Ten Premises For A Pandemic

How much has changed in just a few days. Here is another text I've composed in an attempt to continue to think about the pandemic, and our lives within it. I hope it's of use, however minorly, as we all try to come to some kind of terms with the novel transformations, precarities, and struggles emerging in every direction.


1. A pandemic isn’t a collection of viruses, but is a social relation among people, mediated by viruses.

Nothing is inevitable, inescapable, or immutable about the coronavirus pandemic unfolding everywhere around us, simply because the pandemic is social. The endless posts and announcements marshalling us to help “flatten the curve” are at least enough to make clear that the historical consequences and human costs of the pandemic entirely depend on the ways we collectively choose to live in relation to it. Because the pandemic doesn’t simply happen to us but is instead something we partake in, a first step forward in these times is to refuse to curtail our thinking to how each of our individual lives may be particularly impacted by the virus and to begin to contemplate the potential we collectively share to change the course of the pandemic as well as to shape the new society that emerges from it.

2. At the very least, the expanding suspension of social, economic, and political norms and laws provides each of us with a unique opportunity to question the pre-pandemic world we had all grown accustomed to living within.

What is the value of work? How might we allocate resources differently if we didn’t have to consider price? Is privatized healthcare defensible? Are prisons truly necessary? As we witness the cancellation of utility, mortgage, and rent payments, the public takeover of private healthcare systems, the cessation of arrests for low-level offenses, and the calls for the cancellation of all debt, what else might we call into question and, perhaps more importantly, imagine taking hold in their place? If those in power are so willing to upend social, economic, and political norms and laws in the interest of defending the world they upheld, then we must be equally willing to upend them and spread the imagination of something otherwise. In this short time, we can already see that the only truly certain thing in the pandemic is that nothing will ever be the same again.

3. As nation states prove unwilling and/or incapable of supporting life, our immediate and urgent priority must be to organize mutual aid, solidarity, and care using whatever means necessary.

It truly didn’t take long for the specters of pandemic darwinism and viral malthusianism to surface, finding support in politicians around the world who tell their citizens that they are on their own. If the state and the market economy prove to be unable to provide the diverse forms of care upon which all life depends, we must find ways of providing that care without concern for who owns what or whether it is legal. In this sense, the struggle to defend life in the pandemic will at times necessarily take shape as a direct struggle against the logic of capital, the violence of law, and the abstraction of price. We must learn about our own needs and the needs of those we are capable of caring for, find ways of producing, expropriating, and distributing goods that satisfy the needs of interconnected and interdependent communities, and be willing to simply take what is needed whenever it is denied to us.

4. As capitalism’s market economies fail us in every way, we must dare to imagine ways of organizing social life beyond the logic of price, competition, and profit.

Organizing a society based upon satisfying the needs of all rather than defending the wealth of the few isn’t simply an ideal in the pandemic, but is a practical and popular necessity. As this new common sense continues to proliferate and take hold, we must begin to materially reorganize society on that basis by making sure people get what they need first and worrying about profit never. Any new practices of care that arise will be immediately challenged by the infrastructural and logistical power of digital capitalism, which is already seizing upon the pandemic as a means of wholly conquering and networking what remains of a collapsing global economy. If Amazon, already hiring thousands of new workers to keep up with skyrocketing demand, becomes the means people rely upon to survive the pandemic, then our post-pandemic world will become increasingly indistinguishable from the exploitation, inequality, and precarity that define Amazon’s organizational model. Quite simply, if we fail to break the logic of market-driven supply and demand, of price and profit, it may in the end simply break us.

5. Our networks of care and solidarity necessarily must begin from the specificites and immediacies of the situations we live within, but rapidly must multiply their bonds with diffuse and diverse communities.

No life ever lives truly alone, and no act of individuation or privation can ever alter the fact that every life constitutively depends upon innumerable other lives. As such, truly caring for ourselves and for those with whom we share intimate ties effectively necessitates implementing care for everyone. Over the next months, we should inventively and imaginatively practice social distancing in ways that cultivate and proliferate, not diminish, social solidarity. If we must practically begin by organizing care for those who are already proximate and intimate—for ourselves, our families, friends, neighbors, and loved ones—then part of that effort necessarily implies continuously expanding the organization and coordination of care to whatever scales are required. These inclusive and open modes of care must escape the logic of the state and the market by constituting themselves on the basis of diverse yet common precarities and interdependencies.

