9. Juni 2020

Daniel Falb: Covid-19 and the Gestalt of World Population

Michael Deistler, Kugelschreiberzeichnung
Michael Deistler, Kugelschreiberzeichnung
Michael Deistler, Kugelschreiberzeichnung
Michael Deistler, Kugelschreiberzeichnung
Michael Deistler, Kugelschreiberzeichnung



In late march and early April 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 epidemic in New York, I watched a couple of videos on Youtube.

One where physician Dr. Erik Blutinger walks in goggles and face mask through the Mount Sinai Queens emergency department with his phone, where digitally blurred out Covid-19 patients amass in the hallways and “all you hear is oxygen [machines]” plus Blutinger’s voice as he keeps on talking with his soft voice.[1] 

One, circulated by the New York Times, where Dr. Colleen Smith films a huge line of people, masked and keeping their distance, who wait in front of a tent at Elmhurst Hospital, Queens, to get tested. Where she voices over a tracking shot along leaf-patterned curtains that section off a number of patient beds, “all the feet that you see, they all have Covid.” Where she talks into her phone saying “Today is getting worse and worse. We had to get a refrigerator truck in order to store the bodies of patients who are dying”.[2]

I also saw a raw and shaky video from outside Brooklyn Hospital Center, where the same thing must have happened, where a guy watches a forklift raise a bed with large, somewhat loose and bulky white sheets covering a dead body into the back of a freezer truck “This is for real, this is for real this is Brooklyn y‘all, this is for real, this is for real y‘all, this is for real this is this is real this is right here in Brooklyn, this is in Brooklyn hospital, y’all this is for real they are putting the bodies into an 18-wheeler y’all...”[3]

And I saw Dr. Matthew Bai again at Mount Sinai Queens after finishing his extended shift, exhausted while resolved and with a face slightly reddened and softened from hours of mask-wearing.[4]       



My feeling here was that of an existential congestion where too many things start happening inside a given patch of space-time, of the overflowing of worlds – Bultinger’s, Smith’s, Bai’s and the bystander's worlds – with unmanageable quantities of events, these events being people who need to be tested, treated, or buried.

I also had the sense that this congestion was a kind of display, fucked up, but still a display of processes that were going on elsewhere. That this was a super tiny fragment. That there was stuff happening out there in the population.

And in my mind this connected with an ongoing project I have – which is thinking about a philosophy of the world population. Something that has long had an estranging and even sickening appeal to me, appeared both mysterious and tautological. Perhaps this project is silly (it’s not very far advanced), a spleen of the objectophile that I am.

Here I want to take it into asking what may be significant about our Covid-19 moment and how to make sense of it.




The world population is a hidden, withdrawn object. You walk around and you cannot see it, cannot smell it, cannot touch it. I think of it as a dark object, but dark not like what you see when you close your eyes, but like what you see at the back side of your eyes: positively nothing. The world population does not exist for you. All you ever see is people.            

They are alive but the world population is not. It is an unliving thing that brings forth, hosts, embeds, your birth, and your being alive, and your death. But it is not dying with you, not born with you – and so with all of its human components. Yes it emerges with the species, and disappears with it, but not as a living thing.

So the world population is also an entity on the level of which no consciousness exists. This is a spooky thing: that we are in some precise sense part of it, and that we are wired to have consciousness (transcendental subjectivity, in Kant’s terms), while this object does not have that – while it brings us subjects forth. Conversely, as the Covid-19 dead drop out the world population, they start equaling its objecthood.  

And this reminds me of the fact that living tissue, generally, emerges on an unliving surface (the Earth’s) and is with its process continuously immersed in and metabolically connected to its unliving surrounding.      

Apperception and consciousness of living people emerge as if ‘inside’ the unliving object that is the world population. I like to think of this as a vast ERSCHEINUNGSRAUM[5] (APPARITIONAL CLOUD) inside the Earth-scale dark object. A ‘light’ that only scarcely – like blaze through a crust of cooling lava – breaks outside, to be seen by nobody (the apparitional cloud itself appears to nobody).         

