Ideas

Surveillance And Servitude: The Pandemic’s Most Sinister Legacy

The powers that be responded to the pandemic with an array of life-altering directives that, to an astonishing degree, people quietly accept. So what happens next?

Health service workers wearing face masks in Colombia.
Reinaldo Spitaletta

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — What if the whole point of these pandemic times is to increase our love of servitude? It's always possible. Perhaps the expectation is that we bow down to power without any backchat or further queries, like in the Bertolt Brecht poem "Questions."

Amidst the confusion and simultaneous propaganda on the virus, power is using the opportunity to consolidate itself. And far from confining itself or hiding away, it is becoming brazen.

The screens we spend so much time gazing into are contributing to the process. Indeed, as we gradually adopt a collective sense of defeat we seem to be moving closer to the dystopian worlds depicted in works like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. Why resist, we ask ourselves? We are in quarantine and should accept authority (be it in health, politics or economics).This isn't the time to make demands or argue. It's certainly not the moment to disobey.

A few months ago, the South Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, author of the book Disappearance of Rituals, called for a debate on new definitions around the pandemic. Survival will become "something absolute," he said, "as if we were in a state of permanent war."

But the problem, he added, is that some are finding it easier to survive than others. Bankers and magnates are quietly waiting out the pandemic while the poor and destitute fall by the wayside, are thrown out of their homes or face abuse. The sick and the dying are poorer, migrant workers on the edges of big cities, he argued. They must work while the rich can retreat to holiday homes. And there is no remote or "teleworking" for cleaners, carers and factory hands.

Some are finding it easier to survive than others.

We only need look around us on the streets of Bogotá, Medellín or Cali to see those pushing fruit carts or selling coffee to passers-by, or the old man who walks past my window every day, with balloons depicting fairies or mythical animals. It is a colorful little spectacle — of hunger and need.

The pandemic will also promote "biopolitical vigilance." There will be a permanent monitoring of health, but also of attitudes and behaviors. People will start to appear contagious, not with the virus but because of their anarchic and unruly conduct. Is that another community organizer in the making?

Citizens wearing face masks on a bus in Soacha, near Bogota, Colombia. — Photo:​ Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

The state, keen to promote fear, will make everything acceptable: shortages, privatization, dismal wages. Privation will become the universal benefit generously measured out to an enslaved population. It sounds nightmarish, yes. But it may not be far off, assuming it isn't in the works already. Byung-Chul Han says that for the sake of survival, people will "willingly sacrifice everything that makes life worth living — sociability, the sense of community and closeness." As the pandemic boosts the safety-first discourse and empowers officials who utter it, we may gradually accept the restriction and violation of basic rights. The history of hygiene has tended to favor extreme checks and oversight, cameras, systems of segregation.

To those with power, channeling panic has benefits, especially if done with the subtle tools of propaganda, news (and fake news) and coercive methods that transcend the realm of health. Power remains unaffected, preens and enhances itself, as people expose themselves because they must work or starve.

To those with power, channeling panic has benefits.

The novelist Aldous Huxley believed totalitarianism was efficient when its subjects came to love their servitude. The pandemic is a unique opportunity to realize this monstrous dream (and power knows it). What does it matter if, say, 10,000 die of this plague, as they have in Colombia. The point is to give the impression that the authorities have done the right thing.

And yet, in spite of its clownery and antics on screen, power has been unable to hide what the pandemic revealed, especially in countries like Colombia, with its shameless inequities and callous rulers. The needy are getting by, in spite of it all. They know the pandemic is not forever and they will in time return to the streets, to say "No" and shout out their fair demands.

This plague has deepened the social divide and shown the scourges of a system that is inhumane, and must one day disappear.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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