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Indybay Feature
The crown of creation
by Christophe Zerpka and Georg Rammer
Wednesday Jan 27th, 2021 5:01 AM
The real plague is the pandemic spread of shareholder value to institutions of general interest such as hospitals, nursing homes, old-age care and education. The dogma of "private before state" has become deeply ingrained in official thinking; the legitimate profit motive, the urgently sought investor, the search for the profitable market niche is hardly questioned.
The crown of creation
By Christophe Zerpka
[This article published in Jan 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ossietzky | Die Krone der Schöpfung/]

Albert Camus's work "The Plague" has been reprinted in many countries due to high demand for the current occasion. Published in 1947, the novel focuses on the outbreak of the plague, familiar from the Middle Ages, in the (then) French port city of Oran. Certain parallels to today's Corona pandemic are readily apparent. Camus describes the initially hesitant actions of the authorities in dealing with the first plague patients, the first helpless, then hasty hygiene measures, and also the quarantine, the curfew, or later the sealing off of entire city districts as in China in the spring. Even the quickly dug mass graves in which the deceased are buried in an undignified manner are reminiscent of images from the USA, Brazil and Italy. Finally, the desire of the population as well as of those in power that everything should return as quickly as possible to the way it was before the epidemic is very familiar.

Pandemics are antisocial. Even in the case of the medieval plague, the wealthy citizens retreated to their country estates and were thus able to protect themselves to a large extent from the epidemic. The Spanish flu, which claimed more victims shortly after the First World War than the fighting on the battlefields, also affected mainly young people, in contrast to Corona, but hardly the rich and powerful. And those who today own a house with a garden can live more easily with the imposed Corona measures than families in cramped high-rise apartments. The big losers are the low-income earners, the homeless, the beggars. They are the first to be dismissed or the victims of the hygiene regulations, and there is no handout in the empty streets of the inner cities. Distance is the order of the day, and this in a society that in any case educates people to excessive individuality according to the motto "everyone is the architect of his own fortune.”

A society fixated on technology, in which apparently everything can be controlled, fears nothing more than loss of control and standstill. Yet the tiny virus with the little crown has shown just how unstable and vulnerable the ruling systems are. The primacy of the economy must not be questioned, Christmas sales should be saved to the last moment, sales losses are the real disaster, which should be avoided at all costs.

The real plague is the pandemic spread of shareholder value to institutions of general interest such as hospitals, nursing homes, old-age care and education. The dogma of "private before state" has become deeply ingrained in official thinking; the legitimate profit motive, the urgently sought investor, the search for the profitable market niche is hardly questioned. Along the way, new surveillance techniques are introduced in the name of the epidemic, and the contact lists in the restaurants, which were dutifully filled out by the guests during the summer, were of course also allowed to serve police tracing purposes. Distrust, fear and denunciation undermine solidarity.

But the pandemic is only one of the four modern horsemen of the apocalypse. Perhaps the next one has the unwieldy name of antibiotic resistance. With the ever more unrestrained use of antibiotics in humans and livestock, their effectiveness is rapidly dwindling, and even those reserve antibiotics that are actually only intended for emergencies are also being used in factory farming. Doctors warn that diseases that were thought to have been conquered long ago will soon lead to death again. The pharmaceutical industry is earning handsomely from the mass product and has no interest in restricting its use. The development of new antibiotics is not a priority, citing the high cost of development.

The third horseman of the modern apocalypse is omnipresent and a constant topic in the media, but it is obviously approaching too slowly to be perceived as an immediate catastrophe. The gigantic fires in the Amazon and in the Russian tundra, in California and even on the highest mountain in Africa remain marginal phenomena in view of the sums of billions which are squandered on Corona aid and unprofitable mining companies. Meanwhile, the polar ice caps are melting faster than any predictions have calculated.