A corollary to its unconsciousness is that the world population cannot be addressed. I address you a living person via this text, but the world population cannot be addressed like that and in no other way. Leibniz said of monads that they have “no windows,”[6] no front door, no preferred input method, and this is true for the world population as well. Still the world population monad can be deformed (as if from an eternal outside) in its global scale by causalities that also envelope the whole planet.

This is what seems to be happening with Covid-19. 



You do not notice the shape or Gestalt of the world population before it is drawn. The localized display of populational processes by way of existential congestion like at Mount Sinai etc. in fact functions more as a ‘notification’ of the population’s existence than as an articulation proper of its Gestalt. The Gestalt of the world population is drawn statistically. It emerges only with the advent of statistical methods and institutions first inside European nation states; today it is typically fabricated in transnational data gathering bodies and their graphs and websites. While the Erscheinungsraum has been there all along with the species (not to speak of the Erscheinungsräume of millions of animal species, see Postscript), the human population in its first 300.000 years existed merely ‘an sich,’ as invisible phylum of plasma, without a Gestalt. The GESTALT OF WORLD POPULATION is a new thing for us to see.    

And the Gestalt is simple:

7.8 billion people (2020)

141 million are born this year

60 million die this year[7]  

That’s it...

So simple in fact, it’s almost stupid, a holy figurine, a shibboleth, chosen/fabricated mindlessly and without care, three numbers clamped together with packthread or a piece of barbwire. So simple, it is as if you would create a cult around a bent spoon or a broken clothespin, use it as ‘totem pole,’ ‘Buddha,’ ‘cross.’ 

Granted, this text is as much about an objectophile’s cult around Gestalt as it is about coronavirus.



The world population gains and looses elements. The Gestalt already in its simplest form encapsulates the notion that the population is a generational object. And this generationality is SO MASSIVE. Go to worldometers.info/world-population/ and look at a depiction of the population’s real-time development, where as I attend on May 5 2020 the world population grows from 7.782.413.642 to 7.782.413.686 just while I’m typing in this number, with 274.696 births today already (it’s 5:10pm). 115.648 people have died until now (5:13pm) today. This turning cloud of generationality, captured in the format of seconds, hours or days, bulks up like a Himalayan once we look at years and decades.  

Like, I was born in 1977.  

Since my birth, 5.789.287.362 other people have been born[8] – everybody younger than me. Until my likely death in 2054, 4.794.505.782 other people will have been born, 2.631.260.988 will have died before me.[9]

Generationality is a revolution – not just in times of population growth (at the end of my life there will be more than twice as many people on the planet than at the beginning, 9.828.809.112 instead of 4.209.766.452[10]). Generationality is a revolution, it is the motion by which the ERSCHEINUNGSRAUM of the world population is erected, modulated and retained through permanent substitution of apparitional dots (individual ‘world eggs’).      

Without going into details at this point, all this can be broken up into further quantitative measures of generationality that ‘dress’ the naked triple data point of our original figurine, like life expectancy (currently at a global average of 71 years), generation time (28 years), number of offspring (2,4) and the subsequent age distribution as generational cohorts move through their increasingly long lives.      

The Gestalt – the surface of the monad – is articulated further by looking at how these averages unpack into more fine-grained numbers that vary vastly for certain subsections of the world population singled out by factors like region and socio-economic status.   

This is where the Gestalt of world population touches the Gestalt of global health.



Among the factors that inform the responses of societies to the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic, I think there a distinctive element that springs from the fact that the pandemic exposes us to the Gestalt of the world population in ways we are not used to:

The visual and numerical display of the outbreak in real time, of the daily number of infected people per region, tags people.

It tags the fact that they exist.

It shows us that people exist in numbers.

It makes us feel there is a world population.

The real-time count of people dying tags ongoing mortality in the world population.

Worst-case scenarios dramatize ongoing mortality by saying that many people’s time of death may be contracted into a couple of months in 2020.

I think that suddenly finding ourselves staring at the Gestalt of world population – staring it right in the face – by every day seeing these unfolding numbers has totally freaked us out. –

But why?

This sounds so tautological: Showing us that there are lots of countable people...      

