The Ongoing Catastrophe and How to Exit it
Serge Quadruppani and Jérôme Floch
While the Covid epidemic might have temporarily derailed the entire world’s governments, it also disoriented subversive forces. That it is now openly used as a Trojan horse for the worst reactionary impulses as well as for the establishment of new control mechanisms is not surprising. What is more surprising is the confusion from which we ourselves seem unable to escape. In the following text, Serge Quadruppani, Jérôme Floch and a few others aim to take stock of what thus far has been a diversion, complete with false friends and false oppositions. A humble but salutary attempt to see things clearly.
—Lundi matin, January 10th, 2022
Other languages: Français, Deutsch
Macron's creation, for purely electoral reasons, of a new internal enemy in the figure of the “unvaccinated” is the final stage of a manipulation we’ve all, in one way or another, fallen for.
Remember this is the same Macron who, at the moment of announcing the first lockdown, on March 12th, 2020 — proof, were it needed, of the disarray that was then snaking among the world's leaders — declared:
My dear compatriots, tomorrow we must learn the lessons of the moment we’re going through, to interrogate the model of development our world has been involved in for decades and which reveals its faults in the light of day, to interrogate the weaknesses of our democracies. What this pandemic has already revealed is that free health care, regardless of income, background or profession, and our welfare state, are not costs or burdens, but precious goods, indispensable assets when fate strikes. What this pandemic reveals is that there are goods and services that must be placed outside the laws of the market. Delegating our food, our protection, our ability to care for our living environment to others, is madness.
This brief bout of lucidity having been quickly overcome, the government soon oriented itself to the essentials of its task: how to restart the economic machine. Nothing surprising there, governments do what they were put in government to do. More remarkable has been the number of people who, rather than fighting against what produced the virus (productivism and its zoonoses) and what prevented it from being contained (the absence of a prevention strategy and the destruction of the hospital system) are following the government's propaganda by placing all the responsibility for the prolongation of the "health crisis" on the non-vaccinated, the great unwashed to whom evil comes. It is an undeniable reality: the majority of those who fill the emergency rooms today are not vaccinated.
In the form of tribunes and declarations with triple negations, we hear that no, we won’t not resuscitate, but at the end of the day, the question had to be asked. We are therefore talking about the abolition of the very principle that, in the world as it is, we will always want to defend the hospital: healthcare for all, whether or not the patients have complied with the instructions of medical authorities surrounding the illness. For every time an exception is imposed in the name of emergency, its scope can be extended to infinity. For once on this terrain, nothing would prevent us from one day asking the question whether care should be provided to anyone who has not shown sufficient virtue in the management of their biological capital: the alcoholic, drug addict, smoker or drunk driver. This brandished threat of hospital apartheid, if it has little immediate chance of coming to fruition, will at least have the function, in the eyes of the great majority of citizens, of stigmatising a minority which, for its part, will feel strengthened in its own eyes in the role of the only radical rebel against the system. The trap is crude, it is huge, and is likely to work. All the more reason to fight it.
Like the herd pushed by the hunter-gatherers to the edge of the cliff, here we are, looking at each other, full of fear and anger, and we appear ugly to each other. Far from the splendor that wild beasts know how to conserve until the end, we have centuries of domestication, exploitation and sad passions imprinted on our bodies. We see that the enemy is there, having traded spears and bows for flash-balls and digital propaganda. The enemy pushes us towards the abyss where there awaits the rubble of a civilization that is already dead but doesn't know it. The temptation is great, so as not to sink in, to push others into it, to fight, to devour each other. But another possibility can seize the herd: turn your back to the abyss and rush together into the crowd.
It is toward this change of direction in our affects that this text seeks to contribute.
The conspiracy between conspiracy theorists and anti-conspiracy theorists
It is the ruling power that engenders conspiracy, both within it and opposed to it. Whether that be a despotic power, Chinese-style, that constantly fears that someone in the shadows is plotting to overthrow of the throne, or a power divided into factions, American-style, each of which fears the conspiracy of the others, the holders of power in Chinamerica (i.e everywhere) are constantly maneuvering to counter that which threatens them, in reality or in their heads. Constantly conspiring and seeing conspiracies everywhere: such is the fate of the rulers. Thus we can never be too wary of accusations of conspiracy coming from journalists inclined to repeat the lies of the government. There have been conspiracies, there are still conspiracies, there are more now than ever. It is obvious, for example, that in the electoral market, the launch of the Macron commodity in the past, like the very recent one of Zemmour, was the result of the calculations and subterfuges of various economic powers, more numerous and varied for the first than for the second (and that is why, in the end, the former will win).
In the Economy (the code name of capitalism), the sphere that commands all the others, we can mention, among a thousand other possible examples, the oil company Total which, having identified 40 years ago the danger of global warming linked to extractive activities, has deployed all its considerable energies to deny it, Coca-Cola which has spent 8 million euros since 2010 in France alone to make people forget the risks associated with its drinks, or the herbicide lobby who got the preliminary report on glyphosate, on which Europe would rely to re-authorize the use of this poison, to exclude just about all the scientific literature on the subject. It can be said that these accumulated powers of the agri-food industry, plotting in the shadows for their own benefit and at the expense of the public good, are the very definition of conspiracy.