Finally, the fourth and most terrible horseman: war. Nearly all the agreements made to control arms and prevent war have "expired" or been terminated. Sales of all kinds of weapons are rapidly increasing worldwide, newly developed "smart bombs" are said to make nuclear war possible, hypersonic missiles are said to reduce the warning time to a few minutes. The arms race is in full swing again, but the threat is not really taken seriously, much like the current pandemic.

"There have been as many plague outbreaks in the world as there have been wars. And yet plague and war always catch people completely unprepared." The saying comes from Rieux, one of the protagonists in Camus's novel. For Camus, the plague is also synonymous with the war that had hit France hard through the German occupation; the liberation is the happy end of a plague that had swept the country.

Albert Camus's philosophy moves between revolt and resignation, between meaning and meaninglessness, symbolized by Sisyphus's absurd existence, which promises happiness despite all futile toil. Camus died as a passenger in the luxury car of his publisher Gallimard, who had persuaded the writer to return to Paris with him. He still had the ticket for the train in his pocket. If anything, the state of the world has become even more absurd since his death.


Corona rebellion against masked democracy
By Georg Rammer
[This article published in Dec 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ossietzky | Coronarebellion gegen maskierte Demokratie.]
The decisive confrontations are yet to come: the battles over the distribution of pandemic-related profits and burdens. To take a position, it is not enough to stare only at the virus and the actions of the federal government.

The pandemic is the culmination of a chronic crisis

Characteristic of the mood in Germany before Corona was the contradiction between the external presentation ("Germany is doing well," Chancellor Merkel) and a differentiated deep structure of society. Surveys, social data and studies show a growing distrust among the population toward the state and its institutions (see my article "Elite trusts the state," Ossietzky, 14/2020), the feeling of political powerlessness. Who can be believed? Who has influence on politics? The mass of people certainly do not.

A deep social divide goes hand in hand with isolation, de-solidarization, but also brutalization. Insecurity, fear and the feeling of being disregarded and devalued as a person and as a citizen are gathering under the surface. How long can a country with the propagated self-image of democracy, a social constitutional state and humanity sustain itself without authoritarian crackdowns if the citizens feel treated by the state only as consumers, cost factors and objects of surveillance? The government and the power elite are struggling to keep up appearances, but beneath the surface there is seething - Corona is accelerating both the de-democratization and the loss of trust.

Suddenly, a threat is concrete, palpable in everyday life. It is not lurking in the Sahel, Syria or Yemen, but in the shopping zone, in church or among friends. One is affected oneself! "Suddenly, Westerners have to do without restaurants, hair salons, gyms, cinemas - it is indeed a hard lot!" notes Sudanese artist Khalid Albaih (Melody&Rhythm, 3/2020). "I'm sorry to tell you this, but your 'new normal' is the old normal for billions of dark-skinned [...] people worldwide." Offense and contempt on the part of the elite and direct concern through fear of illness and drastic government action caused repression and denial of the danger on the one hand, and self-empowerment on the other: We don't put up with everything! We are relevant to the system! We are self-determined and free!

Tens of thousands took to the streets, demanding freedom, democracy and basic rights, calling for resistance against politicians. And many had their own radical truths, often grotesquely cranky and reveling in fantasies of omnipotence, as in the following widely distributed paper: the goal was to "end politics, parties, taxes, bureaucracy and other state-organized or sanctioned criminality on German soil, and to install an all-encompassing philosophical feel-good climate ... We unleash nothing but love, wealth and health for all." In their political insouciance, but also dangerous right-wing ideology, the rallies are an invitation to right-wing extremists, who are gaining increasing influence. Justified criticism of government measures was mixed with fact-free assertions. On the other hand, a "state of measures" showed itself very concretely, disregarding formal democratic rules by decree (cf. Rolf Gössner: "Menschenrechte und Demokratie im Ausnahmezustand," Ossietzky Verlag 2020).

The "unmasking" of democracy

Shouldn't one be happy about self-empowerment, about standing up for freedom and democracy? Without political analysis and without concrete goals, the heterogeneous protest lapsed into irrational radicalism. The lateral thinkers show the effect of long neoliberal 'education': we don't need a state, there is no society; everyone fights for himself. What is true, we determine.