This is almost nothing. –        

Well I believe that we look at the numbers of the Gestalt, and we don’t understand them, don’t comprehend them. We look at them like a meaningless figure. Because it’s very hard to understand and to give it some kind of meaning. And perhaps it is meaningless, it is really just tautological, as you say. Meaningless like when you describe the feeling of love via describing the neuronal activity that is brought forth by. Perhaps it’s just something absolutely pointless in terms of making sense of our own experience of life. A figure – you stare at it like at a number you cannot read, like an “8” from another language or something.    

Of course we can professionally try to make sense of these numbers, and ultimately that’s what epidemiologists and statisticians of every flavor do, in politics, in health care systems. But on an existential level, they remain illegible. For one this is linked to the death side of the Gestalt and the circumstance that we’ve always had a hard time making sense of our finitude: we know that it is impossible to fear death (it is not even something inside our lives) while we often cannot help fearing it as if it was the worst thing that could happen to us (while it is not happening to us).[11] A related but novel brainfuck to which no well-trodden out cultural responses are in place, to which we are totally vulnerable, is the realization that our life is not just finite but always already embedded in an unliving thing that is a monster precisely because it appears so close to our life that it almost seems to be us while at the same time being foreign like a fat uninhabited planet.        

We usually don’t see this, but the choreography of this pandemic managed to unlock the shrine where the Gestalt is kept by making deciders and global news outlets switch to its numbers in real time, switch to the drama of counting up in real time, of prediction.     

And I think the meaninglessness of the numbers, the difficulty to make sense of them, to account for them, relate to them, is so traumatic that it UN-CALIBRATES how we feel about them and what we do about them. By that I don’t mean that our feelings and actions regarding the Gestalt of world population in times of the Covid-19 pandemic are badly calibrated – somehow out of proportion – but that they are set besides any calibration or proportionality.           

Total fear and total indifference now both appear as entirely adequate and entirely inadequate responses at the same time. That’s what I mean by freaked out.



The Great Lockdown[12] is a freak event. It’s a total top-down and bottom-up insurgency where extreme measures from above (executive shows ‘what it is capable of’) are met with extreme bottom-up compliance (#staythefuckathome).       


If the IMF is correct, the insurgency has caused the biggest downfall since the Great Depression, burning 6,3% of global GDP in a couple of months and amounting to a cumulative loss in global GDP of some 9 trillion USD in 2020 and 2021 combined.[13] Let’s assume this in the right order of magnitude and divide it by two. Then USD 4.5 trillion represents the price we are willing to pay for the cause of fighting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 this year.    

This is 15 times our annual investment in fighting climate change,[14] 27 times our annual investment in fighting global poverty and inequality through developmental aid,[15] or 12 times the annual investment required to provide sufficient health care for everybody on the planet as defined by the 2015 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.[16]

It appears we have a rather ‘unusual’ willingness to pay for this particular cause, fighting Covid-19. A willingness that is surprising and feels slightly out of context, comes almost out of nothing, without the usual causality attached, feels somewhat randomly copy-and-pasted into the scene. I think this strange gap, this out-of-nothingness of the insurgency must be accounted for.

I account for it through the hypothesis of a collective un-calibration per trauma by being forced to stare at Gestalt. I believe that staring at the Gestalt of world population, the pointless figurine, accomplished an un-calibration that literally no other cause in the world could have done, what all other causes – all these beautiful and painfully necessary things – could just never bring on. The un-calibration accounts for the strange gap: Every other, more familiar, more humane, more relevant, more plausible, more historically-rooted and already politicized cause or adversary could never have sparked such a reaction because it could never have cut through the existing societal calibrations, organized interests and institutional resistances in place. To create this anomic mess you need a real grey goo of an object. Looking at the Gestalt of world population is the ultimate spook that you could almost ignore because its meaningless and almost nothing (like 300.000 women dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in a year[17]) – but then open your pockets like you never have.



An interesting type of analysis is applied to the victims of Covid-19 that looks at how much earlier they died than they would have had they not contracted the virus; how many years of life lost (YLL) the virus inflicts. 