It was probably in the 1910s that a denial campaign was first launched on a global scale with the aim of generating profits, in this case denying the harmful effects of lead in gasoline. While the effects were well known, the major American automobile companies multiplied intrigues, secret agreements and pressure campaigns, including lawsuits, to continue producing leaded gasoline. They also endowed scientists and funded conferences and symposia to make the case that it was actually more complicated than we thought, that the studies were contradictory, etc. This vast conspiracy of organized denial launched a model that was then used for the asbestos, nuclear, tobacco, and pesticide industries. Similarly, shadowy alliances with certain scientists have allowed interested industries to challenge and deny the existence of man-made global warming, despite the fact that is confirmed by the majority of experts.
The age of crossovers
There are therefore good reasons that today the conviction has become so widespread that there are conspiracies to capture the authority of medical science, to put it at the service of interests alien to the well-being and freedom of the greatest number.
This conviction is in turn a good reason to find perfectly legitimate the distrust of scientific announcements around Covid-19, and in particular the vaccine, its nature and effectiveness. All the more so if we measure what has been accomplished, on a global scale, in the name of scientific authority. We will allow ourselves to recall once again what we wrote here, on February 10, 2020, more than a month before the announcement of the first confinement in France, namely that, the most worrying thing was to discover the "capacity for massive submission" that the reinforcement of scientific legitimacy allowed the rulers to awaken. We will never cease to be surprised at the speed and ease with which, in a few weeks, in the Spring of 2020, half of the world's population locked itself up. In assessing today the relationship that everyone can have with scientific knowledge, we cannot lose sight of the role it has played, intentionally or not, in justifying a policy of fear on a global scale. The new techniques are perfected, merged, and extended spatially and molecularly. This mode of governance employs control techniques already tried and tested in the field of anti-terrorism.
Contrary to what we had hoped for at the end of March 2020, we have not even begun to learn the lessons of this "unprecedented crossing of the threshold of people’s willingness to accept constraints on their freedom." It would help to first place this in the sequence that opened at the end of the twentieth century, with the planetary triumph of ultraliberalism, a sequence that can be characterized as the age of crossovers [franchissements]. As global warming crossed over an irreversible threshold, deforestation and factory farming led to the crossing of inter-species barriers on an unprecedented scale, with now familiar pandemic results. At the same time, ever more invasive control techniques have been applied to the government of humans as well as of nature. Extending a centuries-old relationship with the non-human built on the model of invasion, the politics of fear and moral panic, combined with the digital conquest of attention and emotion, have made it possible to punch through and cross over the old restrictions that a few revolutions had imposed on state despotism. Just as the crossovers that occurred as part of the war on nature were always presented in the name of worthy goals (feeding the hungry, creating jobs, meeting "energy needs," going faster...) DNA registers have been introduced to trace sexual criminals, states of emergency have been declared to fight terrorists, and statutes of limitation have been revoked in cases of pedophilia. Each of these crossovers was made possible by designating an absolutely and effectively indefensible enemy. But each time it was a new field of possibilities that opened up, for “infinite justice," the mounting exactions of security. The most worrying thing about these crossovers is that in the name of the worthy goals put forward at the time, the vast majority of humans massively accepted them.
The role of science in the acceptance of transgressions must be questioned all the more since, among the explanations of the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the hypothesis of a laboratory leak has strong arguments in its favor, and is now even supported by many scientists.
Whatever the truth about the origins of the pandemic, which we may never know, questions about it have revealed an undisputed reality, one fraught with threats for the future: in many laboratories around the world, viruses are trafficked in order to make them, if not more virulent, at least more contagious – all in the interest of scientific research and for the greater effectiveness of future vaccines, of course. Here the question that could have already been posed about many technologies which threaten humanity — such as nuclear energy, the interconnection of objects (and 5G), nanotechnologies — becomes particularly urgent: when will we decide to unplug these Frankensteins?
We thus have every reason to listen to the question posed by Fabrice Lamarck, a member of the Grothendieck group, in his interview with La Décroissance, about messenger RNA vaccines: "What leap into the 'thingification' of the human — the human treated as a living machine to be improved — have we taken with these vaccine technologies?"
Is not all this confusion, all the disagreements between (ex)friends, all the sadness and disabling affects, all the paranoia, all this that defines the present collective mood due in the end to this: the apprehension of a new transgression, the feeling that we will make, or that we have already made a leap...but into what abyss?
