Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Ruminations 100(3) (The Year of Olokun; The Virus in and as Object, Symbol and Meaning): Looking Back on 2021 in Epigrams and Aphorisms


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Eyo Olokun masquerades at the Eyo Festival in Lagos, Nigeria

 For the last several years, and with no particular purpose other than a desire to meander through reflection, I have taken the period between Christmas and New Years Eve to produce a s summary of the slice of the year to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms.  It follows an end of year  tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here), 2017 (for these see here), 2018 (for those see here), 2019 (for those see here); and 2020 (for those see here).   

At the start of this year I noted, in passing on the Annual Oracle of the Ifa practitioners of Cuba, that this was to be the year of Olokun (The Orishas Speak: The 2021 Letter of the Yoruba Association of Cuba (Letra del Año para el 2021 de la Asociación Yoruba de Cuba) and My Preliminary Interpretation).

Olokun is effectively ungendered, or multi-gendered--Olokun is male or female or male-female, or not male or female or male-female. Olokun "is." He can be revered as the head of all of the manifestations of divinity connected with water and is thought to guard vast wealth at the bottom of the seas where Olokun takes residence. But that is the essence of Olokun--dark, submerged, the holder of treasure, androgynous or gender multiple.  The Patakis speak to Olukun's sense of mutual respect but also of his temper in the face of affront.

"Awa ntoro ilosiwaju lowo Olokun" (We seek prosperity from Olokun); and this year it is not coming. 

And, indeed, the year proved to be just that, a year of longing for things that could not be, of of rage for the things that had befallen. This was a year of submerged and violent temper, of the breaking of things, and people, and of the fluidity of people, places, things, and events. That rage proceeded from the top as well as form the bottom. It was a year of confinement--and of passion. It is the spirit of the oceans and the subconscious--and also the year that plague became institutionalized and its practices deeply embedded in the consciousness and practices of social ordering. That that produced rage--submerged for the most part, but rage all the same --chained and unchained, and of storms and tempests.  But it was also a year of binding. Populations confined, economies bound, and for those willing to bear its chains, the great wealth of the oceans, expressed not just in the fabulously expensive boats of those who managed to profit through global confinement, but those as well who forge and maintain the chains that now bind those who produce their wealth (material wealth, as well as the wealth flowing to those weave the narratives that bind collectives). And around all of it--rage.  

And it is in that spirit, the spirits of 2021, that the epigrams and aphorisms that follow are offered. In this part 3 we look at 2021 from the perspective of virus. One speaks here not merely of the microorganism that  makes its home in the cells of its hosts, sometimes causing great discomfort or death of the host. They are parasites that are not considered alive except when they couple with their hosts and yet they have an extraordinary ability to live with and through their hosts (sometimes), and to live out their lives by consuming their hosts (at other time). But a virus is also the ephemera it produces in its host, and it is an unconscious and uncontrolled passion--for replication, for life. The year 2021 saw much that went viral--it  multiplied its essence at an astonishing rate--and sometimes it overwhelmed. That was 2021, a viral infection in every sense.  But it is possible that the virus is not the "other." and that what is a host in one case can be a virus in another.  And, indeed, the virus, the pathology of human parasitism--one that could complete itself only through insertion of its replicating fluids in a host, was also much in evidence in 2021. In all these senses, this was indeed the year of the virus, of infection, and of succumbing to viral infection or resistance. It was also the year of viral mutation and of the development of new livable synergies between classes of viruses and their hosts. The world emerges from these viral encounters. The object--virus--has erupted from out of its physical vessel to become the instrument of signification for the age.  Virus signifies the uncontrollable, the fatally fruitful, the chaotic, but also the dissipation of energy directed only toward a base desire, of the fatality of survival instincts, and of its detritus. It touches social relations, the human body, and its relationship to the world around it. Humans are the virus that may kill the planet the way that COVID-19 is the virus that killed the post 1945 global social order. Ideology is the virus transmitted through humans the way that mosquitos transmit disease onto the bodies politic that then produce the phlegm of political response.  As symbol it invites an imposition of meaning that contextualizes its forms and behaviors into the descriptor of the age--corruption, the uncontrollable, the id.  And the irony, of course, is that people and their collectives have become each other's virus, producing an all (self) consuming viral orgy in which everyone and everything is both virus and host.


