Towards a Movement R/Evolution
Regaining the body in times of the Pandemic
(and reinventing it), in the new global economy of movement, control and social distancing
by Jaime del Val – Reverso – METABODY
Reflections in Process / Transductions in the making
Rather than reflecting, this “paper” is a text-in-progress which transducts or intraducts: gradually unfolds its own field for thinking a radically new process of which it is part, and does so gradually, as the process itself unfolds, moving with it. Given the situation the text keeps evolving almost daily, so you are welcome to check it now and again here if you wish.
You are also invited to feedback/feedforward or send your own contributions for publication in the Metabody blog for a Series of (Post-Trans-Metahumanist++) Critical Exchanges on the COVID-19 Pandemic. If interested please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are launching a series of online workshops,
first – Going viral in/on the pandemic – Critical (posthumanistic) exchanges
second – coming soon…
Introduction – Regaining (micro)movement in times of confinement
We already had a society of immobile bodies clicking on screens, the pandemic seems to be taking this to a new radical level where many supposed freedoms of movement and relation might vanish. Regaining the body, movement, proprioceptions and all senses in times of confinement seems like an urgent task. I will propose subtle ways of doing so even as we are confined. How to regain movement and the body in times of confinement? This implies also reinventing (ontohacking) them!
This texts is being written gradually during the unfolding of the COVID-19 Pandemic, at a time when (as of 4-4-2020) about one half of human population is in quarantine, including all India and most of Asia, almost all Europe and most of the Americas as well as large parts of the rest of the world. Following various reports quarantine periods might be combining with longer periods of social distancing for at least a year and a half till a vaccines is fully operative and a certain “normality” might be recovered, besides the profound global economic recession accompanying the process. Comparisons to the WWII abound, but the type of crisis and war that this Pandemic represents and how its challenged the health and economic systems of all the rich countries to start with, at a time when industrialised societies claimed to be so robust, sets up an unprecedented scenario, a singularity for which there are models and no laws: it unfolds gradually a situation in the vertiginous convergence of myriads of fluctuating movements and alignments. Many agree that there is no way back to the world we knew (in rich industrialised societies) given how this pandemic unleashes a sense of threat for future pandemics (including those that could come from war or bioterrorism).
Chances are high that a new economy of movement emerges based on increased social control and distancing (1.5 meters between bodies, use of masks and gloves, intensive control of amounts of people gathering in open or closed spaces, from beaches to demonstrations, from museums to theatres and conferences) intensive digital surveillance (through combinations of smartphones, drones, ubiquitous sensors and cameras at least) of peoples biometric and health status and of movement, contacts, distance and relations, potential states of exceptions and quarantines anywhere anytime upon any “threat”, new architectures and transport systems (mostly private) implying this distance from queues to public transport, markets, houses, workspaces, schools, a criminalization of touch and proximity, the final elimination of the already precarious public space; a policing by everyone -the neighbors denouncing what happens-, unequal policing and ruling of distances in different countries, with complicated or impossible travelling, eventual or long term closure of borders of entire countries or setting up of borders within countries, radical intensification of reliance upon digital technologies for not only entertainment, communications and social relations but for work, education and so forth, with the complete taking over of home deliveries, social media, and a regime of confinement based on staying immobile at home.
The new economy of social distance: people queueing for the supermarket in Madrid during the COVID-19 quarantine.
A matrix world come true, beyond any SCI-FI imagination. It does feel like a dream or SCI-Fi movie. But the current Dystopia makes appear every previous SCI-FI version as a flaccid premonition… is this the real or new face of the cyborg politics that Haraway was anticipating over 30 years ago? Is it also a new turn to Massumi’s Ontopower, as preemption of all novelty? The “war on terror” also seems like a flaccid premonition of the current situation, already coloured by the threat of potential future bioterrorist pandemics that could be far worse. This one is just “like a flue”.