6. Caring and acting in solidarity with one another within and beyond the pandemic will necessitate the constitution and defense of new forms of commons.

As we struggle to organize care, capitalism may very well rely upon all of our compassion and solidarity to survive the pandemic before returning at full force and plunging us all into only more intense states of precarity, into more uncaring forms of work, and into deeper and deeper debt. While a great deal depends upon the ways we are able to act in solidarity with one another, practicing kindness and generosity and compassion and courage in equal parts, if those solidarities are not constituted in new kinds of commons that render capitalism and the state effectively obsolete, they will not be able to endure the exigencies of the pandemic nor withstand inevitable measures meant to conquer and capture whatever follows the pandemic. In other words, if our capacity to care for one another fails to be instantiated in qualitatively different forms, they may very well simply be reintegrated into novel expressions of privation, dispossession, and precaritization in whatever new legal and economic systems that may attempt to establish themselves.

7. Caring for one another will equally involve militantly opposing those who intend to further instantiate already-existing forms of domination in the turbulences and uncertainties of the pandemic.

While hospital workers still struggle to get enough protective gear, new footage already circulates of immigration agents outfitted with new breathing masks arresting undocumented migrants. Xenophobias are magnified, welfare programs are marked for cuts, and Palantir signs new contracts with the state to implement facial recognition and cell-phone tracking technologies. We must not underestimate the new cruelties that may arise in these times, preying upon communities that can no longer substantively defend themselves or protest on the streets, much less congregate together. What new kinds of solidarity and struggle might we invent in order to counteract the new intensities, practices, and forms of violence that will surely arise? How might we maintain social distances but nonetheless find ways of acting decisively and concertedly together?

8. The pandemic, as a phenomenon that differentially affects all of the planet at once, must push us all to live our lives definitively beyond the logic of borders and nations.

Health officials have long noted that viruses don’t respect borders. Neither should we. So much of what presently threatens our lives—climate change, financial capital, the coronavirus pandemic—is now expressed at a planetary scale. We have little hope of defending life anywhere if we are unable to act in concert with life everywhere,  acknowledging the dignity that is common to all life, on the one hand, and the material inequalities which continue to differently impact the way life is lived, on the other. The violence of the pandemic will be expressed differentially, at different intensities, and in different forms across historically differentiated bodies, and our ways of living and organizing will not only have to account for that but will have to organize on that very basis. Defending life in New York City will mean something different than defending it in Mexico City, or in Ramallah, or in Hong Kong, but these struggles must find ways of resonating and reverberating with one another across borders, continents, and oceans, just as capital and pandemics are able to.

9. Because life in the pandemic is the way it is, life in the pandemic will not stay the way it is.

The pandemic is a world-historical process, leaving nothing on Earth unchanged and acting as a temporal fold between a planetary before and after. While we cannot change what happened before the pandemic, we must nonetheless learn from the past as a means of bringing to life, sustaining, and defending the possibility of different futures. Diverse histories of struggle against various forms of oppression and domination must inform the ways we ourselves continue to struggle, even if new struggles that arise in the pandemic present cannot formally resemble the ways of struggling we’re accustomed to. The past is never settled, and all past events can always come to mean something new in the ways we learn from and draw upon them. In this sense, how might past struggles against sexism, racism, fascism, ableism, and capitalism inform struggles in the pandemic? Resistance is to some degree always a fundamentally speculative endeavor, a collective wager that something may be possible before that possibility has been realized. Now is a time for imagination, invention, and experimentation, leveraging each as a means of producing new kinds of knowledge about our situation and new modes of struggle within it.

10. We must collectively, courageously, and compassionately decide what new ways of living we desire to live in the pandemic and the times that follow, or it will be decided for us.

The ways in which human life is presently threatened on a planetary scale should push us all to consider not only the generic value of life, but also the value of distinct forms of life and ways of living. The worth of life in the abstract does little to help inform the ways we might choose to live our own particular lives, while imagining and dreaming of what kinds of lives may be worth living can clarify everything. The pandemic offers us all an opportunity to engage in a kind of critical aesthetic experience, allowing us to not only see lives as they are, but also to see how lives came to be lived in a particular way, and thus how lives could live otherwise. Taking this opportunity seriously requires nothing less than a total abandonment of everything that governed and organized our lives up to this point. Only then will we be capable of beginning the interminable process of learning to live, think, care, act, love, struggle, and build new lives and ways of living together  definitively beyond the logic of the pandemic and the world that preceded it.