1. In an age of pandemic, the most appealing political metaphors are viral and the most potent virus is political.

Techno-authoritarianism poses a serious threat to traditional notions of privacy, democratic governance models globally, and the future of an open and free internet. The Chinese government’s embrace of mass biometric collection technologies underpins the most pervasive surveillance state the world has ever seen. The Chinese model of extensive censorship and surveillance continues to spread to governments with poor human rights records that repress and control populations through technology made in China. This hearing will look at the human rights and strategic impact of the technology of mass surveillance and censorship as employed and exported by the People’s Republic of China, including its use in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and efforts to influence and shape digital and telecommunications rulemaking and standard setting in international bodies. (Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Techno-Authoritarianism: Platform for Repression in China and Abroad, Conference Statement
17 November 2021)).

2. A virus as object is a small thing which drives its power when it becomes something else--a mass body that amplifies the unity of its members and in so doing gives them meaning and potency.

 As about 50 people dressed head-to-toe in black stood in a standoff with Portland police blocking a parking lot behind Benson High School, several parents and coaches from a youth soccer program on the nearby field walked up to see what was going on. What are they marching for?” one soccer mom asked. The anarchists, antifa and activists seemed at times to question that themselves.Who set this (expletive) up?” Reese Monson asked over a megaphone as the demonstration got underway two hours earlier outside Revolution Hall. A voice in the crowd yelled back, “We don’t have leaders.” Those meeting on Inauguration Day outside the Southeast Portland music venue carried on what has become a cat-and-mouse call for disruption in the city over the last few months – a vestige of Portland’s summer protests that often devolved at night into clashes with police. The latest iteration has wrought extensive property damage recently in downtown and Northeast Portland, including indiscriminate window-smashing. (Maxine Bernstein, "‘What are we marching for?’ Protesters and observers wonder alike in Portland,"  (21 January 2021))

3. Every virus is distinct and has its own markers, its sign; these physical markers develop symbolic power connecting the flesh of the virus with its environment and by which it is signified and makes itself meaningful.  

The shirtless, horn-wearing man who was one of the most prominent of those involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection was sentenced in federal court in Washington on Wednesday to 41 months in prison. Jacob A. Chansley, 34, was also ordered to pay $2,000 for damage to the U.S. Capitol. He will get credit for the 317 days he’s already spent in jail. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said Chansley’s remorse was “genuine” and “heartfelt,” and called Chansley’s lengthy apology and remarks “the most remarkable I’ve ever heard in 34 years” as a federal judge. But he said Chansley’s obstruction of the function of government was “horrific” and “so serious that I cannot justify a downward departure” from the 41-51 months recommended under federal guidelines. . . Chansley pleaded guilty Sept. 3 to a felony charge of obstruction of an official proceeding. He admitted being among the first 30 rioters to push past police lines and enter the Capitol. Chansley used a bullhorn to “rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out,” his plea says, before entering the Senate gallery and leaving a note saying, “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.” Chansley told a Capitol Police officer that Vice President Mike Pence was a “traitor” and refused repeated requests by officers to leave. (Robert Patrick, "QAnon Shaman’ gets 41 months for Capitol riot," St Louis Post-Dispatch (17 November 2021)).

4. The statistics of pandemic, and its modelling and predictive analytics reminds us that though the virus may be managed its statistics cannot be contained, that is a virus that may be expelled to survive again in other shapes and other forms; its rage and desire, its signification, outlasts the object in which it may be encased.

Germany is predestined to exemplify the gradual division of an entire society, of how a ‘politics of fear’ combined with a media strategy of ‘fear induction’ govern political decision-making, and how security understood as the elimination of any ‘virological health risk’ becomes the fulcrum point of the current political strategy to fight a pathogen. Meanwhile, officially available leaks show how, already at the beginning of the crisis, German politicians instrumentalized wrong predictions of millions of deaths within months, only to shift power towards an executive monopoly. This is not new regarding epidemic prognostics. . . But the situation is more complex than that. The Hospital Financing Act that was passed on November 18, 2020 was intended to compensate hospitals for losses incurred due to the ‘pandemic’. However, hospitals only received the money if they had at least 75% intensive care unit utilization. And lo and behold: since that very day, intensive care beds were constantly dismantled and built up so that the utilization rate was at least 75%.At some point, even politicians like Sahra Wagenknecht were beginning to wonder where over 4000 intensive care beds have actually disappeared to within the statistics since November 2020. Economists simply call this a ‘false incentive’. At the same time, the eight-month long lockdown (November 2020 – June 2021) was legitimized by the very lack of available intensive care beds: we got stuck in a self-made dead-end, in a perverted perpetuum mobile within a discourse of pure quantification. So, despite the fact that we had no lack of intensive care beds, but a politically caused ‘false incentive’ for new areas of profit-making, the ‘triage dilemma’ was permanently instrumentalized as a constant imminent danger that can hit anyone. (Alex Jenda, "When a Virus Mutates with Ideology: Fear-Mongering for the ‘Wellbeing of the Neighbour’ ," The Philosophical Salon (1 November 2021))

5 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: . . . 6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,  7 And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus. . .? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. 8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. 9 And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. 10 And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. 11 Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12 And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. 13 And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, . . . and were choked in the sea. (Mark, 5:1-13).

5. The image of a thing is more real than its physical manifestation; bodies are props for a virus that strips the flesh from its believe in the reality of flesh, from its significance --it reminds us that all that is required is to believe, to record, and to project a thing to make it real.

"More and more I feel that the barrier between real and virtual sports is becoming small," Hayakawa said. "Through this initiative (by the IOC), I think more young people will become familiar with the joy of baseball." The virtual gaming industry has seen a surge of growth during the pandemic, according to the IOC, with a 30 percent rise in gamers and 75 percent increase in gaming usage. The market was worth an estimated $159 billion in 2020, it said. With a range of esports tournaments already in existence along with sponsorships, the field is also seeing the emergence of highly paid gamers. Some universities and colleges are even launching their own esports curricula. The IOC, which was forced to postpone the Tokyo Olympics last year due to the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, has shown itself willing to embrace a field in which it can expand its reach without any need for the esports athletes to travel or for the host cities to build costly extra infrastructure. In a new reform strategy roadmap covering five years beyond 2020, approved in March, the IOC said for the first time that it would "consider the addition of physical virtual sports in the Olympic Program in cooperation with its respective International Federations." It said the body will also "encourage the development of virtual sports and further engage with video gaming communities." By "physical virtual sports," the IOC refers to types of games that use equipment and entail physical activities such as a player riding on a fixed bicycle or a rowing machine. For the virtual series, competitors in the cycling and rowing events participated by digitally tracking their physical movements at home. (Junko Horiuchi, "FEATURE: IOC weighs addition of pandemic-boosted virtual sports to Olympics," Kyodo News (24 June 2021))


6. Viruses give the body of its host what it wants most, even if it may be the last thing it will be capable of wanting.

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"Amazon has updated its Alexa voice assistant after it "challenged" a 10-year-old girl to touch a coin to the prongs of a half-inserted plug. The suggestion came after the girl asked Alexa for a "challenge to do". "Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs," the smart speaker said. Amazon said it fixed the error as soon as the company became aware of it. The girl's mother, Kristin Livdahl, described the incident on Twitter. She said: "We were doing some physical challenges, like laying down and rolling over holding a shoe on your foot, from a [physical education] teacher on YouTube earlier. Bad weather outside. She just wanted another one." That's when the Echo speaker suggested partaking in the challenge that it had "found on the web". The dangerous activity, known as "the penny challenge", began circulating on TikTok and other social media websites about a year ago."  ("Alexa tells 10-year-old girl to put penny in plug socket," BBC News (28 December 2021)).