In face of this some augurate a revolution, the collapse of capitalism (and of the Chinese and other regimes), even of the state, though one could wonder what sort of revolution is possible in a state of confinement that combines old and new forms of sovereignity under the sign of saving global and local health of populations, of Humanity at large. Others are happy that digital technologies can allow us to stay connected and working from home even if this implies subjection to ongoing Big Data control and the opacity of algorithms, and indeed it seems that some corporations are hugely benefitting from this situations (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Uber and the various companies of home delivery, Netflix, Skype, Zoom and so forth) as well as gaming and VR, in detriment of any kind of physical collective interaction. For Amazon apparently ever week of quarantine is more profitable than Christmas!
Times are looking great for technology corporations! It seems like digital surveillance capitalism has prepared the way for the situation, now crossing a radical threshold (while apparently many experts were expecting a pandemic of this sort). The robustness of technological systems is startling with regard to the weakness of Health Care systems to deal with the amount of contagions. Technology corporations get strengthened as primary needs sustaining it all and so does their new digital sovereignity. But States also get strengthened sustaining other aspects of the system starting with health systems, with their modes of sovereignity.
At the same time there are strong arguments regarding how pandemics are unleashed by anthropocentric disruption of ecosystems that sets viruses free looking for new hosts, while for biologists its clear that viruses have always been an ally of evolution, bringing up genetic diversity throughout 4 billion years. So the idea of the virus as an alien enemy of humanity needs perhaps to be challenged and responsibilities be redefined in the Anthropocene/Capitalocene/Algoricene. This of course besides the numerous conspiracy theories relating the pandemic to war, laboratory accidents or bioterrorism (is it by chance Wuhan hosts the largest biotechnology lab in China, with international participation?).
In any event one could agree that times are looking bleaker than ever before for the body, for movement, for multisensory interactions and collectivities and for freedom at large. It seems like Western educated industrialised rich democratic (WEIRD) societies have been living an illusion of freedom since the French Revolution, that now collapses in two weeks. But this is not so easy and sudden of course. Over millennia, increasing alignment to geometries and the fixed points of vision of perspective (that grounded rationalism and the Enlightenment itself) have enacted a society of immobile bodies, and this has been considered a higher form of civilization. Apparently our freedom as rational subjects was there in so far as we subjected to radical alignments impoverishing perception: the fixed point of vision. But following enactive cognition how we move is how we think. What sort of narrow thinking implies a society of immobile bodies clicking on screens, choosing from the options given by opaque algorithms?…It seems we are in a centuries long spiral of impoverishment of experience now crossing a radical threshold: this is the real stage for a transhumanist Technological Singularity! The transhumanism of technology corporations seems to be taking over the humanism of the State.
Besides its more than likely that immobility will have severely negative health impacts on anyone who was already suffering from any discomfort or phatology, whether “physical”, “mental” or “emotional”, can cause new strands of pathologies, depression, atrophy and so forth, not to speak of the increase in domestice violence during enclosure and the radical addiction to social media an mass entertainment. One of the few positive outcomes is the visibility that autism is gaining these days, as autistics need to go out for walks and respected for it. And also the freedom that represents having a dog-friend companion for being able to occupy public space… how will all this evolve?
How far can the denial of the embodied, sensory and relational be taken for a life to be livable?
I will propose to face the pandemic from this historically neglected body and its movement, from its proprioception, unleashing a new type of freedom of “internal” (micro)movement, in the endless combinatory of our 360 joints, as means to recover a lost plasticity even during confinement, and have this unleash a new sensibility.
The body and its (micro)movements are the subtle(battle)field of resistance to reduction, and of reinvention and creativity, the radical middle term between every polarity of “human” vs. Nature”. Improvisation techniques or tékhnes will be proposed for this (provisionally by using the very means of reductive and opaque online digital media whose dominance I seek to question, while rebalancing them in relation to larger embodied spectrums of experience).
Indeed I argue that the body, its proprioception, its micromovements, are perhaps the only realistic site for a potential revolution, which will also be an evolution.
This of course can be combined with other proposals for more democratic use of data, for fighting against abuses of states and corporations, and for a more sustainable future relation with each other and the Earth. But I argue that at the core of current systemic problems lies a deeply rooted impoverishment of sensibility that needs to get counteracted: quarantine confinement is a great time to get started!
Thinking beyond the save-the-human vs. save-the-planet the dychotomy.
Solidarity as Isolation in the new regime. And what to do about it.
The pandemic seems to stage with renewed force some polarities: Is the virus an alien common ennemy to humanity, or does anthropocentric activity unleash pandemics through ecosystem disruption or war, (viruses being one of the most ancient allies of evolution)? Is it a question of saving humanity or saving the planet from anthropocentric disruption?
Is it a question of strengthening the given power systems (states, capitalism, digital technology) and increasing social control and distancing or of acnkowledging failure of the systems and moving towards something different, and then what? Do we need to increase social control, or to make a revolution or systemic transition?
Is it a question, as Bill Gates was claiming back in 2015, of reasonably getting ready for the next pandemic through a world alliance and technology, or does this get inevitably muddled in the impossible (humanistic and colonial) dream of uniting humanity (under the same western-rationalistic-capitalistic mode of living), (since the humanistic colonial model is precisely grounded on inequality on the one hand and on imposing a single way on the other, but the world is plural)? Are ancient fears for survival bringing back solidarity or a new stage of egoism? But the virus has created a radical shift already: in presenting solidarity as isolation. The motto is: isolate yourself to save, not only yourself, but the people around you and humanity at large.
In either case, of old and new forms of power being reinforced or of a system collapse, revolution or transition, what are some of the forces at stake that can help understanding the complexity and the unpredictability of the outcome? Is there a middle way to Gates’ proposal, of each country getting ready as best they can, pairing heath systems with the military locally, ready to go for the next pandemic, and with only a mild increase in social control and distancing, keeping the system as it is, with its inequalities, the crisis being provisional and with small long term effects? Or does the pandemic unleash a much more invevitable and radical shift? And is this shift to extremes or to something new? Is this shift immediate or gradual? Does it come of itself from out of endlees complex fluid dynamics of societies, or can anyone hope to guide its movement? Can one at least bring in some movement into the process, and to what extent, and what type of movement? Is the virus unleashing a new era that utterly destabilises the previous tendencies in capitalism and digital society, or will these tendencies absorbe the pandemic and metastabilise themselves, maybe reinforcing themselves and turning to a new shift of algorithmic govermentality and immobile isolated bodies?
In the case of a systemic change, is there any likelyhood of the powers at stake (states and corporations but not only) to acknowledge the need for such a deep systemic change, even a gradual one (does the pandemic allow or enforce a deeper awareness of systemic falure than did the climate change)? Or is this even much more unlikely than a world alliance against the pandemic? Is a “street revolution” the only possibility, and if so with what means and outcomes? But isn’t the revolution also unlikely in a new era of pandemics that forecloses street action and confines people, so that activity is reduced to online media subject to digital surveillance? What is the likelihood of such a revolution not being immediately preempted, as has perhaps been the case with Occupy and other movements, (which embraced social media as if they were not always already tools for domination)? (In any case don’t revolutions tend to reinstate power relations by collapsing a structure whose mobile forces will reinstate the intertias of their underlying movements?)
Didn’t Facebook and smartphones (and Amazon, Google, Netflix, the uberization of cities, Big data, AI, drones, etc.) prepare society for a new turn towards unprecedented digital control, isolation and immobility of bodies, a society based on consumption of goods from home and on working at a distance, renouncing to every embodied collectivity and to any resistance? Is this in fact part of a move towards a Technological Singularity where AI takes over and humans become appendixes of machines, as some very powerful people and corporations predicate and invest on? Is the reply a rejection of these technolgies and a “return to nature”, or can one ontohack them in unprecedented ways, and invent new kinds of tékhnes?
How far can the denial of the embodied, sensory and relational be taken for a life to be livable? If we are in an Age of Algorithms (Algoricene) accelerating to a black hole singulairty of absolute control and immobility, how far can it go, and is its ensuing singularity one of control or of something quite unthinkable?
Can the pandemic decentre the black hole of control unleashing a shift from the Age of Algorithms, the Algoricene‘s obsession with reductive patterns that get imposed on the planet (dusrupting ecosystems and unleashing pandemics) towards an Amorphocene? By this I mean a return to (and reinventon of) the body and its proprioception (its amorphous sense of movement) as the much richer and complex source for experience and relations, a reverse move towards enriching back experience, gradually infecting every of our movements with more richness instead of narrowing it down creating a desert of the real. Is this another in-between way, of locating ourselves in the body and its capacity to vary its movement and increase the richness of its embodied experience, for another kind of “transition” or change of phase? Is such a movement revolution and evolution possible? Even as we are confined in our homes (whoever has a home)?
The virus exposes our status of metabodies: our radical molecular entanglement between each other and the Earth, our fragility and alignments with certain life modes and conceptions, but also makes more visible the planetary networks of our economic and technical systems, their dependencies, radical alignments, and fragilities too, where it seems that the more structured and aligned a system the more fragile it can become. Metabodies are metahuman: more than human, relational and changing.
The struggle to “save humanity” at every expense, suspending the movement of evolution and the planet’s ecosystems for the sake of safeguarding “the human”, whatever it be, is humanistic, while doing it through strengthening digital surveillace and technology, striving for absolute control in all scales and modes through implanting an AI governance, is transhumanistic (and hyperhumanistic); both coexist conflictively in the current intermingling of the State, capitalism and digital culture. Questioning humanistic dominance with a more relational and plural vision is instead part of posthumanistic critique, resonant with numerous social minority movements, while metahumanism gives it a turn to thinking ourselves as part of movement relations that can be plastically (but subtly) changed, inventing new technologies of life, where openness needs to be maintained in balance with consistency, to sustain the movement of evolution.
Can the pandemic unleash a new awareness and capacity to take radical care of our molecular and technical entanglement with each other and the Earth? Is a metahuman r/evolution possible?
COVID-19 as Metabody
COVID-19, the coronavirus disease emerging in late 2019 in China and becoming global pandemic in early 2020, has exposed, perhaps more than any other event in (recent) history, our entanglement between each other and the world, both at molecular and global scales, expressing both our fragilities and our alignments. Since WWII and the rise of information society it is the first pandemic that has such systemic effects of suspension of activity and economy, quarantine of entire countries and impact in almost every country a few months after its emergence, literally a WWIII. The virus and its disease don’t merely unleash a complex situation, but create an entire global ecology and process, a becoming of which we are part.
In words of Dorion Sagan we are meta-metazoa because on the one hand we are offspring of a simbiogenetic evolution where microorganisms inhabit each other in increasingly complex ways, we are a chimeric hybrid of bacteria and viruses evolving into cells of multicellular organisms, while still largely made of bacterial and viral assemblages; and on the other hand we have a planetary impact and have the capacity and obligation to reflect upon and take responsibility for that impact, as we create a sort of planetary technological hyper-organism or which we (so called humans, hegemonic or not) are part, a hypercyborg.
I will propose to think the coronavirus disease and the situation it has unleashed, its exposure of molecular and global entanglements, through the concept of metabody, where meta- means both in-between, moving across, mutating and underlying. A metabody is a field of movement relations that emerges, varies and transforms, in the balance of consistency and openness, as the universe unfolds from fluctuations. The world is made of endless metabodies/fields, relating and reciprocally transforming in multiple ways, each body is itself a complex metabody, a convergence of many fields, so is each society, or technical system or phenomenon. Every field is made of different kinds fof movements, of swarm-like rhythms, orientations and contacts in its energy-density fluctuations, some more aligned than others. Linear perspective enacted a planetary-scale metabody of relations based on fixed points of vision. Big Data systems enact a planetary scale metabody of autonomous algorithms, code and gridded infrastructures of microchips and data centres. Selfies bring together in a new way both linear perspective and Big Data profiling in social networks conforming a selfie metabody, whose economy is crucial for current algorithmic governance. Likewise a pandemia, such as the one unleashed by the virus COVID-19 can be understood as a complex and multifaceted metabody. Let’s consider some of its complexities.
First of all let’s consider viruses and how they have been source of genetic diversity as primordial means of Horizontal Genetic Transfer (perhaps the primordial source of genetic diversity) throughout evolution. Viruses are a crucial means of evolution as diversification. Viruses are cuasi-life forms that need to he hosted by cells to proliferate and activate themselves, they are an in-between the living and the non-living, a meta-life form, and a means for movement of molecules and genes in excess of bacterial sex or sexual reproduction. They are complex molecular affordances and movements. Over billions of years viruses have been part of the fluctuating movement of molecular assemblages, or molecular metabodies, slowly bringing up diversity on the planet, long before plagues and pandemics started to threat human populations.
The first recorded plagues are those of Athens, when it was epicenter of trade in the Aegean and thus of unprecedented and quick movements of people, connecting, exchanging and moving across bacterial and viral ecosystems. Since then plagues and pandemics have been recurring, perhaps associated to the quick movements of people in trade and colonial societies, where immune systems and viral ecologies which had emerged over billions of years of dynamic equilibrium, have been upset by the continuous abstract-but-very-real movements of people following economic and political factors at odds with the dynamics of ecosystems, and an increasingly disruptive impact on ecosystems through seamless appropriation and invasion of territories, impact on species and their habitats, delocalization of wild species, and so forth.
COVID-19 exposes on the one hand our molecular nature and fragility in a time when the hegemonic human keeps expanding its dream to become God through technological domination and absolute control. On the other it exposes our global entanglement, related partly to the extreme amount of physical displacements in late capitalism (which run along our internet entanglement which has its own viruses and ongoing but mostly invisible cyberwar). The speed of dissemination of this physical virus – whose lethality is compared only to the “Spanish flue” of 1918-1919 killing over 50 million people- is what has created this unprecedented situation. The virus exposes the fluctuating nature of the world and the problem of trying to ignore or fix that fluctuation.
Furthermore, COVID-19 exposes our molecular fragility and our global superalignments as being radically interrelated, so that alignments allow the virus’ movement to take on a devastating effect as the molecular, biological virus connects to the viral society of speeded up media, of contagious gestures (ie.e the gestures that replicate themselves in homogenous manner, like selfies or clicking) and displacements.
The virus also exposes the systemic and economic dependencies that come to the foreground when activity is suspended in a new global war scenario where the enemy is within and across bodies, where absolutely everyone is suspect, much more than in global terrorist threats, as the virus is the one responsible, though people or States not taking measures to avoid contagion will in turn be held responsible. Responsibility becomes strangely distributed as decisions radically change, like when a country that had taken no measures suddenly imposes quarantine to its entire population and everyone is obliged to follow precautionary measures that were not at all considered one day before. First the virus is responsible, then a state, then people in the state.
The situation fluctuates radically with the propagation of the virus, whose effects are only seen with 14 days delay. It’s an invisible enemy whose potential presence and threat is expressed in the quarantine as new social condition. Meanwhile fake news spread, attention is more massively than ever in social media, markets and entire industries like tourism collapse, while online work is strengthened, fluctuations enter exponential spirals. Borders, including within European Schengen territory, are closed and new borders can appear inside countries, anywhere, as well as new monitoring of behaviours. Paternalistic and patriotic messages acquire strange associations with astonished concern and at times solidarity.
In the process one can see taken onto a new level and mode the ecologies of fear and threat that came up after 9/11 with the “war on terror”, as exposed by Brian Massumi’s concept of Ontopower, a power that tries to preempt an unknowable future reorienting movements as they emerge while disseminating an ubiquitous sense of threat where everyone is suspect. For the first time since WWII the entire planet is in a palpable state of war (besides the ongoing and mostly invisible cyberwar and the distributed wars of late capitalist exploitation) not exempt of apocalyptic undertones, with an increasing amount of countries in quarantine, against a virus which is similar to the flue, but propagates much more quickly.
Closing down borders is never enough as any person could have it inside already, we will only start to know two weeks later. The so called “missing half-second” of preconscious activity where control information systems try to redirect our attention has suddenly become a 14 days interval suspending entire populations as span of radical uncertainty where every decision will fluctuate according to the many factors being measured, including the economic impact of any decision.
The metabody of COVID-19 is in the molecular movements of the virus, and also, largely, in the state of exception, the fear and threat, the quarantine of populations, or in economic collapse. But also in new gestures of solidarity or complicitness between people (a strange one implying distance and suspicion at the same time, including for oneself as no one know if one has the virus till 14 days later), of uncertainty, and of awe and wonder at the unprecedented situation: a sense of shock, which is deep and existential, not only relative to confinement measures but to this feeling of it all being a planetary situation, a new feeling of molecular and global connectedness, of the fragility in ourselves and our systems, that pretended to be so robust.
It also exposes the intimacy of our daily gestures, implicit in every act, no particular (sexual) intimacy is needed like in HIV transmission, no suspicious gestures or behaviours. It exposes the intimacy of our molecular entanglement, much more than did HIV. Our molecular, viral intimacy is there all the time, unavoidable and evolutively necessary, echoing with McMennamin’s idea in Hypersea theory of body fluids as commons in evolution. That intimacy is indeed the source of evolution and life. Though our perspectival culture of articulate distances had made us forget that entanglement. The most usual daily movements (modes of contact and proximity) can transmit it.
A new economy of movement will thus ensue, perhaps of further distancing. Indeed some studies are already ponting to a period of 12-18 months of social distancing till the virus gets under control through a vaccine. But effects of this new scenario will probably last much longer. A Pandemics was expected, but the lethality of this one -much greater than the ones in 2008 and before, only comparable to the “Spanish flue” over a century ago (named like that because Spain was the only country which did not hide it but spoke up), is likely to alter global economies of movement much more than did 9/11 or even smartphones.
We are slow at understanding this molecular ecology and its movements, since old ontologies had ignored our molecular swarming for too long, we have difficulty in understanding the ways of minimising contagion while avoiding paranoia, as we don’t understand how our viral entanglement operates, its unavoidability and indeed necessity, but also its major channels of dissemination, which are not always obvious. In consequence many people (at least in less disciplined Mediterranean countries like Spain) tend to ignore the invisible enemy till hard measures are imposed from above. Or paranoia abounds.
This invisible enemy within, across and in constant mutation and dissemination (meta-), relates to endless other factors like heat or sun radiation, human concentrations in winter, humidity and moist in the body and the concentration of globules in our immune system, and so forth.
“In this strange and irregular war that where we have had to live or fight, we ar all soldiers” said the Chief of State of Defense in Spain, a soldier whose discipline is in avoiding social contact. Meanwhile the search for vaccines, antivirals and immune system aids is the triple molecular battlefield in the laboratory war. A new sense of care appears as health systems are overflown and one needs to avoid social contact in order to avoid potential contagion to oneself and to others, as one might be positive without having symptoms, whereby the virus kills more the elderly and vulnerable, but not only, anyone could fall, but not everyone can be taken care of by the ovewhelemed health system.
Attempts to understand the molecular movement of COVID-19 and generate a vaccine are still unfruitful several months after it’s appearance, and it may still take a year for it to arrive. Meanwhile the entire global economy is suspended and entering a potentially severe recession whose future is utterly uncertain as the virus could still disseminate in unpredictable ways. First the production machine of China was paralyzed, now the consumption machine of Europe and perhaps the US are suspended. China is leaving its state of exception and quarantine while Italy and Spain, and gradually all Europe (as of March 17th) is entering it, and also the US, many countries in the Americas, Africa and Middle east, or Russia, after going more strongly through Korea and Iran. All major events cancelled, only Japan. who apparently stabilised the virus soon, still doesn’t cancel the Olympic games. It is the rich countries that seem to be attacked now, perhaps due precisely to the connection of the virus with globalized displacements. But molecular movements have no logic, they swarm and fluctuate in always unpredictable ways.
Along the way we could develop immunity, and the virus could mutate or it could become seasonal like the flue, while vaccinations could start to appear, and new dependencies on pharmaceuticals, also part of this new metabody that will also involve new, even more articulate distancies between bodies.
The radical fluctuation of the virus’s movements seem to accelerate exponentially as they relate to the superalignments of our Age of Algorithms, or Algoricene, where bodies quickly displace along planetary-scale trajectories, and impose on ecosystems endless disruptive interventions which upset their dynamic equilibrium. These interventions may have triggered the appearance of the virus on stage in the first place. “A number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19” says The Guardian. “Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?”And David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”
Maybe we need to slow down? Is Nature taking revenge for our accelerated destruction? Is this a restoration of the balance, a return to the indeterminate, fluctuating source?
It’s time, not only to slow down our accelerated displacements, but to take radical care for ecosystems as the dynamic matrix of life, ours included, and thus also the source for any economy and future. The greedy exploitation of the Earth on behalf of Earth destroyers is likely to enter a spiral of increasing selfdestruction. But what should be matter of concern is how the perception itself of the Earth as matter for exploitation was created, over centuries of colonialism, of perspectival perceptions that place an observer outside of the world, which becomes reducible to seamless quantification, appropriation and devastation.
Slowing down is just a start along the way to regain a richer embodied experience after millennia of atrophy imposed by multiple alignments with technologies of domination of which the smartphones in our pockets are a recent expression. These have impoverished experience to the point where only accumulation, domination and destruction matters. Earth destroyers are the deeply disabled people whose experience is impoverished to the point where they lost all sense of body, all proprioception, and thus all sense of deep connection to a world.
One century ago the Spanish flue killed around 50 million people, but humans kill around 5 trillion animals per year (100.000 times more), and do so in ways that -quite opposed to how animals kill each other- completely disrupt the dynamics of ecosystems.
Our health and the planet’s health are entangled. May the pandemic unleash a change in sensitivity?
Some may say that we are all Earth destroyers, as soon as we catch a plane, drive a car, or are engaged in any kind of consumption, that slowing down is not an option, that no activity could be done that doesn’t contribute to the impact, that there is no way out. Or that online activities (or even social control) are the welcome solution to work and social interaction in the new world scenario of the pandemic. One could say that this very article participtes in those economies, of digital control and of unsustainable planetary impacts. Let’s remember that data centres and digital infrastructures are also posing a heavy ecological problem due to the amount of enery consummed and also the materials used, such as coltan, linked to wars explotiationg but also waste and obsolecence of equipment. But unsustainable is also the social ecology of Facebook likes as implicit social credit, of selfie smiles and emoticons, of massive homogenisation of affects, desires and sexes.
But it’s always a question of thresholds. One of the thresholds lies in the little care that Nation States of democratic countries have for the respect of global ecosystems. Will COVID-19 unleash a new era concern, if it is shown that unleashing of virsus is linked to anthropocenic activity? Will this affect the taking of more radical measures for having the equilibrim of ecosystems as primordial criteria for economic decisions? Maybe even in less democratic countries like China? Can this also reverse the expected tendency of increased social distance and control, towards a return to the body, to analogue embodied experiences that afford means for sustainability no only in terms of ecology and economy, but of social life and its richness? Only a rich, diverse and varying experience is sutainable. Can slowing down and going back to the body become new mottos for global policies, and a gradual systemic change?
In excess of the economic crisis that may ensue, this situation entails an unprecedented change in our becoming and awareness as metabodies, of our molecular and global entanglement, our fragility (and the consistency of responses, at times hard, coercive), and our being part of fluctuation movements and systemic dependencies.
Maybe the virus, in exposing all of this, can teach us about the problematic systemic aspects of current society, though it’s unlikely that this will entail positive systemic change. The change is more likely to be in the sense of new unprecedented means of social control, of fear and threat ecologies, increase of online work (more vulnerable to digital viruses or the threats of cyberwar, of surveillance and algorithmic governance), increase of distance between bodies and dependency on the chemical choreographies of pharmaceuticals and surveillance, and meanwhile increased precarity of the already precarious who are losing their jobs in the process.
At the same time the stage for the (no longer science-fiction) scenarios of potential and more severe bacteriological and viral war is set. This is just the mild beginning, the introduction, which however exposes that reality is always already more advanced and complex than any sci-fi movie (no matter how much the latter format our expectations and prepare the stage). Reality is always reontologising itself, plastic as it is, moving beyond the existing ontologies, concepts, established ways of thinking and understanding (which one often sees reflected in Science-fiction narratives). The realities (movements) of the autonomous algorithms in our smartphone apps, or now COVID-19, are challenging radically our concepts, practices, systems, economies and life styles. We need to invent new ones.