Science and us
Yet we also have every reason to listen to the cry of rage from a nurse friend, who I asked to read Lamarck's interview: "I would not like to fall into pathos, but there is subjective reaction, and I will not repress it: when you have seen elderly people who have a name: Marthe, Francis, Suzanne, Mario, Huguette, Gilberte and so many magnificent others — who were just waiting to end their lives quietly, with serenity and surrounded by loved ones — packed in body bags in 24 hours, without preparation, without their loved ones being able to see them, even if only one last time; when you saw your fellow nurses and nursing assistants, full of experience, who know how to keep a professional "good distance" from death, fall into your arms and cry in distress; when you have seen the entire healthcare team go down, hit hard by the virus, and the few remaining caregivers still able to work having to go for 18 out of 24 hours; when you have seen a quarter of the people in care die in a week, lungs puffed up by the virus, and that it took barely a month for vaccines to be available... then the guy who declares to you, from the top of his conceptual Olympus: ‘this is the door open to the molecular modification of the human,’ you just want to shout at him: ‘shut your mouth, asshole! You have no idea what you're talking about...!’ It's stupid, huh?”
No, it's not stupid, and especially since it comes with criticism of Lamarckian claims which can be very useful to dispel the fantasies associated with the mRNA vaccine that are often at the core of antivax arguments: “Well, then the awful thing [according to Lamarck] would be these modified messenger RNA vaccines 'coated in a completely artificial vector.' The word is dropped: ‘artificial,’ obviously opposed to ‘natural’. Let’s not recall that many artificial products have proven to be very useful, and that many natural products can be extremely harmful. The point is to provoke fear: it's ‘artificial’! That can’t be good! The vector in question is a micro-particle with 4 lipids (including cholesterol), 4 salts (sodium chlorides, potassium chlorides, sodium di-hydrogen phosphates, potassium), sugar (sucrose) and water... (it's almost organic!) No, it must be scary! Because they tell us all this ‘has been massively injected since December 2020 without sufficient clinical tests, either on grounds of safety or efficacy.’ But this is obviously false. The phase I, II, and III trials have indeed taken place, and if phase III continues it is to study unexpected side effects, the duration of protection induced by the production of antibodies and the immune memory induced, and to consider the vaccination schedule of boosters if necessary... to date, nearly 8 billion doses of Covid vaccines have been administered, and nearly 55% of the world's population has received at least one dose (of which only 6% in poor countries). Never in the history of treatments and vaccines has there been such widespread pharmacological surveillance.”
And perhaps never has it been so important to clarify our relationship with science in general, and with medical science in particular. The antivax sentiment is old, especially in circles where the enemies of capitalism are recruited in large numbers. At the risk of displeasing many friends and allies, let's put it bluntly: this sentiment is essentially based on unfounded fantasies. Two main criticisms have fueled the refusal of vaccination for a long time, and, despite all the denials, have resurfaced in the refusal of the Covid vaccine: its supposed link to autism, and side-effects due the presence of aluminum. The first rumor, which initially carried the imprimatur of the Lancet, was later disproved, and the one who had launched it was revealed as a fraud. As for the second, while it is true that aluminum has been added to some vaccines to boost them, and that this metal has, in some cases, triggered local reactions at the site of injection, it has never led to serious side-effects.
Among many of our friends and allies there is a principled distrust of science in general and standard medicine in particular. Once again, let us say that this mistrust has many legitimate reasons. But we need more than herbal teas and honey if we want to establish a critical relationship with the scientific knowledge of our time, that is, the science produced by capitalist society.
Two peculiarities of Covid vaccines have particularly fueled fantasies: the speed with which they have been developed, authorized and released on the market, and the messenger RNA technique. Since at least the Second World War, which brought us the industrial manufacture of penicillin and nuclear power, one thing that needs no demonstration is the ability of capitalism to take advantage of the catastrophe it causes to develop in record time new techniques of management before the cataclysm, and to produce them at scale. If the placing on the market of a messenger RNA vaccine is indeed a novelty, this technique, which had been studied for thirty years, is not an innovation that appeared out of nowhere. And, as the National Institute of Health (INSERM) points out,
the RNA injected via the Covid vaccine has no risk of transforming our genome or of being transmitted to our offspring, insofar as it penetrates the cytoplasm of cells, but not into the nucleus. This data is confirmed by 30 years of more general laboratory research on nucleic acid vaccines, which confirm that the vaccine’s RNA molecules never end up in the nucleus. Yet it is in this cellular nucleus that our genetic material is located. Even after the injection of the vaccine, during cell division, the nuclei continue to contain only our natural human DNA. In any case, the injection is local and the cells that receive the RNA encoding the Spike protein are mainly immune cells: in no case does the RNA go to the cells of the reproductive organs. Therefore it cannot be passed on from one generation to the next. Finally, the injected RNA is unstable and therefore does not stay in the body for long: it produces just the right amount of Spike protein to train the immune system to react in the event of a ‘natural’ infection by the virus, before being eliminated.
Of course there is a colossal and extremely powerful pharmaceutical industry. It monopolizes and privatizes research and is increasingly expanding its grip on clinical care. What it spends annually on lobbying must be equivalent to the GDP of a handful of countries. Sometimes it is enough to add a symptom to a pathology in the DSM for the target population of a drug to be suddenly multiplied by 10 or 100; along with the associated profits.