7. Where hosts and viruses constantly change position it is hard to identify the virus, the host, and the harm without an orienting compass of context and meaning.

"A USA Swimming official who resigned in protest at trans athlete Lia Thomas has said she is 'destroying women's swimming.' Cynthia Millen stood down last week after working for the presiding body for more than three decades saying she could 'no longer participate in a sport that allows biological men to compete against women.' Thomas, 22, who previously competed as a man at the University of Pennsylvania for two full seasons, is now dominating the women's field and smashing records. NCAA rules mean she can participate because she takes testosterone suppressing drugs. . . She explained that from a young age girls and boys do not compete against each other because males have physiological advantages which are only accentuated through puberty. 'The fact is that swimming is a sport in which bodies compete against bodies. Identities do not compete against identities,' Millen said. 'Men are different from women, men swimmers are different from women, and they will always be faster than women.'. . Millen said that 'no matter how much testosterone suppressing drugs he (Thomas) takes he will always be a biological male and have this advantage.' . . 'All these women who worked so hard before Title IX when they didn't have the opportunities that men had. It would be such a shame, such a travesty to throw it away now. This is what will happen,' she told Fox." (Ross Ibbetson, "'The statement for women is you do not matter': USA Swimming official who resigned in protest of trans athlete Lia Thomas says she is 'destroying women's swimming', Daily Mail (28 December 2021).

8. Pandemic (as "legion") is the condition of scarcity; and scarcity is rage's predicate.

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In a video posted to YouTube in February, a teenager named Alita panned her camera in a Havana grocery store to show aisle after aisle of neatly stacked, identical yellow bottles of cooking oil—and not much else. “Oil, oil, oil, oil,” she says behind her mask, laughing at the absurdity. “Since they didn’t have anything else they said, ‘Let’s put out all the oil we have’…but I need something to fry in it. I don’t know what we’ll do. I guess we’ll fry air.” Large refrigerated sections of the supermarket were all completely bare. “Oil, water, rum, and salt,” her mother said with resigned exasperation. At the end, they left with four bottles of cooking oil and a cleaning rag.. . . The pandemic’s blunt impact on Cuba’s economy, already struggling under the Trump-era tightening of sanctions, has brought the island to the brink of its worst food shortages in 25 years. Empty supermarket shelves, the crippling pandemic and recent access to social media allowing Cubans to openly share their outrage all helped lead to Sunday’s rare protests against the communist regime. Thousands marched in Havana and other cities to protest the lack of food and COVID-19 vaccines, with many demanding an end to the 62-year-old dictatorship, chanting “Freedom!” and “Enough!” Social media posts showed some protestors overturning police cars and looting supermarkets. Cuban security forces cracked down, arresting more than 80 people, including some well-known activists and dissidents.. . . “It was only a matter of time. Frustration and despair had accumulated, and this Sunday the streets exploded,” dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote, describing how the “spark from San Antonio de los Baños,” where the protests began, had “ignited in the dry grass of social anger.” On Instagram, Cubans across the world shared an image that said in big white and red letters “Asking for help isn’t a crime, denying it is.” (Vera  , "Food Shortages, COVID-19, and Instagram: The Driving Forces Behind the Cuba Protests,"  Time (12 July 2021))

