The Pandemic. Reflections in light of anthropology and history

Typhus immigration check
Health inspection of immigrant children. Ellis Island during fear of typhus. New York, 1911.

In the field of politics and analysis of social reality, I do not like to appeal to emotions. I leave them to channel the love I feel for all those around me and whom I love; I leave them to feed my spirit; to stop time with my dreams, my desires and the stimuli I perceive with my senses. When I try to understand political and social reality, I make every effort to place myself on the side of reason, isolate myself from passion and submit myself to the rigours of understanding things. I leave my artistic and emotional side behind and transform myself into what my profession as a social scientist or intellectual has made me rational. I examine the data and when I want to analyse it, I submit it to the rigour of a scientific method, knowing that I am doing so from a certain epistemological approach. No need to mention that this means that I have to remove from the analysis any hint of ideology. Whenever I have the opportunity, I explain that ideologies, all of them, are false representations of reality, no matter how coherent they want to be presented to us. Foucault spoke of the exercise of power over people from the submission of bodies by the control of ideas. This is precisely what predominates in our society and which in the present epidemic crisis is not only not abandoned, but is reinforced, both by those responsible for politics and their extensions, the large media, and also by the networks. At the moment that we are living most people are appealing to feelings, emotions and low passions, and this is fed from ideologies, which operate like a chisel engraving in the minds their messages to submit the bodies to their control. It is true that ideas can serve to build utopias and horizons of salvation, more or less achievable, or to change reality, but not to understand it.

But why do you resort to so much ideology and why is it so successful? Because man can depart from everything except his depths, from the telluric in him, from his longing for the absolute, from his passions, from his creeds; that is to say, from his emotional side, from the animal. And if his creative force is born from this, the destructive one also arises. It is then that it moves away from reason, which with its codes of language, of abstraction to understand what we do not see, has led us to the human, to transform the most primitive animality into humanity and thus to its survival. This means, that if we feed the sentimental side and the animality, then, the theoretical balance, between feeling and reason that has made humanity triumph, breaks from the side of the animal, and the human disappears. Petrarch said that reason speaks and feeling bites. If we cultivate the sentimental animal side, we turn man into a beast and the mass into the bestial. The examples of these imbalances are dotted throughout history; it is enough to remember the era of totalitarianism, with its ideologies of hatred, to see to what extent man, however cultured he may be, becomes an animal; and I am not referring only to fascism, I am also referring to communism, nationalism and other ideologies. There is no social system where man becomes good. He is always the same, capable of doing good and evil, and the result of those totalitarian experiences should teach us what we are capable of when man is pushed towards his animality.

Dance of Death. Picture representative of the plague, taking people without distinction.

Today we are faced with one of those situations that history has in store for us, which makes it man. And when I say man, I mean the human being who, in search of his happiness, security, well-being, becomes ambitious, selfish and many other things, which anthropology explains to us and which helps us to understand that man is never satisfied and wants to ensure tomorrow in an unlimited way. This has led him repeatedly in history to enormous catastrophes. Suffice it to say that in the 14th century European man, through trade with the East, imported the bacillus of the pasteurella and caused the famous Black Death, which killed half the population of the whole of Europe. The worst thing about that pandemic, however, was that it disrupted the whole system, with socio-economic and political disorder that took away the lives of innocent people and property, and brought hatred, much hatred, misery, desolation, persecution, civil war and chaos. And that situation lasted a century and a half, year up, year down. I am not going to tell you this story, which many will know and which I have written in some of my books. The only thing I will say is that it came out of that when there was a coherent project that produced a change in the world view, that is, when the new reality was understood and the structures were adapted to it, leaving behind the demons that we built.

We are in a difficult situation, which should make us reflect on the danger of activating animality and on how to get out of it with the least possible damage. It is difficult to face misfortunes when we do not know where we are. Today, in addition to the epidemic, we are facing a change of worldview that is not understood by our politicians, here or there, or by social communicators or political marketing operators who, with their old and outdated ideologies, are the creators of opinion and chimeras for the masses, who only think about the now. And what is more serious, the current crisis, is not resolved by activating animality from ideologies.