However, we will be careful not to use the term "Big Pharma." Not only because it is systematically found in mouths that have very bad breath — a coincidence? — but because it carries a simplistic vision of what we are facing and therefore makes it impossible to grasp its function, dynamic and complexity. “Big Pharma” is to the era of avowed bio-political government what the myth of “the two hundred families” was to the 19th century. Big Pharma is no more a reality than the secret world government, what we face is a coalition of interests that operates and thrives in a world order and social organization organized by and for them. It is therefore a safe bet that, like all governmental structures, INSERM is not immune to the general lobbying of large pharmaceutical companies, as well as the particular influence of one or another company. But it is precisely because it is a coalition of special interests and not a monolithic entity that we can count on the existence of contradictions within it. Can we imagine that if there were the slightest suspicion of harmful side effects with RNA, Johnson & Johnson and Astrazeneca, competitors with non-RNA vaccines, would spare their rivals from an intense lobbying campaign to scare the population and pick up the entire market? And how can we explain, under the omnipotent reign of "Big Pharma" and the already somewhat old "new world order" that medical, ideological and political strategies have been so radically different from the United States to France, from Israel to Brazil, and from Sweden to China?
If there is one reality that the Covid crisis has demonstrated, it is that governments can demand a lot of sacrifice from those who it governs if it is in the name of their biological survival. But if the latter were to be manifestly and massively endangered, that docility could no longer be assured: even the Chinese Communist Party, despite an unparalleled ability to impose its truth on its population, would not risk spreading a vaccine across its territory, and a fortiori to the rest of the world, knowing that it may cause serious side effects.
The truth is both much simpler and more complex. Faced with the pandemic, the depth of what it called into question and the risk it suddenly posed to the global economy, rulers panicked. And this is what their litanies of lies had to cover up: while all their power rests on their claim to manage and anticipate, they were in fact forced to improvise. Not to save lives, but to preserve their world of the economy. At the very moment when the government apparatuses of the world's great powers were experiencing their greatest crisis of legitimacy, some wanted to see in it a conspiracy of their omnipotence. The conspiracy theorist loves plots, he needs them, because without them he would have to take responsibility, break with the presumption of impotence, look at the world for what it is, and organize.
Do we believe in science, or Renard Buté?
Do you know Renard Buté? Given the 10 to 12,000 views that his videos collect on YouTube, his 3,300 subscribers on Odysee and 8,800 on Facebook, this guy is an influencer among influencers in the antivax sphere. Deleted by YouTube, his video entitled “Resistance” remains available on Odysee. Others remain available on YouTube, including one that regurgitates the hoax according to which 25,000 deaths were caused by vaccination. In his productions, we see the anti-vax gurus — Perronne, Fouché,, Henrion-Caude, Velot, DeLorgeril — repeating on loop the same arguments and the same lies, distortions, and biased information, mixed together, for some (Fouché) with perfectly fair questions about the biopolitical use of the health pass. Just as it can happen that Trump’s followers are sometimes on target in denouncing the collusion between Big Tech and the Democrats, the strength of these gurus lies in the fact that their discourse often contains what Wu Ming call "kernels of truth."
In the video “The Resistance,” whose title is illustrated without shame with images of the Second World War (along with the 'Song of the Partisans’ in the opening shots and ‘Bella Ciao’ at the end) we see the aforementioned anti-vax gurus parade. Renard Buté names the enemy according to the typical vocabulary of QAnon: the "deep state" and "secret societies." He tells us that the vaccine kills, that it is an ongoing genocide, and that it must be opposed in every possible way. The video seems to want to rally the various antivax chapels, from Réinfocovid to the CNTf (a delusional organization, mixing Islamophobia, demand for guaranteed income and permaculture, and in favor of repatriating French troops to... monitor the borders against the "migration crisis" and the ghettos), and after a call for fraternization with the army and the police (a favorite theme of the CNTf) follows another call... for the constitution of a new bank that would be in the hands of the people. All this is mixed with themes that may seem relevant in the eyes of radical opponents of capitalism: autonomy as a life project, direct democracy, how to organize demonstrations and make them less controllable ... so many themes and demands that could come out of friendly mouths, even ours. That such humbug affects a lot of people who could be allies, and that close friends may eventually indulge in this kind of Renard fêlé, seems to us a sign of the extent of the tremor that the Covid crisis has caused in people’s minds.
Panic has always served power as much as false prophets. On this point, what we have been witnessing for the past two years, even among the so-called revolutionary forces, has been all-consuming and overwhelming. In response to the general and legitimate uncertainty, to disconcerting and unprecedented conditions, to, therefore, an open situation, we have seen the closing of the garbage truck of stale and overplayed certainties. All the polarizations of already exhausted political circles have remobilized into an even more caricatural and autistic version of themselves. We have seen leftists demanding mandatory vaccination for the holdouts, critics of biopolitics rallying to the defense of a director of a University Hospital, humanists calling anti-pass demonstrators subhumans, philosophers known for their clairvoyance imbibing the nostrums of the first swindler to knock at the door. Faced with this general uncertainty, some have responded with a hail-mary turn of the steering wheel. In an effort to avoid the first obstacle, they slammed headlong into the opposite wall.
Fear, fear, fear...
