Robinsoneries – journal des bords : Sophie Conus

mardi 7 avril 2020

Yes, sorry, this is another text about the Coronavirus…

Of course, we are all a little tired of it but in a way it seems senseless to talk about anything else. I feel a profound urge to reflect on this strange experience, and I can sense that I now have the capacity and mental space. This is my short reflection experiencing a collective trauma and globalized uncertainty.

We are now entering the fourth week of the semi-confinement in Switzerland. I say semi because the rules given by our government are still quite flexible. People are advised to stay at home but are allowed to go outside as long as the given rules of social distancing : no physical contact and assemblies of no more than five people, are respected. All non-essential facilities are closed, as well as universities, schools, and kindergardens, although some cities offer daycare for toddlers whose parents work in a sector that is considered essential. Everything is handled with great precaution and almost everyone seems to be respectful towards the given rules ; the Swiss cliché is sometimes real after all. In the meantime, spring is booming, the first blossoms emerging and the trees coming back to life. I think that everyone who has gone outside can agree that the sound of buzzing insects and singing birds is much more present than usual, only occasionally interrupted by a neighbor’s reggaeton tunes, zoom yoga class or land mowing. 

Yet, as of Monday, the noise of heavy machinery has reentered our daily lives after the three weeks of surreal quietness we’ve had. Building sites (public as well as private) have been reopened. Is it because real estate industries are careless towards their employees working on the sites? Is it underlining the political and economical power structures of our society, where the economy is on top of the list, profit bending the rules once again? The problem is that some of these employees might be temporary, meaning they probably get paid in cash, aren’t covered by social security, and don’t have more than a three week cushion of savings they can survive on. Therefore, they might have asked to go back to work, not really having a choice.

I am studying art, implying that my position is privileged, being able to access higher education, and a questionnable one at times. My school is of course shut down, but I am still supposed to be working on projects (to be making stuff). In this context, I ask myself, how is it possible to make art? How can I be artistically productive in such times? Contemporary art often seizes such themes, making it into some kind of marketing strategy. The question of « will COVID-19 be the next contemporary art trend? » makes me extremely uncomfortable. (I highly recommend Annabelle’s Robinsonerie on that matter). I feel an urge to read, in an attempt to understand this crisis and learn about the various perspectives. I also feel that this is a time for reflection rather tant productivity. A reflection on this collective yet lonesome experience, how to keep correspondence with people and what opportunities could arise from this crisis.

I have been very surprised about the reactions of the different educational systems, who put a tremendous amount of effort into keeping a strict schedule. Kids aged 10 find themselves having to switch between eight different platforms, every teacher having their strategy for teaching. I see my brother muting a chemistry zoom class while sending memes to his friends. I see my teachers, giving us new assignments to fill in the hours of class we would normally have with them. For some reason, I’ve been feeling reluctant towards the weekly phone calls we are asked to have with our teachers, supposedly to talk about the ideas we have for our final Bachelor work, because yes yes yes, the exams will still take place in June, they say. I did not really know why I was feeling that way until I came across a great article shared online by a friend, enabling me to understand my sentiment of unwillingness. The article written by Aisha S. Ahmad is entitled: Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure. Everything is clearly stated in the first lines: « I have observed a common response to the continuing COVID-19 crisis. They [her academic colleges] are fighting valiantly for a sense of normalcy — hustling to move courses online, maintaining strict writing schedules, creating Montessori schools at their kitchen tables. They hope to buckle down for a short stint until things get back to normal ». 

The Swiss government is now talking about a deconfinement. Some people believe it’s a conspiracy form the right wing, who never believed in the seriousness of the virus alongside with financiers and promoters, supported by the capitalist driven U.S.A’s argument : « the cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease », in other words, asking for less care and more business. But it’s not only those people who are hoping for a deconfinment. A lot of citizens are in a financial struggle, and need the economy to restart in order for them to simply get past their economical breakdown. I need to say that confinement can possibly be a luxury only applicable in developed countries, and criticism a privilege. It’s not everyone’s reality to be searching for toilet-paper. In fact, how is it possible to survive a general confinement if you live off the cash you make during the day, are lacking water or even a shelter? Recent news has reviled that lockdowns spark police brutality in poor communities, where excessive power is used by the law enforcement. This abuse leads to physical violence and humiliation of people who have no choice but to go outside to get basic necessities to survive. [There is also the tragic rise in domestic violence worldwide, but that deserves a complete article in itself to talk about this heartbreaking issue.]

In my opinion, things won’t be going back to normal. Aisha S. Ahmad goes on: « Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the COVID-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it may feel good at the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of the activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed. » Supported by Arundhati Roy’s argument « Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. »

So I feel like, for those who are lucky enough not to worry about their finances and who have taken time to build a safe environment around them, now should be the time to take a step back, read, observe and think. Because no one knows what to do, or what is going to happen and what the consequences will be on the long run. The question is not « When will this be over? » But how will we take up our lives again. With which organization, which values and which purposes? As Christophe Lepetit said (translated from a French article): « We are now confronted with a worldwide crisis. Everything is stopped, everywhere at the same time. If we have to change something, it’s now ». I see a lot of potentiality in this time, looking at all the new possibilities, seeing Jean-Luc Godard on instagram live yesterday for example. Many new opportunities are arising.