Let's look at ourselves with a little historical and sociological perspective. The Apollonian and Promethean man, who came out of the Enlightenment movement that exemplified progress and hope, has become Dionysus who only seeks hedonism, pleasure, the momentary; the absolute I, that is the archetype of individual man that we have reached. The summit of anthropocentrism. The very idea of progress, oriented towards the mythical and utopian conquest of the future, has left the sequence of time, remaining in the present, in the instantaneous; the past has become useless and the future dystopian, retrotopian or at least nostalgic, with the consequent loss of Hope. Reason has been transformed into desire, into what I want and choose, which is consumption. This consumption has transformed us citizens into consumers, also of politics. And even the power of the word, as an instrument of communication and encounter, which defines us as human, has succumbed to the seductive power of the image, of the spectacle and of the verb that is thrown around (the misnamed debates, which should have been called combats); the word of dialogue, persuasion, the intellectual, the dialectic has vanished, because it has very little to do with any image-spectacle that provokes emotion and feeling and that distances us from reason. When do we see, those who know, dialoguing, persuading, reasoning, talking? However, we are overwhelmed by the seducers, converted into imposed and studied images that only know how to appeal to emotion and passion in order to subject bodies to an ideological control that even they do not know (I will leave the new phenomena of "youtubers" and "influencers" for another time). Chomsky said that today the control of people is not done by force, but by acting on their consciences. Politics is marketing that inscribes in the minds messages of training and submission in an individualistic society and whose action is based on the conquest of power for the benefit of reduced oligarchic groups (partycracy) and far from the political community they serve but do not serve. The political campaigns that are being sold to us should embarrass us, instead of making them our own and using them as arguments against our ideological adversaries. The citizen is a consumer of everything and, of course, of political ideologies that are used to indoctrinate and subdue, but we are not participants in politics. We have been turned into a social entity to be manipulated. Chomsky himself said that media manipulation was more lethal than the atomic bomb because it destroys brains. There are no longer people, all are tendencies, taken from the Big Data, which act on brains properly classified by social segments.

We are against the Truth. The Truth no longer exists because so many truths have been built up as individuals. Today everyone has HIS truth, which they confuse with their creed, and demand that they respect it. The Truth, the force that has driven knowledge, has been drowned in that liquid culture of Bauman. It can no longer be sought because it is handled to one's liking, it is a tailor-made suit. This is the breeding ground of the fake; it is what they now call, quite naturally and without blush, post-truth. We live, therefore, outside the Truth, they tell us and we accept it. Now the fool is worth more than the wise. Today the liar is accepted naturally. It does not matter how false he is if his speech fits in with what everyone believes. The messages are duly instrumentalized with a language conditioned and perverted by ideologies to penetrate minds and appropriate them. In this way, new identities are created or invented based on creating an Other that makes the I different and forces us to identify ourselves by opposing this Other. Nothing could be further from universal brotherhood. In our national sphere, apart from the attempt at transition, the identity of the Spanish being does not unite us, it is given to us by being on the left or the right, being feminist or sexist, being separatist and others that are imposed on us. But this is pure invention, these are newly invented things because they operate for manipulation. The society of the exploited and exploiters has been perishing for many years. Today's society is something much more sophisticated.

Michel Foucault

The disciplinary society (Foucault) of duty, in which some previous generation grew up, has disappeared and become what the philosopher (Byung-Chul Han) calls the society of fatigue. This society is based on the new paradigm that he calls neurological, where the I MUST is replaced by the I CAN. The individual freely submits to the positivity that is imposed by the I CAN with the result of psychically ill people -- I usually say even psychopathic -- because the enemy, contrary to the society of duty, of what should be done, is within each one, and that produces neuronal diseases (...Stress, fatigue, depression and other diseases to the point of exhaustion). Positivity, openness to multi-tasking, the imperative of performance and self-exploitation are our own chains that do not allow us to look beyond the WhatsApp; they take us away from contemplation, from thinking, from controlling instincts and passions and that brings us back to animalism. We are in absolute individuality, immersed in emotional subjectivism and very far from objectivity and Kantian reason. We have finished with everything that has roots. Nothing remains. Everything becomes old when we stop looking at it. Everything has to be changed, everything is ephemeral, utilitarian, disposable. Even what some call culture. Culture rooted in tradition, the one that gives a society structure and consistency, does not exist. We are in the gaseous and volatile "culture" where momentary opinion dominates, invented, manipulated by professional opinion makers who have elevated the absurd to the category of normal. I leave out of this summary a specific reference to the "millennials" and the "Z" generation, the addicts to likes, groups or cohorts more harshly affected by social networks, telematic media and brain manipulation, which they believe are for THEIR freedom of thought and information.