Of all the heated battles that have taken place in recent months on social media, the demonstrations against the vaccination passport and/or vaccination itself have certainly sprained the most index fingers, amidst all the accusations. Was it a spontaneous and popular eruption of sincere citizens who refused a measure of social control (akin to the Gilets Jaunes) or was it rather a matter of antisemitic, homophobic and enlightened proto-fascist conspiracy theorists (akin to the Manif Pour Tous1)? As happens every time it feels overtaken by events, which happens often, the “Left" has mostly focused on handing out points for good or bad behavior. Put the population in boxes, quickly and at all costs, so that we might recover some of that moral comfort in which our corpses have been embalmed for so long.
Some saw hordes of mini Bolsonaros demanding a chimerical personal freedom, believing in anything and everything, and not giving a royal fuck about the corpses pilling up in the hospitals. Others detected a healthy resistance to biopolitical control and an aberrant rationality of healthcare that was responsible for the epidemic in the first place. Strangely, no one seemed to imagine that these demonstrations could be all of this at once and represent rather heterogeneous trends, depending on the time but especially the cities where they were held.
Certainly, to merely describe this "movement" as complex, contradictory and "impure," is not to have said very much about it. Some readers responded very strongly to the publication of an article on Lundi matin about Louis Fouché, a doctor from Marseille, supporter of Didier Raoult, colibrist2 and main figure of the Reinfo-Covid movement, someone very popular in antivax circles. The article in question, beyond an admittedly tiresome tone of denunciation, nevertheless only listed the many acquaintances that Mr Fouché had with all kinds of figures of the French extreme right. By reducing his "naïve" and therefore sympathetic refusal of biopolitics to the old dividing lines of classical politics, Lundi Matin was accused of being complicit in biopolitical governance and medical dictatorship…
This is a point of real disagreement. Not on principle, in the name of an abstract and ideological anti-fascism incapable of perceiving what is moving in people — we remember perfectly well, all those who shouted for weeks that the Gilets Jaunes were far-right before discreetly eating their hats. The disagreement is over the ethical texture of what unites this movement.
There is a tendency, in our crudely Hegelian tradition of the ultra-left, to consider everything that is negative to be intrinsically good. As if by the magic of history, any contestation of the order of things automatically and mechanically produced the human community disposed to a higher regime of freedom. Yet, when we look at the anti-vaccine nebula, that is to say the influencers and spokespersons who capture attention on social networks, or who organize and aggregate statements and rallies, we see that an overwhelming majority have been immersed for many years in the dumbest and most rancid corners of the extreme right. Retired military personnel, weekly talk radio guests, lobbyists against female violence (yes, yes...), it is enough to spend an hour "googling" these self-proclaimed spokespersons to have a fairly precise idea of the environments in which they slink about. Certainly, we could be magnanimous and try to imagine that the Covid epidemic could have transformed such dead-enders into generous revolutionary comrades, but how to explain that the only sounding boards that their alternative theories find on the virus and the epidemic are radio shows like Egalité et Réconciliation, Sud Radio, France Soir, Florian Phillipot, and so on? In fact, even if we can agree on formal statements, we quickly stumble on a fundamental — which is to say ethical — point: the manner in which we are affected by a situation and the way we move within it. In this case, what makes all these anti-Macron "rebels" so compatible with the fascist mire is the affect of paranoid fear that they carry and disseminate, which unsurprisingly resonates quite clearly with a long tradition of antisemitism, xenophobia, etc. And this is where we can see a huge qualitative difference with the Gilets Jaunes movement. The latter started from a well-tested and shared truth: material reality experienced as humiliation. It was by finding each other, on social networks and then in the street, that they were able to turn this feeling of shame into strength and courage. At the heart of the antivax movement we find a completely different affective origin, in this case fear, one that has been brewing for months. The fear of being contaminated, the fear of being sick, the fear of not understanding anything anymore. It should not be surprising that this fear of the virus ultimately turned into a fear of the world and then of the vaccine.
We must take this particular affect seriously — the way it guides bodies and minds. One does not orient oneself through fear, one flees an opposed and supposed peril, even if it means falling into the arms of the first charlatan or self-proclaimed savior one finds. Just look at the three main alternative proposals that aggregate the antivax galaxy: Didier Raoult and hydroxychloroquine, Louis Fouché and the strengthening of the immune system, Ivermectin and the alleged scandal of its preventive effectiveness. The common point of these three variations, and which explains the enthusiasm they arouse, is that they each promise to escape the virus or to cure it. All of them say exactly the same thing: "If you believe in me, you will not get sick, I will heal you, you will survive." The biopolitical discourse of the government word for word — albeit in its minor key.
The government's public health policy and the opposition to it stem from the same intimate springs and invoke exactly the same logic of legitimation. It is no coincidence that, Francis Lalanne aside, the main figures of the antivax movement are scientists or present themselves as experts. Pro-vax and antivax, conspiracy theorists and anti-conspiracy theorists, these couplings form a system and suspend the crucial question of a common and communist relationship to health, an exit from biopolitics.
