Notes from the State of Exception

1

I follow ‘the science.’

  • Anonymous 16th Century Ptolemaic Astronomer

Even on paper, the conclusion that none may be allowed to live freely as long as some are dying is repugnant. The incoherence, abruptness, and fragmentariness of real experience is interrupted, and falsely reduced, by the pseudo-simplicity and pseudo-clarity of expert claims. 

The rhetoric of panic and crisis creates a Platonic picture of ‘staying home, staying safe’; COVID-19 is an idealized Platonic disease crafted by the bad philosophers otherwise known as ‘medical experts’, who, in the name of science, reduce all plurality, diversity, and free exchange to a few pragmatically useless, or sometimes dangerous, slogans. The theoretical replaces the workable functional, livable; theories — first things — predominate even where they produce repulsive consequences, or last things. 

Tangible, non-theoretical life has been sacrificed to the algebra of this Platonic Cult of Science: the logic of ‘staying at home’. Physical proximity has been made, in many places, illegal, or semi-illegal. We say lockdowns work because they are ‘science’, not because they actually work. 

Thus, traditional human, biological, embodied means of responding to stress, which are inherently physical, inherently based on human contact and closeness, have been replaced with a ‘safe’ scientistic isolation (which also, not inconsequentially, means digitalization). In place of physical entities and interactions, there is a proliferation of dematerialized entities to comfort us: OnlyFans accounts, Tinder accounts, stock trading accounts, Amazon Prime accounts; digital theaters, Zoom classrooms, telemedicine. Locked up, censored, de-materialized, we are supposed to take comfort in yoga, jump rope, porn, Uber eats, phone therapy, and so on. 

This amounts to an intense existential castration where the only kind of relationship you can have is the narcissistic relationship between you and your digital self (whom you constantly monitor through a veil of your own choosing). 

2

If this is the real situation, why do the media and the authorities do their utmost to spread a state of panic, thus provoking an authentic state of exception with serious limitations on movement and a suspension of daily life in entire regions?

  • Giorgio Agamben

Because The State exists, because its experts are well-paid, it must do something -- make a show out of doing something (like contact tracing). Even though coronaviruses are clearly seasonal, politicians (like Cuomodaddy) and bureaucrats (who have a sweet tooth for bio-political control) still tried to pretend that coronavirus could be controlled — and has been controlled (and will be controlled). 

And yet, the virus, no matter how we respond to it, burns out at around 15–20%. 17% of the passengers on the Diamond Princess (a closed circuit) contracted COVID-19; major, densely populated cities like New York, London, Madrid, Milan, and Stockholm all saw gradual drop-off in infections and deaths around the same level of seroprelevance. The virus behaves very differently than early models predicted (and more predictably); it behaves differently than the mythological disease millions still imagine is ‘out there’. The ‘success’ of control measures is largely a narrativization of the natural ebb and flow of a complex, dynamic system.

This narrative, this viral theater, however, is far from harmless. The consequences of massive government interventions are rarely known in the short term (inevitably, interventions are always celebrated at first as signs of progress). We are now in the surreal phase of the pandemic response where social alienation (distance), masked faces, the surveillance of strangers by strangers, or neighbors by neighbors, is celebrated as a great triumph of scientifically informed public policy. 

What we don’t see or hear, are the malign effects that these massive, externally-driven shifts have on our organic patterns of living, feeling, and perceiving. The safety governments pretend to create is not safe: it deforms us, pacifies us, disarms us, turns us into perfect subjects of technological surveillance. 

3

These are not riots; they are something worse and more dangerous; they are an infection in the body politic. I cannot help thinking of Germany in the early thirties when the fascists and the communists fought in the streets... until one side vanquished the other.

  • Alex Berenson on Twitter

Subtly, covertly, the relationship between the ‘Digital Left’ (the vaguely well-meaning increasingly zombified herds of Karens, grad students, anemic vegans anarchists, and know-nothing Zoomers) to the state has been radically altered since March. 

The Digital Leftist, the passive socialist, in the most callow fashion possible, sits at home, waiting for a check while checking — correcting like a good school teacher — the behavior of others on social media.

