, separated and insulated from a wretched Earth, is still not a reality, major entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are working with technologies and systems that would create such escape abodes in outer space. In the meanwhile, luxury quarantine in 2020 takes the forms of private planes, private or access-controlled islands, fantastically equipped and opulent survival bunkers, and more.
The Med-Bays are not here yet, but the medical-technological research frameworks for reversing aging, restoring lost senses and organs, rebuilding body parts, sentient prosthetics, and other steps toward – Singularity? Convergence? Tran-Posthumans? – are already in place. We can expect to see major acceleration in these.
The robotic police is not here yet, but a robotic dog is patrolling the parks in Singapore, warning folks to keep the 6-feet/2-meter distance from each other. And of course, drones that could kill and contain troublemakers are ready – used to combat terrorism so far, but fully capable of doing anything that they are commanded to do. More mundanely, hypersurveillance – so far used to nudge customers to buy promoted brands (except in China and a few places, where it also assigns social scores and categorizes people) – is evolving rapidly into ways to classify and trace individuals and their contact networks.
There are discussions afoot on developing privilege and certification cards of various kinds: cured, immune, asymptomatic, symptomatic, vulnerable, indispensable, super-privileged, essential-and-protection-worthy, essential-but-disposable, etc.
The big political-philosophical questions that are emerging are obvious: Will we move toward a world that has privileged Elysians, with fantastic technologies and massive robotic power, escaping from and seeking to keep under control the seething, suffering masses? Or, will brave heroes emerge to jack into cyber-networks of privilege, and push the buttons to declare all of us as card-carrying folks with equal access to curative, restorative, salubrious, caring, income-providing transhuman technologies?
2. Post-Pandemic: "Screen New Deal" instead of "Green New Deal"?
The critique Naomi Klein offers is insightful. What is needed, to go beyond critique, are ways to bring the entire technology cycle, from creation to deployment, under democratic cooperative control. Naomi Klein hints at this... A lot of intense work is needed.
Excerpts [of Naomi Klein essay]:
... pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fuelled future was being sold to us in the name of friction-free convenience and personalisation. But many of us had concerns... That was the ancient past, also known as February . Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe... At the heart of this vision is seamless integration of government with a handful of Silicon Valley giants – with public schools, hospitals, doctor’s offices, police and military all outsourcing (at a high cost) many of their core functions to private tech companies...
... we [are made to?] face real and hard choices between investing in humans and investing in technology. Because the brutal truth is that, as it stands, we are very unlikely to do both. The refusal to transfer anything like the needed resources to states and cities in successive federal bailouts means that the coronavirus health crisis is now slamming headlong into a manufactured austerity crisis. Public schools, universities, hospitals and transit are facing existential questions about their futures. If tech companies win their ferocious lobbying campaign for remote learning, telehealth, 5G and driverless vehicles – their Screen New Deal – there simply won’t be any money left over for urgent public priorities, never mind the Green New Deal that our planet urgently needs...
Tech provides us with powerful tools, but not every solution is technological. And the trouble with outsourcing key decisions about how to “reimagine” our states and cities to men such as Bill Gates and [Eric] Schmidt [ex-Google CEO] is that they have spent their lives demonstrating the belief that there is no problem that technology cannot fix.
For them, and many others in Silicon Valley, the pandemic is a golden opportunity to receive not just the gratitude, but the deference and power that they feel has been unjustly denied.
Context: Recorded in 2020 in Canada, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Author: Dominique Leclerc
Context: Written in 2020 in England, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Author: Katt Petersen
Bio: Katt Petersen a PhD student in the school of Film, Media and Communication at the University of Portsmouth, England. Her PhD research is focusing on exploring an emerging new wave of creative output in Post- and Transhuman cultures.
Treacherous flesh, cytokine flood,
I’d prefer to be a brain in a metal box,
Than choking on my defector blood.
How can you still defend the unity
Between the body and the mind?
Still believe in the system of immunity?
This fragile construct with all the stability
Of a homemade bomb, always ticking
And shuddering, with the possibility
Of imminent self-destruct, from a trace
Of inanimate proteins and basic code,
With somehow absolute power to erase,
Consciousness itself, most complex device,
By turning our flesh antagonist unto itself,
A substrate so unpredictable, imprecise.
You may find freedom in this fragility,
But for me this uncertainty is no liberation,
I will choose a vessel programmed with stability,
A synthetic fortress to shield my precious mind,
Under microscopic tyranny I will not be confined.
Context: Made in 2020 in the US, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Style: Art - Collage Painting
Author: Thomas Elanore (Instagram: @thomaselanore)
Context: Written in 2020 in England, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Author: Hallidonto Cyborgia
The dystopian narrative prevails over all,
Plutocratic societies ever pushing the last drop of sweat from the meat labour,
30,000 death toll and rising - rhetoric of a government set out to care,
Snake oil sales person(s) out in force,
Peasants we need you back to work like the Herd you are - casualties what does it matter,
We have dear Wilfred for the jingoism afoot, like whispers on the water...
Change is needed,
Bleeding light upon the quiet street,
Handless gloves on the corner,
An invisible enemy,
Bread line silhouettes,
Scurrying like ant's,
Carrying more than needed,
White eyes and covered face's,
A subtle cough,
2 meters--tinged droplets,
New residents looking to reside,
Resting in your chest,
Lock that door,
An endless scroll,
Lives lost and tolls rising,
'normality' wasn't working,
Awaiting new consciousness,
A reconfigure of narrative,
A new road of opportunity,
Rescind the old order,
Move forward with power,
Stay home, Stay safe,
Time to build a better life,
A better world,
A better place.
Context: Recorded in April 2020 in the US, during the Covid-19 Emergency
Style: This Video is part of the Youtube Channel "Posthumans Go Viral".
Author: Francesca Ferrando
Note Context: Written in April 2020 in Firenze, Italy , during the lockdown due to the SARS-CoV-2 Emergency
Bio: Davide is a Information Technology Project Manager, Second Level Degree - Teorie della Comunicazione Dissertation/thesis title: Black Mirror: Posthuman Visions?
Style: Thoughts scattered about this "psychodrama"
Fields: ICT, Media Studies, Posthumanism
Author: Davide Bruno
Less anthropocentric reflections (as far as possible) about SARS-CoV-2 Emergency
“You’d do well, dear humans, to stop your ridiculous calls for war. Lower the vengeful looks you’re aiming at me. Extinguish the halo of terror in which you’ve enveloped my name. Since the bacterial genesis of the world, we viruses are the true continuum of life on Earth. Without us, you would never have seen the light of day, any more than the first cell would have come to exist.
We are your ancestors, just like the rocks and the seaweed, and much more than the apes. We are wherever you are and also where you aren’t. Too bad for you if you only see in the universe what is to your liking! But above all, quit saying that it is I who am killing you. You will not die from my action upon your tissues but from the lack of care of your fellow humans. If you had not been just as rapacious amongst yourselves as you were with all that lives on this planet, you would still have enough beds, nurses, and respirators to survive the damage I do in your lungs...”1
SARS-CoV-2 Reference context
«There are seven types of coronaviruses that are contagious for humans. Four types (NL63, 229E, OC43 and HKU1) are responsible for 15 to 30% of the world’s common cold cases every year and are considered endemic. Two other types are considered epidemic: the Sars outbreak, which affected 26 countries and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002, and Mers, which was first reported in 2012 and is prevalent in the Middle East.»2
Numerous studies have identified the origin of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in bats that are supposed to be responsible of the current pandemic. It seems that their ability to host viruses without getting sick and the high tendency to socialize have made them one of the main reservoir species of zoonotic viruses. However, the causes that lead to the jump of species (spillover) and therefore to consequent epidemics, seem to lie above all in the reckless human exploitation of the territory and of the animal species that inhabit it.
The new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, like the previous SARS and MERS, takes his origins in bats. In fact, it shares 96% of the genome with a coronavirus, RaTG13, found in a bat (Rhinolophus affinis) in the province of Yunnan (China) in 2013. (3)
The virus found in bats (RaTG13) doesn’t seem capable to infect human cells, as its Spike protein is not suitable to bind ACE2, the membrane receptor used by SARS-CoV-2 during human cell infection.
Therefore it seems unlikely that the current pandemic was caused by a direct passage of the virus from a bat to humans; it is plausible instead that the intermediate passages have occurred in other animal species, as has already happened with SARS and MERS. Viruses with Spike proteins quite similar to that of SARS-CoV-2 have been found in pangolins.
Whatever the mechanism that gave rise to the direct ancestor of SARS-CoV-2, there seems to have been a single passage from the last animal reservoir/host to man and, since then, the virus has spread only from man to man. (4)
«Viruses exhibit some of the characteristics which are common to organic life, while they are missing others (for instance, metabolism, which is the reason why they depend on their host cell); viruses are thus considered neither inanimate nor living, challenging the biological concept of life itself»5, somehow overcoming the animate/inanimate and living/non-living dichotomy, severely testing the classic categories of thought redefining the very meaning of “life”. From an evolutionary point of view: these “Things” are very ancient, circulating for more than three billion years, and Homo sapiens are, in terms of biomass, an insignificant species. The 7.6 billion Homo sapiens who populate the planet, in fact, represent just 0.01 percent of all living beings. Yet our impact on other life forms is devastating and unprecedented: throughout our history, we have gradually emptied the planet of plants and wild animals to replace them with livestock.
First anthropo-decentralized considerations
In western culture, the millenary anthropocentric world view, has been put in crisis in particular by the discoveries of the so-called "hard sciences" (6): mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology and lately by the recent achievements of nanotechnology, biotechnology and life sciences. Anthropocentrism is a cultural and social paradigm, an overall vision of the world and reality, which supports the affirmation of the humankind according to a dictation, precisely the anthropocentric one, in which man is metaphorically placed at the center of the Universe and everything that is not human “orbits around him" (7). Posthumanism intercepts from a theoretical point of view the profound change of the paradigm in the relationship with technology and nature: biotechnology, the great digital revolution and the Darwinian revolution, which has overcome disjunctive anthropocentrism, showing how man is no longer a special entity, but it is strongly correlated with all the rest of nature. The post-humanistic perspective, on the other hand, is able to dismiss man from the position of "the only guardian of the Kingdom of beings" (8) («unico custode della casa dell’essere»), laying the foundations for an ethical framework that justifies a joint relationship with other living beings and inanimate objects. Posthumanist philosophies, although characterized by an extreme heterogeneity of points of views, can converge in supporting the need to rethink the western culture, starting from questioning the traditional concept of being human, as well as some dualisms, such as human-non-human, natural-cultural, biological-technological. If we try to see it from a less anthropocentric point of view, the Homo sapiens are billions of potential guests for SARS-CoV-2, scattered all over the world; we are also facilitating it with ever more massive and fast transport systems, by which we gather and live in cities and metropolises: we are a perfect definition of super-spreader. It seems that the most widespread "biological entity" on earth is the virus, the eighth kingdom including thousands of species, alternately narrated as bitter enemies of the sapiens.As a part of the vast virosphere still largely unknown, SARS-CoV-2 has broken into our lives. In Italy, but also elsewhere in the world, it has found a fertile ground in a public health system reduced to the bone by decades of neoliberalism. The intrusion of the virus, with its disruptive effects, once again, shows that humans are not the only ones who play a leading role. Unexpected actors such as oceans, bats and bacteria often make and undo history. Their action unfolds through completely asymmetrical relationships with other actors and other entity.
The great catastrophes of humanity, such as the plague of 1347 or that of 1629, the coronavirus of 2020 are showing that despite the progress of intelligence and the arrogance of the "Promethean syndrome", or maybe just for that, the human being is constantly in danger. Even if there could be an intimate relationship between pandemics, progress and modernity. I think it is fair to remember while the world mourns and worries about the coronavirus pandemic, it ignores-or pretends to ignore, that since the beginning of this year there has been a spread in Latin America of dengue, the tropical disease caused by a mosquito, thirty times higher than the serious epidemic of 2015; in 2019 dengue produced 3 million infections, with more than 1,500 deaths. Worldwide, the situation is not better: according to UNHCR, 8,500 children under the age of five die every day because of malnutrition; in addition, 6.3 million children under the age of fifteen died, in 2017 because of malnutrition or other causes. I think it is really necessary to change the point of view, in favor of a more anthropo-decentralized approach that is: less western, less patriarchal, less Caucasian-centric, less racist, less adult-centric, less masculine.We can also identify a technological approach to the containment of the virus. Tracking, and more generally geolocation, provide the most open manifestation of the space of the control society, a potentially unlimited space, not directly marked by barriers, but constantly coded, reported, monitored. The recent collaboration between two technology giants also gives us an indicator of the epochal situation we are experiencing in fact Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design (9).
We then move from supervising and punishing to supervising and rewarding. Thus the moral value of the choices is denied, because automatisms are at work that leverage immediate, unreflected pleasure, and do not value the slow apprenticeship, the variety of individual taste, the difference in character: straight to the bowels and that's it, a lot of sympathy and no critical distance, no deep and conscious empathy. On the other hand, these procedures imply a cognitive delegation which is always prodrome of social delegation: there is no way to get our hands in it, I can only join with enthusiasm, or desert, and suffer the social stigma.At the same time there is something tragicomic in finding that the geolocation of individuals assumes that they do not harbor the terrible and perverse idea of simply leaving their smartphones on night tables.
Voluntary servitude is at its peak when the prisoner's electronic bracelet becomes a expensive i-phone.
This is not a black swan, surely
Traditional storytelling and institutional communication describe the pandemic as a “black swan,” a metaphor for an extremely rare event that is unforeseen and has an enormous impact. It was coined by economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2001. Self-justifying and somehow completely self-fulfilling. Some scientists had sounded an alarm about a possible epidemic and the spread of a new zoonotic virus, so it was very predictable. An essential connotation is missing - explains Taleb - unpredictability. It is valid for the disease itself because it has been years since the scientific community warned that a global epidemic would break out sooner or later. Already at the time of Ebola it was feared: it did not spread because it had developed in a place not too connected with the rest of the world, but now the epicenter was in the country interconnected par excellence. But true linguists say that the proper metaphor for the crisis is a “gray rhino” (10), which refers to highly probable but neglected threats that have an enormous impact.
The real name of the current epidemic should indicate that it depends, in a certain sense, on the contemporary "there is nothing new under the sun", Coronavirus 2 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome, abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2 (acronym from the English Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - Coronavirus - 2), previously named new coronavirus of 2019 (2019-nCoV, or even 2019 nCoV-ARD) a name that in fact includes a "later" identification, after the SARS 1 epidemic, which occurred in the world during the spring of 2003. This disease had been called, at the time, "the first unknown disease of the 21st century". Not even the dignity of coining an original name. It is therefore clear that the current epidemic is in no way the emergence of something radically new or unheard. Of its kind it is the second of the century, coming from bats. A serious criticism addressed today to the authorities regards the prevention policies, after SARS 1, they should have had seriously supported the research to make real effective means of action against SARS-CoV-2 available to the medical world.
Lockdown of the mind
In a matter of weeks (from February 21 to March 22), Italy went from the discovery of the first official SARS-CoV-2 case to a government decree that essentially prohibited all movements of people within the whole territory, and the closure of all non-essential business activities. After a first underestimation, each Region/municipality has ruled the issue in a very different way: controls by drones, heavy fines for those who leave the house, encouraging the social denunciation, to name but a few. The central government, such as the local one, passed the buck to the individual behavior instead of planning a clear prevention policy with a massive use of diagnostic tests, massive employ of technology in contact tracing, monitoring and isolating those tested positive. The repressive system is also confirmed by the special powers assigned to the prefects, who are allowed to use the army to guarantee the containment measures, by simply communicating the decision to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, effectively equating the army with the police. The health system has been weakened by the cuts to the public spending, imposed by the financial system. The number of general practitioners has decreased, at least in Italy. So now the problem is that there are not intensive care units. In conclusion unlike HIV, an enormously more insidious enemy that has killed ~ 35 million people in thirty years and still without a definitive cure or a vaccine, SARS-CoV-2 is a virus incapable of hiding (in technical terms: to integrate into the host genome) and not very good at changing, therefore remaining much more vulnerable to the host's immune response. So, if it is unfortunately inevitable that COVID-19 will still cause many deaths in the coming weeks and maybe months, it is even clearer that it will soon be DEFEATED. All supercomputing resources are committed to finding the antidote to the SARS-CoV-2. Dreaming of the final clash between biovirus and sequencer decoder algorithms. In any case, the human is already out, it seems to me.
1 What the virus said - paru dans lundimatin#, le 27 mars 2020, https://lundi.am/What-the-virus-said (visited 15/04/2020)
2 https://multimedia.scmp.com/infographics/news/china/article/3075382/decoding-coronavirus-covid-19/ (visited 13/04/2020)
3 Andersen, K. G., Rambaut, A., Lipkin, W. I., Holmes, E. C. & Garry, R. F. The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nat Med (2020) doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0820-9.
4 Phylodynamic Analysis | 176 genomes | 6 Mar 2020. Virological http://virological.org/t/phylodynamic-an... (visited 15/04/2020).
5 F. Ferrando, Philosophical Posthumanism, Bloomsbury, London, New York, 2019.
6 The term only recently came into use, when practically all disciplines began to bear the name "Sciences" (social sciences, communication sciences). To refer to what were originally called Sciences (such as Physics or Chemistry).
7 R. Marchesini, Il tramonto dell’uomo. La prospettiva post-umanista., Dedalo, Bari, 2009, p.89.
8 G. Leghissa, Ospiti di un mondo di cose. Per un rapporto postumano con la materialità, «Aut Aut - La condizione postumana», n. 361/2014, p.5.
9 Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.
10 M. Wucker, The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore. St. Martin's Press. 5 April 2016.
Context: Recorded in April 2020 in Italy, during the (prolonged) lockdown due to the Covid-19 Emergency
Style: This Video is part of the Youtube Channel "Posthumans Go Viral".
Author: Stefan Lorenz Sorgner
Dolphins in Venice and Where to Find Them: Or, A Non-Linear Reflection on the Human/Nature Divide at the Time of the Coronavirus
Note Context: Written in April 2020 in Germany, during the (prolonged) lockdown due to the Covid-19 Emergency
Bio: Stefano Rozzoni is a PhD Candidate in Transcultural Studies in Humanities at the University of Bergamo (Italy) and Justus-Liebig Universität Gießen (Germany). In his research project he wishes to engage with the study of pastoral poetry through the lens of (Critical) Posthumanism.
Style: (Unpretentiously) Creative
Fields: Media Studies, Ecocriticism, Ethics.
Author: Stefano Rozzoni
Dolphins in Venice and Where to Find Them: Or, A Non-Linear Reflection on the Human/Nature Divide at the Time of the Coronavirus
There is no doubt that we-as-humans are now living in an extra-ordinary* time. If this conclusion was not already evident before the outbreak of Covid-19, the current (health, social, political, economic, existential…) crisis has made this awareness plain to – almost – anybod(ies). The combination of the increasing number of contagions and the decrease in freedom brought about by the lockdown has revealed unexpected nuances in relation to the ways in which the concept of “schizophrenia” serves for reflecting on the world we live in.
After almost a month of being confined in my apartment, determining what is now ordinary or extra-ordinary is challenging: the continuous twisting between these two poles has fostered the uncanny feeling(s) of venturing into uncharted territories, even though going outside is, at the moment, an a priori impossibility.
Posthuman studies have long discussed the contradictions and paradoxes of the present-day world, determining a wave of critical thinking that tackles the Humanistic axioms embedded in Western thought. But if, until a few weeks ago, this concern was mostly limited to a circle of inventive minds in academia, the urge to reflect on what it means to be human has now become a much more widespread intellectual effort.
It is now not so uncommon to come across media narratives urging readers to avail of the current crisis by “radical[ly] rethink[ing] […] how our societies work, the necessity of public health care, a necessity of slowness” (1). The present condition has already become established as a watershed between the past and the future (2), which may finally integrates forms of non-human- (significant)-others in a more equal Tomorrow (3). Posthumanists cannot but be more than excited observing the ultimate collective awakening for the paradigmatic shift that they have been advocating in the last few years. However, in any self-respecting schizophrenic world(s), this tendency matches an equally intense prolongation of some – apparently ineradicable – traditional Humanistic values.
Being overwhelmingly exposed to media information since the start of the quarantine, I have come across multiple articles showing these oxymora. My interest in Ecocriticism makes me particularly inclined to spot dualistic narratives that reinforce the human/nature divide while attempting to promote a more eco-logical sensibility. In this alignment, one particular report has grabbed my attention in the last few days: dolphins swimming in Venice due to boat-traffic-free canals (4). The argument is simple: while humanity is on lockdown, non-human(ity) takes advantage of the territories (literally “take[ing] Venice back”) (5) from which it was previously evicted. As much as the idea of the natural world reclaiming what has been subtracted by humans may appear as a pleasant feeling in the time of the #FridaysForFuture, this narrative hides much more complex and
First of all, as National Geographic reported soon after the dolphin-case gained popularity, fake news abounds in social media just like the coronavirus upends life (6). No dolphins were, in fact, actually spotted in Venice. Similarly, (many) other stories about animals entering cityscapes turned out to be fictional accounts, demonstrating how the country/city dualism still plays a relent role among the long-standing tropes entertaining Western culture. Beyond issues of veracity connected to this occurrence, or the fairness of the equation “less pollutants = more favorable conditions for (nonhuman) life”, it becomes essential to reflect on the fact that arguments such as “Nature has pushed up the reset button” (7) are twofold: they also implicitly perpetuate the traditional dichotomy of Man/Nature and stress the ontological separation of the human from the nonhuman. We-as-humans-who-have-read-(at)-(least)-Rosi-Braidotti (see note A) are all well-aware of the subtle implications of this ideal.
The endurance of “naturalizing” conceptual habits of non-human others is not difficult to perceive, as well as the emphasis on a sense of separateness of the human from the nonhuman, in a moment in which their inter/intra-connectedness has never been clearer.
One (or more) question(s) can be raised spontaneously: what does Nature refer to in current news reports? What are the effects of stressing a dualistic conceptualization of Nature? How and why can this term be used? As Timothy Clark famously affirmed: “I’ve seen penguins, plutonium, pollution and pollen. But I’ve never seen Nature” (see note B). However, it is evident how today’s media eco-narratives not only make Nature visible by depicting non-human entities through practices of Othering, but they also make dolphins visible too, where they presently are not.
