Giorgio Agamben has been publishing a philosophical chronicle on the responses to the Coronavirus Epidemic for the past couple of months. His articles keep getting worse and worse. Here is his latest thought piece on « Medicine as Religion« . I feel sad when I read his texts. A rudimentary ethics of care has risen to prevent undue deaths being caused by the corona virus, and all Agamben wants to do is to stamp it out as « totalitarian ».
There is a curiously abstract aura to Agamben’s interventions. In this new text, Agamben once again makes no mention of the hospital emergency services being flooded with too many cases to handle. Instead, he brandishes the principle of an abstract freedom, that in the concrete case of the epidemic can only amount to the freedom to infect and to be infected.
MEDICINE AS RELIGION
In the name of this freedom to be a link in the chain of contagion, sickness and death he denounces the rise of medicine as a « religion ». Conflating the institution of science with the ideology of scientism, Agamben condemns our trust in science, our trust in medicine as subjectivations of our submission to the rising hegemony of medical power.
In fact, what Agamben calls a « religion » is not so much medicine, as he seems to think, as mathematical models. He appeals to the empirical warmth of being with, of being close to our friends and family. He can find no reason to limit our freedom of movement if we cannot see and touch the projected movements of the virus. All such limitations are but forms of violence. For Agamben, conviviality has no tools, it is a spontaneous élan.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Agamben misreads the signs of our response to the virus, just as he previously misread the symptoms, comparing the new Covid-19 disease to the common ‘flu. In this text he has silently dropped that comparison, turning to a specious analogy with « cardiovascular diseases ». Agamben sees the obligatory practice of isolation, social distancing and masks as signs of a violence done to us by the State under the thrall of the religion of medicine. He cannot see them as pharmaka, dangerous poisons if uncontrolled, curative therapies if guided by medical science.
TOOLS FOR CONVIVIALITY
For Deleuze, nothing is given, everything is tooled. He taught us the equivocity of signs and analysed the variable use of distance as a tool to avoid the ever-present threat of « demolition ». The presence of the epidemic requires a new signification for the same signs, in some cases distance is the best sign of friendship, love, the care of freedom.
CONCEPTS AS TOOLS
Agamben does not have conceptual tools appropriate to the new situation, and he seems incapable of inventing them. Whatever his « beliefs » and values, beliefs and values are not everything, he has now fully entered the (deconcepted) Trumpocene