These are some of the constituent parts of our modern social system, not what we are led to believe. This is the world of the last few years that has gone global. Some have called it the society of abundance, of information, but also that of tiredness, neurologically ill. A universal social model whose economic structure has proved dysfunctional in many ways. Does this mean that we must return to the "tribe"? I don't think so, although there will be no shortage of those who propose it with this crisis. Many dysfunctions appear in this globalism that certain strongly ideological movements will soon take advantage of in their favour. But I don't think things should go that way. They should run through the understanding of the new cosmovision that is affecting us and that surpasses the perception of that reality that all politicians in the world have. We should call upon the world's intelligence, which is many and has long been "confined" in its studies and knowledge, but which no one listens to because it is not even known to exist and because it is alien to consumer shows and produces "laziness".

This confinement is giving us the possibility to think and reflect, to get out of the constant manipulation if we want to. It is true that the WhatsApp does not allow us much time for reflection, but we have recovered the possibility of talking, of listening to friends and of thinking, because television already bores many people. We have the opportunity to meditate on who we are and where we are going. This situation brings to light a less visible corruption, that of the misuse of public money that comes from the sweat of the taxpayers, and above all the corruption of the minds through the spurious use of the perversion of language that inoculates hatred in search of conflict through the invention of opposing social groups. Do we not realize that we are witnessing the breakdown of the social harmony that was what sought the transition and what makes a nation great? Is it so difficult to understand the enormous danger that this poses to a society?

Crises are the origin of new opportunities and make it possible to throw away the decomposing waste that all societies end up generating with the passing of time. History teaches us that all social systems, after a difficult search for relative harmony, have a period of splendour and when they reach the peak of prosperity they end up decaying; in the Old Testament fat cows are followed by lean cows. What is happening to us is not the fault of just a few, but of society as a whole in order to understand each other; because of its blindness and its pride. Years ago, a journalist asked me, with regard to the crisis of 2008, how can you say that crises are neither good nor bad with five million unemployed? I answered that a social crisis is like a biological disease where the fever or the symptoms warn you that you are not well; from there, you decide if you go to the doctor to be cured, or you let yourself die. Crises give the social body a chance to heal. From the falls and from knowing how to face the suffering you come out stronger, because they teach us how much of the bad we have done. These circumstances force us to rethink and try to know ourselves better as people, not gods, and to know that we depend on the collective. The fracture weakens us. Our primitive ancestors survived and overcame the dangers and the beasts because they united with the help of language, and civilizations rose up so that humanity would not succumb by closing in on the tribes.

Teorías sobre el cambio social - introduccionalasociologiaI dare not lose hope and in view of what I see I risk formulating, now yes, some ideas, for that which some call civil society, very aware that many will reject them as impossible. I myself am one of those who believe this, but I cannot stop thinking about the model that the American political scientist Lustick explained: how, at certain moments of socio-political changes, what is impossible for a time in history, can become possible and even become probable from certain actions and circumstances. In any case, it is a way of not losing Hope. History also teaches, especially in critical moments, that the third ways have few possibilities, at least in the short term. In radicalizations, you are either with me or against me. This happened to Erasmus of Rotterdam in the 16th century during the confessional conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, as well as to Jovellanos, Feijoo and many others.

Spain is going through a very difficult situation, not only because of the epidemic, geopolitical and global crisis, but also because of the internal political situation of the country as a political community. We are losing a minimum and necessary structure. Certainly, we have a democratic government because it has emerged from the majority result of the representation of national sovereignty, made up of the citizens' vote at the ballot box. So far, nothing to say, regardless of its dysfunctions, is the law. It is the game of democracy in more or less normal circumstances, as long as we consider that the crisis of the autonomous State -separatism- is part of the normal. The issue now, with the Covid crisis19 , is that we are facing a global catastrophe in which the national one is subsumed. The internal political problems should now be relegated to a situation of extreme gravity, before an uninvented enemy, an unknown virus that attacks all humanity, from which important social, economic and even cultural consequences will derive. This is not the first time this has happened in history. I have already referred to the crisis of the 14th century which gave birth to a new world, the one we culturally know as the Renaissance. There is not only this example. In more recent times, at the beginning of the last century, the famous influenza virus, known as the Spanish flu because it caused real havoc here, broke out in 1917 and took tens of millions of lives, in addition to those already caused by the Great War. The result of that convergence of events was that the world changed, not without leaving a long period of anguish, the well known Great Depression or the crash of 29 and what came after, with the totalitarianisms of both signs (in which one was no better than the other) and which led to the Second World War. That was the end of the long road that history had to travel when what happened at the beginning of the century was not well interpreted. The false start of World War I led us to World War II! We should learn the lessons of the past. The above circumstances should make us think, although "man is the only animal that stumbles twice on the same stone", today we should put aside our ideological differences, because the priority is not the world that each one wants, but saving the support that we have left: the united nation is the table of salvation.

