The coronavirus lens. Text by Iván Paz

Someone told me that doctrines and theories can be used as lenses, whose polarization visualizes (with inevitable alteration) a part of the spectrum.
Thus, through mechanics we see forces and oppositions with the dialectic.
These days, the study of the elements that determine population patterns of health and disease in the face of a virus has flooded everything.
Through epidemiology we have observed the free, mitigated exponential growth and its dependence on the rate of propagation. We have seen the exponential growth curve to exhaustion.
The virus, an RNA structure so simple and with a replication capacity that is amazing. Genetic material that only replicates, the perfect example of Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene.

It is ironic how simple the structure contrasts with the social complexities it makes visible. Given the information saturation, it was the use of the coronavirus as a lens that caught my attention.
The simplicity of the virus does honor to the mitigation measures: to stay at home and to wash the hands, because the cover of lipids allows to eliminate it with water and soap. Measures so simple that they establish a clear borderline by answering the question: who can do this?
The following lines list the things that are most visible to me these days, they shine like stars, there is no structure in these thoughts, they are more an invitation to read and draw conclusions.

The system is based on the continuous circulation of goods and services, to the point that we could structure the different strategies of countries by how they try to balance production and consumption with the health of those who produce and consume.

The fragility of the system, which seemed solid a few days ago, has to do with the production and circulation networks (for example, a large percentage of the inputs for medicines in many countries come from China). Here there is a delicate balance between the sovereignty of states (e.g. food, drug production inputs, research, patents, etc.) and the development of global economic processes. Some authors, point out how these processes have allowed the environmental disturbances that led to the existence of the virus (See for example the essay Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge, published by Scientific American). A very tangible example is the tourism industry (an interesting and surprisingly valid discussion is in Susan Sontag’s book: On Photography).

On the other hand, the social inequities that, being there before the epidemic, divide the population into those who can isolate themselves, maintaining a closed “cluster” of contacts, with those who cannot. In addition, the different social realities (not only in health infrastructure but also in the historical past of each country) allow us to observe the various forms that isolation takes (called confinement, healthy distance, lockdown or social distance and all other forms of naming it).

In announcing measures (whether prevention or mitigation), political discourses visualize collective imaginaries through the images to which each political structure appeals. For example, the metaphors of war (against a virus?) that have been used in some European countries, nationalisms, or communications that bet on being more informative at different levels.
The level of federation or autonomy of the regions that make up the nation states is also made visible, as well as which sectors of the population and how each political discourse is structured.

In Mexico, for instance, the technical descriptions of PCRs (Polymerase chain reaction, which allows a part of the genetic material to be amplified in order to find the virus) have been used to explain the limitations of rapid tests or why the “sentinel” sampling system is used. However, there is little clarity regarding the decrees that would protect people’s jobs from layoffs. In some countries, despite seeing countless official communications, I have not seen a single graph or clear explanation of the sampling strategy used.

At the same time, the implementation of the measures shows the communication routes of the states with the people, for example in the number of people who have a bank account. There are countries that have transferred money to their citizens. And others have done so through companies. Moreover, in the last few days, the control processes that could appear in some countries, for example, in the applications for mobile phones that citizens install and that allow them to be geolocated, have been revealed. Marina Garcés already has some text entitled El control social será un dels grans guanyadors de la pandèmia.

People all over the world are calling this a moment of transition. Arundhati Roy compares the pandemic to “a gateway” from which we will enter a new era. The key element for me is how we will cross this gateway. When the curve bends and normality covers what we see through the coronavirus lens, there will be the aftermath: the dead, the debts, the people without jobs and also those companies that have grown up with this process. There will be all those visions of social structures that will have passed away as if in a dream. There will remain those who, through herd immunity, luck or isolation will find themselves crossing this portal.

Barcelona, 7 April 2020

Iván Paz is a member of the collective in residence Toplap.


Cookies: We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. If you continue to browse you are giving your consent to the acceptance of the aforementioned cookies and acceptance of our cookie policy. ACEPTAR

Aviso de cookies