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Covid-19: An alliance of the opposites

10 May 2020 at 07:33hrs | Views
Unfolding world developments suggest that times of pandemic are also fertile epistemological moments. Epistemological moments are those times in life when new knowledge and the discovery of new social practices come to flourish.

The coronavirus pandemic has occasioned the flourish of news, ideas, fake news and conspiracy theories that would not otherwise see the light of day in normal times. From their varied lockdown enclaves and closets, peoples of the world have gotten into a knowledge and information production mode never seen and experienced before. In their troubled loneliness people have been trading in such views as that after all this whole pandemic might be an artefact of biological warfare to other views such as that the global malady is a fulfilment of durable end time prophecies of various religions and spiritualities.

The social media as a vivid site of global communication and performance have gone into overdrive as people from different parts of the world feed into memes and produce artistic and informative messages that have kept audiences arrested in the consumption of the comic and the tragic in terms of information.

The virus has truly fuelled the virality of entertaining and also alarming messaging and the interpretation of a multiplicity of ideas that circulate freely and sometimes insanely from different corners of the globe. In social media in particular experts in various disciplines and novices come together to be authorities in any subject, creating a forest of sense and nonsense in the same virtual landscape to which we turn for the latest information and knowledge. And so is it easy for the gullible to be lost and never found again in the virtual forest that has levelled out the normal hierarchies of those that know and those that do not.

In his customary biting sarcasm; Umberto Eco, perhaps fittingly, referred to the social media as the domain of the idiot in that frequently it is false and even idiotic nonsense that circulates and finds currency and purchase among the online madding crowds.

In this short article I seek to delve into consideration of how the coronavirus and the messaging of it online has brought into alliance socially and politically opposed groups of people that in reality and under normal times have never and maybe should not align. Yes, the coronavirus has forged impossible solidarities that need to be pondered for their novelty.

Covid-19 Virtuality and Virality
By its nature social media is infectious in that it facilitates communication in a fast spreading and networked manner that multiplies and amplifies messages.

This is much like the dreaded virus itself that is a communicable disease in the way in which it is passed from one body to another like a viral message or some hot gossip of a kind.

As I draft this short instalment I read an exchange on social media between titanic political antagonists from a powerful country. Hillary Clinton posts: "Everyone asks me is there still a chance for me to run for President in November. I am thinking about it, but we'll see . . ." In response, Donald Trump tweets: "Run?! You can barely walk! Stay home, Hillary. It's for the best." Never mind that this might be false news generated by a lonely artiste and part-time comedian from his or her quarantine somewhere. And never mind that it is not possible that Hillary Clinton has heard from "everyone" that she must consider running for the American presidency once again now that Trump seems to have made a mess of his incumbency.

Fake or factual, Trump is projected in the exchanges as the merciless bigot that ignores the topic under consideration and goes for Clinton's old age and physical fragility. All the same the exchange is viral and will get a large part of the world thinking and talking. Sense and nonsense, fact and fiction walk hand in hand virally in the virtual landscape.

John Magufuli questioning coronavirus tests and Andry Rajoelina announcing an effective herbal cure, one the President of Tanzania and the other of Madagascar float together virally in the social media virtual landscape and the world is thinking and talking. The virality and the floating are so fast and there is no time to digest and make sense of one viral piece before another one invades the space and demands and consumption. Virtuality and virality both entail speed that has never allowed sober rumination and reflection on information.

For news to be viral it must be spectacular like the 55-year-old Mike Tyson that is returning to the ring soon and has circulated pictures of himself looking monstrously muscular and dangerous once more.

The virtual space demands spectacle from that which must compete for attention in the insane space. Artless, cold and dry information, even if it is important is quickly crowded out to oblivion by insane and hot viruses of information. We used to be taught in Literature class that art is an imitation of life. Recent developments in the virtuality and virality of the social media suggest otherwise that actually life might be an imitation of art. There is now more performance in real life than there is in art. When everyday human beings become daily dramatic, true dramatic performances lose their art.

The alliance of radical opposites
It is not only sense and nonsense that have formed an unholy alliance in these coronavirus times. Comedy and its opposite, tragedy, have also found an unseemly solidarity. Just the amount of jokes about coronavirus is astounding.

These jokes appear side by side with alarming and tragic statistics concerning latest infections and the global body count. Comedians and undertakers are both working overtime these dark days. Perhaps, after all, laughter is the last human resort in defiance to death and mourning.

Maybe, after all, Friedrich Nietzsche was right that human beings are the saddest animals that is why they are the only creatures that invented laughter as release and escape from the darkness of their lives.

Privacy and publicity are two other opposite spheres that now appear to enjoy each other's rather strange company. The medical conditions and statuses of celebrities and heads of states are made public. Suddenly the confidentiality and privacy that goes with medical personal information seems to have been suspended in the virtualisation of Coronavirus and its big and small victims. Pictures of Boris Johnson the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom lying helplessly in the Intensive Care Unit, burdened by the Virus, were made viral online. Media experts may theorise that the social media have killed privacy but I think what has died is publicity itself because there is nothing more to publicise when the most private and confidential details about persons are opened up and viralised.

The far right wing in America, in the name of freedom and economic life are demanding that the country be urgently opened and lockdown abandoned. Right wingers in many other countries, to different levels are doing the same, give us our economic life and freedom or death, they protest. These ones are mainly rich and powerful individuals that own the means and the sites of production, the capitalists with a capital C. The other class of people, in America and worldwide, that want lockdowns gone urgently are the poorest of the poor that depend on daily labour for a slice of bread and drop of water. These are suicidal and desperate people that would rather die of the Virus working and eating than be chewed slowly by hunger at home.

Here is another strange but true agreement between the super-rich and the poorest of the poor. The super-rich are secure in that lockdown or no lockdown they enjoy lifestyles that can protect them from the Virus. Even without a lockdown the rich and powerful can avoid crowds and enjoy social distance afforded them by sheer prosperity. These people as a social class have long lived a locked down and social distance life behind their high-halls and social security.

The poorest of the poor, on the other hand, well before the pandemic and its lockdowns, they lived pandemic lives of vulnerability and were consumed by the social virus of poverty and disease, hence their suicidal spirit. In the lives of the poorest of the poor, the radical opposites of life and death themselves, seem to have formed yet another alliance. The poor and the powerless live their lives in the permanent neighborhood of death.

The liberating alliance, however, that our moment demands is the alliance of people and their lives. Lockdown or no lockdown safety from the Virus is guaranteed by interpersonal distance and the avoidance of nasal and oral fluids from others. We live in a strange but true moment where human love and solidarity can best be expressed through distance, keeping away from each other to preserve life. Locking down our bodies while we live and work together is our panacea and salvation for now.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Gezina in Pretoria:

Source - sundaynews
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