The rule of survival

May 24, 2020

A theoretical and philosophical backdrop of the current global pandemic

Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World by Slavoj Zizek provides a theoretical and philosophical backdrop of the current global pandemic. Zizek brings up several things, but freedom of speech, the idea of communism and its acceptance in the world are the focal points of the book.

In the second paragraph of the first chapter, he quotes a Hong Kong-based journalist Verna Yu, “If China valued free speech, there would be no Coronavirus crisis. Unless Chinese citizens’ freedom of speech and other basic rights are respected, such crises will only happen again”. According to him, the Chinese state apparatus is working against Mao’s motto, “Trust the people”. They are protecting, their people and looking after them but do not trust them. Trust and freedom of speech are key, as Zizek suggests, to combating all the societal menaces.

He also critiques social media and worries about the authenticity of the news and emphasises that one should not believe in rumors spreading on social media, as these rumors can cause panic among the masses. To explain his point, he mentions the shortage of toilet papers in socialist Yugoslavia following a rumor that there were not enough toilet paper. Though the authorities issued statements and assured the availability of toilet papers, people were worried.

As coronavirus is disturbing the fully-functioning world market, there is a need to reorganise the economy of the world. For the reorganisation, there should be some kind of global organisation that regulates the economy of the world and limits the sovereignty of the nation-states. The ongoing pandemic is not only affecting the general public it is also hitting hard the so-called sovereigns of the world. Here I am reminded of Dr Saeed Ur Rehman’s article titled Coronavirus as a new sovereign published in TNS, in which Rehman argues, “The right to govern is derived from the power to control the processes of life and death. In this way, pandemics-causing pathogens are a major challenge to the sovereigns of the world”.

Today, coronavirus is the only sovereign in the world. All others sovereigns are helpless in front of coronavirus. Zizek also suggests the central reorganisation of the world economy. This centralised economy is a communist idea but Zizek says, “We are not talking here about the old-style communism.” On the other hand, he is in favour of globally coordinated efforts and calls that communism. He says, “Coronavirus will also compel us to re-invent communism based on trust in the people and in science”.

He discusses Lacan, Freud, Hegel, Foucault, Kant, Agamben among others. While quoting Hegel he says that the only thing we have learned from history is nothing. He worries that we are not going to learn anything from the ongoing epidemic as well.

There is a view that the ongoing pandemic is apolitical. The public is striving to survive. The dichotomy of the West and the East is also crucial. The developed West has no real enemies therefore it is more in a panic because of the weak immune system. The order of coronavirus has brought humanity to the verge of devastation and chaos. Zizek says we are all Julian Assange in an enforced isolation. Our contacts with other people are through cellphones and the internet only which are also under the control of states. This contact can also be cut at any time using medical justification.

He advises his readers that if in the Cold War the rule of Survival was MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), now it is another MAD (Mutually Assured Distance) for survival. He mentions Kant who once wrote with regard to the law of the state, “Obey, but think, maintain the freedom of thought!”

Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes the World

Author: Slavoj Zizek

Publisher: OR Books, New York and London

Pages: 120

The writer is currently pursuing his PhD in English Literature

The rule of survival: A theoretical and philosophical backdrop of the current global pandemic