When one realizes that he or she is spending more time watching a digital window rather than a brick-and-mortar one, it is clear how the changing perspective that we have undergone during quarantine is not a mere quirk of scholars in Philosophy Departments.
“We are in this together” has become an(other) popular motto since the outbreak of the pandemic. (8) However, as Braidotti would add, “(but)-we-are-not-one-and-the-same”. This IS the time for rethinking what it means to be humans. Yet, while doing this, pondering on the risks of perpetuating intellectual humanistic habits and the practice of binary thinking can become an(other) way of (re)imagining a more pluralistic future of co-existence between humans and significant-others. Starting from the virus. And including dolphins too.
*While I am writing this piece, my beloved hometown Bergamo is at the center of international news for being one of the hotspots of the contagion. The suffering and the pain that is touching my famil(ies) and friends, and the many who live in this area, as well as in the rest of the world, are not forgotten. My warmest thoughts are with you all. And this is my affirmative response to this difficult, extra-ordinary time.
A. For a further critique of binary thinking, see Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Knowledge, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019.
B. Morton, Timothy, Realist Magic. Objects, Ontology, Causality. Open Humanities Press, 2013. 2013, p. 42.
Context: Written in 2020 in India, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Author: Romy Tuli
Bio: Romy Tuli is an Assistant Professor at CT University, Ludhiana. She is pursuing her Doctor of Philosophy in Posthumanism.
You are me and I am you,
Hand in hand we go.
Step by step we travel,
A book and a worm are at level.
Your lips are so sweet when I kiss,
You are my pond and I am a fish.
Then the Third World War happened!
Against a Virus.
Relax darling, this is humane.
You are free, safe in my arms.
Cry cry, run run,
There is no fun.
Home stay is the safest stay,
Otherwise you have to pay.
Oh my All New Kindle;
I am not a fiddle.
I forget to bring you with me to the shore,
I’m not with you anymore.
Might be Crying for getting charged,
Your tummy might be hungry in a room dark.
Weeping I and weeping you,
I am disabled without you.
Waiting for a sunny day!
Context: Written and recorded in 2020 in Spain, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Author: Jaime Del Val
Fields: Health, Ethics, Philosophy
Style: This is a paper in progress. For latest updates: https://metabody.eu/covid-19-as-metabody/
COVID-19 as Metabody - Towards a new global economy of movement:of increasing social control or of radical care for our molecular entanglement with the Earth
COVID-19, the coronavirus disease emerging in late 2019 in China and becoming global pandemic in early 2020, has exposed, perhaps more than any other event in (recent) history, our entanglement between each other and the world, both at molecular and global scales, expressing both our fragilities and our alignments. Since WWII and the rise of information society it is the first pandemic that has such systemic effects of suspension of activity and economy, quarantine of entire countries and impact in almost every country a few months after its emergence, literally a WWIII. The virus and its disease don’t merely unleash a complex situation, but create an entire global ecology and process, a becoming of which we are part.
In words of Dorion Sagan we are meta-metazoa because on the one hand we are offspring of a symbiogenetic evolution where microorganisms inhabit each other in increasingly complex ways, we are a chimeric hybrid of bacteria and viruses evolving into cells of multicellular organisms, while still largely made of bacterial and viral assemblages; and on the other hand we have a planetary impact and have the capacity and obligation to reflect upon and take responsibility for that impact, as we create a sort of planetary technological hyper-organism or which we (so called humans, hegemonic or not) are part, a hypercyborg.
I will propose to think the coronavirus disease and the situation it has unleashed, its exposure of molecular and global entanglements, through the concept of metabody, where meta- means both in-between, moving across, mutating and underlying. A metabody is a field of movement relations that emerges, varies and transforms, in the balance of consistency and openness, as the universe unfolds from fluctuations. The world is made of endless metabodies/fields, relating and reciprocally transforming in multiple ways, each body is itself a complex metabody, a convergence of many fields, so is each society, or technical system or phenomenon. Every field is made of different kinds fof movements, of swarm-like rhythms, orientations and contacts in its energy-density fluctuations, some more aligned than others. Linear perspective enacted a planetary-scale metabody of relations based on fixed points of vision. Big Data systems enact a planetary scale metabody of autonomous algorithms, code and gridded infrastructures of microchips and data centres. Selfies bring together in a new way both linear perspective and Big Data profiling in social networks conforming a selfie metabody, whose economy is crucial for current algorithmic governance. Likewise a pandemia, such as the one unleashed by the virus COVID-19 can be understood as a complex and multifaceted metabody. Let’s consider some of its complexities.
First of all let’s consider viruses and how they have been source of genetic diversity as primordial means of Horizontal Genetic Transfer (perhaps the primordial source of genetic diversity) throughout evolution. Viruses are a crucial means of evolution as diversification. Viruses are quasi-life forms that need to he hosted by cells to proliferate and activate themselves, they are an in-between the living and the non-living, a meta-life form, and a means for movement of molecules and genes in excess of bacterial sex or sexual reproduction. They are complex molecular affordances and movements. Over billions of years viruses have been part of the fluctuating movement of molecular assemblages, or molecular metabodies, slowly bringing up diversity on the planet, long before plagues and pandemics started to threat human populations.
The first recorded plagues are those of Athens, when it was epicenter of trade in the Aegean and thus of unprecedented and quick movements of people, connecting, exchanging and moving across bacterial and viral ecosystems. Since then plagues and pandemics have been recurring, perhaps associated to the quick movements of people in trade and colonial societies, where immune systems and viral ecologies which had emerged over billions of years of dynamic equilibrium, have been upset by the continuous abstract-but-very-real movements of people following economic and political factors at odds with the dynamics of ecosystems, and an increasingly disruptive impact on ecosystems through seamless appropriation and invasion of territories, impact on species and their habitats, delocalization of wild species, and so forth.
COVID-19 exposes on the one hand our molecular nature and fragility in a time when the hegemonic human keeps expanding its dream to become God through technological domination and absolute control. On the other it exposes our global entanglement, related partly to the extreme amount of physical displacements in late capitalism (which run along our internet entanglement which has its own viruses and ongoing but mostly invisible cyberwar). The speed of dissemination of this physical virus – whose lethality is compared only to the “Spanish flue” of 1918-1919 killing over 50 million people- is what has created this unprecedented situation. The virus exposes the fluctuating nature of the world and the problem of trying to ignore or fix that fluctuation.
Furthermore, COVID-19 exposes our molecular fragility and our global superalignments as being radically interrelated, so that alignments allow the virus’ movement to take on a devastating effect as the molecular, biological virus connects to the viral society of speeded up media, of contagious gestures (ie.e the gestures that replicate themselves in homogenous manner, like selfies or clicking) and displacements.
The virus also exposes the systemic and economic dependencies that come to the foreground when activity is suspended in a new global war scenario where the enemy is within and across bodies, where absolutely everyone is suspect, much more than in global terrorist threats, as the virus is the one responsible, though people or States not taking measures to avoid contagion will in turn be held responsible. Responsibility becomes strangely distributed as decisions radically change, like when a country that had taken no measures suddenly imposes quarantine to its entire population and everyone is obliged to follow precautionary measures that were not at all considered one day before. First the virus is responsible, then a state, then people in the state.
The situation fluctuates radically with the propagation of the virus, whose effects are only seen with 14 days delay. It’s an invisible enemy whose potential presence and threat is expressed in the quarantine as new social condition. Meanwhile fake news spread, attention is more massively than ever in social media, markets and entire industries like tourism collapse, while online work is strengthened, fluctuations enter exponential spirals. Borders, including within European Schengen territory, are closed and new borders can appear inside countries, anywhere, as well as new monitoring of behaviours. Paternalistic and patriotic messages acquire strange associations with astonished concern and at times solidarity.
In the process one can see taken onto a new level and mode the ecologies of fear and threat that came up after 9/11 with the “war on terror”, as exposed by Brian Massumi’s concept of Ontopower, a power that tries to preempt an unknowable future reorienting movements as they emerge while disseminating an ubiquitous sense of threat where everyone is suspect. For the first time since WWII the entire planet is in a palpable state of war (besides the ongoing and mostly invisible cyberwar and the distributed wars of late capitalist exploitation) not exempt of apocalyptic undertones, with an increasing amount of countries in quarantine, against a virus which is similar to the flue, but propagates much more quickly.
Closing down borders is never enough as any person could have it inside already, we will only start to know two weeks later. The so called “missing half-second” of preconscious activity where control information systems try to redirect our attention has suddenly become a 14 days interval suspending entire populations as span of radical uncertainty where every decision will fluctuate according to the many factors being measured, including the economic impact of any decision.
The metabody of COVID-19 is in the molecular movements of the virus, and also, largely, in the state of exception, the fear and threat, the quarantine of populations, or in economic collapse. But also in new gestures of solidarity or complicitness between people (a strange one implying distance and suspicion at the same time, including for oneself as no one know if one has the virus till 14 days later), of uncertainty, and of awe and wonder at the unprecedented situation: a sense of shock, which is deep and existential, not only relative to confinement measures but to this feeling of it all being a planetary situation, a new feeling of molecular and global connectedness, of the fragility in ourselves and our systems, that pretended to be so robust.
It also exposes the intimacy of our daily gestures, implicit in every act, no particular (sexual) intimacy is needed like in HIV transmission, no suspicious gestures or behaviours. It exposes the intimacy of our molecular entanglement, much more than did HIV. Our molecular, viral intimacy is there all the time, unavoidable and evolutively necessary, echoing with McMennamin’s idea in Hypersea theory of body fluids as commons in evolution. That intimacy is indeed the source of evolution and life. Though our perspectival culture of articulate distances had made us forget that entanglement. The most usual daily movements (modes of contact and proximity) can transmit it.
A new economy of movement will thus ensue, perhaps of further distancing. Indeed some studies are already ponting to a period of 12-18 months of social distancing till the virus gets under control through a vaccine. But effects of this new scenario will probably last much longer. A Pandemics was expected, but the lethality of this one -much greater than the ones in 2008 and before, only comparable to the “Spanish flue” over a century ago (named like that because Spain was the only country which did not hide it but spoke up), is likely to alter global economies of movement much more than did 9/11 or even smartphones.
We are slow at understanding this molecular ecology and its movements, since old ontologies had ignored our molecular swarming for too long, we have difficulty in understanding the ways of minimizing contagion while avoiding paranoia, as we don’t understand how our viral entanglement operates, its unavoidability and indeed necessity, but also its major channels of dissemination, which are not always obvious. In consequence many people (at least in less disciplined Mediterranean countries like Spain) tend to ignore the invisible enemy till hard measures are imposed from above. Or paranoia abounds.
This invisible enemy within, across and in constant mutation and dissemination (meta-), relates to endless other factors like heat or sun radiation, human concentrations in winter, humidity and moist in the body and the concentration of globules in our immune system, and so forth.
“In this strange and irregular war that where we have had to live or fight, we are all soldiers” said the Chief of State of Defense in Spain, a soldier whose discipline is in avoiding social contact. Meanwhile the search for vaccines, antivirals and immune system aids is the triple molecular battlefield in the laboratory war. A new sense of care appears as health systems are overflown and one needs to avoid social contact in order to avoid potential contagion to oneself and to others, as one might be positive without having symptoms, whereby the virus kills more the elderly and vulnerable, but not only, anyone could fall, but not everyone can be taken care of by the overwhelmed health system.
Attempts to understand the molecular movement of COVID-19 and generate a vaccine are still unfruitful several months after it’s appearance, and it may still take a year for it to arrive. Meanwhile the entire global economy is suspended and entering a potentially severe recession whose future is utterly uncertain as the virus could still disseminate in unpredictable ways. First the production machine of China was paralyzed, now the consumption machine of Europe and perhaps the US are suspended. China is leaving its state of exception and quarantine while Italy and Spain, and gradually all Europe (as of March 17th) is entering it, and also the US, many countries in the Americas, Africa and Middle east, or Russia, after going more strongly through Korea and Iran. All major events cancelled, only Japan, who apparently stabilized the virus soon, still doesn’t cancel the Olympic games. It is the rich countries that seem to be attacked now, perhaps due precisely to the connection of the virus with globalized displacements. But molecular movements have no logic, they swarm and fluctuate in always unpredictable ways.
Along the way we could develop immunity, and the virus could mutate or it could become seasonal like the flue, while vaccinations could start to appear, and new dependencies on pharmaceuticals, also part of this new metabody that will also involve new, even more articulate distancies between bodies.
The radical fluctuation of the virus’s movements seem to accelerate exponentially as they relate to the superalignments of our Age of Algorithms, or Algoricene, where bodies quickly displace along planetary-scale trajectories, and impose on ecosystems endless disruptive interventions which upset their dynamic equilibrium. These interventions may have triggered the appearance of the virus on stage in the first place. “A number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19” says The Guardian. “Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?”And David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”
Maybe we need to slow down? Is Nature taking revenge for our accelerated destruction? Is this a restoration of the balance, a return to the indeterminate, fluctuating source?
It’s time, not only to slow down our accelerated displacements, but to take radical care for ecosystems as the dynamic matrix of life, ours included, and thus also the source for any economy and future. The greedy exploitation of the Earth on behalf of Earth destroyers is likely to enter a spiral of increasing selfdestruction. But what should be matter of concern is how the perception itself of the Earth as matter for exploitation was created, over centuries of colonialism, of perspectival perceptions that place an observer outside of the world, which becomes reducible to seamless quantification, appropriation and devastation.
Slowing down is just a start along the way to regain a richer embodied experience after millennia of atrophy imposed by multiple alignments with technologies of domination of which the smartphones in our pockets are a recent expression. These have impoverished experience to the point where only accumulation, domination and destruction matters. Earth destroyers are the deeply disabled people whose experience is impoverished to the point where they lost all sense of body, all proprioception, and thus all sense of deep connection to a world.
One century ago the Spanish flue killed around 50 million people, but humans kill around 5 trillion animals per year (100.000 times more), and do so in ways that -quite opposed to how animals kill each other- completely disrupt the dynamics of ecosystems.
Our health and the planet’s health are entangled. May the pandemic unleash a change in sensitivity?
Some may say that we are all Earth destroyers, as soon as we catch a plane, drive a car, or are engaged in any kind of consumption, that slowing down is not an option, that no activity could be done that doesn’t contribute to the impact, that there is no way out. Or that online activities (or even social control) are the welcome solution to work and social interaction in the new world scenario of the pandemic. One could say that this very article participates in those economies, of digital control and of unsustainable planetary impacts. Let’s remember that data centers and digital infrastructures are also posing a heavy ecological problem due to the amount of energy consumed and also the materials used, such as coltan, linked to wars exploitation but also waste and obsolescence of equipment. But unsustainable is also the social ecology of Facebook likes as implicit social credit, of selfie smiles and emoticons, of massive homogenization of affects, desires and sexes.