9. A virus is always hungry and produces hunger all around it; some of it connected with food. 

Britons are many times more likely to have experienced shortages of food and fuel than people in half a dozen EU member states, according to a poll. Global supply chain problems prompted by the pandemic have disrupted the international trade network since the summer, with transport backlogs combining with labour shortages to create scarcities of various goods around the world. The government has argued that the shortages are part of a worldwide pattern and no worse in the UK than elsewhere, although logistics experts and other professionals – particularly in the food sector - have said the problems are amplified in Britain by a shortage of east European workers, including drivers, since Brexit. The YouGov poll showed residents of the UK were multiple times more likely to have experienced, or to know people who have experienced, shortages of food and fuel than people in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, and somewhat more likely to have experienced them than those in the US. (Jon Henley, "Food shortages hitting Britons more than many in EU, poll finds," The Guardian (22 December 2022))

10. Virus  (as "legion") locks down cells; those lockdowns are all the more potent within the cells of human organization; for the jailor it is a good time to be alive. 

“Vietnam probably does a third of all apparel production [for the US],” said Jana Gold, a Senior Director with Alvarez & Marsal Consumer and Retail Group in Washington. “Of all countries to get hit with Covid, it really impacted the industry,” she said. Many factories asked workers to stay on site to comply with government rules designed to minimise infections – a policy that has since been dropped, including by Quynh’s workplace, which allowed her to commute from home again by November. . . The real crisis, though, has been felt by the workers – many of them internal migrants – who power the country’s factories. In July, when Covid cases escalated, a severe lockdown was imposed across industrial areas, banning people from leaving their homes, even to buy food. Hundreds of thousands of workers moved into factories through an arrangement known as “three-on-site”, where workers sleep, work and eat in their factory. By October, roughly 300,000 workers were doing so in Binh Duong province alone. For workers whose factories closed down during lockdown, there was no alternative but to stay in their rental rooms, in limbo. They were unable to earn a living, yet prevented from returning home to their families. . .When movement restrictions were lifted at the beginning of October, many workers decided they had enough, and left industrial areas en masse. Motorbikes, strapped with plastic bags bursting with belongings, flooded the streets. As many as 90,000 fled Ho Chi Minh City for their home provinces on the first weekend alone, according to state media. . . Factories now face significant labour shortages because so many workers have left. Many are expected to stay home with their families at least until the Lunar New Year holiday. (Rebecca Ratcliffe and Nhung Nguyen, "Asia’s factory workers at the sharp end of the west’s supply chain crisis: Migrant workers ate and slept in factories swarming with Covid, sealed off from outside world," The Guardian (23 December 2021))
11 .A virus leaves its host permanently affected; it is the settler that changes forever the space in which it now occupies along with what was there before.

In the face of an enduring shortage of computer chips, Toyota announced this month that it would slash its global production of cars by 40 percent. Factories around the world are limiting operations — despite powerful demand for their wares — because they cannot buy metal parts, plastics and raw materials. Construction companies are paying more for paint, lumber and hardware, while waiting weeks and sometimes months to receive what they need. . . . Just as the health crisis has proved stubborn and unpredictable, the turmoil in international commerce has gone on longer than many expected because shortages and delays in some products have made it impossible to make others. At the same time, many companies had slashed their inventories in recent years, embracing lean production to cut costs and boost profits. That left minimal margin for error. . . A giant ship that became lodged in the Suez Canal this year, halting traffic on a vital waterway linking Europe to Asia for a week, added to the mayhem on the seas. So did a series of temporary coronavirus-related closures of key ports in China. The world has gained a painful lesson in how interconnected economies are across vast distances, with delay and shortages in any one place rippling out nearly everywhere. A shipping container that cannot be unloaded in Los Angeles because too many dockworkers are in quarantine is a container that cannot be loaded with soybeans in Iowa, leaving buyers in Indonesia waiting, and potentially triggering a shortage of animal feed in Southeast Asia. (Peter S. Goodman and Keith Bradsher, "The World is Still Short of Everything: Gert used to It," The New York Times (14 November 2021))

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