MANIFESTO FOR AN AFTER THAT WAS BEFORE
Leonardo Caffo - April 2020
In 2017 I published "Fragile Umanità" (Einaudi) in which I argued that humanity had
collapsed and that our ecological niche, our "normal" life, would have succumbed to the weight of an epidemic, an environmental problem, a general mismanagement of resources. The fragility of Homo Sapiens was to be understood in two ways: (1) conceptually / we do not know what "humanity" really is, where the extension of this concept begins and ends, we do not understand which is the best model for human beings (for example: what problems could the Yanomami have from Covid-19? Isn't it a resource for them?); (2) objectively / we do not know when humanity will yield, having interpreted progress as a continuous push to stretch the limits and resources of itself and those of the planet.
The majority of the human society, having ignored the issue of fragility, now finds itself fighting against a virus: a battle that we will lose if we only act upon the effects (virus) and not the causes (the conditions allowing the existence of the virus). This type of society could survive, perhaps by finding a vaccine with a periodic booster shot within a few months or by radically changing the norms of sociality, for example, through periodic quarantines, or definitively collapse: the obviousness is that, in the scheme of things, survival and collapse are two very similar movements.If society survives now, it will collapse with the next epidemic or ecological crisis; if it collapses immediately, it could instead initiate a new paradigm for developing coexistence between the planet and the Homo Sapiens.
Ideas about progress that were considered obvious until some time ago happened to be a fatal mistake for the human species. The philosophies and technologies of the progressive matrix, convinced that we would have lived forever, rendered the planet into a heap of technology, urbanized the world by simply adjusting the co2 emissions, have instead definitively destabilized the possibility of a decent life for Homo Sapiens on the planet. These days, there is a recurrent use of the expression "return to the normal world" as though life before Covid-19 was really normal: social disintegration, poverty, animal exploitation, destruction of the environment, increasing harm to the planet and all things of nature, could perhaps appear normal to the small slice of Western humanity convinced that the last fifty years of widespread welfare was the norm while instead it was a perversion built on the back of wars on others, famine, exploitation of underdeveloped countries, and brutal elimination of diversity.
The unfettered development of globalization and technology have inflicted irreparable harm to the fabric of reality resulting in – we have endless names to describe this state of affairs from Anthropocene to Capitalocene – a very long period of painfully trying to mitigate the damage. We are at the dawn of this very long and painful period.
All of us have contributed, in our varying degrees of power, to the reduction of every living organism (life form) into an object of consumption. Animals and biodiversity have become food, they have been made into futile bodies on which to test drugs and vaccines by science, nature has been used as though it were an element external to us – yet we are surprised that a bat eaten alive may have blown up our ordinary life –, and social diversity and poverty have been institutionalized. Our world, which is collapsing with the awareness that it will not be the world that ends but only a kind of world, has avoided investing in things that would have been particularly useful today: universal health care, compulsory ecology, end to animal exploitation, end to the idea of nation-state and local citizenship. Today all humanity is united against what should have saved it: nature.
Obviously if the overall system collapses immediately the consequences will be extremely painful: none of us are really prepared to change our lives and this could inevitably lead to some sort of natural selection. To some sort of a new species. However, it should be clear to us, as the most radical philosophies have been suggesting for decades, that if the system tries to grow even bigger after Covid-19, boasting new periods of economic happiness to the detriment of ecology, the final result will not be the pain of many but the end of all. It is at this crossroads, for which institutional policy is completely unprepared, that we really find ourselves today.
It is not at all important to know when this will happen, whether it will be in ten months or ten years' time, what matters is an immediate awareness that no longer exploits collective ignorance (the real scourge to fight against) by talking about what it will be like afterwards, when the quarantines will end, how and how much we should prepare for reconstruction with joy. We all know that even if the Internet were to collapse due to overload in these days, the definitive collapse of sociality would lead to an unimaginable revolution.
Instead of mimicking our ordinary lives, with Instagram lectures or Facebook and Tik Tok parties, we should immediately educate people about the extraordinary: the countryside instead of the city, nature instead of technology, a life that is short and worthy rather than an unworthy and lengthy survival, the end of the use of time and the beginning of the use of life.
Closed in our homes, where even the closure in our homes expresses a problem linked to the class struggle we had ignored with the false myth of collective well-being, today each of us know that nothing will be the same as before: we are terrified of change, but it is equally true that perhaps no one had ever felt so alive as in this moment. A time to think, to read, to write, to love, but also to be depressed: to understand that what we called normal life was actually the condition that allowed for the possibility of this tragedy.
To understand whose fault it was is of no importance because evil is widespread; what matters now is to try to govern frailty by understanding that a certain kind of world no longer exists and that, as I wrote in Fragile Umanità, “a new kind of human” could come into the world.
In this cushioned society, from which we now feel pushed out, minimal effort was required in order to have everything: food, water, fun, travel. Probably, a new kind of world in which everyone will have to be the creator of their own lives in a different way awaits us instead: Will there be less of us? It’s possible. Will we live less? That is also possible. But then was the idea that technology would render us perfect and immortal false? That is certain. But then must we prepare ourselves to consider a multitude of finite pastimes to the benefit of achieving real goals? I’m afraid so.
In the following days and months the situation could get far worse: if science does not find an immediate cure, the closure of homes will lead to frustration, household murders, self-inflicted violence, alienation, madness and personality disorders. Everything we had locked away in our drawers, in the hope that “the engagements” in our agendas would save us, will suddenly resurface: we will have to be strong indeed, we will have to work for this world with the awareness that it is not we who design the real but the real that designs us.
These few pages are a simplification of an idea, developed by philosophers and intellectuals who were considered to be minorities for years, against technological enthusiasm, against the idea of a future that is always “better” than the past. Humanity today, fragile as never before, can enter a new evolutionary phase by considering itself unique and united without ethnic groups or nations, without divisiveness or egoism. Did we live in a world of comfort and certainty? Sure, but it was also a world filled with wars, violence, killings, massacres of biodiversity…certainly not the “normal world” to which we think we can return.
The habituality of practice has too often been a more powerful force than the only significant aspiration for a species like ours: freedom. Of course we will leave these houses but it won’t be to get back into a crowded tram in order to work twenty hours a day because, fortunately, that world will collapse today or tomorrow. We naively thought that we had immense power over nature, a power that was actually a quick path to self-destruction. So the question is this: how many other models are there for living in the world? Don’t be dogmatic and smile, these few pages are only an approximation for real questions that would require pages and pages; the future of Homo Sapiens is more similar to its remote past than the ideologies with which we have filled our pseudo-certainties.
I could be wrong, perhaps it won’t be the Covid-19 but Covid-25 that gives us this “opportunity”: but the time we have to reflect on and prepare ourselves for what’s been written is little. Let’s start now.
Leonardo Caffo - Philosopher