Because power has never been so technocratic, livid and inhuman, some have extended a benevolent ear to the first charlatans who came to sing "the living" to them. But this is a vicious circle, for once you have adhered to a deception simply because it claims to oppose the government, you have no other choice than to get stuck in it and believe in it. During a discussion on Monday, a member of the audience made some not very subtle jokes about antivaxers licking stones to cure cancer, and this apparently ruffled a few feathers. The problem here is that this joke was only a caricature in its certainly abusive generalization. It is true that Olivier Soulier, co-founder of Réinfocovid, promises to treat autism and multiple sclerosis through meditation courses and homeopathy, and that this same network promulgated charcoal-based remedies to "devaccinate" the unfortunate ones who were repentant of having been vaccinated. Another name, another star, Jean-Dominique Michel, presented as one of the world's leading health experts, propelled himself to the forefront of the scene in April 2020 thanks to two YouTube videos in which he relativizes the importance and gravity of the epidemic, supports Raoult and his elixir, and denounces the health dictatorship to come. A neurocoach selling Neurowisdom 101 sessions, he is an honorary member of the journal Inexploré which assures us it can cure cancer by drinking pure water from one of some 2000 miraculous springs where the spirits of the dead regularly show up to repel disease. Since then, it has been revealed that he does not hold any of his alleged diplomas and that until recently he appeared on Swiss television as an expert on football and Pokemon trading cards. His "expertise" has been shared by millions of people, including friends, and he now serves on the Independent Scientific Council, the backbone of Réinfocovid, the first source of information for the antivax movement. These examples would seem funny and kitsch if they were isolated but they are not.
The point is not to hand out bad points but to clarify that affects are never neutral. Fear is not communist, it arouses the mistrust of all towards all and prepares the way for reaction. We must begin from what binds us, rather than from what paralyzes us.
Historically, what has made our party rigorous, correct and politically sincere, and that has allowed it to persist, is that it has always refused to compromise with liars and manipulators on any side — it has clung to a certain idea of the truth, opposed to and against all disconcerting lies. That the chaos of the time disorients us is one thing, that it justifies us losing all bearings and rushing headlong into alliances of circumstance is another. There is no reason to be more intransigent towards power than towards its false critics.
What to do with science?
We, who want neither the health despotism of a government that decrees restrictions of our freedoms in the Defense Council (i.e. exactly in the mold of the anti-terrorist emergency), nor the digitally doped delirium of the antivaxers, we must ask ourselves the question: what to do with science, and more particularly with medical science? To answer this question, we certainly cannot do without the criticism of technoscience as it has developed since the 70s through Ellul, Charbonneau, Castoriadis, Illich…
While there is indeed scientific knowledge, there is no pure "science" as a rational and objective, homogeneous mode of reasoning. Science — and all the more so in advanced capitalism — is inscribed in a certain idea of the world and of life. It is through the instrumentalization of science that techno-productive forces reconfigure our daily lives in real time.
We are not ready to forget that it is precisely the measurement of the world, its strictly scientific compartmentalization, the objectification of every element of the world, that has transformed us into things, ready for management. Because it is here that we find ourselves stuck: inventiveness, research, care, experimentation, all these characteristics of the living world, have been colonized, crushed, reconfigured and calibrated by the world of the economy. For everything that does not fit into this framework, for all the attempts at a different relationship to the world, an "alternative" has been left: cherry stems to prevent cancer, meditation to support one’s co-workers, fluorescent UFOs to continue to look at the stars. There is a whole market, lucrative and affective, ready to welcome those who have been orphaned by the disenchantment of the world.
The pervasiveness within the sciences of an increasingly autonomous development of technology, combining technical hubris, technocratic arrogance and short-term profitability, has perhaps found its most spectacular illustration since the atomic bomb, in a laboratory near Wuhan – an American-Chinese joint venture to which France made its own small contribution. We know that the scientific relationship to the world is not detachable from its conditions of production – capitalist, to be synthetic. We know that other forms of knowledge are possible which bring the imagination more into play. But the fact that "science" develops in constant tension with power, that it nourishes technical and productive domination, does not annihilate its capacity for truth. It is an access to reality, among others.
Just as one can be anti-nuclear, aware that electricity in France is 74% nuclear, and still use electricity, one can be aware of the biases that affect medical knowledge and consider that, when one has cancer, it is not undignified to choose not to die like Illich but to have surgery, as was the case of one of the authors of the present text, with the help of a very high-tech robot. While waiting to build another society that would give as many people as possible real control over the production of knowledge, we are condemned to cobble together a critical relationship to established knowledge. In this, we can allow ourselves to be guided by a few ideas proven in the course of emancipatory struggles. For example, the fact that wherever there have been instituted powers, there have been conspiracies, but conspiracies have never made history, and they never explain the essence of what is at stake in an era.
