Covid regime (in Foucault's meaning)
The medical regime on Corona oppresses other voices - EJI's awakening after its deep Corona-slumber
By Götz Kaufmann, 2022-01-22
After February 26, 2020 when the first Corona wave hit Germany, the Environmental Justice Institute fell into deep slumber but is awakening in face of a supposed end in sight.
A key issue with the Corona pandemic is rooted in the regime (in Foucault's meaning) that took a hold on the discussion. Not only in Germany and in the U.S. but all over the world the peoples learned that the medical discourse on the topic - in the shape of expert talks - almost immediately overwhelmed any other approach to the topic. Meant by this is the neglect of any consideration of equal footing related to intersections in society that are to deal with the direct and indirect impacts of the desease, such as educational injustice, social hardship, gender inequality, racial inequality, mentally or physically challenged people, and the fight for democratic (human) rights.
Governing parties could live very well with this regime as it had the positive side-effect that also critical voices raised on corruption charges (#Maskengate in Germany) couldn't break through. The governmental discourse fed by medics didn't even allow actors to complain about governmental actions that give billions to big companies like Lufthansa to save them from bankruptcy but destroys the economic foundation of many. Their action hashtag #allesdichtmachen (#closeeverythingdown), #niewiederaufmachen (#neveropenupagain) and #lockdownfürimmer (#lockdownforever) sparked immediately acccusations arguing that criticism of governmental measures is equal to supporting right wing extremists that demonstrate around the world to end democracy.
Both medical staff and academia played an infamous role in this. Medical staff rushed to defend the government trending #allemalneschichtmachen (#everyonetotakeashift) suggesting that the actors that criticise the government were not understanding the pressure nurses and doctors are under. Academics from social sciences didn't come to the actors' defense but first remained silent. No word from social scientists to oppose the truly weak data base until today of medical professionals to governmentally employed medical experts in order to challenge the governmental regime. After the 'upraising' was quelled, they came up with the hashtag #IchBinHanna (#IAmHanna) claiming that there are not enough positions for people who took the bait to graduate with a PhD. They even made it into Germany's prime media Tagesschau:
As they are entitled, middle-class people too should complain and protest against hardship in their life. The acadmics in the news above argue that they had to finance the remaining time of their PhD relying on governmental welfare, and the support of their parents. Needless to say that working class people who rely on welfare do not have the luxury to use this for finishing a degree but will be asked to quickly take any other, even lower paid position. Instead of using their voice and priviledge to support people truly suffering from hardship, academics too chose a path of self-centered criticism that was never meant to challenge the dominant discourse. Baptized in self-perceived exceptionalism, they too turned a blind eye to the main antagonism in society: social class.
A second discourse was able to establish its voice next to the governmentally led, medical discourse: the voice of Corona deniers that assemble under their roof known conspiracy theories like QAnon and Querdenker in conjunction with enemies of democracy like German Reichsbürger, neo-fascists and right wing extremists who now lead the U.S. Republicans and the German Alternative für Deutschland. Instead of progressive voices that raised alarm for the deprived, extremists were able to establish themselves as the critical opposition. The named Corona deniers are always a minority but a loud one, and in the United States have the priviledge of support by a former President, the Republican party including the RNC, big corporate donors, influential individuals, and super PACs. The danger this poses to democracy and to the model that the U.S., against all odds, still is for many countries in the world, is propelled by the aforementioned regime that did not and does not allow for any other arguments but the one that the Covid threat to health is to be the first and only.
People died during the insurrection on Jan 6 in Washington, people die because postponed medical operations couldn't take place, people die from suicide caused by depression coming from months and months long quaranteen and self-isolation, people die but only those dying from or with Covid are heard. A generation of highschool students suffered, suffers, is suffering and will suffer from the measures taken to protect us from the pandemic because they did not get the education they deserve and need. No one raised the voice for them, not even #IchBinHanna (#IAmHanna). The damages we have not even begon to calculate. Who counts the incidence of these literal and figurative deaths? The only voices we are hearing in opposition to the government is the reactionary front and the sounding silence of the academic elites.
While all this was happening, the 10 year anniversary of the NSU murder series took place in Germany, almost un-noticed. Victim families critisized that the investigation was not supported by Germany's secret service that was deeply involved. The victim family's attempt to be heard was drowned in daily news of new incidences and new Corona variants. They also were victims of Corona, unheard, even though school classes tried to make their demands known:
What we are seeing today is even more frightening. The shift of the U.S. Democrats to the left was predicted in our news on November 14, 2016 and undeniably took place in the U.S. but at the same time, the political right took an even more extreme turn. U.S. democracy is in decline revealed in the recent vote of Democratic senators Sinema and Manchin to block a change of the filibuster rule in order to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Vorting Rights Act they actually support during Martin Luther King week.
In Germany, the federal election was nothing less than a referendum on who is to pay for the governmental Corona loans as high as € 250 billions. The Social Democratic Party, in power already before together with the Conservatives (CDU), won handily but the biggest winner were the liberals from the FDP. The liberals' proposed tax cuts for the rich will put the costs of a pandemic that at least partly was due to unconstrained market forces in the globalization on the shoudlers of the deprived. The only party whose main objective was to help the poor - Die Linke - and to tax the rich was almost voted out of parliament, and plays nearly no role in the current legislator's term.
To sum up, the challenges of the pandemic are certainly of medical nature. There, however, is more to this. The narrative - Foucault calls it the regime - is dominated by health concerns as if the pandemic hits all of us equally. As with Environmental Justice, this is not true. While priviledged classes like mainstream academics and high level medical staff are only centered on their self-interest, and don't challenge the structural inequality that led to the pandemic when costs like health risks are externalized for private profit gain, other people are more and / or more likely affected. The true blow of Corona is what is yet to be assessed and come. Injustices in the system have deepened: unequal access to education in schools, gender pay and care gap, racism, LGBTI*Q issues, personal challenges of all kind but first and foremost social inequality. The deepening of differences did not start with Corona but Corona might be the tipping point where climate change, erosion of democracy, and class fights result in a dismantling of the society and freedoms we cherish.
The cause of the divisions in our society that is now challenging our way of life is "either you give orders or you take order":
If we don't come to terms with this statement, we fail as academics in our duty that results from our priviledge to study. As Karl Popper put it: "Each academic has a special responsibility. They have the privilegde to study for which they owe their fellow human beings to reveal the results of their studies in the most simple, clearest, and most humble way." This means today more than ever to speak truth to power.
Recalling John Dryzek's criteria for critical policy analysis that were adapted for critical environmental justice research, we are tasked with revealing the tunnel vision of (medical) research, to differentiate our research from dominant discourse, to collect and provide the relevant data, and to name relevant stakeholders who bare responsibility.
This was the awakening call that brought the EJI back to life to be a voice for the voiceless.
Image: © Environmental Justice Institute