A glimpse of hope : « Coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could », continues Arundhati Roy. The current situation has forced our economically driven societies to drastically change the economical system. The giant multinational corporation General Motors was forced to completely redirect its activities to build ventilators to provide for artificial respirators the Healthcare so desperately needs. And that’s only one example. All around the globe, big and small industries are changing their normal activities to provide necessities for hospitals and the population. Yes, our civilization is dominated by the economy, but there is now undeniable proof that even in an emergency, big corporate businesses are made to radically change, determined to offer useful services without being entirely profit driven, which is a big step forward. It is amazing to see that the state is capable of taking action and changing things, which is profoundly challenging Liberalism. We need a state which takes care of it’s citizens, but to what extent? Big crowds probably need to be organized by a strong and legitimate state in order for necessary change to occur. The state should be balanced and transparent, properly questioning, revising and confronting it’s decisions to avoid a totalitarian system.

This is a glimpse of hope, because the frenzy of going back to normality, without any changes, would just lead to the aggravation of the crisis which we all know has already started. There would be a drastic increase in climate refugees, droughts and heatwaves, forest fires, floods, resistant bacterias, all of this leading to a worldwide catastrophe and major civilizational chaos. A plan to relaunch, with a return to economic growth and massive reglobalization with an acceleration of the virtualization of the world isn’t an option. Daniel Cohen wrote in the French newspaper Le Monde: « The crisis could be the point of inflection from industrial capitalism to digital capitalism and as consequence the collapse of the humanist promises of post-industrial society ». Science proves with much more documentation and precision than the pandemic, that a return to our preexisting lives will only be a short term possibility, drawing terrifying curves. Is a global pandemic necessary to make people from developed countries listen to facts?The stake of the cure of our planet goes beyond the economy, taking collective survival seriously. Bertrand Kiefer writes : « When considering the environment, climate change, pollution, resource depletion, and gaps between social structures, science is predicting a peak followed not by a recession, but by a catastrophe. Science is ordering us something far more radical, but also much richer in human potentialities than the confinement: change our lives, give up on insane consumerism, the stupidity of individualism and the obsession of always more. The problem doesn’t only come from the domination of the economy on the world, but from our mentalities which have integrated this logic to its values». Arundhati Roy finishes her article with these strong words : « …the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it. »

There is a huge potential in this bewildering collective experience. We must reflect on how to create a more sustainable economy and build up new strategies, setting economical growth aside, therefore rethinking our future. Our economy must become one that doesn’t neglect the weak. It should support collectivity, respect, and sharing, and forethink the consequences rather than cynically demonstrate it’s blinders. I think that these last few weeks have taught us that a lot of jobs that are today essential (nurses, cashiers, deliverer, garbage collectors or all the other public space cleaners and of course the farmers without whom we wouldn’t have food!) have been devaluated for too long. « Once the storm is over, we will have to fight with strength our propositions that will come when it will be a question of relaunching the economy to support consumption » writes Sera Gnoni in Le Temps. I hope we will be firm, groundbreaking and resolutely innovative. Now is the moment to look beyond an immediate re-establishment of the preexisting state, relaunching itself in a frenzy; by building itself on remembrance. We must protect our existing nature and be economical with the resources we have left, disinvest in what is harming our planet, invest in renewable energies and most important all support local and sustainable agriculture and other businesses. This is the real emergency, and the big wave we may have avoided with the virus through confinement is only a tiny ripple compared to the one awaiting us due to climate change. I guess this may be why I can’t get myself in the mood to throw myself back into surrogate productivity via internet courses. This is maybe why I feel I need to listen to the noise of the birds and bees and why I need to think what my role can be in that change which needs to occur and look at all the new opportunities that will rise from these times of collectivity and support.

Thank you for all the breathtaking, and brilliantly well written articles that are emerging from this period.
Thank you to my dad and my dear friends Mikkeline, Nellie, Henry and Linn who took the time to read and give me feedback.

In English

Article written by Arundhati Roy in the Financial Times, The pandemic is a portal :
Article written by Aisha S. Ahmad in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity :
Article written by Patrick Collinson in The Guardian, After coronavirus: ‘We can’t go back to business as usual’ :
Article written by Amanda Taub in The New York Times, A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide :
Video posted by the Telegraph Coronavirus: Videos emerge online of police brutality amid lockdown around the world :
In case you haven’t seen it yet: Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot make short film on the climate crisis :

In French

A facebook post written by Bertrand Kiefer, Le remède et le mal :
Article written by Arundhati Roy and translated by Joelle Leconte in Medium, En Inde, le confinement le plus gigantesque et le plus punitif de la planète :ète-282aa654a9c7

Many articles from Le Temps (Swiss newspaper)

Annabelle’s Robinsonerie: