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The revenge of the real

The revenge of the real
Politics for a Post-Pandemic World, by Benjamin Bratton, Verso 2021

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The future of politics after the pandemic

COVID-19 exposed the pre-existing conditions of the current global crisis. Many Western states failed to protect their populations, while others were able to suppress the virus only with sweeping social restrictions. In contrast, many Asian countries were able to make much more precise interventions. Everywhere, lockdown transformed everyday life, introducing an epidemiological view of society based on sensing, modeling, and filtering. What lessons are to be learned?

The Revenge of the Real envisions a new positive biopolitics that recognizes that governance is literally a matter of life and death. We are grappling with multiple interconnected dilemmas—climate change, pandemics, the tensions between the individual and society—all of which have to be addressed on a planetary scale. Even when separated, we are still enmeshed. Can the world govern itself differently? What models and philosophies are needed? Bratton argues that instead of thinking of biotechnologies as something imposed on society, we must see them as essential to a politics of infrastructure, knowledge, and direct intervention. In this way, we can build a society based on a new rationality of inclusion, care, and prevention.

“If you’ve emerged from the past year disoriented, you may find it exactly the right time to read Bratton’s book. From quarantine urbanism, to 5G conspiracy theorists and technological refusal, to incisive philosophical analysis of mask-rejecting Karens and the West’s shambolic response to covid writ large, Bratton is a ruthless guide to what has unfolded. But this book is soundly concerned with the future, through and beyond post-pandemic politics. Its pressing questions—can the world govern itself differently? how do we direct emergent technological capacities towards competent planetary governance?—will continue to be more and more relevant as the ecological crises deepen. There will be manifold books on the ‘lessons’ of the pandemic, but Bratton uniquely grasps what is at stake.”

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