Headline, September 02 2020/ ''' EPIDEMIC POLITICS ETERNAL''' : THE WORLD




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THE POLITICS OF THE PANDEMIC expose a deeper ethical, social and even metaphysical erosion. Mr. Agamben cites Italians most beloved 19th century novel, Alessandro Manzoni's ''The Betrothed,'' which describes how human relations degenerated in Milan during the plague in 1630 

People came to see their neighbors not as fellow human beings but as spreaders of pestilence. As panic set in, authorities executed those suspected of daubing houses with plague germs.

When a society loses its collective cool this way, the cost can be high.

Stumping for regional candidates in Tuscany last month, Italy's former interior minister Matteo Salvini waved around a surgical mask - and pointedly did not wear it. Covid-19 has taken more than  35,000 lives since it struck Italy in January.

But now the daily death toll is typically in single digits, and Mr. Salvini, the leader of the antiimmigration League party, wants to put the country back to work.

''Italians are being held hostage, kept at a distance masked,'' he hollered, ''and meanwhile they let thousands of lowlifes, land their boats and do what they want, go where they want, spit, infect. Enough is Enough!''

Rich, atomized, diverse, our society has a weak spot, and the coronavirus has found it. ''For fear of getting sick,'' Mr. Agamben writes, ''Italians are ready to sacrifice practically everything - their normal living conditions, their social relations, their jobs, right down to their friendships, their loves, their religious and political conviction.''

In fact, ''the threshold that separates humanity from barbarism has been crossed,'' Mr. Agamben continues, and the proof is in Italians' treatment their dead.

''How could we have accepted, in the name of a risk that we couldn't even quantify, not only that the people who are dear to us, and human beings more generally, should have to die alone but also - and this is something that had never happened before in all of history from Antigone to today - that their corpses should be burned without a funeral?''

WARS HAVE BEQUEATH TO PEACETIME A ''series of fateful technologies,'' Philosopher Agamben reminds us, from barbed wire to nuclear power plants.

Such innovations tend to be ones that elites were already agitating for, or that align with their interests. Epidemics he suggests, are no different.

He believes that the fateful inheritance of the coronavirus will be social distancing. He is puzzled by the term, ''which simultaneously appeared around the world as if it had been prepared in advance.''

The expression, he notes, ''is not ''physical'' or ''personal distancing, as would be the normal if we were describing a medical measure, but ''social distancing.''

His point is that social distancing is at least as much a political measure as a public health one, realized so easily because it had been pushed for by powerful forces.

Some are straightforward vested interests. Mr. Agemben notes [without naming him] that the former Vodafone chief executive Vittorio Calao, an evangelist for the digitized economy, was put in charge of Italy's initial transition out of lockdown.

Mr. Agamben believes, has also provided Italy's politicians with a way of hindering spontaneous political organization and stifling the robust intellectual dissent that universities foster.

IN A SOCIETY THAT RESPECTS SCIENCE - EXPERTISE confers power. That has good results, but it brings a terrible problem : illegitimate political power can be disguised as expertise.

This was a favorite idea of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, who used it to explain how experts had expanded the definitions of criminality and sexual deviancy. One of Italy's most celebrated thinkers, Girgio Agmben, has recently applied similar thoughts to the coronavirus at the risk of turning himself into a national pariah.

Mr. Agamben has always been fascinated with such instances of common or historic institutions getting empties out of their long-held meanings.

In books less punchy and direct than the present one, he has described this process with the word  inoperosita. It means ''idleness,'' but idleness of a kind that can generate new systems of belief and new dangers.

Whatever it is, it has made itself felt not just in Italy but in all Western societies in recent months, perhaps in the United States most of all.

The World Students Society thanks author Christopher Caldwell.

With respectful dedication to the Leaders, Grandparents, Parents, Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all prepare and register for  Great Global Elections on The World Students    Society : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

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