The first time I heard about this was via statements by UK and German virologists that in terms of annual mortality figures the victims of Covid-19 may (supposing non-overwhelmed medical systems) not cause a huge bump because the victims are typically of old age and/or have (often several) pre-existing conditions. Neil Ferguson, UK government advisor and co-author of the Imperial College study (before stepping down because he was visited by his lover during his Lockdown...) thinks that one half up to two thirds of the victims would not show up as increase in annual mortality.[18] If I understand this correctly it means that in these cases people loose weeks or months but not more than a year of their lives. Average YLL across all victims is higher dependent on how many YLL the other third to half of the victims suffered. How much higher? Right now there is I think only one study on this, out of the University of Glasgow; it estimates the YLL of Covid victims to be an average of 13 for men and 11 for women.[19] While it awaits peer review and there seem to be discussions around the weight given to preexisting conditions and Covid deaths in nursery homes that suggest these may be overestimations,[20] I do not know what the correct number of YLL is.

What I do know is that even if people loose months rather than years or decades of their lives through Covid, this can not be used as an argument to discount the time they lose, as some on the right have it (‘they would have died anyway’).[21]

I believe in the precise opposite.       

I believe the care and cost we now invest in minimizing YLL through Covid should be A NEW BENCHMARK for the care and cost we invest in minimizing YLL through any cause of death – including btw the Great Lockdown.



On paper, the logic of Lockdown is this: The difference between a projected 40.624.000 global Covid-19 deaths in an unmitigated scenario and 1.858.000 global Covid-19 deaths in a swift suppression scenario amounts to 38.766.000 lives saved from ending earlier.[22] I cannot say how plausible this calculation is. But I think that once one looks at the death toll of the Great Lockdown in its two key components: crashing economies by closing down businesses and enforcing general curfews and prioritizing medical care for Covid-19 patients over that for others, things get a lot more blurry than they may seem at first, particularly in a global outlook. Projected increased child mortality[23] by way of neglected health care, spiking poverty and food shortages,[24] and missed vaccinations, as well as projected increased mortality in the general patient population (HIV, Malaria, TB,[25] cancer,[26] coronary diseases[27]) through deprioritization and economic downfall,[28] plus the general association of GDP and life expectancy (and correlated respective slumps)[29] suggest that the Great Lockdown itself will have done substantial damage in terms of YLL, especially considering the fatal effects of Lockdown hit more younger people than those of Covid-19.

Is it conceivable that Lockdown will have cost people more YLL than it saved them?[30] I don’t know but I think it’s conceivable that in the end this could be the assessment. And the fact that it is even conceivable is another aspect of the un-calibration at work here.[31] Surely, the Great Lockdown was the crudest way to react to a pandemic in 2020 and an epic fuckup. No need to clap on a balcony. Of course the spread of the virus had to be stopped. But who will be held accountable for the mistakes, so painfully augmented downstream, that were made almost everywhere leading up to (inexistence or insufficiency of national and global pandemic response protocols), as well as in the early stages of the pandemic (downplaying, late reporting, long reaction times, false guidance[32]), that created a window of opportunity in the first place for that direct stare into the Gestalt and for that un-calibration that otherwise would never have occurred? All this is even more painful given what a properly coordinated and prepared global pandemic response could have looked like (and how much cheaper than USD 9 trillion it would have been[33]). Following a PRINCIPLE OF MINIMIZING OVERALL AND NOT JUST COVID-19 RELATED YLL, surely it would not have leant itself not to the medieval pest-style thing applied in Wuhan as well as most of Europe and the rest of the world but instead to scenarios of swift response, instant large-scale testing and digital tracking (yes, on your phone...) plus universal mask-wearing – something that Paul B. Preciado so nicely sums up as matrix for a whole new type of human subjectivity:

„The subjects of the neoliberal technical-patriarchal societies that Covid-19 is in the midst of creating do not have skin; they are untouchable; they do not have hands. They do not exchange physical goods, nor do they pay with money. They are digital consumers equipped with credit cards. They do not have lips or tongues. They do not speak directly; they leave a voice mail. They do not gather together and they do not collectivize. They are radically un-dividual. They do not have faces; they have masks.“[34]

Oh yes and they happen to be still alive because they did not lose years of life through Covid or the Covid insurgency.

