Concentrated that we are on this virus whose violence induced by its contagiousness amazes us, we obscure in our hemisphere, the terrible Australian incendiary summer which has finally subsided. Do we really imagine: in early March, we could finally say that there was no more new fire since July? Where in our memories are the hectares of Amazon forest gone up in smoke from January to August 2019? So far, ecological reality has been silently degrading and yet in spectacular proportions (Charbonnier, 2020), helped in this by brutal land colonization initiatives (100 million hectares of tropical forest cut between 1980 and 2000). The century is 20 years old, and the intensification of hurricanes, storms, the reconciliation of heat waves have only further exposed social and spatial vulnerabilities.
Nothing new, it has been written a thousand times the incidence of intensive monocultures, confiscations, expropriations of land to extract bitumens, shale gas, and any other fossil resource (Bednik, 2016), and a thousand other times global warming… from Théodore Monod in 1941 to… Fred Vargas in 2019 via the Silent Spring by Rachel Carson published for the first time in 1962. In January, then in March 2019, the thousands of people gathered for strikes for the climate did not say anything other than this link between this economic system (capitalist or neoliberal) and the deterioration of our social, environmental and health conditions.
The industrial societies that have become our daily environments in the northern hemisphere have bet on the dissociation between what would be natural and what comes from human production, this famous nature-culture discontinuity. This fragmentation of thought, of the conception of human activities, hierarchizing them, gave free rein to any enterprise of domination, and with, of colonization, space as beings: the argument of "nature" sufficient to claim the domestication and civilization of its indubitable savagery and to sever all connectivity of humanity with its environment.
Isabelle Stengers sums up this legacy: "(The world) that we know is intrinsically the result of colonization, the regulated cutting of colonized lands and the destruction or enslavement of their inhabitants. But it also happened in Europe, with what the English call enclosures. Here as elsewhere, destruction has taken place in the name of progress, by establishing a property right which is above all a right to exploit, extract, abuse and undo all interdependencies. (Stengers, 2019; 18)
How does it relate to the virus?
We know that this rupture, in addition to having undermined biodiversity, without doubt irreparably, has produced fertile ground for pandemics (Grandcolas and Justine, 2020).
The coronavirus wave was caught short by its speed of spread and for the first time, the world finds itself facing the same period of contamination. The decrease in time-distances not only accelerates the journey of the world, it makes the pandemic almost synchronous in every region of the globe. So here we are at this crossroads between modern capitalist globalization where borders are erased in front of financial flows and bristle in the face of migrants left to their death in the Mediterranean or in the mountains, and the archaism of epidemics whose l he privilege remained that of the countries of Asia, even of Africa, but incompatible with the West of the XXIst century, so sure of him, that he lost nothing of his colonialist self-esteem. Nothing new here either, as we know that the structure of thought and of center / periphery organization is intimately linked to capitalism, since it is precisely at the source of this colonizing system.
Yet the system is pitching … The violence it puts in its counterattack is commensurate with its fear.
So far, the choice of competitiveness and attractiveness has exacerbated competition from regions, from territories to territories, and has adapted it to technological developments. The fragmentation of production processes and their relocation was one of the effective drivers. The hyperconnected space has been smoothed, standardized to the point of being an ideal market (Cluzet, 2007). Proximity to intermodal transport platforms quickly became a key location factor for the storage of different types of materials and products, and for logistics and assembly companies. Then the development of digital information and communication technologies has strengthened these places by offering rapid exchanges. Industry, yet the only source of nourishment for the overconsumption of goods and therefore financial flows, belonged to the "old world". These places technologically equipped to make possible virtual exchanges already favored economically were made even more so by the political decision of the beginning of the 2000s to consolidate their competitiveness at the expense of other territories, resulting in strengthening spatial injustice.
Economic flows in the context of the acceleration of the globalization process exist more than ever by ignoring the geographic and therefore urban substrate. The urban and then metropolitan spaces created in the context of an over-accumulation of capital can in turn disappear as soon as the technological capacity to accelerate information flows allows it on a global scale (Harvey, 2012). The disconnection of workplaces from territories, the distancing of places of prime contractors and places of production make metropolitan spaces outside of any geographic context. Metropolises constitute a kind of archipelago, each of them is disconnected from its environment. (Luxembourg, 2015)
The manifest insufficiency of materials (medicines, masks, respiratory devices, etc.) observed in all the countries of Europe or North America says the same thing as the lack of foreign seasonal workers on large farms. The use of differences in labor law to produce at lower cost and increase the possibilities of shareholder remuneration, in its short-term vision is responsible for the current vulnerability of populations. Until then, the development of globalized capitalism has used the planet and its inequalities to disseminate production while maintaining the ever-increasing productivity necessary for growth.
In a few days, the coronavirus has made this whole geopolitical organization fragile, as Eva Illouz points out.
And this is precisely where the violence of capitalism is played out.
That the Brazilian president decides to push back the confinement, as did before the political leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France… is not only a moral defect which, on a stroke of madness, would have made prefer disease, death, to the common interest of good health, well-being. The contradictory injunctions of the French government asking at the same time as staying at home, the most precarious workers, the unemployed (technical or not) to go to work, lending a hand to the agro-industry and this without much attention to the rules health security testify to nothing but the violence of the capitalist system which fears not to earn as much. The possibility of extending weekly working time to 48 hours (back to before the law of 1919 and its decrees of 1926) or 60 hours (which has not been done since 1926) in certain sectors (declaration by the Ministry of Labor of March 24, 2020 ) goes in the same direction and this "at the same time" that European companies distribute the record dividends corresponding to the year 2019. This cruel and violent irony has not yet (but it will not be long), the increase in working time and the number of unemployed people.
What is at stake here is the ranking of financial centers in the global competition after the health crisis. The violence of political decisions is all the more virulent since it is a question at least of consolidating the economic base already acquired, at best leaving "victorious" of the crisis, of annexing some more spaces. Of course the epidemic reveals in its raw nudity the unequal system which is ours, but, perhaps worse, it says its will to be more and to make it worse.
Bednik Anna, 2016, Extractivism, Le Passager clandestin, Lyon.
Cluzet Alain, 2007, Liberal city, sustainable city? Responding to the environmental emergency, Ed. De l'Aube, La Tour d'Aigues.
Grandcolas Philippe and Justine Jean-Lou, "Covid-19 or the pandemic of mistreated biodiversity", The conversation March 25, 2020.
Harvey David, 2012, Rebel cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution, Buchet-Chastel, Paris.
Luxembourg Corinne, 2015, For a habitable city: space-time as a democratic issue, Ed. Le Temps des Cerises, Montreuil.
Monod Théodore, 1941, "Man's action on the climate", African Notes, IFAN Chronicles No. 9.
Rose Deborah Bird, 2019, Towards ecological humanities, Wildproject, Marseille
Stengers Isabelle, 2019, Resist disaster, Wildproject, Marseille.
Vargas Fred, 2019, Humanity in Danger. Let's tack, all!, Flammarion, Paris.