When freedom is attached to the protective mask, when fundamental rights are claimed because of distance rules, the categories slip. One reacts to one's own frustration when the protective mask is declared the beginning of fascist rule and its removal a human right. Unfortunately, even deserving, critical platforms opened to intemperate polemics. Here, as an example, are excerpts on any given day (9/26) from headlines in the online magazine Rubikon: "We are not on the road to a dictatorship, but have long since arrived there"; "... Corona measures, one of the greatest crimes of our time"; "The official narrative on Covid-19 ... paves the way for the global police state." The left found itself in a sandwich position between an authoritarian state and a grotesque "resistance" that even compares to that under fascism.

Violation of basic rights, disregard for human rights, dismantling of democracy: there are truly reasons for protest and resistance. Poverty and inequality, privatization of public services, new militarism and imperialism, the dying of refugees at the EU border, destruction of the environment, systematic manipulation and surveillance, inhumane working conditions ... Also, the rightly lamented lack of empathy and disregard for human needs did not first come into the world through Corona restrictions. Where did one feel compassion for the sick when clinics were privatized and cut to the bone? Were the conditions in nursing homes humane, did Corona first cause child poverty? How often would one have wished for mass demonstrations when tax havens were uncovered, when pensions and health care were privatized, when basic needs were handed over to profit, when the state purposefully destroyed the journalist Assange! As long as Corona protection masks and standoff rules remain the main issues in protests, the power elite can only be happy about the pandemic as an outlet for "resistance".

The state as manager of capital

In an apt polemic, Jan Böhmermann showed the "truth about conspiracies" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89Ey9BrfCuI). The immense power and the political influence of financial and digital corporations, which is contrary to democracy, mocks every "conspiracy theory" as long as the criticism remains on the surface or is attached to individual persons. It fails to recognize the normality of capitalism. But fantasies about dark forces that are far removed from reality are dangerous because they give profiteers the opportunity to discredit well-founded criticism of the capital empires.

Of course, even during the pandemic, the state acts as an idealistic total capitalist. This does not only mean that it seeks to balance the partial interests of various actors in the market and makes concessions to the common good only where pressure forces it to do so. It also means that it uses the crisis period in the sense of a "shock strategy" (Naomi Klein). While the majority of people struggle with the worries and burdens of lost earnings, childcare and isolation, the weights can be shifted almost unnoticed in favor of the profiteers and imperial goals can be pushed through: The social gap is growing, and German militarism no longer knows any boundaries.

And, of course, the distribution struggle will come to a dramatic head when it comes to the costs of the pandemic. The billions of euros that are currently being paid out to Lufthansa, to the arms, pharmaceutical and car industries, mostly without social-ecological conditions, are to be paid by those who have not benefited from them in any way - unless they put up a fight. It is true that the digital corporations have raked in unimaginable profits without having to contribute anything to the common good. Inequality is already hitting the globally exploited, and the existential threat is growing for hundreds of millions of people. While the rich countries hoard vaccines, the principles of inequality are not shaken (cf. Ulrike Baureithel, "Purer Impfnationalismus", der Freitag, 3.12.2020), patent law is not changed, weapons continue to be exported and social relations are maintained globally in all their unjust force. In all likelihood, Covid-19 will not remain the last virus - after SARS, bird flu, Ebola - to shake society. But it is not the virus itself that threatens people. The agricultural system, monocultures, climate catastrophe must inevitably lead to the emergence of new pandemics and upset biological as well as social systems until an explosive situation forces something new and better.

Most people feel that measures such as protective masks and distance rules are appropriate and necessary, if only as a gesture of consideration and solidarity. Many are more critical of the drastic worsening of social inequality and growing German militarism. The virus becomes especially dangerous in a system that puts capital interests above the needs of people. So one would like to shout to the (lateral?) thinking demonstrators: People, fight for the right goals! Not against masks and distance rules, but for human rights, social justice and peace!
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