Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Social distancing and social change

My friend, Kofi, is a postman. He told me he’s working harder now, because there are more parcels to be delivered, since people stuck at home are ordering more online to cope.


Steve Latham


Another friend, working in the online fashion industry, furloughed under the government’s scheme, observes people are now buying ‘loungewear’.

Instead of self-presenting in public, we’re doing so in private, or rather online – if civilisation collapses, at least we’ll look good.

So, our favourite way to cope with the crisis appears to be shopping. As the saying goes: “When the going gets tough, the tough go – shopping.”

Despite the increase in some activism in response to the virus, there are fewer avenues, and little appetite, for collective action, agency or subjectivity.

Alcohol sales are also up, as we attempt, through buying and booze, to cope with the psychological price of the pandemic.

Karl Jaspers’ concept of the “Boundary Situation”, the edge or limit state, where we face the choice between despair and meaning, was developed in response to World War Two and the holocaust.

But it seems outmoded today, as we’ve identified a third option – entertainment. And our isolation contributes, as even those still working have to stay put when they finish their shift.

This isolation, however, is a logical development of the isolation in late-capitalist society. As Marx noted, all intermediary solidarities are dissolved, until we lie naked under the cash nexus.

In February, before Coronavirus hit, The Guardian contained a report that our sense of community had declined; which was blamed on our use of social media.

Larry Elliot, in the same issue, however, observed this continued the trend discovered twenty years earlier by Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone”, chronicling the decline of community groups in the US. Social Media merely intensifies, and extends, the already-existing socio-logic, through technological advances. The anomie, alienation and anxiety had already begun.

After all, I had left my hometown, for the big city, many years previously, abandoning family and friends, and the possibility of life-long relationships, for the transient friendships of London.

There’s a theoretical analysis of the lockdown in Giorgio Agamben’s blog, where he employs Elias Canetti’s concept of the “crowd”.

However, social distancing produces an “inverted crowd”; not a “dense crowd”, but a “rarefied” one.  Communicating online, as we sit at our terminals, is a terminal condition.

It is the genius of capitalist modernity to simultaneously atomise and massify us; a collective isolation, or an isolated collectivity.

Only reduced to our Lowest Common Denominator can we be successfully integrate into the “Control Society”.

As Michel Foucault pointed out, control is greatest where it’s internalised within the subject; so that productivity is greater when we work from home, as now.

And, while there will be an explosion of socialising when lockdown ends, the longterm changes will continue: via conference calls, and office cubicles replaced by individual pods, our apartments.

Thus we shall approach the state, described by Charles Taylor, as a ‘discarnate’ humanity, separated from ourselves, and our bodied connectivity.


(Photos: Pixabay)

Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *