COVID-19 Questions Our Civilization Model

Horacio Machado, Conicet

SOURCE: Bajo el Mismo Sol, Radio Nacional Córdoba, Argentina. Interview with Horacio Machado Aráoz, PhD in human sciences, Conicet researcher with the Ecología Política del Sur team. Transcript translated into English by Awasqa.

HORACIO: It is a pleasant surprise for you to call me on this topic.

FABIANA: Did you expect me to invite a doctor instead?

Thinking epistemically, this society would certainly ask, what is this social sciences person doing, talking about a health issue? We have a hard time seeing how the health of our bodies is deeply intertwined with the health of our land. As well as how this regime of social relations, established as our way of life, is the great variable that intervenes in our health and diseases, on planet earth and in our bodies.

Philosophers and sociologists have been predicting it for a long time now, this systemic crisis.

Effectively. This pandemic has become a big socio-ecological problem, a crisis in itself of the health system, of our bodies and the earth, but which can also be interpreted as a symptom of a greater crisis, a greater illness. One that’s linked to a civilizing model that runs counter to life itself.

In China, beyond the anecdote of the bat, Wuhan is what they call a kiln city for its production. Because they have steel kilns, cement kilns, and it’s one of the most powerful and most overcrowded industrial cities, including the workers. This has to tell us something, don’t you think? Or that in Italy the health system collapsed despite it being a first world country.

What you said is key and very illuminating to the analysis, to help us understand what is happening. Because people say we are facing a natural disaster, an epidemic whose trigger seems to be a bat, a zoonotic disease, and we therefore call it a natural disaster. When in fact, we’re hiding what is truly worrying: the industrial origins of the coronavirus.

The coronavirus is not caused by a bat but has to do with the links between exacerbated, ultra-accelerated, and rampant industrialization and urbanization, and how this is impacting the climate system in general.

It’s creating and has already produced drastic changes in the geographic ranges of wildlife.

There are a whole series of mutations and changes in the location, mobility, and demographic concentration of humans, non-humans, mammals in general, and wildlife as a whole, which are linked to the progression of this hegemonic way of life, which we generally call development or progress, and that is driving a drastic suppression of wildlife, the removal and deforestation of large areas, native forests, and habitat defragmentation. All of this is producing a series of transformations that is at the heart of the matter.

Indeed, Wuhan was the epicenter of the great Chinese acceleration, a growth that took place in the last decade. Except for the last two, three years when China decided to slow down its growth, the country has been growing at a rate of above 10%.

Wuhan is a city of more than 11 million inhabitants and at the epicenter of China’s construction industry. The entire steel and cement industry infrastructure, linked to the construction, real estate development and road infrastructure, have taken place in Wuhan. It is like a window showing the history of the hegemonic urban-industrial society in a short period of time. Therefore, it is no coincidence that Wuhan has been the epicenter of this disease, today turned into a pandemic.

Many folks feel uncomfortable, meaning social and political organizations, around the issue of staying at home when we have a country with a history of military dictatorship. Those instructions coming from the state generate a certain resentment. How do you analyze it, how do you see it? How does it make you feel?

Indeed, at the root of the problem we have a civilizing model that has constructed a geometry of links contrary to the system of life.

The problem lies in the matrix through which we conceive and establish our connections and our relationships. We think from an individualized logic, and the system tends to think us that way. So there is a problem in the subject of closeness, personal contact and bonds, now understood as a vector of contagion, and distancing or isolation, as its prophylactic measure.

But the truth is that life processes have to do with collaborative processes and the connections established. Or in terms of the food chain, the flow of energy and matter that make life possible.

And capitalism, this urban-industrial society, is a great fragmentation machine, as a great geographer out there once described it. We are no longer conscious, or we have been losing consciousness, about the extent to which our life is entirely dependent on the collaboration with our neighbors. Not only of our species but of the life system, of planet Earth as a biotic community that exceeds us and contains our species and all species as a great family.

This system, therefore, has built a relationship matrix based on an atomic, fragmentary logic that has made us lose sight of how life is actually a communal phenomenon. That is, it depends on the community of bonds that make us participate in the life system.

Life is not an attribute of individuals. All of our lives are connected. Now a small microorganism, perceptible only through microscopes, comes here to tell us that we are connected, that no matter how powerful, omnipotent and omniscient we think we are, it shows us the fragility of our life system.

A small microorganism has paralyzed the planet.

So we should think of this as a great opportunity to redefine how we are conceiving our bonds. How we are contemplating our lives, and how deep the roots of what makes us living beings go.

Interesting. That is, we are interconnected and need each other in order to survive.

We are in a society in which, let’s say, we have been badly educated to connect and link to each other through screens.

Hopefully this shutdown will make us feel again the need to be in touch with the source of life, to hug each other, to touch each other, to feel with our own skin everything that makes our organisms healthy living beings. From the act of breathing to the act of hydration, help us see how our body is intimately linked, in communion with the biosphere as a whole, with a community of living beings.

I believe that this paralysis, this interruption can be seen as a great therapeutic act.

Many analysts are seeing something that has been very evident: how the paralysis of the economy has been a moment of ecological recovery. Places emblematic of pollution have recovered in a few days to show clean air, a transparent atmosphere. And this has to tell us something.

In other words, how is it that our economy, when it grows, it destroys and degrades our quality of life, going against our own health? There is something wrong. That divorce between economy and ecology is telling us a lot.

Moreover, in the paralysis, in the interruption of the “normality” of this life, there is a great practice of healing. To stop is to heal, we are being told.

And I would say there is also a pedagogical lesson here, because one could say and play with this: classes were canceled, but there is no learning in an educational system that is part of a great machinery that teaches us and trains us to live as exploiters of the earth. To a great extent, the educational system trains professionals to intensively exploit the land.

So when classes are canceled, we could see this as a great opportunity to learn from another school, a school of life systems.

We really need to face this great civilizing challenge, meaning, to stop inhabiting the Earth as exploiters. Rather, how can we coexist with other companion species that are part of our living conditions? That is the great challenge ahead. It is a great opportunity how this pandemic, despite the mournful balance it leaves behind, sheds a light of hope that hopefully we can take advantage of.


Fabiana Bringas

Fabiana Bringas

Periodista, locutora, madre, co-conductora del programa “Libre la que ríe” de Radio Nacional Córdoba. Argentina.

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