Josep Ramoneda was born in Cervera, Spain, in 1949. He is a political philosopher and is very active in the Spanish intellectual debate about current politics. After his academic
career of teaching contemporary philosophy (1975-1990), in 1994 he founded the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona, an important institution in European scale, which
he directed until 2011. Presently he publishes La Maleta de Portbou, a journal of humanities and economics, and he is director of the European School of Humanities in Barcelona, founded also by him. He is also director of one of the main editorial groups in Spain.
Richard Sennett says “power structures exploit crises, use them to legitimize expanded control.” And it is clear that panic is an essential ally of these invasive inertias. Why, in almost the entire world, have citizens accepted without question a brutal restriction of basic freedoms? It is a question that I will not tire of repeating, no matter how much it may seem like an exercise in callousness or even a provocation. We cannot let it fall into oblivion because in it is the germ of what will be the day after.
Six years ago, in an article in La Maleta de Portbou (Who’s contemporaries?), Santiago Alba Rico recalled that in Benjamin’s Angelus Novus, “absorbed by the future, we saw how the past was filled with rubble and ruins”. And he added: “Now the future comes to us loaded with debris and previously manufactured ruins, housed there since the beginning of time and, like a damaged assembly line, it is bringing us its abortions.” The end of this journey has been the brutal outbreak of a virus – one more mutation in this immense family of eternal companions of animal life on earth – which has led to the chain decision to stop social life suddenly and completely.
The appearance of animals that are alien to urban life in our deserted streets and the first signs of occupation of spaces by plants, which defy the control of gardening, are an appeal that nature sends us that does not lose a loophole through which jump the queue. And now what? The ability of the human species to accommodate itself to any circumstance – a factor of resistance, but also of fragility – can make limitations bearable, assuming normally the extension of limitations of rights that are justified only by their exceptionality.
Raymond Queneau said in his Treatise on Democratic Virtues that a given society is naturally accepted by “those who benefit from it, those who do not suffer too much, those who like to suffer and those who have other things to do.” They are the very extensive bases of voluntary servitude. The stability of a given social situation depends on the number of citizens that these four figures add. One would like to believe that the sum does not come out in the confined society and that the majority are willing to run away. However, it is not obvious. It is surprising how naturally people assume that there will be restrictions for a while. “The world has changed and we may never again shake hands or kiss the people we meet,” I have often heard these days. And the tone always revealed proud resignation. It is “social distance” turned into a magic word. Social distance is a contradiction in terms: the social is not built in distance but in proximity. Confinement as a test of the disappearance of bodies within robots and other technological prostheses? Precisely the figures of invisible deaths (bodies that leave without dismissal) that are the massive force of containment.
When the State begins to give orders “for our good” and it does so reinforced by an abusive use of scientific legitimacy, it is scary. Are we not even free to decide about our own good? Moreover, it seems that in post-confinement the ability to decide for oneself will be decreed selectively, excluding certain social sectors, starting with the elderly, of course. Yet, we will have to retrace the path and health and economic calculations are not enough, we must have the rare thing that we call freedom and that is essential for us to write our destiny. Many people have died fighting for it.
Now that the future has fallen upon us, two paths remain: that in the sequence of fear and panic, authoritarian inertias unfold and democracy will be gone without anyone knowing how it was; or that responsibility be returned to citizens and democracies regain momentum to rebuild the damage generated by the accelerated and suicidal present continuous in which we lived. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, walls have proliferated to prevent unwanted entry and to reinforce the gap between well-being and poverty. In the end we all ended up locked down at home. And it is not a novel.
From El País