But it’s always a question of thresholds. One of the thresholds lies in the little care that Nation States of democratic countries have for the respect of global ecosystems. Will COVID-19 unleash a new era concern, if it is shown that unleashing of virus is linked to anthropocenic activity? Will this affect the taking of more radical measures for having the equilibrium of ecosystems as primordial criteria for economic decisions? Maybe even in less democratic countries like China? Can this also reverse the expected tendency of increased social distance and control, towards a return to the body, to analogue embodied experiences that afford means for sustainability no only in terms of ecology and economy, but of social life and its richness? Only a rich, diverse and varying experience is sustainable. Can slowing down and going back to the body become new mottos for global policies, and a gradual systemic change?
In excess of the economic crisis that may ensue, this situation entails an unprecedented change in our becoming and awareness as metabodies, of our molecular and global entanglement, our fragility (and the consistency of responses, at times hard, coercive), and our being part of fluctuation movements and systemic dependencies.
Maybe the virus, in exposing all of this, can teach us about the problematic systemic aspects of current society, though it’s unlikely that this will entail positive systemic change. The change is more likely to be in the sense of new unprecedented means of social control, of fear and threat ecologies, increase of online work (more vulnerable to digital viruses or the threats of cyberwar, of surveillance and algorithmic governance), increase of distance between bodies and dependency on the chemical choreographies of pharmaceuticals and surveillance, and meanwhile increased precarity of the already precarious who are losing their jobs in the process.
At the same time the stage for the (no longer science-fiction) scenarios of potential and more severe bacteriological and viral war is set. This is just the mild beginning, the introduction, which however exposes that reality is always already more advanced and complex than any sci-fi movie (no matter how much the latter format our expectations and prepare the stage). Reality is always re-ontologizing itself, plastic as it is, moving beyond the existing ontologies, concepts, established ways of thinking and understanding (which one often sees reflected in Science-fiction narratives). The realities (movements) of the autonomous algorithms in our smartphone apps, or now COVID-19, are challenging radically our concepts, practices, systems, economies and life styles. We need to invent new ones.
After the cold war, AIDS, the “war on terror”, the ongoing and mostly invisible cyberwar, and the visibility over past years of digital surveillance and control (from Snowden to Cambridge Analytica), coronavirus crosses a new threshold in scenarios of war and domination, but also of collective mutation. This mutation is (and always was) not only genetic, but mostly epigenetic: relative to our habits, affects, media, our movements in general (which have epigenetic effects but also wider mutations in ourselves and our ecosystems, our affects, neurons, metabolism, hormones and other chemical bodily fields).
Meanwhile new situations keep unfolding creatively. These days in Madrid the city sounds at times more lively than ever from my roof house terrace when people play music or play across windows, confined in the houses, though many of these occurrences are soon appropriated, if not a priori preempted by the viral behaviours of social media. The applauses to the health system personnel resonate in the empty streets at 8pm every day. And a strange complicity appears between dogkeepers as we go out into the street, dogs being perhaps the only remainder of liveliness in the empty city, the exception within the state of exception.
The virus exposes, more radically than cyborgs or even companion species, a posthuman condition where both our evolutive molecular nature and our all-too-human and more-than-human technological alignments enter a radical spiral of reciprocal transformation. The virus threatens the open consistency of our bodies as it expands with unprecedented speed due to global displacements along daily gestures. But the response should not be in trying to retain a holy human nature that perhaps never existed, rather it’s about understanding much better the ways in which life and evolution (and with them “human nature”) emerge always in relation and need a balance of consistency and openness to sustain their movement of variation. Evolution is a business of slow molecular, bacterial, viral swarms.
A society that over millennia increasingly imposes on the planet extreme alignments and abstract dynamics that detach themselves from the biosphere’s dynamics and impose themselves on it disruptively (while forgetting its molecular-bacterial heritage and substrate), needs to learn that the human is always meta-human, always relational and emerging from and with fields of molecular movements that will return whenever they are neglected.
This (hyper)human, all-too-human (transhumanistic) society has favoured planetary-scale alignments of rationalization and quantification by imposing atrophy on bodies and proprioceptions: the body’s sense of internal motion as tissue fluctuation. Bodies aligned with fixed points of vision expand their rationalising power on the globe, while becoming appendixes of dynamic networks of algorithms, at the expense of reducing their proprioceptions. But its through proprioception that we also sense the world, and ourselves as entangled with it. I have no doubt that it is this millennia old proprioceptive atrophy that underlies the radical insensitivity in turn underlying planetary destruction, which is also self-destruction.
Domination is always reduction, imposing movements on others, and paradoxically this implies self-destruction. Evolution is mutation and radical cooperation, plasticity, reciprocal transformation. The virus, an ancient evolutionary mechanism, suddenly irrupts into these networks of domination and delocalization disrupting them in turn.
In states of confinement and of distance or isolation with others as we are experiencing today, I invite people to explore their proprioception: a human body is a swarm of 360 joints whose combinatory is infinite, and what one feels is more the blurry fluctuation of tissue tensions and torsions in between, which go down to swarms of billions of proteins folding in our cells’ cytoskeletons (and their atoms decaying down to quantum fluctuations) every time a muscle contracts. Proprioception is also integrating every multisensory input in the body’s capacity to move and unfold an endless variation of its proprioceptive field. Through the variations of our tissues we also know the world. I touch the bread to feel its consistency and it has already become part of my proprioception. The proprioceptive field emerges over billions of years of molecular, bacterial and viral movements and ongoing mutation and is the source of our Body Intelligence or BI, a self-organising and plastic capacity to move and sense, an expression of our self-organising molecular complexity, of which viruses are also part.
Regaining a sense of the richness and complexity of our proprioceptive fields should be part of a process of slowing down and displacing less, of caring more about ourselves and our surroundings. Let the body sense its movement, and sense the world though it, unfolding like an ameba or swarm, let its complexity unfold in different improvisation practices (dancing, drawing, playing an instrument, in conversation…).
In this year (of the 10th anniversary of the Metahumanist Manifesto), let’s unfold a meta-humanistic debate, and along with it metabodily practices.
In times of confinement and separation, I propose that instead of becoming increasingly subject to perspectival nodes of atrophy and control in a society of screens, smartphones, porn, TV, Facebook, fake news and ecologies of fear, let instead our proprioceptions, and our dog-friends, be source for reinventing and enriching our experience.
Dearest All, we hope this post finds you well. This time is so intense, but can also bring deep insights. Please, do not forget that you are not alone and that we are in this together. We can re-access our lives from this condition of interconnectedness and re-envision our posthuman condition. Aware of the fact that our existence is fragile, we need to focus on what really matters. This is why we are inviting anyone interested to send us reflections on the posthuman and the coronavirus for our blog: http://www.posthumans.org/blog We have started this blog in order to offer a place for critical and generative reflections on the posthuman that apply to this historical moment. Entries can be short and long (no more than 2.500 words); all writing styles are welcome (autobiographical, essayistic, creative and so on). Language should be non-offensive and respectful. If you are interested, please send us your entry at NYposthuman[at]gmail.com adding in the title of the email: "Entry - Blog". Our editors will revise your material and contact you in a timely manner.
On a connected note, we would like to remind everyone to be extremely cautious (i.e. avoiding close social contacts; washing your hands, nose, items etc.). In this challenging time, do not forget to take time to rest and calm your mind daily.
