The invisible norm

On the merits of the proclaimed epidemic of these months, authoritative but so far little or not at all definitive words have been spent, always waiting for a "definitive" to be given in the things of science. As for the method, however, it was easier to identify the latest metamorphosis of an uninterrupted crisis that for at least twenty years has been calling for exceptions to the ethical and legal precedents to resolve emergencies that cannot be addressed every time with the tools of the former. If we attempted a taxonomy of the exceptions condensed in this short period, the current one would fall into the case of the terrorist attack . Not so much for the terror that already integrates the phenomenology of the emergency, but more for the products proper to the connected reforming moment: instilling fear of neighbor as bearer of invisible and deadly risks → reinforcing surveillance devices → limiting the freedoms that pertain to physical sphere.

The extraordinary measures taken from time to time in the era of perpetual crisis always leave an irreversible sediment in the law and in the perception of what is ordinary. And in this they push each time higher the platform on which the subsequent exceptions will be grafted, in this qualifying not already of events, but of reactions to events as incrementally "unmatched", even in their version so far the last do not escape the rule of every latest version, that is to overcome the previous applications in every possible dimension.

The first product on the list is reflected today, I would say in a radical way, in the device of "social distancing" which makes the denial of proximity and its commandment (Mt 22:39) a general rule. The increase in surveillance (second product) has translated into an deployment of public forces for the first time aimed at sanctioning daily movements everywhere and for everyone. Both products converge instrumentally on the third, wider and in progress , of the segregation and control of citizens in the physical space.

The habituation to the myths of digital and economic dematerialisation, of a reality that is always reproducible without constraints of space and speed in the electronic ( digit , see fr. Numérique ) and monetary numbers has weakened in the contemporaries the awareness of the primacy of the body on ideal productions . The words that today express the seat of thoughts and emotions – spīrĭtŭs , ănĭma (gr. Ἄνεμος ), psyche (gr. Ψυχή ) – all originally indicated the physiological medium of breathing. The modern root pneu- it was instead for the ancients the πνεύμα : soul, vital breath, Holy Spirit (Heb. רוח , breath). It is relevant to observe how the emergencies of the last season have particularly raged on this metaphysical crossroads, first criminalizing the gaseous waste of the respiratory movement (CO 2 ) and then overturning the divine spiraculum vitae (Gen 2,7) in a deadly breath to be imprisoned and hide behind a mask, like an obscene affront to life. In the protests that shake the squares today, his denial has become a slogan to recite on his knees: "I can't breathe".

When the body dies and exhales its last breath, the soul flees and "returns" to heaven, ceases to exist in immanence and transcends, without however dissolving the dialectic that makes it alive and possible in the limbs. The Christian history of salvation culminates in becoming flesh of the same divinity and the resurrection of his body which is given in the Eucharistic memory, anticipating the "resurrection of the flesh" of the Symbolum . Tertullian explains in De resurrectionis mortuorum :

Meat is the cornerstone of salvation. In fact, if the soul becomes all of God, it is the flesh that makes it possible for him. The flesh is baptized, so that the soul may be washed away; the flesh is anointed, so that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is marked on the cross, for the soul to defend it; the flesh is covered by the laying on of hands, so that the soul may be illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, so that the soul will be satisfied with God. Therefore they will not be separated in the reward, since they have been united in the works.

Abstract representations live and die in the physical space of the organisms that produce them and transmit them to other organisms. They proceed from the perceptions of the sensory organs and continually betray their ancestry by structuring themselves according to the metaphors of the physical world ( Lakoff , Johnson ). So electronic devices and networks, like philosophical, political and economic conceptualizations – primarily money – do not scratch the physical constraints of reality nor those of perception, which on the receiving side of the cognitive funnel remains the same as one hundred or fifty thousand Years ago. They do not create new anthropologies but they are at best best, in some cases useful, in others in the way, or disabling.

Humanity and body therefore place themselves in a relationship of ontological identity, so to speak primary, which widens secondarily to the remaining realities in the measure in which they manifest themselves to men through the senses. It is therefore necessary that the governing devices of the human being, as an individual or in community, tend ultimately to govern their corporeality. Or, to put it the other way round, that the guarantees of the person in corpore precede any other guarantee for the obvious reason that an intangible right cannot be given without the materiality of a holder and the material conditions for it to be enjoyed. Everywhere in the world the most important laws are imposed with the deterrents of physical confinement or even the physical suppression of the offender. The "habeas corpus" of the Magna Charta Libertatum (1215), one of the cornerstones of modern constitutional civilizations, guarantees the defendant's physical integrity and the legality of his imprisonment: not a value, an ideal or a project, but his body.

The tendency of moderns to abstraction and to the already Gnostic contempt for matter is paradoxically unspiritual because it drags them into the dead end of their fantasies, of what has died and therefore has no spiritus , does not breathe. The tendency to be guided by -isms, by thought systems, by labels, by good or bad idols, by the "true" meanings of words and history, by scientific models, by the economy, by the exchange value applied to use and to the extent of creation, from symbols that become a thing and tesserae that become everything, this trend can also explain the advent of a power today that goes directly to the physical root of its subjects without almost encountering resistance. Who uses the bodies, scrutinizes them and denounces them to seize them and extend his dominion over the intermediate stations of economic subsistence, heritage and quality of life, to aim at life tout court .


Let's go back to the news. At the end of March, the passage of an interview given by the executive director of the WHO Health Emergency Program which suggested the need to "go look at families to find people who can be sick, remove them and isolate them in a safe and dignified manner" (my italics). After one month from those declarations, the President of the Province of Trento Maurizio Fugatti announced that he had submitted to the Minister of Health the problem of the poor adhesion of the "positives to whom we ask to leave his family" to spend the quarantine in a hospitalization facility and , therefore, to evaluate the introduction of a regulatory instrument which forced them to do it . A few days later also the President of Tuscany Enrico Rossi he would have called for "government intervention" to overcome the risk of an unconstitutionality of an ordinance "establishing a quasi-obligation [?] of isolation in a health hotel" for mild or asymptomatic patients. Still, a week later the conductor of a well-known television broadcast asked Stefano Bonaccini (Emilia Romagna) if he intended to hire "trackers who go to see the contacts of the positives and [if he had] places to keep infected in quarantine". Answer: «we go to find them house by house … we have more than 70 specialized mobile units that run throughout the region, province by province, to go looking for those who, in that housing condition, are not able to protect their family or cohabitants ». House by house.

In the meantime, the " virus detectives " doubled in Rome with the task of tracing positive suspects and their contacts, even with inspections of homes and interrogations without witnesses ("the first rule I tell my collaborators"), to put them in quarantine waiting for the diagnosis. Not surprisingly, the number of those who refuse to undergo tests in order to not end up in the limbo of a detention without guarantees grew and continues to grow. The same script was repeated abroad. In England , for example, "people who come into contact [with a positive] will be … imposed a two-week quarantine, even if they have no symptoms and even if they have already contracted and passed Coronavirus " (my italics), with a simple phone call from the authorities and also anonymously.

It is natural that the restlessness of a population that in these dynamics finds the entire repertoire of criminal justice: from suspects to investigations, from interrogations to arrest, up to detention in prison or under house arrest. Without however understanding what the crime is and who the judge is, nor how the guarantees of habeas corpus can therefore be applied. To interpret this leap of dominance, it is not enough to recognize the result of a particularly severe application of the medical quarantine, but one must ask the reason for that extension and whether, in its production of the typical fruits of a method of governing people rather than diseases, it is not encroaching into much more cardinal and profound areas than the health sector.

In "criminal medicine" everyone is guilty until proven guilty, and even beyond any evidence to the contrary. On the central but scientifically controversial issue of the healthy carriers the postulate of a sick naturaliter humanity was erected and therefore always candidates for suspicion, repression and pre-trial detention. Since the danger lurks in men as men , then only an extrahuman intervention, that is, that comes from processes unrelated to their condemned bodies, can defuse it. The vaccination relied on, however far equally controversial in scientific reality, it becomes the only possible liberation in the symbolic projection, the "definitive solution" (thus our Minister of Health ), "The medical sacrament corresponding to baptism" ( Samuel Butler ) to be administered preferably at birth to adjust creation and cleanse the original vice of being made of flesh, that is, men. Thus the biblical reference in which the body ad similitudinem Dei factum becomes for the inhabitants of Eden an object of shame only after to have committed the original fault. Not because of sin, but because of sin (Gen 2,25; 3,7).

The reversal of the role of medical art in society, and therefore its destiny, is among the most toxic by-products of these regulatory and enforced applications of the health motive. Alongside the historical and natural conception of a medicine sought by men to preserve and improve their living conditions, the idea that its remedies and notions should instead be imposed on the recalcitrant people makes its way. The inversion involved is not a technical one, but an anthropological one, because it underlies a destructive and self-destructive, unnatural and grotesque if not demential vision of the human being, as can be the idea that a person with a high fever wants to put on a bathing suit for sunbathing on the beach, and therefore you have to intercept it with the thermoscanners . It is a vision that eats contempt for the human being, disqualifies him from the rank of a beast incapable of discerning his own good, dangerous for himself and for others and therefore always in need of a severe master who will mortify her even in the most basic instincts, from sociability to affections, from mobility to leisures. If the demos cannot survive without chains, if they cannot even take care of their anatomical singularity, then any hypothesis of democracy is denied at the root. And if the doctor-patient relationship conflicts by overlapping the external domain of legal coercion, the natural therapeutic alliance is broken and medicine ceases to be a desirable resource to become a threat to escape, as we evade the serological tests today . The result of this loss of confidence is a progressive removal of the population from the remedies of medical science at least in its authorized and official forms, such as this is already happening in part , with incalculably more serious health consequences than it is said to ward off.