The real Great Conspiracy
Yes, conspiracist friend, you are right: from the announcement of the Covid epidemic until its arrival in France in the spring of 2020 and then throughout its management, there was indeed a great conspiracy. Except that this is not the one you invent, and in fact, it was nothing new: the great conspiracy had been taking place publicly before our eyes for about five centuries. Here we borrow the definition given by Jacques Fradin in his excellent article:
As with so many other disasters, the viral epidemic (of 2020) is the consequence of the economic surge, colonization, predation, extraction, exploitation, consumption, facilities, commodities. But this economic surge is the result of a “conspiracy,” the conspiracy of economists, from sect to church, from predatory extractivist enterprises to the control of finance in general, it is a conspiracy to establish “economic totalitarianism,” a conspiracy to uphold the “idea” of an overwrought, rickety capitalism, it is a conspiracy to make the erratic and disastrous path of colonial capitalism appear reflexive, even spiritual. It is a conspiracy to transform a vandal capitalism into an economy at the service of humanity. This invasive epidemic is indeed “caused” by a conspiracy, since it is swept along by the “breath” of economization. It was necessary to develop the economy through the promotion of the “idea of capitalism,” that is, the spiritualization of a historical movement that is unconscious of itself and which, without this spiritualization, would have remained little more than a den of pirates.
The government has lied about the masks and the risks, about the measures to be taken and their countless exceptions. They have maneuvered, deliberated in secret, imposed aberrant health measures and pursued a policy of war against their own population. Except that all this was done for their own good. The good of the rulers and the governed. What the viral epidemic has come to expose is not the existence of one or more conspiracies but the conspiracy of capitalism and of the economy. The communal, religious life force of a world order that tolerates no logic other than its own, no existence that deviates from its faith. There have certainly been different strategies, Macron's Keynesianism, Bolsonaro's libertarianism, Chinese totalitarian control, etc. But everywhere it has been a question of responding to the same imperative: how to preserve or maintain the human stock? How to ensure that it remains docile and how to safeguard its productivity?
The left, just like many conspiratorial tendencies, played their part in stoking hysteria (male hysteria being the worst, we agree) by denouncing such and such lie or such and such contradiction — the government, which never did enough for some, always did too much for others — even though it is clear that its policy was essentially of a blinding coherence. Every decision that might appear contradictory on the surface, every more or less false word, was part of the same logic that can be summarized in two injunctions: that the bodies remain at work available for its resumption, that uncertainty does not lead to a crisis of faith in the economic order. Depending on the moment and the intended audience, it was necessary to reassure, to frighten, to protect or to expose to risk. More than ever, power coincided with the economy. It adapted itself to places, bodies and minds, seized opportunities and knew how to reorganize itself rapidly and fluidly.
It is obvious that certain sectors of capitalism have taken advantage of the crisis to consolidate or accelerate their hold. The domination of GAFAMs, and the reconfiguration of our lives that this implies, are discussed on the nightly news. If a key characteristic of the conspiracy theorist is to have never managed to uncover the slightest conspiracy, even by chance, it is because he imagines a ridiculous and outdated form of power. But it is less a matter of mistaken beliefs than faulty methods. The characteristic of contemporary power is to expand, deepen and spread its tendrils to the point of appearing not unattainable, for it smothers us, but instead, elusive. The neurotic attempt to flush out the malign intentions of malicious subjects is only a consecration of our impotence to bring about a reality other than that which encloses and suffocates us. The tide is rising and we are relentless in denouncing a wave.
The anti-conspiracist is basically making the same mistake. He hunts down the conspiracy theorist's misstep, his mistake, his lie. He seeks to demonstrate what is psychologically wrong with his reasoning. Each gives lessons to the other. For both of them, the feeling of powerlessness in the face of the disintegration of the world is consoled cheaply: "I know something you don't know". The conspiracy theorist denounces the bad dominator, the anti-conspiracy theorist, the bad dominated.
All powers conspire, this is their trademark. But if to govern one must know how to lie, conceal and carry out certain secret maneuvers, it is equally necessary to demand the exact opposite of the governed: transparency, uncovered faces, declared interests, calculated and calculable behaviors. Macron decides on health measures behind closed doors with his defense council while we must have our vaccination pass and our identity verified to go for a coffee. If the political and intellectual elites also viscerally hate the conspiracy theorist, it is not because he would pose a risk to the health of his fellow citizens through his misinformation or selfishness, but because he no longer believes in democratic fictions. This is why he is moved by conspiracy theories: he doesn't want to believe those who govern him, he’s not even capable of it, to such a degree that he will believe almost anything else. His thoughts become mysterious, his networks opaque, he is no longer the homo economicus managing his affects, his ideas and his actions for the sole purpose of maximizing his value and therefore his profits on the great market of social life. From then on, there are only two possibilities for the unreasonable: to put them back on the right path by force and constraint, or to use them as a repulsive figure to better govern others. True to form, Macron has chosen the "both at the same time" strategy.
It is at this precise point that we began to lose the game
The enemy, at the end of the day, is never humans and their schemes, because everyone, both rulers and ruled, are caught up in social relations which, according to their place in the hierarchy of domination, they use, but which, in the end, everyone serves. The ultimate enemy is a social relationship: exploitation. Exploitation of man by man – or rather of humans, and especially of humans, by other humans, and the exploitation of the non-human ("nature") by humans.
