Kritische Blicke auf die Coronakrise und ihre Folgen
Kritische Blicke auf die Coronakrise und ihre Folgen

Popular Belief and Fake News

Translation of:

Sergio Bologna: Credenze popolari e fake news, 2021.

Back to the Middle Ages. That’s how someone defines today’s age, which is populated by beliefs that used to be called “popular beliefs,” spread via social networks and the many “wisdom sources” with which gurus and prophets of various origins earn their bread. That Covid-19 is a flu no different from the flu waves that have been occurring every year for decades is just a typical “popular belief” of today. Gradually, it has evolved into a movement, the “no-vax movement,” which now not only has an international character, but is also at home in the great current of neoliberal extremism that we saw at work in the attack on Capitol Hill. It makes no difference whether you say that Trump won the U.S. presidential election or whether you say that Covid-19 is ordinary influenza. Except to change the name of “popular belief” and call it fake news. I say neo-liberal extremism because if you think about it, the idea of absolute individual freedom as a denial of responsibility towards third parties has as the other side of the coin the denial of public service (which is the institutionalization of responsibility towards third parties). The no-vax party believes it has the right to infect others and denies its responsibility to third parties. To disguise this “selfish” decision, it denies contagion. In reality, I know many no-vax people who worry about infecting others and get tested every two or three days or isolate themselves, living semi-isolated lives and limiting themselves to meeting people with whom they share opinions (they are often privileged people who can afford it and remind me a lot of the “refugees” of the last war). They are people who restrict their own freedom and who don’t usually go out into the streets shouting “freedom, freedom!”.

So there are strong distinctions within the no-vax universe, which is why I suggested from the beginning that the individual no-vax should be distinguished from the “no-vax movement” that took to the streets under the guise of the no-green-pass protest. At first I reacted badly, confusing the complexity of these manifestations with an anti-fascist simplification. Then I became more and more convinced that the critical dimension (or the trap) that these marches represented was much more about union struggles and the so-called “antagonistic field.”

In the case of trade union struggles, the example of the dockers of Trieste is a textbook example, because they are waged on the ground of certain defeat, of struggle to the bitter end. A form of struggle that, in union culture, was always considered a loser or reserved only for those who had nothing left to lose. A struggle that, contrary to the logic of “holding out one minute more than the boss,” does not know when it will end. A fight that does not ask itself what it wants to “bring home”. The great twenty-year cycle of struggles that marked Italian history from 1960 to 1980 began with the strike of 70,000 electromechanical workers in Milan under the victorious slogan “hold out one minute more than the boss” and ended tragically with the 35-day struggle to the bitter end at Fiat. The fight to the bitter end turns defeat into disaster. This is history. Do we learn nothing from it?

It is quite different with the participation in these marches of the so-called “antagonistic sector”, which in some cases played a driving role, because if we trace back the events of its emergence – and for this we have to go back to the end of the 1980s/beginning of the 1990s – we can clearly identify different constituent strands. One is the resilience of political currents with a long tradition (anarchists, internationalists, operaists) that remain firmly anchored in systems that, although limited by the constraints of ideology, are nevertheless rational systems. Another is that which has arisen from the various processes of “contamination” (a term dear to Primo Moroni, who knew how to grasp with acuity and foresight the short-circuits that can arise between youthful states of mind and cultural currents mediated by art forms such as music and literature, and fed by beliefs, magical-esoteric thoughts, and irrational urges). Over time, these have partially eroded “political” thought and reduced it to the mere form of anger, annoyance, antagonism, always determined by the opponent’s project and never by one’s own. Politics reduced to “no.”

When this “no” refers to a delimited and defined area, such as the construction of a useless tunnel under the Alps, the movement still manages to maintain its political profile (deciding on a different transport policy through a different planning of infrastructures presupposes having an idea of the industrial policy of a country, a problem of no small importance). Wherever the “no” or antagonism becomes an impulse or an outlet for social and individual discomfort, it must, in order to legitimize itself, resort to allegorical constructions and many of those irrational, magical-esoteric means that can lead a given antagonistic territory to become confused and enmeshed in the neoliberal extremism of the QAnon conspirators.

What impact might this redistribution of cards caused by the pandemic and the measures taken to contain it have on labor relations and, more generally, on the forms of social conflict or the expression of dissent?

Trade union struggles as an expression of the fundamental relationship between capital and labor should be less susceptible to mystification than manifestations of social conflict or the expression of dissent. There is no guru, prophet, or influencer who can mystify the relationship between capital and labor. Everything else is an unknown. The great powers of our time, Google or Amazon, capable of managing Big Data, have explicitly set themselves the goal of changing our brains, and I fear that the first result they achieve is the loss of collective common sense. Otherwise, it would not be possible to explain the ease with which certain beliefs can be enforced or the absurdity of certain behaviors. Nor is the disappearance of the sources of authority that were the churches or parties sufficient to explain this. The statement that the future is a great unknown at this level is therefore almost a banality.

In the chaos of the present, in the confusion of languages, it is fortunate to find something solid to hold on to. In the context created by the pandemic, I think some generations have been fortunate to learn about the research efforts and proposals of the public health movement, which, not coincidentally, began by studying epidemics, was closely linked to the labor struggles of the 1970s, and protected millions of people from the risks associated with workplaces, work methods, and the organization of work. She thought about how best to organize the health care system to avoid these and other risks, such as those associated with epidemics. In doing so, it has come into constant conflict with Big Pharma and with one of the most pronounced and bitterly vested interest systems. However, it has systematically taken action that has left its mark on major research institutes, local communities and public health institutions. Without the work of this movement, people would still be dying from asbestos, to cite just one example. There are not only ideas here, but also concrete experiences to deal with. It’s a valuable legacy that can still be held onto to avoid being swept away by the waves. It is a good and useful thing to involve young people in this experience that they have not yet had. It’s better than getting into a discussion with a no-vax.