For Spain, I would propose (this is an ideal because any rationality would reject it) that the non-political society, that of the taxpayers, should stop playing the game that the parties, the social agitators and the "mass media" propose to us of confronting some ideologies with others; that is for the moments of stability. Because, as we have already explained, ideological confrontation leads us to animality and distances us from reason, and without reason we cannot speak of rationality. This is the best and only way to unite us as Spaniards, as the historic nation that we are, in order to fraternally face the current crisis. We have already lived through tragic moments in which the nation, abandoned by its political leaders, knew how to respond with unity in the face of the French invader and, contrary to the above, we should remember the past Civil War which confronted the nation with ideological visions. I know that my proposal involves a good dose of idealism and that it does not have to be a reality. I always remember Ortega when he distinguished between what should be and what really is. But I also remember Lustick, when he explained how an impossible thing can become probable.

The national state is based on representation delegated by the citizen vote which is national sovereignty. Sovereignty is not power, it is legitimacy. Therefore, the people are the sovereign, they do not have power but they base and legitimize it. Thus power is born for its exercise that in theory, is organized in the Legislative, where laws are born, in the Executive that executes them and in the Judiciary that guarantees that its practical exercise is in accordance with the law. This is neither the place nor the time to analyze if all this theory is fulfilled or not. Let us say that this division of powers shows cracks. However, one of the most serious dysfunctions lies in the system of representation through the parties. These are the institutional way to channel social demands into the seat of sovereignty. The development of this system of parties has derived in a partisan democracy (corporative aristocracy), this means, that has ended up predominating the corporative interest of the parties in front of the one of their represented, this way it is manifested in the discipline of the vote that is put before the electoral commitments, in detriment of the represented ones. It is likely that this, together with corruption, has led to the fall of the two-party system and the emergence of new parties, which were born with the vocation of renewing the old ones, but have been phagocytized by this system. This being within the law, it supposes in fact, the kidnapping of democracy by the parties because they put the corporate interest before the general interest. In circumstances like the present one, this leaves citizens unarmed, vulnerable and subject to constant manipulation because, as we have explained, the truth does not flow and everything becomes the interest of the party, with a greater radicalisation and increase in social fracture.

La hora de la irracionalidad - Diario Basta!I see very little that can be done, because the State concentrates all the power in a monopoly regime, but something can be done. First, to recover the knowledge of reality, this essay is a modest approach. Second, ignore the excess of information, which is always processed ("cooked") and whose abundance is the best way to cover up the truth as the only form of knowledge. Thirdly, to unfold our critical spirit and flee from manipulations, both media and partisan. Fourthly, to activate social pressure exercised in good faith and without partisanship, promoting a great social movement in whose head we ask those who had political responsibilities in the past of one or the other sign, in order to demand the unity of parties in the seat of national sovereignty to build a majority as representative as possible to face the epidemic crisis and the economic and social catastrophe to come. This is the only way to overcome party manipulation and regain control of sovereignty. Fifth, unity around the Constitution. You can add any points you want

I know that there are political leaders, accustomed to party politics, for whom none of this enters into their plans. The point is that, in the absence of national leadership, it is the nation, in a process of integrating different social sectors, that should take the lead and demand that its representatives comply with what their constituents are asking of them. In this way, those who serve the people would be distinguished from those who only seek hegemonic projects in order to exclude and segregate a part of the Spanish people. Let us turn this misfortune, which we have only begun to experience, into the probability of a national fraternity, with respect for the Other, the basis for the healthy functioning of a democracy. Democracy is not about voting; it is about ceasing to be submissive to the parties in order to serve the general interest; it is about respecting one's adversary, and I fear that we are living in times of little respect for one another. Let us open our eyes, let us leave the voices that incite us to confrontation and let us think for ourselves. This would be democracy from the bottom up.

Recently, I was reading the historian Harari, who said that Homo sapiens was able to conquer the world through language. I hope we won't be able to destroy him with that same instrument too. Let us take advantage of this to demand and banish the falsehoods and perversions of the meanings of words so that our brains are clean.

As a flamenco fan I can't help but remember some beats in which the cantaora Lole Montoya recited with a cry of lament: "The thistle always shouts and the flower always keeps quiet, let the flower shout and let the thistle and anyone who is my enemy keep quiet". Put on the music and see in the thistle whoever you want, but in the flower the people or the nation.

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