For at least 40 years, as we have often seen, the various forms of "crises" that we have had to deal with have provided governments with opportunities for reconfiguration and sophistication. Capitalism, in its plasticity, knows perfectly well how to adapt and digest the various systemic anomalies, whether it produces them or whether it suffers from them at first. It is no coincidence that its most advanced and refined current forms are management and cybernetics (which do not exclude, it goes without saying, its previous forms of brutal monopolization, colonial destruction, and its 50 shades of exploitation). What has been unprecedented about this "covid crisis" has not only been its global scale, its speed of spread and the magnitude of the risk that has suddenly fallen on billions of human beings. What we have witnessed, with arms flailing, it must be admitted, is the simultaneous crumbling of the entire global governmental apparatus. Not because of its momentary difficulties in managing the situation, but because of the depth of the truth contained in SARS-cov2: the whole organization of capitalism, of the economy and of the governmentality on which our existence and survival are based is, on the scale of the species, a suicide. Everyone remembers Emmanuel Macron's first speech on the virus and his multiple declarations of war against an invisible enemy. If we didn't make fun of it, it's because we all understood that this war could only be waged against ourselves. In this same statement, however, it has been forgotten, the head of state himself had to recognize it: what this tiny virus brought into question was the totality of our Western and capitalist mode of life and production.
This is precisely where the real event of this epidemic is located. Not in the control systems that have been amplified and perfected; not in the placing billions of human beings under health and disciplinary supervision, for these are continuous refounding exercises; but in this shattering, destituting and primary truth: that the world, that is to say this world, must be dismantled.
If the world of the economy continues to hold and to dominate it is because its complex organization and apparatus are coupled with a quasi-metaphysical faith in its positivity. It's not just the infrastructure that has faltered, it's also belief as such that has crumbled.
This is where we started to lose the game. As the virus revealed the obvious bankruptcy of our civilization from its very foundations, we let ourselves be dragged into debates about management: good, bad, not so bad, or catastrophic. When the very idea of life had to be rethought and reinvented, we criticized the politicians. When the government could hardly mask its panic and its inability to exercise its fundamental and spiritual function, to foresee, we heard some leftists, even anarchists, cackle: if all this is happening it is because it is exactly what they wanted. Cruel irony, even when the state finds itself in a compromising situation, experiencing great difficulty in governing, it can count on its loyal opponents to diagnose its omnipotence and to make it seem sly.
The first objective of any government in times of crisis is to make power grabs, opportunism and tinkering look like methodical, controlled and rational planning. In this, it finds no better ally than its conspiracy theorist critics, always there to try and work out its omnipotent maneuvers and anticipate its full power. This is why the ruler needs the conspiracy theorist, he flatters him.
From a destituent point of view — that is to say from the point of view of those who see no other salvation than the end of the world of the economy, its deadly religion and its destructive infrastructures — the solidarity that has been forged between government and conspiracy theory is reminiscent of the historical role of the left: diversion and fusion. Rather than starting from the shattering truth revealed by this microscopic virus, we confined ourselves to commenting on management. If the state has held on, it is because we have not found the resources to stop believing in it.
If we dwell so much on the antivax galaxy and its proximity to the fascists, it is because it is a ball and chain that prevents any movement against health despotism from taking off. For this movement could undoubtedly have reached a much higher level, and beyond borders, by demanding, for example, the free availability of the vaccine manufacturing techniques. The patent is a fiction. It contains the RNA sequence that was published after 2 days of sequencing the vaccine by amateurs. In order to produce it, it is technology that counts. How to encapsulate the small strand. And that's not marked in the patent. If the main concern of governments had been our health, they would have ensured at all costs that the supply of vaccines were the same everywhere, since, as the successive waves demonstrate, as long as the global South is excluded, no sufficient protection against SARS CoV-2 will ever be reached at the only truly effective level: that of the planet. Fighting against the private appropriation of health policy and for the collective assumption of responsibility by the base would have been — and the paradox is clear — the only consistent way to affirm our solidarity with these 80% of Russians who prefer to use false health passes rather than trust the Putin state, and even more with the magnificent Guadeloupean movement that has set out again to assault the Pwofitasyon.3
The affect of fear dominates and imposes its terms and conditions, it is the battlefield that we must flee. We must start from a certain idea of life, of what is irreducible about it, from there we may conspire to find space to breathe together, to clear obstacles, and sweep away the specters. Francis Lalanne, Emmanuel Macron, Didier Raoult, Olivier Véran, end them all. And start from our experiences and those of the thousands of doctors and caregivers. It's about learning how to take care of ourselves. From there, and only there, will we find the breath and the strength to go on the offensive in times of pandemic to put an end to this pathogenic society. How can we build an offensive that goes beyond false oppositions, false dilemmas? This could be the subject of a future text.
First published in Lundimatin #321, January 10, 2022.
Translated by Endnotes and friends.
Images: Luca Locatelli
1. A social movement against gay marriage spearheaded by the Right. —Trans.↰
2. A term associated with ecological movement, which encourages the idea that “everyone should do their bit,” and that “to change the world, one has to first change oneself.” —Trans.↰
3. Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon, or LKP, is an umbrella group of approximately fifty trade unions and social movements in Guadeloupe. —Trans.↰