Unlocking the locked, and the ‘possible’

Quarantined, locked in, and married to ourselves: since the outbreak of the pandemic, more than half of the world’s population has been confined. When individuals are forced to slow down (here, I’d suggest an essay called “Slowing Down” by Gaspard Koenig, a former guest at Global Governance) and recover what it feels like to be static, self-development, anxiety and big decisions accompany a general state of contemplation and wondering. 

Wondering, the news is slightly helping us out with it. Notwithstanding the fake news and over-information fused with the media, a line of thought draws itself out of every article you may read: change. The virus allows us to put into words the malaise of our civilization. We wonder about globalization, the environment, and populism. Must, should, will the virus be a call for change?

Articles highlighting the illness of the current frenzied capitalist system are flooding the internet. It is now a well-established idea: we should try to build another world, no longer be satisfied with the one in which we live. Yet, were we that satisfied before? One century ago already, Paul Morand was writing: “We are going to the world-tour at eighty francs. Everything that has been said about human misery will not really appear until the day when this price will be reached.” The low cost, the connection, and the Globish have transformed the planet into a room in which we are pacing grumbling, thinking about our wrongdoings, and the fatality of our system. Now, what to do? What to become? As Arundhati Roy declared in an emergency tract for Gallimard, nothing would be worse than a return to normality. Indeed, throughout history, pandemics have forced humans to break away from the past and reinvent their world. In this, the current pandemic is no different from previous ones. It is a portal between the world of yesterday, and the one we could build. 


The word that we hear and use the most these days to describe interchangeably our condition and the situation must be without any doubts: “crisis”. The etymology of the word is interesting because it brings us back to the deepness and clear-sightedness that words carry within them. Crisis, in medieval Latin, means firstly the brutal manifestation of  illness. Oh, really? On this point, the current use of the word seems more than adequate, and even almost prophetic. A crisis is, before anything else for the Latin world, the paroxysmal moment of a disease, when the latter expresses itself the most vividly, often accompanied by a change in symptoms: sweating, profuse haemorrhage, tremors…pain. Yet, before Latin was the Greek. In Greek, indeed, krisis meant judgment, decision, the moment to change course, a pivotal step to be taken. The latter derives from an Indo-European root which means to sort, to separate two sets of objects combined, for example the “good grain” and “the bad grain”, from where also comes the idea of ​​deciding and judging. The crisis is therefore, originally, a Kairos (the opportune moment), the other Greek word for the time but in its qualitative version, and refers to both the idea of ​​pain and opportunity. 

An opportunity lived in pain. Aren’t our crisis, our lives today, and the striking evidence -brought partly by the news- that something is going to happen, pushing us towards the necessary consideration of change? Not that any change was previously needed, far from me is the intention to reduce the existence and value of our social, gender-equality, economic, political, environmental, global strikes. Yet, we all acknowledge this common trigger to the current system’s absurdities and incapacities: a fatal pandemic that put the world on its knees. 

On last March 31th, in a Guardian ‘Long-read’, Peter C. Baker was writing: “Some believe the pandemic is a once-in-a-generation chance to remake society and build a better future. Others fear it may only make existing injustices worse. Everything feels new, unbelievable, overwhelming. Cast your mind back a few weeks and imagine someone telling you the following: within a month, schools will be closed. Almost all public gatherings will be canceled. Hundreds of millions of people around the world will be out of work. Governments will be throwing together some of the largest economic stimulus packages in history. In certain places, landlords will not be collecting rent, or banks collecting mortgage payments, and the homeless will be allowed to stay in hotels free of charge. Experiments will be underway in the direct government provision of basic income. Large swathes of the world will be collaborating – with various degrees of coercion and nudging – on a shared project of keeping at least two metres between each other whenever possible. Would you have believed what you were hearing?”.  

In this long tirade of an unleashed pen, the journalist highlights the different aspects of the change that is occurring. In the media, we are indeed talking about diverse possible economic scenarios, the many geopolitical impacts, and the ones on internal security and privacy, with the surveillance devices borrowed to mitigate massive contagions. Should we recall that today, in China, but also in Paris, people without facemasks are searched by the means of drones that broadcast the message from the police? Should we talk about the use of data from telecommunications companies by nations to track mobility? The case of authoritarian countries threatening fundamental rights, as you can read in an article by Livia Loddo?

Naomi Klein, in her book “The Shock Doctrine”, is giving an analysis of crisis management in politics. According to her thesis, there would always be the first shock -Disaster 1- such as the natural disaster, the military confrontations, or the economic crash, and the second: the management of the Disaster 1 by the people in charge, often more focusing on profits and self-interests, while the majority of the population, as we can see today, defers itself to decision-makers in moments of vulnerability, accepting to not know, sacrificing its own vision in the name of recovery and the common good; which today gives us this resurgence of obedience and docility among the society, towards the established power. 

Unlike the flow of capital and unlike our decision-makers in times of crisis, the coronavirus does not seek profit or enrichment, but its own proliferation. It completely reversed the flow of the current system. The virus plays carelessly with immigration checks, social classes, biometrics, digital surveillance, and all kinds of data analysis we could evoke. So far, it struck the richest and most powerful nations the hardest, the perfect example being the United States, forcing the engine of capitalism to a brutal halt. Everything is temporary, of course, and we hope that this time will remain as short as possible to allow consumers to continue to buy so that companies can continue to produce, and thus reduce the prospect of an unspeakable and unprecedented economic crisis. But isn’t this suspended time already long enough to allow us to subject the components of the system to examination and to assess them, before deciding whether we want to contribute to its repair, or seek a better one? 

I am still searching for my answer. As far as you are concerned, dear readers, I have no idea of yours; and that’s why I present today this series “Unlocking the locked, and the ‘possible'”, which will explore in several episodes the existing alternatives to the systemic disease, not being the virus, for once, but neoliberalism and its applications auras. We will meet concepts such as undergrowth, decarbonization, media diet, circular economy, localism, local system of exchange, bioethics, basic income or permaculture, to dissect them and try to understand their relevance in a post-crisis world. 

Grab the Kairos, design the future. 

Clémence MAQUET 

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