As was pointed out on 23 April by the Economist, close to a dozen states, from Azerbaijan to Togo have used the Covid-19 pandemic to arrogate more power to themselves. Indeed, this development has been particularly evident in Washington, Budapest, and Delhi.
Trump has claimed “total authority” for the Oval Office in opposition to state governors who had sought to loosen lockdown measures earlier. While he quickly backtracked on this claim, he has nonetheless more recently called upon his supporters (“Very good people”) in blue states to resist lockdown measures and “liberate” themselves from the authority of Democratic governors in an effort to get the wheels of the economy turning again, and has closed US borders and suspended immigration for sixty days.
Hungary’s president, Viktor Orban, having previously curtailed the autonomy of the courts, has indefinitely suspended the legislative branch of government, eliminating in the process the key liberal-democratic principle of limits on executive authority; Orban now rules by decree. The RSS in India, the quasi-fascist Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) force behind Modi has, in a classically fascistic move, characterized its Islamic “enemy” as the abject carrier of the Covid-19 virus (hashtags #CoronaJihad and #BioJihad have spread virulently via Twitter) just as the Nazis used typhus as the pretext for excluding Jews, isolating them in ghettos and ultimately murdering them. The targeting of Muslims comes in the aftermath, of course, of the unconstitutional annexation of Kashmir and changes to the Citizenship Act that explicitly and unapologetically discriminate against this much reviled minority community.
Spectres of fascism loom as a response to the chronic financial and ecological crisis of capitalism.
Spectres of fascism loom as a response to the chronic financial and ecological crisis of capitalism. Twentieth-century fascism, in part, offered a solution to the economic slump via an acceleration of absolute and relative surplus-value extraction from living labour by destroying the revolutionary Left, independent trade unions and other working-class institutions. In contrast to its anti-human twentieth century form, contemporary “post-human” fascism centres on a deepening of resource extraction on the very precipice of massive deskilling of labour, and widespread automation and employment of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, to wit: the prospective obsolescence of humanity itself.
The increasing superfluity of human beings now becomes clear amidst the pandemic as governments, by omission or commission, put the most vulnerable members of society, particularly people of colour, at grave risk of contracting and dying from the virus. Of course, it could be argued that human labour has never appeared more ‘essential’ than in our historical moment. Yet states are also showing themselves quite willing place such essential workers at extreme risk and to even die en masse, for want of PPE, for example.
The recognition of the irreducibility of certain (caring) forms of labour is certainly true in part, but to what extent will the pandemic tend to accelerate the automation of certain essential but sensitive jobs such as truck operations? Humans are “biohazards: machines are not,” as the CEO of the self-parking tech company Steer, Anuja Sonalker, recently stated.
The recognition of the irreducibility of certain (caring) forms of labour is certainly true in part.
In what is taken to be a depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear war in Endgame, Samuel Beckett depicts the destruction of nature taking on a specific spatial configuration in which time, itself, has seemingly come to a standstill. He represents in unsentimental though often ribald terms the obsolescence of human beings, reduced as they are to mere existence, and subordinated to the inscrutable machinations of geopolitical forces beyond their understanding.
The necessary supplement to Endgame, according to US philosopher, Stanley Cavell, is Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece Dr. Strangelove. The effects of the social division of labour are crippling: Hamm cannot stand, his servant, Clov cannot sit. “Every man his specialty,” declares Hamm. Once they’ve outlived such social utility, Hamm’s parents are reduced, figuratively, to history’s dustbin, having been confined, literally, to garbage bins.
Today, this calls to mind, painfully, nursing homes, which have become funeral parlours for the living who await an end to the excruciating game of waiting. Amidst this newest aspect of the ecological crisis, states seem prepared to sacrifice the elderly, the infirm, the poor, indigent, black and brown, to the logic of the market.
But its domination was always already discernible with each breathless press release from myriad corporate head offices of massive downsizings producing inevitable, dramatic rises in the prices of their shares. The ante has simply been upped. For example, Republican Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, recently suggested to Tucker Carlson on Fox News that the elderly might consider sacrificing themselves for the sake of their off-spring, which is to say for “the economy.” “Go and see is she dead” Hamm directs Clov towards his mother. The capitalist market lives on death.
This piece was first published in the June Splinters column.