«Everything must change so that everything remains the same,» asserts the rebellious nephew Tancredi to appease his uncle, the Prince of Salina, The Leopard of the homonymous novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. This iconic text of Italian post-WW2 culture, which chronicles the struggle of the Sicilian aristocracy to survive in the face of civil war and revolution, is a compelling reflection on the dynamics of historical change. Today, however, Srečko Horvat, in his introduction to Everything Must Change!, a collection of interviews with contemporary thinkers about the world after the Covid-19 crisis straightforwardly refuses the Leopard’s dictum: «Everything must change so that nothing remains the same».
The editors of this timely book are political activists. Horvat, a philosopher born in Croatia, is a co-founder of DiEM25, a pan-European movement that aims to democratise the European Union. Renata Ávila, a Guatemalan international human rights lawyer and author, is a member of DiEM25’s Coordinating Collective. The interviews were made from March to July 2020 as part of the online TV channel DiEM25 TV: The World After Coronavirus, but this book brings no recipes or ready-made solutions. On the contrary, it is an adventurous proposal to seize the Covid-19 crises as, in the words of Saskia Sassen, «an invitation to think».
«Everything must change so that nothing remains the same».
Sassen, an expert on cities, immigration, and states in the world economy, suggests we see the virus as a sign «that we have crossed the limits of a system…that this is no longer just us, the people». We call it the virus, but it is, says Sassen, an actor in our lives. « If it had arrived three hundred years ago, it wouldn’t have functioned in this same way. Our mode of dealing with it — to hide from it, withdraw from it, and kill it — is very particular.» The virus is not only an actor, it is the superior actor, capable of making us do things, of altering things. It is «enabling us to recognise our flaws and the poverty of our endeavours,» teaching us about the importance of knowledge, of collaboration and also that, «besides the arrogance of those with power, there is also the possibility for the powerless to experience this as an opening, as an ‘aha’ moment».
For those who are mostly concerned about self-isolation, this book is a reminder that this is a luxury and privilege for many. According to Vijay Prashad, the executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we must not exaggerate the privilege of those in Europe or the United States. Recent data shows that 40% of American households cannot meet an emergency costing $400 or more. Similarly, one in three Europeans is unable to meet such an emergency expense. However, according to Prashad, who created a plan to focus attention on the people, it doesn’t have to be that way. Contrary to neoliberalism’s claims that the state and its institutions are authoritarian or problematic, Prashad argues for more public institutions and more pressure to be put on governments from below. To build more public health and more public control of pharmaceutical companies, but also to fight large-scale structural unemployment and precarious employment by introducing a universal basic income. Prashad is convinced that there are «sufficient resources already existing in our societies» to do this. As of 2016, «there is an estimated $36 trillion sitting in tax havens.» By introducing «capital controls that force people to keep capital within their tax jurisdiction» and «a wealth tax» we can accumulate the resources we need «to produce a social, decent society, not this kind of criminal society where one virus is able to paralyse us».
Shoshana Zuboff, professor at Harvard Business School and author of a best-selling book on The Age of Surveillance Capitalism also believes that right now, more than anything else, we need institutions. As we communicate through platforms like Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook, we are feeding these systems, making them more powerful and ourselves weaker with each interaction. They know everything about us, we know very little about them. This, in the words of Zuboff, «epistemic inequality» means exclusion and division, which amplify economic inequality. But such «epistemic asymmetries could only constitute themselves in an environment absent of law,» so we need «to create the institutional forms and laws that will interrupt and outlaw the economic logic that produced this inequality.»
For those who are mostly concerned about self-isolation, this book is a reminder that this is a luxury and privilege.
But first of all, claims Zuboff, we must stop believing «that the future is always determined by whoever is, or appears to be, on top» because it is «unknowable». There is, however, one «overriding factor that determines the future, and that is us, the people.» What we do – that is what will make the future. No one knows the future, «until we know that part of the story».
Richard Sennett, sociologist and Senior Advisor to the United Nations further endorses the claim that the future depends on each of us. Recalling a personal history, Sennett argues in favour of anarchism, claiming that «anarchism is the aftermath of communism, rather than the precursor.» Diversity, not unity of views, is what we need for the future and Sennett underlines the importance of the concept of «heterotopia,» of social skills and of the need «to introduce more self-doubt, subject questioning, and ambiguity» into the political process. Because «being together doesn’t mean being on the same page.»
Save Julian Assange
Slavoj Žižek and Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters and Brian Eno, Tariq Ali, Yanis Varoufakis and several others also contributed to this precious book. Stefania Maurizzi, an investigative journalist and WikiLeaks collaborator, reminds us of one person that is missing, Julian Assange. How to cope with fake news is a crucial matter at the moment. The surest way to distinguishing what is true from what is false is to read original documents and the most important documents says Maurizzi, «are those that governments don’t want you accessing». Julian Assange is currently in prison «because he had the guts to publish what probably no one else did» and we absolutely must save him.