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Participants of Escapes from Modernity Online School Discuss Post-Coronavirus World

Participants of Escapes from Modernity Online School Discuss Post-Coronavirus World

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Experts, participants and moderators gathered to share their predictions about the future of the humanity after the pandemic. What paradigm will replace anthropocentrism? What will happen to globalization, consumer civilization, and megalopolises? How will the virus impact policy and democracy and what will post-COVID ethics and anthropology look like?

Escapes from Modernity is a project with a 13-year history, founded in 2007 by HSE University professor Sergey Medvedev. Since then, it has organized over 30 schools with hundreds of students. Traditionally, the schools take place in remote places, such as the Lapland tundra, the forests of Estonia, the Alps, and the Caucasus, where, far from the city rush, participants have delved into the problems of global civilization. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and border closures, it was decided to hold the meeting online.

The first online Escapes from Modernity school, ‘Coronavirus Civilization: How the Pandemic Will Change the World’, was organized by the HSE Centre for University Anthropology and Culture and Science Republic.

The online school, which was held via Zoom, resembled an intensive hackathon, but for the humanities. Over the course of 13 hours of non-stop work, the participants, which included representatives of the HSE student group, Science Republic, and humanities students, listened to and discussed the expert opinions of Professor Sergey Medevedev (Faculty of Social Sciences), Professor Kirill Martynov (School of Philosophy), and Visiting Scholar Oksana Moroz (Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design). The working groups also prepared and presented five projects that outlined the future of the post-COVID world in terms of politics, society, economics, anthropology, and geography.

Sergei A. Medvedev,
Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences

‘The Return of Nature: Bio-, Eco- and Thanato-Politics of the Pandemic’

The COVID-19 pandemic has become not only an epidemiological crisis, but also a crisis of modern civilization, where humans have been the main driver of development and change. The current pandemic is a sign of escape from modernity, which is characterized by humanity’s emancipation from nature and the latter’s localization in controlled forms, such as city landscape parks and reserves. In the 21st century, nature manifests itself in extreme climatic disasters, and the novel coronavirus (as one of the many viruses in the last two decades) is a sign that humans have infringed upon nature. The COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful signal from nature, a sign of a broken interface in the relationship between humans and the environment.

How will the pandemic change civilization? With COVID-19, politics is now in the realm of medicine, and medicine is now political. Statistics is becoming the main form of bio-politics, with political decisions being based on this data. Sovereignty is practically turning into a quarantine. Death is becoming part of everyday life: we are going back to the situation of a medieval pandemic. A political paradigm that is emerging that of thanato-politics—a hard ethical choice between saving lives and saving the economy.

And since the crisis is of an environmental origin, the exit from the crisis may also force us to turn our heads towards eco-politics: limiting our consumption, transitioning to renewable power sources, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle—it is quite possible that the exit from the pandemic is green.

Kirill K. Martynov,
Associate Professor at the Faculty of Humanities

‘The Power of Algorithms. New Political Subjectivity after the Pandemic’

During the pandemic, technological and cultural factors have accelerated the transition of the political system into a new state: political decisions are now made not on the basis of expert analysis, but on the basis of computational algorithms. Algocracy as a political system where algorithms play a key role in political decision-making is facing the problems of human autonomy: delegating political decisions to algorithms contradicts the western world’s basic instinct towards personal freedom. Some other problems include the crisis of algocratic policy’s legitimacy (particularly, in terms of algorithms’ transparency) and the crisis of the liberal state: as a security-providing structure, it faces endless opportunities of threat-detection algorithms. If the threats are countless, the state responsibilities are unlimited, too.

The key message is understanding the ambiguous situation: on the one hand, the pandemic, capitalism and technologies of the last 20 years allow us to get closer to a new political order (algocracy), but, on the other hand, it leaves no space for human decisions and the classical ideas about a political subject’s freedom and autonomy.

Oksana Moroz: ‘Self-Isolation, Quarantine, and the Emancipating Power of Media’

People’s views of quarantine from the standpoint of reality as a social pact may be hindered by various conceptual patterns. Each country has its own ‘power/knowledge’ dispositions relevant to their respective cultures: from recommendations (such as ‘self-isolation’) to lockdowns (preventive measures), and state of emergency. All quarantines look the same: they include limitations on movement and specific freedoms, but authorities’ decisions are not always seen as obligatory, which is sometimes the case in Eastern European countries. The quarantine practices demonstrate a trickster approach to the quarantine as a set of objective rules, or simply rules, that are subjectivized in the context of certain communities. Regulatory practices and their creation have been analysed on the basis of Polina Aronson’s publications ‘On the Margins of Quarantine’. The texts demonstrate the evolving contradictions of social facts, the attitude to authorities’ dispositives, disciplinary practices, and self-discipline, as well as media reactions to what is happening.

The quarantine is accompanied by total digitalization, which leads to changes in the balance of publicity and privacy, their customization, and their merging. Today, we can observe how the space is un-privatized: on the one hand, it creates the effect of closeness and human attitude to the subject, but, at the same time, this un-privatization is not comfortable. People are not accustomed to their shelter space being not only a working space, but something seen by the public.

What is the emancipating power of media? New media platforms and locations free us from bounds of quarantine and eliminate communicational barriers, but, on the other hand, they cannot free us of the ‘fourth wall’ effect and the feeling of remoteness

Escapes from Modernity YouTube Channel

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