On a political level, it is useful to refer to the broader concept of biopower theorized by Michel Foucault , which gives its normative force on citizens' lives by leveraging the cornerstones of collective health ( social médecine ) and of devices for controlling and confinement of bodies ( Surveiller et punir , 1975). In today's events, there is a convergence or quasi-overlap of biological bodies with the social body so that the indiscriminate and indefinite pathologization of the former makes normal the practice of immobilizing the latter and subjecting it to the perpetual scrutiny of the panopticon. The emergency is no longer an emergency: it becomes homeostasis and freedoms are derogations to be released by grace ("we authorize"). Using the terms of a famous Husserlian dialectic, the citizens' Leibers , their physical and intellectual identities ( Eigenheiten ) and their experiences of the world compress and tend to cancel each other out in an underlying biological Körper that is indistinctly unreasonable and therefore always threatening for the social good. .

As an appendix to the reflections of the French philosopher, Nikolas Rose observed how the "molecularization" of life ( The Politics of Life Itself , 2007) has shifted the object of biopolitical governmentality to cells and atoms of bodies in our century and, in doing so , has transcended them together for the inherent transmissibility of microorganisms and genetic kits. In other words, he made it invisible, or even better, he abstracted it in a system of descriptive and forecasting models. In our case, "asymptomatic positivity" is once again the scientific-rhetorical point that completely subtracts the norm from the control and verification of the subjects. Unlike other socially excluded conditions – poverty, deviance, crime, belonging to discriminated ethnic groups, full-blown diseases etc. – that which justifies the general repression today can mark its subjects without leaving any mark. It can manifest itself in chemistry but not in the clinic, on the display of the thermal cycler but not in the experience of the bodies, in the molecular sub-world but not in that of the senses, hiding and go "to sleep" from one season to another like the cells of terrorists. The location of its full reveal cannot therefore be the hospital wards but rather the number of bulletins, forecasts and simulations. Freed from the requirements of sensitive perception, it spreads more ductile in big data and in their selection and representation which, like all statistical syntheses, are neither neutral nor accessible to the mass response.

Anyone can have committed the viral crime without knowing it and especially without being able to know it, except at the cost of enveloping themselves in the coils of a Kafkaesque "justice" that centralizes and seals diagnostic tools, makes them inaccessible to private citizens, grants them or denies them without apparent rationality, it delays its execution, it does not dissolve i doubts about their reliability , authorizes the test to trade which he does not recognize the validity, in short creates a smoke screen around the evidence with which he imprisons the defendants without trial, neither defense, nor appeal. And anyone can commit that crime inadvertently, at any time and in equally uncertain ways because they are announced, retracted, updated and denied continuously by the expert community, on almost every issue: from the survival of the extra-corporal virus to the recommended distances, from the contagiousness of those who it has no symptoms to the usefulness of the protective devices, from the actual existence of the danger to the probability of its return. The invisible crime subtends the invisible norm to protect itself from an invisible enemy who, if it is not physically accessible to the senses, goes into the category of spiritual representations (here also in the etymology, transmitted with the spiritus ). He is a shrewd tempter who deceives consciences and perverts them with the promise of ephemeral pleasures – the "movida", a handshake, an embrace, a barbecue with friends – and must therefore be driven back to hell with the ascetic arsenal of abstinence , enclosure, renunciation of possessions, respect for liturgies (distancing, ablutions, hygienic vestments), discipline of self and others.

That such a system creates the conditions of arbitrariness is neither an illusion nor a prediction of the writer, but results from the facts. Among the wide links of its contradictions there may be a ban on running and celebrating a funeral but not on gathering to commemorate the Liberation. It is forbidden to distribute unleavened bread in the church but not the Arab one at the supermarket counter (see Mt 4,4). You can reopen discotheques but not universities, distribute swabs to VIPs but not to doctors, point the finger at cash ( which does not contaminate ), put cages in children (who do not get sick), gabellate a flu vaccine for differential diagnosis. In uncertainty, ideological inclinations and the agenda dear to those who hold the bridle gallop, with the added advantage of segregating all that remains.

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Il Pedante at the URL on Wed, 17 Jun 2020 08:10:48 PDT.