Finally, we arrived at the conclusion that it’s health, and not the economy, stupid! We are faced with the evidence that the way we envision health care affects everything. The limitations of the current approach unfold in most tragic ways.
From a political point of view, the pandemic revealed that the promise of safety does not hold. Citizens cannot trust the system anymore to protect them. It is not the fault of the incumbents and public employees. It is the entire system of production that loses legitimacy. It does not correspond to our needs and it does not protect us from such dangers as a pandemic.
When I say mode of production, it is not about surgical masks and ventilators. Certainly, some may have wondered whether it would be in the national interest to have national suppliers for medical equipment so that they can be mobilized in the times of crisis. However, the questions about how to respond to the demand for hospital supplies are irrelevant when it is too late. They just show that there were many more questions that needed to be pondered upon before the outbreak of the crisis.
We have arrived at the limits of masculine, technocratic utopias.÷ Living in the world of progress does not protect us from the problems of developing countries. The belief in medicine and vaccination exposes us to sudden and unexpected plagues. Pharmacological approaches can step in only after it is already too late.
What is a masculine utopia and why does it not work?
- Masculine utopia focuses on the solutions to the problems rather than asking why they appear in the first place.
- Masculine utopia believes in the power of technology and engineering to deal with the problems and often forgets about the side consequences of the solutions.
- Masculine utopia likes to enforce solutions through centralization of power ignoring the the limits of such an approach.
- Masculine utopia picks up certain bugs in the system to work on and does not look at the inter-dependence among different elements in the system.
- Masculine utopia focuses on rules, designs, and technology rather than on psycho-emotional and structural context of needs.
The theories about economy of scale convinced many that centralization in production is a good thing and a sign of progress. If you calculate the revenues for the few, maybe it does make sense for them but at high costs for the entire population.
COVID-19 sheds light on the limitations of the centralized supply. Amazon employees enjoying limited autonomy in the operation are forced to overwork, which undermines their immune system, and then they cannot protect themselves. Due to lack of adequate measures, they put themselves at risk and their families respectively. The damages to the local businesses that Amazon has induced now reveal themselves. There is more potential supply in neighborhoods and in conditions that the owners can control because they are in direct relation with their employees and customers rather than seeing them as an expendable crowd. If there would be a more de-centralized distribution system, there would be more autonomy in undertaking protective measures and finding creative solutions. More direct relations induce more care for another because of the inter-dependence between all parties.
The chicken processor Tyson, is reported to use a peracetic acid – an antimicrobial – as a replacement for antibiotics formerly fed to animals. Workers whose task is to spray this substance on carcasses experienced eye irritation, sore throats, headaches and sinus infections. A scientist suspects that it may damage lungs in long term exposure. An estimated 250,000 workers work with this sterilizer. The corona virus is particularly dangerous for them.××× Again, the perils of mass production are revealed.
When it comes to the necessities such as food, there are so many more questions to be asked in the context of a plague like this one. The lack of healthy food undermines immune systems. Caloric value, engineered by mass agriculture and centralized production, does not solve the problem, it only helps us survive another day. We cannot expect our bodies to deal with a malignant virus if they already have to deal with poisons in McDonald’s meals. Holistic thinking about food in the case of health and production systems is noticeably absent in technocratic utopias although it has been obvious for dozens of years that food matters.*
Imagine that each citizen would be embedded in a decentralized network of food supply, which I propose in my feminine utopia. Self-organization of a part of the production process or stable long term relations with food producers promise more resilience in the times of a plague. It is easier to adapt the production process to include new safety measures. For example, the co-producing peers may decide for separate shifts so that less contact is necessary. In Washington, DC, I participated in a network linking consumers and producers. We took our orders from a backyard of one of the organizers.
Many diseases treated by the medical system are preventable. We do not need to handle the consequences of obesity, stress, or loneliness but rather eradicate the factors contributing to them. If there would be more systemic reflection in thinking about prevention, hospitals would be available for real emergencies. This is what medicine should be for – acute cases. The rest can be solved by changing the conditions of living.
