Locked into the present

By MARK TERKESSIDIS

Amid the crisis, there is only crisis. We fall to crisis, we react to crisis, our thinking is dominated by crisis. We estimate the effects it will have on the future. And every crisis is worse than the previous one. The crisis creates the total present, apparently there is no before and no after. Yet we could as well draw lessons from the last “crisis,” which wasn’t a “refugee crisis” but a governmental crisis: it were the (Western) European governments who did not want to believe that Syria was nearby, that a civil war was taking place there and that the situation of the refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece was becoming increasingly unbearable. For several years, the UNHCR travelled through Europe and emphasised that the funds for the people cared for by the UN Refugee Commission only covered 40 percent of the needs – and nobody reacted and increased the funds.

The crisis has a history.

With “corona” it is very similar. For a very long time a wide variety of experts and institutions has been pointing out the dangers of a pandemic. But as much as people apparently believe that globalisation can be limited to the trade in goods (while the migration of people is to be prevented regardless), they apparently also believe that viruses can be stopped by Frontex. Since the outbreak of HIV, at the latest, people have basically been pretending that viruses only affect “fringe groups” or non-Western people: Ebola, MERS, SARS, Zika, Dengue, West Nile fever – what did “we” have to do with it? At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been systematically de-funded by state governments – today it receives two thirds of its funds from the private sector and thus increasingly depends on it.

In other words, this crisis, like any other, has a history.

Since real socialism, planning seems to have become a dirty word; it suffices to make the billions available when the crisis is imminent. The mayor of my home town recently told me that he can hardly communicate the consequences of the “refugee crisis” politically: Before 2015, all the small initiatives, the people with commitment had approached him for small amounts of money – and he had to tell them that the city doesn’t even have 500 euros to give. But then, with the “crisis” impending, suddenly millions of euros were spent. And when the crisis is considered to be over, we put it behind us. During the “refugee crisis”, a vast number of new forms of civil engagement and collaboration have emerged, as well as a myriad of new experiences – but did we learn from them at all?

After the crisis, we pretend that “normality,” this fetish, will return, and that all the pre-crisis mistakes can be committed anew. Right now new methods of problem solving are being tested – for example, in the responsive restructuring of education and labor. But how all these new experiences will be incorporated afterwards? Who will evaluate them? What might authorities learn from them? Without factoring in the lessons of the before and after, the crisis will remain a form of government that is locking is us into the present.

In that case, it is always only crisis.

March 27th, 2020, 02 / Rosa Mercedes
Interface

David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”

September 7th, 2020, Tom

T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk:  “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”

August 21st, 2020, Tom

Bernard Stiegler, quoted from The Neganthropocene (trans. Daniel Ross): “Does anyone really believe that it is possible to ‘solve’ the problems of climate change, habitat destruction and cultural destruction without addressing the consumerist basis of the present macro-economic system, or vice versa, or without addressing the way in which this system depletes the psychic energy required to find the collective will, belief, hope and reason to address this planetary challenge? Can this consumerism really survive the coming wave of automation that threatens to decimate its customer base and undermine the ‘consumer confidence’ that is fundamental to its perpetual growth requirements, themselves antithetical, once again, to the problems of biospherical preservation?”

August 14th, 2020, Tom
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