Don’t trust your feelings in times of quarantine

[Niklas Eder] Tuesday, April 7, 2020

While packing my stuff to leave New York City, I am thinking about the statement that Peer made in his earlier post:

„The crisis reveals the often hidden, more often swept-off-the-table and silenced calamities of the neoliberal destruction of the welfare state”.

It has something reassuring to talk about the crisis as an event that „reveals“. Revealing entails passivity. Revealing means that nothing actually happens, we just elevate our understanding. Passivity is great, especially when it comes to a virus which has killed thousands and has put millions out of jobs. If the current crisis reveals something about the welfare state, it doesn’t really effect it but only portrays it in a novel light. How nice would that be, I am thinking as my suitcase fills up, and how far from the truth, from my experience it is. For a moment, frustrated and disappointment over the abrupt ending of my stay, I fail to be optimistic and constructive like Peer. The destructive power of this virus does not make halt before the welfare state, I am thinking. The thought circulates in my head as if it wanted to curse the burning land that I’m leaving. For a while, I am trying to understand where this thought comes from but I have trouble articulating reasons which justified it. Confronted with my own incapacity to formulate an argument, I realise that the thought did not originate in an idea, but in a feeling — the erosion of trust, which the current crisis has caused. A welfare state presupposes trust. Trust in the government meaning that one can rely on the fact that the government will act well informed and reasonable. Trust in democratic processes, meaning that governments who do not act well informed and reasonable will be held accountable. Never had I less trust in a government and less faith in the democratic processes of a country. Never had Americans less reasons to trust its government and its democratic processes. The ideological slogan of neoliberals has become a stark reality: You cannot trust the state. The state cannot protect you, you have to protect yourself. What has been based on normative arguments before, on trust in the market, on the insistence on freedom and the spirit of the settlers and whatever not, can now be based on experience. What an incredible triumph for those who have, as Peer has so eloquently pointed out, caused the decline of the welfare state in the first place. After decades of neoliberal agitation, it turns out that the claim that you cannot trust the state can be best understood as a prophecy which fulfilled itself. The distrust does not so much originate in state officials’ incompetence, ruthlessness and unfaithfulness. The distrust originates in the fact that the people is not likely to hold elected officials accountable for their failures. In the crisis, the president’s approval ratings went up, despite the fact he is regarded to have profoundly mismanaged the crisis. This crisis does not only reveal the implications of neoliberal destruction on the welfare state but it is part of the process itself. It lets people lose faith in the capacity of the state to provide for them. What a terrible statement I have developed, in response to such an uplifting piece by Peer. In times of quarantine, you should probably not trust your feelings.

Niklas Eder | New York | April 7, 2020

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