YouTube: Coronavirus: The Inhuman Real
Welcome to the coronavirus world.
Over the past few days coronavirus hype, news, and shutdown has turned totally global, and it is looking increasingly likely that the entire geo-political and economic world-system is going to be irreversible effected by this pandemic and this virus.
The point of this article is not to spread panic, but it is a result of some of my own personal meditations on how we should make sense of this event philosophically.
Of course, there are the two extremes of people who are panicking on an irrational level, and there are those on the other extreme, who feel like this is an irrelevant overreaction to this virus.
The point of this article is to interpret coronavirus from a philosophical point of view, and hopefully give some perspective and context on why I think this event is philosophically interesting, but also with pragmatic application to perhaps future similar events, and the way in which we geo-politically and economically organize.
The first thing I want to say is that the strange thing about this event is that the coronavirus is simple and stupid. When we usually think of global catastrophe, it could be a terrorist threat, the use of atomic weapons. Of course, the Cold War was structured by the threat of global catastrophe via the use of atomic weapons. But in our ideology we have other memes that are representative of global catastrophe, like the threat of artificial intelligence. For example, the philosopher Nick Bostrom warns of an intelligence explosion that could take over the entire planet and replace human beings. We have many movie representations of confrontation with aliens, a higher intelligence that comes to the planet and poses an immanent threat.
But the interesting thing about the coronavirus is that viruses are extremely simple. They are simpler than life. They are so simple that they cannot be categorised as life. They use life to replicate themselves. They are for lack of a better word stupid. They just blindly replicate themselves without end.
Coronavirus is thus the opposite of our intuitive ideology of what poses a threat to global catastrophe. We usually think of something very complex and intelligent.
In that sense, this is a very humbling event. It is a humbling event in the sense that the very foundation of our civilization rests on many unconscious processes, physical, chemical, biological, ecological that are in-themselves much simpler and much less intelligent and conscious than we are. But a very simple mutation, alteration, or change in any of these unconscious processes which are civilization depends on, can totally bring the whole of our civilization to a standstill.
I think this is best represented as a type of inhuman core. What I mean by inhuman core is opposite from non-human. In our spontaneous intuitive scientific ideology, the coronavirus is non-human. Viruses are non-human. But when we think of the coronavirus in the context of its entanglement with humans in the global economy, the real of the coronavirus requires an interpretation of its phenomenal negativity for us (as opposed to an interpretation of its chemical nature etc.). The phenomenal negativity for us is the way it disrupts economic networks, or the way it brings our social networks to a confrontation with unbearable situations. You can recall images of people being turned away from help, lack of respirators, entire societies having to quarantine and self-isolate.
Again, this is something we should reflect on in a humbling sense. In a sense that, as intelligent and complex as we are, certainly the most intelligent and complex life that we know at the moment, we should be very reflective of just how dependent we are on extremely simple and stupid processes. Through even a very slight modification in their structure, threatens to bring us down from within. This is the inhuman within, as opposite of non-human objective reality.
The second thing I want to bring attention to, is the idea that the coronavirus is potentially part of a sub-category of larger problems which we are increasingly going to be need to be thinking about as part of the commons. Pandemics are a common problem, and there is a high likelihood that the coronavirus is something that, even if we get through it with low levels of infection and mortality, it may be a sign of things to come. If not the coronavirus, some other virus or bacteria or mutation, can spread very quickly. Within weeks and days it can be global. That means that our future political and economic organizations will have to think about not only biological threats to the whole of humanity, but also many other categories of threats which are in need of global interpretation, whether that be technological, social, economic, etc. We are in an era now of cascading failures that are global.
The notion of commons, as opposed to communism or capitalism, is not a positive project, that has a coherent total understanding, i.e. we cannot implement a common political order, for example. Rather the commons denotes a problem, the commons denotes a problem of coordinating as a global network. There is not one plan or project that could become a commons, but it is a way of thinking. The way of thinking is not that we are in a naive communist notions that we are in a united humanity, all united and in social harmony, but rather, the identification of a real that is now global. That real is that tensions internal to the human community are in need of global interpretation. Tensions that will divide and destroy us, no matter what form they take, require an outlook, political willpower, and a philosophical wisdom, that is capable of approaching the level of the commons.
Hopefully, what comes out on the other side of the coronavirus is an awareness. The inhuman negativity that this is generating can be responded to from a low level of consciousness where we panic and freak out. Or it can be a call to higher consciousness. By higher consciousness I do not mean that we are all one in some abstract harmonious sense, but rather that we are confronting a real of tensions and antagonisms that do unite us in some very pragmatic sense. In some very pragmatic and some immanent sense.
So those two aspects, that this outbreak is something that should humble us, in the sense that our complexity and intelligence is now being brought to its knees by something simple and stupid; and that our duty in this situation is to bring our consciousness to the fact that our civilization is not just global in some abstract rhetorical sense, that we are all one; but rather that our networks are now so entangled, that any small deviation to simple subsystems upon which our civilization depends, can bring our entire system crashing down very quickly. We will need new consciousness that can interpret problems on this level.