Our society needs to be built collectively, thanks to the contribution of the private sector to the public good
Coronavirus is a planetary event of a magnitude we have trouble wrapping our minds around, not only because of its global scale, or the speed at which it unfolded, but also because the institutions whose power we used to take for granted have been brought to their knees in a matter of weeks.
The mediaeval universe of devastating plagues has burst into our clean, modern world of nuclear power, laser surgery and virtual technology. Even in wartime, movie theatres and underground bars continued to exist; yet we are now seeing Europe’s most bustling capitals become sinister ghost towns, with locals forced to hole up in their homes. As Albert Camus wrote in The Plague, “All these changes were, in a way, so extraordinary, and took place so rapidly, that it wasn’t easy to envision them as normal and lasting.”
From air travel to museums, the beating heart of our civilisation suddenly had to stop. […] Overnight, the world has become unheimlich, eerily strange, devoid of familiarity. All comforting actions—holding hands, kissing, hugging, getting together for a meal—have become a source of danger and anxiety. In a matter of days, new concepts have mushroomed to make sense of a new reality: we all became experts in the various existing masks and their filtering efficiency (N95, FFP2, FFP3, etc.); we now know how much hydroalcoholic lotion is necessary to clean our hands properly; we know the difference between “suppression” and “mitigation”, and of course we have become familiar with the strange rules and rituals of social distancing. In a few days, a new normal was introduced, with new objects, new concepts, and new rules. […]
The modern social contract is implicitly based on governments’ capacity to ensure the health and safety of their citizens. The current crisis sheds light on two facts: one, that this contract, in many parts of the world, has been gradually broken by governments who switched ambitions by becoming economic actors entirely focused on reducing labour costs, deregulating the financial sector, and meeting the needs of big corporations. The result has been a tremendous erosion of public service. The second fact, now obvious to us all, is that only the state can manage and help us survive so great a crisis. […] The neoliberal imposture has been exposed, and must be loudly denounced.
We are facing an unprecedented dilemma: sacrifice the lives of many elderly and vulnerable persons, or sacrifice the livelihood of younger cohorts. It is rather ironic that the world of finance, so arrogant and often impenetrable, collapsed immediately. It proved that all financial transactions rely on one resource that we all used to take for granted: the health of citizens. Stock markets feed on confidence as a currency to build the future, and we are discovering that a large part of our confidence relied on the assumption of collective health. Modern states have developed means to ensure the health of their citizens: they have built hospitals, trained doctors, funded medical research and created welfare systems. This infrastructure of health was the invisible basis of our confidence in the future, which in turn made financial investments and speculation possible. […]
In the past few decades, politicians, financial markets, and corporations have banded together to promote policies that drastically reduced all public budgets, from education to health care, thus strangely ignoring how much the same corporations benefit, without spending a penny, from these public services. All these resources are allocated by governments and are the sine qua non conditions for any economic activity to take place. Yet, in France, 100,000 hospital beds were eliminated in the past twenty years. In June 2019, ICU doctors and nurses protested against budget cuts that were pushing the French welfare system—formerly, a global reference—to the brink of collapse. […]
Capitalism as we knew it must change. This pandemic will cause immeasurable economic damages, mass unemployment, negative growth—and it will affect the entire world […]. Banks, corporations, and financial firms will need to help the world’s governments carry the load […]. They will need to help shoulder the burden of economic reconstruction even if they stand to make little profit from it. Capitalists have taken for granted the resources provided by the state—education, health, infrastructures—without realising that draining each of these resources would eventually deprive them of the kind of society that makes economy possible. This needs to stop. Economy needs society to exist. This society must be built collectively, thanks to the contribution of the private sector to the public good. Only the state can manage so great a crisis, but it will not be strong enough, on its own, to get us through it: corporations must contribute to the preservation of the public services from which they profited for so long, […] if they want the economy to remain a conceivable framework for human activities.
Over the years, the Spotify algorithms have correctly identiﬁed that I tend to like “chill” music of a certain BPM ...
When I design online ads for American Apparel, I almost always look for an angle that will provoke. Outrage, self-righteousness, and titillation all work equally well. Naturally, the sexy ones are probably those you remember most, but the formula worked for all types of images. Photos of kids dressed up like adults, dogs wearing clothes, ad copy that didn’t make any sense—all high-valence, viral images. If I could generate a reaction, I could propel the ad from being something I had to pay for people to see (by buying ad inventory) to something people would gladly post on the front page of their highly trafficked websites.
But entertainment has the merit not only of being better suited to helping sell goods; it is an effective vehicle for hidden ideological messages. Furthermore, in a system of high and growing inequality, entertainment is the contemporary equivalent of the Roman “games of the circus” that diverts the public from politics and generates a political apathy that is helpful to preservation of the status quo.