Sending You All So Much Energy, Healing and Appreciation
Context: Written in 2020 in NYC, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Style: Brief Commentary
Author: Francesca Ferrando
In this delicate, sensitive moment for us, humans, dealing with the emergent expansion of coronavirus in our planet, I would like to send my Love and Connection to All. Yesterday I woke up with this words in my mind: "Be the Bindi in the Cosmic Eye". It gave me some serenity; it was beautiful. Peace, Well Being and Appreciation to All, Francesca
Context: Written in 2020 in China, during the outbreak of the Coronavirus
Style: Autobiographical Writing
Fields: Health, Ethics, Memory, Philosophy, Nietzsche
Author: Professor Thomas Steinbuch
Bio: Professor Steinbuch is a Nietzschean philosopher and co-founder of the World Posthuman Society; he lives and teaches in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, P.R. China.
Outrunning COVID-19: The Race to Stay Human
We watched it closing in on us, Fistone and I, the day at the mall he helped me set up my new Huawei tablet. It was late January and COVID-19 was on the move. I was concerned that the battery on my older smartphone would fail and that I would be out of communication on WeChat and that I needed a more reliable device if we were entering a crisis. WeChat is a social media platform everyone uses, and we depend on our phones for everything. We transfer money with it and pay for things with an app called Alipay, which was introduced in Hangzhou by Alibaba, and now ATM’s that dispense hard currency are hard to find. Digital life is all well and good, but not in the case in which your phone dies and there are no shops open where you can replace it, and my OPPO is six years old and sometimes twitchy about recharging.
We were in a mall a few bus stops from the campus of our univeristy, since shuttered and to remain shuttered for the foreseeable as I write, and we watched as security guards put up tables at the entrance to take our temperature before letting us in. The whole temperature thing scared me to death, because what if you are just sweaty or have a slight cold? The temperature monitors are everywhere: what if I get turned back at the grocery store? Last year I had a bad flu and I did not take penicillin just in order to build up my immunity, so I was pretty confident that even if I caught a case of COVID-19 it would probably be a mild case. It was not the disease that scared me: that would just be a mano-e-mano situation, a fair fight. What scared me was getting tripped up in the prevention measures due to some misunderstanding and being reduced to the inhumanity of a suspected sack of viral infection. I came close.
It hit at the worst possible time. We were all caught flatfooted. Everything shuts down from the Lunar New Year, from January 15 to February 10 this year when the Lantern Boat Festival was scheduled. I am usually pretty well stocked up on the OTC meds I can get at the pharmacy but I was running out of something I use to control psoriasis. A serious psoriasis outbreak is nothing to be trifled with, and it is very unpredictable. Not to mention the possibility of psoriatic fever! Stress, change of diet, overall change of routine, lots of things seem to trigger it. Well, I was afraid the pharmacy would flat out close – it did, eventually -- but I got there on a day it was still open. It was a rainy day and I had a woolen cap on and a Safari hat over it just to be sure I did not catch chill, one to keep warm, one to keep dry. The pharmacist did not allow me in, so I just showed her the empty tube of what I needed. I took off my hat and cap to let her take my temperature with the digital thermometer, but my head must have been warm – which is the point of wearing two hats – and my temperature was 38.3C or something like that, too high. The pharmacist got very nervous and began to call for the volunteer guards at the end of the street. I think she was going to insist that I be taken hospital and tested for the virus. They did not hear her, for some blessed reason, and she went back into the store for my meds. When she came back she scanned me again and my temperature must have dropped in the few minutes I had my hat off and she let me go. When I got home I took my temperature with my trusty mercury thermometer: 37.2. Not a problem.
Fistone – a computer savvy kid from Zambia with excellent Chinese language skills – sent me a rogue video made by one of the citizen journalists who was documenting events and posting on WeChat. We read about two citizen journalists doing that; both have since vanished, fate unknown. The one Fistone sent showed people suspected of having symptoms being forcibly taken from their apartments. An entire family was being drug out and crammed into an airless stainless steel box on a flatbed ambulance truck – you could hear the little girl screaming – and hauled off to the hospital to be tested. That was in Wuhan. But then, what else was to be done? As I write, the number of reported infections in Hubei Province where Wuhan city is, is 75,000. Here in Hangzhou City we have had fewer than 200 infections. If there is a takeaway from this whole event that deserves our attention it is the sad fact that the people of Hubei Province were subjected to lockdown as the virus ravaged them from street to street, subjected to house by house calls to be screened for symptoms and possibly dragged from their homes. All so that the rest of us could be safe, so that the rest of us could outrun it, so that the rest of us could cling a little while longer to the fragile thing we call our humanity that we know now, if we did not before, can be stripped from us as quickly as taking a turn on a dime. I watched another video showing a women on the balcony of her high-rise apartment building, so typical in China, banging a pot with a wooden spoon for attention for which there were no ears in the deserted streets below as she wailed out a lament that her husband was lying in bed and could not breathe and she could not get help. “Fight me COVID-19, fight me, you don’t scare me one bit, I’ll break your back!” That I can do, win or lose, I have my dignity. What scares me, rather, is loss of my humanity, and that is right up close to me now and it seems to me that it has always stalked me, and I realize that I have never really known how to fight to keep it even in the best of times. There will be many, many deaths from the virus and much, much illness. Collaterally, all 60 million inhabitants of Hubei Province will be changed for good, and as we are learning from the study of epigenetics and the encoding of trauma and its trans-generational conservation, what they are enduring will leaves traces in their descendants. All that is baked in the cake, as they say. They surrendered up their humanity so that we could keep ours. The world should never forget the tremendous debt owed to them.
Later that day Fistone sent me another video, this time one of spraying the streets with disinfectant in a neighborhood about 10 minutes away from us. In my neighborhood, we were issued a pass that allows us to leave for two hours at a time to get groceries, but I have not gone out because the neighborhood where they were spraying is in that direction and I am still stocked up, so I decided to just wait. Fistone is a student and they are in lock-down in their dormitories and have to ask the dormitory monitor to order out for them. I go down to the gate at the bottom of the street every day and sit on a bench in the food court and report back to him on whatever I can observe that would give a clue when the students will be allowed out. I also report back every day to Xiao Ting who runs a coffee shop and bakery I used to go to every morning from 8AM until 1PM and sit and write. She is stranded in the country because she left Hangzhou for the Lunar New Year and now she cannot get back in the city. What a pleasure it was to sit at my usual table in Xiao Ting’s and have a latte café and scribble down the endless message being transmitted into my brain! Her baked goods are too sweet for my taste and I would never buy any and I would feel bad nursing an 18 Yuan cup of coffee for five hours, so I got into the habit of buying her chocolate eggs containing Walt Disney figures inside, Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, another with Mickey and Minnie, made for kids actually, but it brightened her day. That was our happy little interaction, now a distant precious memory. I am an eye for her too, and report on whether any of the businesses on her street have opened as she is running out of money and anxious to get back to work. As I said, I stocked up on food and water before we were quarantined, but no fresh fruit, so my landlord helps out by regularly handing me baskets of fruit. She is a hand for me. We are all living in pieces here.
First thing in the morning is not my best time of day, I am impatient and flit from one thing to the next and try to do too many things at once. I know this and so these days especially I was trying to be careful first thing in the morning, but my bad habit of impatience still caught up to me. I decided to take my temperature as soon as I go up just to be sure it was accurate last time and that I was not facing a psoriasis flare up. It was, 37.1, which is just ducky, but I thought, “wait, let me keep the thermometer in a while longer just in case”, and I went into the kitchen to boil some water and have orange peel tea with honey -- as I had fresh oranges, courtesy of my landlord. I poured the honey into my cup and scooped up a dollop that had run down the side of the jar with my finger and took the thermometer out with my other hand, and then, I don’t what happened, but as I repositioned the thermometer in my mouth with my now slippery fingers from the honey, out it flew onto my super hard kitchen floor typical in China and broke. I quickly donned my respirator which was on the kitchen table and looked for it, but I only found the stem, which I quickly deposited into an empty coke bottle and capped it, but, the mercury reservoir had broken and I could not find it. “Idiot, idiot, now you have a mercury release in your kitchen, tiny carcinogenetic droplets you can’t see are floating around in the air and now you are pushed into one remaining safe room. Bravo!” Toxicity seemed inescapable. Just like wearing two hats to the pharmacy against getting a chill in the rain got me into trouble, so did being scrupulous about taking my temperature. The protective routines I was developing were ending up having their own lethality. But I still won the race that day: I have a second thermometer.