After the cold war, AIDS, the “war on terror”, the ongoing and mostly invisible cyberwar, and the visibility over past years of digital surveillance and control (from Snowden to Cambridge Analytica), coronavirus crosses a new threshold in scenarios of war and domination, but also of collective mutation. This mutation is (and always was) not only genetic, but mostly epigenetic: relative to our habits, affects, media, our movements in general (which have epigenetic effects but also wider mutations in ourselves and our ecosystems, our affects, neurons, metabolism, hormones and other chemical bodily fields).
Meanwhile new situations keep unfolding creatively. These days in Madrid the city sounds at times more lively than ever from my roofhouse’s terrace when people play music or play across windows, confined in the houses, though many of these ocurrences are soon appropiated, if not a priori preempted by the viral behaviours of social media. The applauses to the health system personnel resonate in the empty streets at 8pm every day. And a strange complicitness appears between dogkeepers as we go out into the street, dogs being perhaps the only remainder of liveliness in the empty city, the exception within the state of exception.
The virus exposes, more radically than cyborgs or even companion species, a posthuman condition where both our evolutive molecular nature and our all-too-human and more-than-human technological alignments enter a radical spiral of reciprocal transformation. The virus threatens the open consistency of our bodies as it expands with unprecedented speed due to global displacements along daily gestures. But the response should not be in trying to retain a holy human nature that perhaps never existed, rather it’s about understanding much better the ways in which life and evolution (and with them “human nature”) emerge always in relation and need a balance of consistency and openness to sustain their movement of variation. Evolution is a business of slow molecular, bacterial, viral swarms.
A society that over millennia increasingly imposes on the planet extreme alignments and abstract dynamics that detach themselves from the biosphere’s dynamics and impose themselves on it disruptively (while forgetting its molecular-bacterial heritage and substrate), needs to learn that the human is always meta-human, always relational and emerging from and with fields of molecular movements that will return whenever they are neglected.
This (hyper)human, all-too-human (transhumanistic) society has favoured planetary-scale alignments of rationalization and quantification by imposing atrophy on bodies and proprioceptions: the body’s sense of internal motion as tissue fluctuation. Bodies aligned with fixed points of vision expand their rationalising power on the globe, while becoming appendixes of dynamic networks of algorithms, at the expense of reducing their proprioceptions. But its through proprioception that we also sense the world, and ourselves as entangled with it. I have no doubt that it is this millenia old proprioceptive atrophy that underlies the radical insensitivity in turn underlying planetary destruction, which is also selfdestruction.
Domination is always reduction, imposing movements on others, and paradoxally this implies selfdestruction. Evolution is mutation and radical cooperation, plasticity, reciprocal transformation. The virus, an ancient evolutionary mechanism, suddenly irrupts into these networks of domination and delocalization disrupting them in turn.
In states of confinement and of distance or isolation with others as we are experiencing today, I invite people to explore their proprioception: a human body is a swarm of 360 joints whose combinatory is infinite, and what one feels is more the blurry fluctuation of tissue tensions and torsions in between, which go down to swarms of billions of proteins folding in our cells’ cytoskeletons (and their atoms decaying down to quantum fluctuations) every time a muscle contracts. Proprioception is also integrating every multisensory input in the body’s capacity to move and unfold an endless variation of its proprioceptive field. Through the variations of our tissues we also know the world. I touch the bread to feel its consistency and it has already become part of my proprioception. The proprioceptive field emerges over billions of years of molecular, bacterial and viral movements and ongoing mutation and is the source of our Body Intelligence or BI, a selforganising and plastic capacity to move and sense, an expression of our selforganising molecular complexity, of which viruses are also part.
Regaining a sense of the richness and complexity of our proprioceptive fields should be part of a process of slowing down and displacing less, of caring more about ourselves and our surroundings. Let the body sense its movement, and sense the world though it, unfolding like an ameba or swarm, let its complexity unfold in different improvisation practices (dancing, drawing, playing an instrument, in conversation…).
In times of confinement and separation, I propose that instead of becoming increasingly subject to perspectival nodes of atrophy and control in a society of screens, smartphones, porn, TV, Facebook, fake news and ecologies of fear, let instead our proprioceptions, and our dog-friends, be source for reinventing and enriching our experience.