The philosophical underpinnings of the current system prevent the adequate dealing with the pandemic. It would make so much sense to get food supply under state control and redistribute daily meals to those vulnerable, while maintaining the operation of businesses. Giving temporary accommodation to those who may otherwise infect others, for example, the staff working in elder care would further protect the most vulnerable. This, however, would mean that food and housing are commons. Instead, governments are ready to pay for technological rather than subsistence measures, which does not touch upon the dogmas of private property.
The ongoing environmental damage is predicted to make humans vulnerable to further plagues. When biodiversity is on the wane, viruses have one particular species to live on – humans.
We should already start preparing for the next pandemic. This time, it may be made in India. In the region of Hyderabad, the pharmacological companies leak waste into ground and water.” We cannot imagine the viruses that are going to grow in this way. Using antibiotics in excess further contributes to strengthening viruses. One of the causes is the irresponsible prescription by doctors, which induces the development of viruses resistant to treatment – antimicrobial resistance. In India, 60,000 babies a year are estimated to die because of this phenomenon.× The main contribution to generating “superbugs” is most probably the practice of farmers of feeding antibiotics to animals as a way of making them fatter. Further imbalance in the eco-system is caused by irresponsible prescription of anti-depressants. Drugs in human waste enter the environment, which affects marine life by changing behavior of aquatic species and putting them in danger.×× In the UK, 7.3 million people were prescribed antidepressants in 2017-2018 according to The Guardian. In Australia, nearly one in ten adults takes anti-depressants.
These examples demonstrate that the cure in the hands of Big Pharma is actually worsening the health for all species. The future holds for us more stories of viruses and the limitations of masculine (dys)topias.
Naomi Klein warned that the quarantine may be used to increase the power of digital companies by strengthening the importance of their products and services in health and education. Coherent with her shock doctrine hypothesis that the periods of crisis are used by powerful actors to increase their power, she calls this shift the Screen New Deal. This development promises to further undermine the human resources in these crucial and understaffed services, whereas digital giants will accumulate more wealth.÷÷
Fortunately, there are other models than the centralized system of production. Initiatives within the framework of cosmolocalism have responded swiftly to the innovation needs of a response to Corona virus. Innovation in farming following the cosmolocal approach is implemented by Tzoumakers in Greece and L’Atelier Paysan in France.** And let’s not forget the growing movement of permaculture, community supported agriculture, buying clubs, consumer cooperatives, and small-scale farmers.
Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an author and educator. You can contribute to her crowdfunding campaign to help publishing the feminine utopia “Imagine a Sane Society” or other forthcoming Creative Commons books. Listen to an excerpt! She does not want her work to benefit Amazon because she opposes its practices.
÷ For more evidence of technocratic utopia disappointment, see Rutger Bregman (2017): Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
* Among earlier conceptualizations on the relation between food and immunity to tuberculosis, see: Weston Price (1938/2010): Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects. Oxford: Benediction Classics, p. 29. This book is in public domain.
“ Indian Parliament proposed restrictions in January 2020. Pharmacological industry representatives tried to water-down the constraints in March 2020. Andrew Wasley , Alexandra Heal , Madlen Davies (31 March 2020): Indian drug companies try to gut antibiotic pollution controls, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
× Aniruddha Ghosal (2018): This is India’s Action Plan to Battle Superbugs That Kill 60,000 Newborns Every Year, News 18.
×× Mike Mcrae (2018): Your Antidepressants Are Ending Up in The Environment, Bathing Fish in a ‘Drug Soup,’ ScienceAlert.
××× Mya Frazier (2020): ‘If one of us gets sick, we all get sick’: the food workers on the coronavirus front line. The Guardian, 17 April.
÷÷ Naomi Klein (2020): Screen New Deal: Under Cover of Mass Death, Andrew Cuomo Calls in the Billionaires to Build a High-Tech Dystopia. The Intercept, 8 May.
** Vasilis Kostakis and Chris Giotitsas (2020): Intervention – “Small and local are not only beautiful; they can be powerful”, Antipode Online.
Featured image: By Ambrosius Holbein – Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/8855bx, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41822513