Anti-American sentiment is running high, another way I feel my humanity slipping away. Some international papers ran stories about how COVID-19 was genetically engineered by US scientists to weaken China’s economy and earn money for pharmaceutical companies, and they got some attention here. The next wave of Anti-American sentiment came in the form of anger that the US was so slow in getting supplies here. It was not until February 20 that China received the 16 tons of masks and protective suits we promised them, and they still have not seen a nickel of the $100 million promised in aid. I was sent some very anti-American material on both occasions. But hold on a second! In late December I gave a presentation on the "Marx-Freud Synthesis and The Etiology of Fascism" at Zhejiang University, and I took the position that the rise of Donald Trump shows that liberal democracy cannot contain fascism and that Marxism is the only effective address to it. I, of all people, I felt, should not be lumped in with Americans who support Donald Trump: “Not my President” I bleated and bleated; “Judge me as an individual,” I implored. But to no avail. It is terrifying: first reduced to inhumanity by Nature, and now the echo of that reduction in and amongst ourselves as the challenge to individuality as inauthentic rears up, and indifferent alikeness in being American all that is allowed to be. The other dehumanizing pathogens that afflict us and that are held at bay in normal times are on scene and rallying around COVID-19 to flatten the landscape of being human even further.
The internet is pretty much inaccessible in China without a VPN, and I pay $99.00 annually for the service and it takes it mission seriously. But, China regularly escalates blocks that cause my VPN to crash. There were so many cycles of new blocks and issuances of updated apps beginning around National Holiday in October, but things started to stabilize around December and to my surprise, remained so even as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. Well, Philosophy in Review contacted me because they wanted me to make a small change in my review of Francesca Ferrando's book Philosophical Posthumanism because it was due to come out. And I thought, "let me get to this right away," because I know I am tempting fate waiting on it since I cannot access the Philosophy in Review submissions form without my VPN. So I did the revision and everything went fine. Not twenty four hours later, my VPN crashed and it stayed down for week, past the date the review was scheduled to appear. Beat you by a day COVID-19! World still intact.
There is concern that people will try to conceal symptoms and pharmacies are not allowed to sell cold or flu medications so that people will have themselves checked for COVID-19 at the hospital. Here in Hangzhou, we are not called upon door to door to check for symptoms, but whenever we go to buy something or pick up a package, our temperature is monitored, and sooner or later we all have to buy groceries. Same idea, just with a softer touch. Villages have lot of autonomy in how they choose to regulate who can come in and who can leave and for how long. One village is very strict and the gate is manned by armed men bearing a traditional Chinese weapon, a fierce halberd called a Guan Dao. The rule in that village is uncompromising: anyone caught deliberately spreading the virus will be shot. I am not sure that they could actually do that, but that is not my point. We do not do well in relating to Nature: that idea could be taken as the summa summarum of Nietzsche’s work. Unable to really understand how COVID-19 is spread and helpless to stop it, unable to endure helplessness in the face of it, we create the anodyne of finding something to blame. Because we don’t understand the agency of the virus, we imagine it is spread by something we can understand: it is spread by deliberateness, and deliberateness should be punished. Nietzsche said that without the narcotic of finding to blame we would soon go mad because it is the main relief value of the psychology of vengefulness, which we have yet to make any effort at all to control directly. This is why in his autobiography he says that in cases in which he is wronged whilst being in the right and so disposed to seek blame and punishment for the wrongdoer, he bites down hard on himself and strives for the discipline of blaming himself, although innocent, for the other’s wrongdoing, thus to elide the other’s wrongdoing from the world, and with it, anything to blame and punish. Blaming one's innocence is quite beyond metaphysical good and evil. As perfectly innocent, Christ is most liable to be wronged and so signifies finding to blame cocked back to a hair trigger. But a god come to earth, a Dionyisan god, should take upon himself the heaviest guilt as an act of self-mastery of the compulsion to blame and punish. But we are very far from that capability indeed, and while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the measures being taken in China – it has been a fantastic success, they bought the world time, just as the WHO stated – we are taking these measures as human beings, and that means an overlay of the all-too human, an overlay of the authoritarian compulsion to monitor, control, make obey, and of the vengeful compulsion to blame and punish. It is hard to judge whether everything happening is objectively necessary or whether other things that have a strange provenance are also on hand, and it is these other things that frighten me so. I am obeying instructions, I am being responsible and not deliberately trying to spread a lethal virus certainly, but it spreads anyway. It is not spreading as disobedience to be brought under control, or as deliberate wrongdoing that deserves to be punished. It just is.
To be continued.
In this specific historical moment, we have launched this blog to share our thoughts and feelings on the topic of "Posthumanism and Conflict Resolution". Please, feel free to contribute with personal, social, academic and/or artistic reflections. Entries can be short and long, both are fine. This is conceived as an open platform to share our feelings and ideas on the topic of the posthuman in the 21st Century. We need your voice: we are making a change, together.
Context: Written in 2015 during the Syrian War and just after the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Style: Affective Writing
Fields: Politics, Praxis, Affect, Memory
Author: Dr. Francesca Ferrando
IF I DIE..
All day I am hearing military planes passing over our home in Queens, New York City (US). How can I write or think when the sound of war is so close.. Then I read about the two Moroccan cousins behind the Parisian attacks. She blew herself after saying: "He is not my boyfriend". Many memories of my youth in Italy, many friends from Morocco: they were kind, and wise, and wild, and had to live in a society in which biases against them were way too common. Then I remembered being in Paris after the revolt in the banlieue, feeling the tension in the air. This situation does not come out of the blue, it has been building for decades until it exploded. The answer is not violence, is not war. This is the ghost of anger, and it will come back again if we do not look at the whole picture..
IF DESTINY BRINGS ME TO A LOCATION WHERE SOMEONE PLACES A BOMB AND I DIE, PLEASE DO NOT USE MY NAME TO KILL OTHER PEOPLE, I DO NOT WANT ANY REVENGE. INSTEAD, KEEP BUILDING PEACE, DIALOGUE AND UNDERSTANDING. DO NOT LET ANYONE DOWN, TREAT EVERYONE WITH RESPECT. THIS IS MY WISH. THANKS.
I send my love to my French family, my Italian family, my European family, my American family, my Moroccan family, my Arab family, my Persian family, my Jewish family, my Hindu family, my Buddhist family, my Chinese family, my Earth family.. We are all wise people in wise places. We just need to start again. We need to trust again. We need to mourn together all these deaths in Syria, France, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, USA, Europe etc. We need to connect, to talk, to feel truly sorry that we let our species get to this point. No life is more important than others. Each human being has to be respected, each culture, each country. Only this way we can build trust, peace and our posthuman futures. Violence leads towards more violence, in a spiral with no survivors. We need to build trust, hope and empathy. All the great books of the past say that, all religions say that, all wise philosophers say that. We are wise and compassionate beings. Let's start.
TOGETHER. WITH HOPE. WITH TRUST. LET'S START. NOW, LET'S GET READY AND START.. THIS IS: OUR POSTHUMAN FUTURE.
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