The Digital Leftist thinks that what they want is social democracy, but what they really desire is a hot Government Daddy who will affirm their absolute and willing identification with sickness (which serves as an erotic for real, riskier, erotic attachments to physical bodies). They don't mind being taken care of in the most paternalistic way possible.  

Digital Leftists -- disembodied, ephemeral -- most commonly found on Facebook, are the kind of people, who, in Nietzsche’s words, never got rid of a “deep disgust of themselves and “of the world” and “all life”. The Digital Leftist advocates for lockdowns fundamentally “out of pleasure in hurting” — out of the repressed desire to take revenge on those who still continue to seek traditional, pre-Covid pleasures. 

4

Could it be that the impertinent disquiet and holy hypochondria are not ‘states of mind’ but instruments of research?

  • Benjamin Fondane

The sick — overwhelmingly afraid of the virus — demand others to join them in performing the pathos of the pandemic; the sick invite others — at first nicely, but then violently — to join in the feeling of superiority that comes from being essentially a failure or coward. Because the fearful portion of the population cannot not tolerate the non-fearful portion of the population, the latter group has to be censored. Those who weren’t participating in the Covid pandemic, must participate in the pandemic of fear. The fearful have attempted, and continue to attempt, a conquest of the fearless, the meek of the strong. 

The main function of the mask, for example, is not to keep people safe, but to allow those who participate in the pandemic of fear to identify those who are not participating: to allow those who are participating in the lockdowns to identify those who are breaking lockdown. Masks are markers for government control, which is why they are largely advocated by Big Brother, despite their dubious, at best, medical efficacy. 

Mask Culture, thus, has cross-pollinated with Cancel Culture; we are now expected to neurotically disavow all animal urges and selfish impulses in the name of Collective Safety (or else). 

5

It is equal to living in a tragic land to live in a tragic time.

  • Wallace Stevens

The philosophical battlefield is strewn with dead words, dead concepts. All of these deaths, however, are suicides. The combatants took one look at each other, put their guns to their own heads, and pulled the trigger. None of our theories wanted to deal with reality; none of our theories wanted to be measured by the consequences they created.

6

Comfortable people develop comfortable philosophies. COVID was a way to sell, and reify a new lifestyle: the lifestyle of staying at home (QuarLife): a passive, plant-based, vegetative lifestyle where, if it feels bad, then it’s good. In the course of nihilistic, craven QuarLife, one does not want to feel too much, does not want to produce anything real, does not want any skin in the game. QuarLife, of course, is located in QuarWorld (a kind of well-sterilized DisneyLand): a decayed, and still decaying, (ill)liberal state founded on a hypertrophied precautionary principle (an intolerance of anyone who de-suburbanizes and de-kindergartenizes knowledge). The tenants of this new (ill)liberalism are roughly as follows:

1. Sickness is health

2. Victims are heroes

3. Lockdowns work

4. Masks keep us safe

5. Staying home is fun

6. ‘Experts’ legislate

7. Mobs make justice 

7

“They believed that prediction was just a function of keeping track of things. If you knew enough, you could predict anything. That's been cherished scientific belief since Newton.”

“And?”

“Chaos theory throws it right out the window.”

― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

The emergent class of biopolitical warriors — ‘Blue Checks’ — wield theories as truths and vague speculations as testable theories. In exchange for our rapt attention, the Blue Checks have paid us back with a massive dose of fear. The way they interpreted the pandemic, the way they calculated and then mythologized risk, created a nerveless, fatalistic societal mood.

Through the eyes of the Blue Check, the world is a seething hive of viral activity; COVID-19 is  an intelligent, alien force -- The Thing. Thankfully, however, Blue Checks just know what works, how to fight it, how to ‘stay safe’; all we need to do is sign up for their podcast or newsletter — or pay their new consulting firm — in order to fully access and deploy their wisdom.

Blue Checks tend to be white collar nerds: people who were unpopular in high school, who are unpopular now, who feel some sort of heroic serotonin rush performing their new, self-created role as societal saviors. These pseudo-experts get off on checking the behavior of free individuals, the popular kids, who don’t feel they need to follow all the institutional rules. 

Institutions require, demand, absolutely fealty. To the Blue Check, suspicion of an ‘expert’ like Dr. Fauci is like suspicion of a Harvard or Yale mentor -- suspicion of the whole system of knowledge from which their sense of the world is derived. Having benefited from institutions their whole lives, Blue Checks cannot believe that institutions are capable of making bad predictions or acting in the name of self interest. If institutions are bad, that means Blue Checks might be bad too, which, for their fragile egos, is an unacceptable conclusion. 

Thus, the Blue Checks and their followers  live in an increasingly schizophrenic world: a world in which they must fight off the impulse to interact with others, to hug or fuck, to (dare to!) outdoor dine, to go to the gym, even to walk down the street, all to maintain their own sense of moral righteousness, scientific consistency, and general sense of propriety in the time of COVID. Some don’t leave their apartments at all, some take incredible precautions to do simple things. Preoccupied with maintaining their own ego ideal, the heroic Blue Check Tweets how they haven’t left home in 134 days or how they wipe down every single surface they touch before touching it. 

What the Blue Check can’t confront is themselves and the state of involuntary self-parody they’ve fallen into. As the COVID-19 hysteria (gradually and not without denial) inevitably fades, the pseudo-nobility of the Blue Check will fade into an orgy of craft beer, binge-watching, and profound inner sadness. They will inevitably have to return to normal life, to ‘re-opening’, unable to do anything other than pretend they never left.

8

Many people clearly like ‘staying at home’ — like the feeling of having nothing to do but receive unemployment and Chlorox their vegetables. The complications of life get reduced down to a pathetic little routine. The anxiety — the burden — of existence gets replaced by the more reassuring anxiety of basic survival (as if the danger were actually imminent). A code of virtue had to be generated to redeem this behavior because, otherwise, QuarLife would be too sad, too meaningless. I’m a hero! I wore a mask to drive to the grocery store! I hate public transportation now! I won’t see my friends! I’m afraid of public parks! Restaurants should never reopen! I use hand sanitizer as lube to masturbate!

Quarantine is a spiritual athletic achievement, a kind of self-crucifixion - a sacrifice in the name of a new cult. Strangely affirmative, the long haulers, the perma-quarantiners seek to exceed physical death. They are self-mummifying monks. The choice to remain quarantined is the choice to make a virtue out of depression and passivity. The impossibility of human life is actually made visible through the quarantine, which is a protest against having to try. 

9

I'm sorry about that. I wish we did not have to take this step, but as your prime minister I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. 

Boris Johnson, September 9th, 2020

Welcome to the 'new necessary': the perpetual, ever-green 'necessary' which serves as the logic lynchpin for all kinds of state control of the subject. There is absolutely no logical barrier, no cognitive firewall, between taking extraordinary measures to save lives during a time of moderate crisis (like March and April) and a time of absolutely no crisis (like fall 2020) - no inherent separation between taking 'precautions' to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and any other airborne disease. 

If you wanted to know how you would have behaved in a historical moment of totalitarian overreach, of mass hysteria, well you (most of you) now have your answer: you would have joined; you like joining; you are willing to sign up for more. You were not able to draw a line with the government, with governors, with 'leaders', to say, 'no, actually, this is not necessary.' You were feckless.

10

In these kinds of historical moments, individual will is murdered, buried, forgotten while a collective will takes its place. An origin story has to be generated, and propagated, then, to justify this ritual sacrifice.

11

The obsession with controlling and maintaining quarantines, lockdowns, social distancing, and mass mandates is related to a deep feeling that human need to be stopped from hurting each other, that human nature is evil, and that the point of government is to save us from ourselves. COVID governmentality, therefore, is the latest evolution of a deterministic, Hobbesian political philosophy.

12

The word ‘Life’ no longer denotes the vitality of creatures, but rather, is simply a metric for how well our Government Daddy has managed our biopolitical corpse. Bare, quantified ‘life’ has been leveraged to celebrate the evolution and survival of the spectacle society. COVID-19 is not a crisis, but an excuse to have a crisis: a release for the pent-up Death anxieties of a civilization which has erased and effaced death. Consumed, fascinated, entertained by our own atavistic plague panic, we have forgotten that we are individuals who might cultivate a relationship with the Eternal, rather than the Present.