News Release

“Social Distancing” — Or Physical Distancing and Social Solidarity?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS, [in NYC] cpanayotakis at gmail.com
Panayotakis is a professor of sociology at CUNY’s New York City College of Technology and the author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy and of the forthcoming The Capitalist Mode of Destruction (Manchester University Press).

He just wrote the piece “The Uses and Abuses of Social Distancing Under Capitalism,” which states: “Critical accounts of the current pandemic have explained how social distancing is often an unaffordable luxury for the most underprivileged groups in rich and low-income countries alike. One thing that has not received critical attention, however, is the term ‘social distancing’ itself. Its use as a synonym for physical distancing is an ideological misnomer. Social distancing suggests a loosening of social ties, when, in fact, the pleas that authorities and public health officials make on behalf of physical distancing appeal to such feelings of social solidarity as still exist in otherwise competitive and individualistic capitalist societies.

“Using the term social distancing to designate a public health strategy that seeks to combat a pandemic ironically vilifies the very sense of social solidarity necessary if people are to sacrifice, for the good of the broader community and the most vulnerable to the disease, the habits on which their economic survival and general sense of well-being depend. …

“The lethal connection between capitalism and pandemics is also revealed in the brazenly hypocritical use that the beneficiaries of the prevailing order make of the concept of social distancing. Corporate giants, like Amazon, in their bid to capitalize on the pandemic by making their workers labor in hazardous conditions, fire labor activists who initiate protests against this situation by claiming that these activists were not practicing social distancing! …

“Capitalism’s erosion of social solidarity is already rearing its ugly head. Reports multiply that corporate and Wall Street elites are increasingly pushing President Trump to ‘reopen the economy,’ even as public health experts warn of the lethal consequences of doing so prematurely.”