Care in Crisis
A Response to Bruno Latour’s protective measures post-crisis
April 11, 2020
We are in a state of emergency. We are told to stay at home, to only leave for work if it is essential, to only go to the shops if it is for food, and even then, we must not be within more than a meter and a half of one another. We are in a state of emergency.
We are in a moment in time so tense, that we can barely see our loved ones. In some countries, others are not able to bury their dead. We are told not to touch our loved ones. The police are patrolling the streets and men are on trial for leaving their hotel rooms in a state of desperation to escape quarantine. The economy is crumbling, and businessmen and landlords wring their hands nervously alongside the rest of us. The government is trying to roll out an app that they say will monitor who you are in contact with for more than 15 minutes, and people are drawing the line. It is a gross invasion of privacy. But in this time, so many things are.
We are in a state of emergency.
I fear many things. Many little things. I fear the dark. I fear confinement, of never knowing true political freedom from this politically charged body that screams with every breath. I fear one day that this family will clash one too many times and we will just lose it at each other. Driven insane from spending more time together in the past 2 months than we have in the past 7 years. Sometimes I fear that in this isolation, I will learn that no body truly cares about me after all. I fear that I will walk out of this pandemic with nothing in my pocket.
To me, those are the small things. They end at the edge of the bubble that encases my life. Then there are the big things frantically cycling through everybody’s mind. Death. The destruction of our way of life. The disintegration of our economies. These are the big things. These are the big concerns the rest of the world is scrambling to find the answers with which to contain these issues.1I am interestingly finding people are at one end or the other. For some, their greatest concern is that their Nintendo Switch could not be delivered on time. For others, they worry that they might not be able to return home from work as healthy and well as they entered it. That is not to say I am not concerned by them. Of course, they gnaw at my mind, and I spend nights trying to create new ways to reach out and help my own community, both inside and outside of the arts. But in this isolation, I have also discovered my mind is better equipped to cope with inevitability over uncertainty.
There is no going back now. Normalcy as we recognise it will not emerge from this pandemic. We shall not walk out of this and back into the rhythm of life we once knew, no matter what many of our world leaders and big business owners will try to have you believe, or convince themselves of. What this pandemic has given us – fear, community, pockets of solidarity, economic re-evaluations, bitterness, patience – those will stay with us. In forms different from how they are manifesting now, but they will stay.
There are many things that have become glaringly obvious that when push comes to shove, humanity learns how to do without. Heavy production, instant material gratification, intensive 5-day 9-5 work weeks. We learn that we don’t crumble when we can’t acquire certain possessions instantly. We learn that we can adapt to working from home, to working less. When we have time to ourselves, we spend it cultivating the relationships around us, healing our bodies and our minds. But the things linked to an intensive labour economy, the capitalist structure which supports itself on the pillars on production, we are realising we can do mostly without. But only because now we must.
Within weeks, we were able to mobilize workplace measures to counter the necessity of the 5-day 9-5 workweek. Yet how loudly people would yell in the discourse of maternity leave for mothers. How little we would accommodate for those working with disabilities. Nevertheless, this virus has shown that we can indeed work shorter hours, or we can work remotely, and we will be productive. To those who scorn federal financial aid, who say that if you do not make the people work then they will not work, this virus came to prove them wrong. As we speak, the artworld is clambering into overdrive; digitising all they possibly can, increasing the amount of resources readily available in online databases, and doing their best to transform the experience of physical exhibitions into the virtual. And perhaps a touch late, we are now critically exploring what it means to govern within the politics of Care.
Incredibly as Capitalism buckles under this intense pandemic, Mother Earth is beginning to flourish. With less cars on the road, less people littering outdoors, and less physical businesses operating, our air is becoming cleaner, waterways are clearing, and fields are regrowing. An environmentally incited self-sufficiency (though catalysed by an apocalyptic mindset) is also developing as people begin to grow their own gardens. Yet on the other end, resource consumption is increasing. One-time use plastic items such as bin liner bags, latex gloves and antibacterial wipes are quickly filling up garbage bins. But I optimistically hope that this can only mean that we will adapt to become even more environmentally conscious, and biodegradable alternatives will become more accessible as the demand for single use items grows.
Most notably, it is ironically in this time of isolation that the sense of community grows stronger. The desire for connection is greater and we are all asking ourselves how we can be together if we can barely be within arm’s reach. Society is learning to reconnect with one another, with the planet and with themselves. Online groups have surfaced to keep communities interconnected and accountable to checking in with one another. Self-care is booming in the form of learning to sleep better, eat better and be better. Not only this, but the return to the personal archive has also risen with vigour. Diaries, dream journals and photo logs are here to document our thoughts as they delve into loneliness, insanity and awe.
And if we are asking ourselves how it is and what it means to live through a crisis, then we must also consider what it is to live after it. How can we emerge together, safe and sane? This time of upheaval is an opportunity to push the reset button on life. From what this crisis has taught us, we can take away harsh workweeks, that break the backs of single parents, and eat too much and too dangerously into our time. We can learn to be more mindful. We can cope with being more self-sufficient. We know how to form communities.
What I fear however, is that what will emerge will be the inverse of these desires. Companies will surely do their best to bring back the labour force which focuses solely on the production value of an individual. I suspect when this dies down that people will flock to the shops with their new-found freedom. Companies will return to taking advantage of their employees. Using the guilt of gratitude for having any sort of job at all. The roads and planet will buckle under the weight of the return of everyone’s cars, and thoughtless racism will not fail to remind us at every airport how conditional belonging is. The kindness that is being extended by many to many, will revert to being a few.
It is clear that the government, when required of them, are able to re-distribute national economic resources in a way to help the financially disadvantaged. It would be too much to attempt to tackle the issues of capitalism in this single response and there are certainly minds out there greater than my own who are better equipped to help handle this discourse. But navigating a kinder workweek – that is something we can handle. But in tandem with this, for us to accept working less and producing less, we must have the capacity to be able to live on less. For society to also value themselves above their production value, the system supporting that mentality on the outside must also change. Companies are already beginning to employ shorter work weeks to benefit the wellbeing of their employees, so we already know how to do this, and why it is important. But for many workers, the desire to work heavy hours often stems from feeling the need to. It is time to re-evaluate the cost of living standards to negotiate this with more amiable work weeks. Perhaps here in Australia, they should think harder on what it means to support families than the supposed economic promise of what it means to support coat mines. Think of where else this Federal budget can go to if it were guided by a system of care, and not by structures of corruption. It could go into accommodating learning and working remotely, into making companies better equipped to hit their environmental benchmarks, into art institutions being able to fund more initiatives for emerging artists. For the wellbeing of our citizens, we must re-evaluate how much it costs to simply be able to exist.
And perhaps it isn’t only the government that should be held accountable, but also the rich. This pandemic has made painfully clear (as if it wasn’t already) the gaps between class in our systems. As I write this, millions of people are without jobs and without homes, and the wealthy are in houses big enough to house families four times their size. If there is a minimum wage that allows people the barest standard of living, there should also be a maximum wage, to ensure that this actually occurs. There is a huge discrepancy between the CEOs and their workers, with CEOs earning annual incomes at least 16 times that of their labour force2Sam Pizzigatti, “Minimum wage? It’s time to talk about a maximum wage,” The Guardian, June 30, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/30/minimum-wage-maximum-wage-income-inequality. Not that I am advocating for barricades to innovation, but there is surely a reasonable limit to wealth. For decades we have supported systems that have almost encouraged the wealthy in taking advantage of the working class. Rewarding and praising those at the top for consistently making more only means that they also have greater incentive to take more. And now look at where we are. It isn’t enough to rely on the Government’s redistribution of wealth, a weak attempt to counter this system through taxation laws, but it is time to look at the predistribution3I was interestingly in a conversation with an artist the other week, who was stressed financially, that I brought up the idea of a maximum wage to her, unaware that this was something that was already being debated heavily on (https://www.debate.org/opinions/should-there-be-a-maximum-wage-law), but she also thought it was a fantastic idea and was surprised to find it wasn’t present in our Australian economic discourse. I am equally confused. of wealth. Currently in Australia, almost half of the wealth in the country is owned by 10% of its population4“Wealth inequality in Australia is getting worse,” Findings, Roy Morgan, last modified September 21, 2018. http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7733-wealth-inequality-in-australia-is-getting-worse-201809210554, but inequitable wealth distribution is an issue that isn’t limited to Australia alone. It is why I suppose we are all working so hard to find sustainable ways to operate around and outside of Capitalism. We are individually picking up the pieces of the puzzle, but I suspect it might be some time before we can harmoniously work together to complete the picture.
I hope for the best after this crisis. I certainly have more hopes than fears. I hope that we will stop making those with the least give up the most. I hope that we may stay connected. I hope that after all of this, we will still be sending letters and keeping journals. I hope that we may learn to work smarter, instead of being pushed to work harder. I hope that we will see the planet having begun to heal itself in our absence, and that we may preserve and continue this. I hope that people will continue to be more thoughtful of their neighbours. I hope that humanity will not forget a kindness and consideration that emerged from their desperation. This is what it means to operate within a system of care.
Beatrice Rubio-Gabriel is an independent curator, writer and performance artist based in Naarm/Melbourne.
 I am interestingly finding people are at one end or the other. For some, their greatest concern is that their Nintendo Switch could not be delivered on time. For others, they worry that they might not be able to return home from work as healthy and well as they entered it.
 Sam Pizzigatti, “Minimum wage? It’s time to talk about a maximum wage,” The Guardian, June 30, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/30/minimum-wage-maximum-wage-income-inequality
 I was interestingly in a conversation with an artist the other week, who was stressed financially, that I brought up the idea of a maximum wage to her, unaware that this was something that was already being debated heavily on (https://www.debate.org/opinions/should-there-be-a-maximum-wage-law), but she also thought it was a fantastic idea and was surprised to find it wasn’t present in our Australian economic discourse. I am equally confused.
 “Wealth inequality in Australia is getting worse,” Findings, Roy Morgan, last modified September 21, 2018. http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7733-wealth-inequality-in-australia-is-getting-worse-201809210554