Governing Simulations: Intro to Necroeconomics

Bryan Wolff, Yevheniia Berchul, Yu Gong, Andrey Shevlyakov at Strelka Mag: “French philosopher Michel Foucault defined biopower as the power over bodies, or the social and political techniques to control people’s lives. Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe continued this line of thinking to arrive at necropolitics, the politics of death, or as he phrases it: “contemporary forms of subjugation of life, to the power of death.” COVID-19 has put these powers in sharp relief. Most world-changing events of the twenty-first century have been internalized with the question “where were you?” For example, “where were you when the planes hit?” But the pandemic knows no single universal moment to refer to. It’s become as much a question of when, as of where. “When did you take the pandemic seriously?” Most likely, your answer stands in direct relation to your proximity to death. Whether a critical mass or a specific loss, fatality defined COVID-19’s reality.

For many governments, it wasn’t the absolute count of death, but rather its simulations that made them take action. The United States was one of the last countries holding out on a lockdown until the Imperial College report projected the possibility of two million to four million fatalities in the US alone (if no measures were taken). And these weren’t the only simulations being run. A week into the lockdown, it was wondered aloud whether this was all worth the cost. It was a unique public reveal of the deadly economics—or necroeconomics—that we’re usually insulated from, whether through specialist language games or simply because they’re too grim to face. But ignoring the financialization of our demise doesn’t make it go away. If we are to ever reconsider the systems meant to keep us alive, we’d better get familiar. What better place to start than to see the current crisis through the eyes of one of the most widely used models of death: the one that puts a price on life. It’s called the “Value of a Statistical Life” or VSL..(More)”.