A permanent state of emergency.

Some reflections from a town under curfew, as further authoritarian measures are imposed.

Today The Guardian – which has taken an unapologetic deep-dive into asserting liberal obedience as its M.O. – runs a headline that ‘Tighter restrictions bring relief to Melbourne locals’ , with the tagline that “the sense of structure provided by the new lockdown plan has comforted many”. A comforting sense of structure!? Who are these people? I guess i’m not that surprised, liberals have always been the likeliest bootlickers, the ones preparing the confetti at the sound of imminently approaching goose-steps.

Down here there’s a strange Stepford Wives-esque, idyllic suburban calm hiding the darker scenes. An implicit consent to creeping authoritarianism. An attempt to flatten social contradictions as the comfortable, but always anxious and fearful meditate on their mantra of “we’re all in this together”. Ohm.

The liberal, middle classes so in awe of ordered goodness at the expense of messiness and loitering that they’re quite content confined to their comfortable houses, only leaving for paired runs along the Merri Creek trail and for trips to the organic supermarket for vegan ice-cream, at home by 8pm for netflix and sleep by 10.

What happens if our desires or our afflictions can’t be contained by such a proscribed life?

I’ve been thinking about the differences between the USA and here in regards to (anti-)authoritarianism and resistance. I recognise that in terms of COVID, in terms of any expectation of a social safety net, in terms of increasing fascism, shit is much scarier there. But on the flipside there are also much more diverse, organised and active cultures of resistance. And basically, at least people are having a go.

I’ve also recognised that the extrapolation of Victoria’s population to that of the US, gives a much scarier perspective to the COVID figures here. Yeah, I think this virus is real and dangerous. But still, what’s preferable? An ‘everything is fine’ calmness while police control the streets or the on-the-surface fault-lines that visibly exist over there?

Let’s line up some of the things people here are quietly accepting and falling in line with right now:

  1. Worklife as homelife. Neoliberalism has over decades pushed the extraction of value out of traditional workplaces and into all corners of social existence. This already included the home – and the final collapse of that distinction is probably only important for its symbolic meaning and how willingly it has been accepted.
  2. Surveillance capitalism and snitching. The economy is collapsing and this could be the site of a series of new struggles, or we might already have had the conditions for its recovery imposed through a dystopian, surveillance capitalism. One where the only allowed reasons for not being contained in a private dwelling is work, consumption, exercise. All served alongside the compulsion to snitch on each other as part of ‘the social good’.
  3. Enforced de-socialisation and the legal, material and social privileging of the household/ family unit/ couple-form over all other relationships. There’s multiple parts to this: the isolation of people who aren’t within such accepted social units and the potential mental health consequences of that. Or even where there aren’t extreme mental health consequences, the emptiness of alienated life with no social contact, collective experiences and physical touch. And for those who do exist within those social units, the potential entrapment within violent, abusive and dangerous situations.
  4. The impossibility of continuing to struggle for freedom of movement, with closed and militarised borders now an accepted part of the ‘new normal’. Humanitarianism unconnected to more direct struggles around borders and freedom of movement has always been a sham, relying on the benevolence of white saviours who will always turn State collaborators when their comfort is threatened. Those one-time humanitarian, progressives now backing the State enforcement of this curfew and other measures have quietly and conveniently let slide the disastrous consequences that restricted movement will have on so many people.
  5. The prohibition and control of assemblies, gatherings, etc. I could have written protests here, but Leftist demos in this country don’t really pose much of a threat and really, i’m not that into privileging ‘the right to protest’. I’m into any form of assembly where there is a collective coming together that might create it’s own autonomous space and be some kind of disobedient rupture. Or just fun.
  6. A technocratic regime that asserts bio-medical expertise, not only as a prognosis for infection but as a justification for social control and surveillance. The reduction of life to quantifiable features that describe how some might stay alive (while others may die) raises all sorts of bio-ethical issues. We can trust in medical knowledge without accepting that it also has all the answers about the best ways to live or what we hope to make of our limited span of consciousness before it all goes quiet (or loud, who knows what happens?).

I would like to predict that this will all end in riots but, in this country, it doesn’t seem so likely.

For those of us who are struck ill by these authoritarian measures, the panacea is supposedly that this is merely a temporary suspension of life to make sure we collectively pull though. That might be fine, but if (a big if) the virus is under enough control in 6 weeks to lift some measures here, it certainly will not mean an opening up of borders back to even the hyper-militarised and carceral form that they previously took. We can also be sure that the police won’t be giving up the power they have gained too easily.

The science we’ve come to rely on rightly cannot give definite answers about the eradication of the virus and, instead of a temporary suspension, it promises a ‘new normal’. A permanent state of emergency with enforced social distancing.

Even if a vaccine that contains COVID-19 does come into existence, the collective psychological stains left by the fear of the next source of infection and the tacit complicity with the shift to authoritarian control will have engendered a nervous, reactionary social form. The space to act and move within that will be more limited than ever.

That is to say, there’s no point waiting for what’s next, there isn’t a future moment coming to save us, we have always already been living the ‘new normal’. So we’re going to have to start acting from here, acting like this is a permanent regime change that is currently mapping out the forms of living that are most sustainable for the continuation of things, even if they are the most devoid of actual life.

2 thoughts on “A permanent state of emergency.”

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