That’s why I love them so much.     

That’s why I can love them so much because they are still alive.



YLL translates into life expectancy – the YLL through Covid shows up as a small dent in global life expectancy[35] – and life expectancy is at the heart of my cult around the Gestalt of world population. Life expectancy in all flavors, at every age and post mortem for the entire cohort and especially the life expectancy (calculated from mortality tables) that is there in the presence of your life from the beginning: at birth.          

Life expectancy is a funny number.       

Viewed from one angle, it is a number that doesn’t apply to individuals but only to the (world) population. On the individual level, you see nothing but an individual lifespan, and as I have argued elsewhere, nobodies length of life has ever been ‘increased’ or ‘decreased’ by anything – because its an absolute number.[36] There is no shared subject underlying both the alternatives ‘stop/continue living’, so whatever happens, there is nothing to compare it to. Length of life is a metaphysical property of a life. So if we assume the life expectancy of a person has somehow causally translated into a particular length of his/her life, it is still the case that the fact of how long or short it has turned out to be in the end itself has never ‘entered’ this life – it has merely set up its margins. Somewhat counterintuitively, life expectancy seems to have never touched anybody’s lives, which is why nobody can benefit from a raise in life expectancy. The number belongs to a remote unliving object. It is a property of the Gestalt of world population.

Viewed from another angle, however, life expectancy is a thing that has very much touched people’s lives – not in its impact on the actual length of their lives, but in its implications for their well-being. For the life expectancy in the world population and its subpopulations is the best overall proxy for the sum total of factors that define the quality of life of the people that comprise them – the single number in which all other numbers that come to characterize their lives flow together, the point of an ULTIMATE CONFLUENCE.[37] Put differently, the good life (in the ethical sense) is the long life (on average) – if not on an existential or philosophical, then certainly on a political and institutional level, in terms of what policies and institutions can bring to a good life. Thus life expectancy touches people more profoundly than any other single number.[38]

OK so we have this hyper-expressive and hyper-relevant SINGLE NUMBER that is at the same time removed from any individual for it belongs to another being. Remember the ERSCHEINUNGSRAUM / APPARITIONAL SPACE I talked about earlier? Life expectancy is at the heart of the Gestalt of world population for it is the VOLUME (breadth x depth x width) of that Gestalt, the VOLUME OF THE APPARITIONAL SPACE in its interior (the Gestalt is Erscheinung / apparition / blaze in its inside).

The single focus on this liminal number is at the center of my concern for the Gestalt of world population, of my concern for the Gestalt of Erscheinungsraum; for THIS SOLE FOCUS (collectively engineering long lives for everybody) takes care or all the rest. There is simply nothing else to worry about.          

And that’s the point I am going to push here.          

Oh how paradoxically, the meaningless Gestalt of world population (its volume), the thing that un-calibrated us so deeply as we kept staring at it, now also turns out to be the thing that offers a POINT OF ULTIMATE CALIBRATION of our politics.



I sweep the figurine made from tin and feathers and leather with my fingertips, feel its volume, again and again.

The single most pressing political injustice we have, the biggest metaphysical bruise in the Gestalt of world population is the inequality in life expectancy in and in between societies.

People in Japan have a life expectancy of almost 85, people in the Central African Republic of 55 years.[39] In a country like the US, the richest people on average live 14,6 years longer than the poorest.[40] In sum, massive differences like these amount to “the world population [loosing] 1.65 billion years of potential life due to premature death” every year[41] – almost every 8 years, the world population unnecessarily looses the age of the universe worth of life years.

Perhaps you have heard the argument that certain populations in the so-called Global South could be less susceptible to the virus because they are younger on average. Where just 5% of a population is 65 or older, age-related risk is much lower.[42] OK but why are these populations younger? One factor is that the life expectancy here is lower. What this means is that people have died of other causes before they could be done by Covid-19 in 2020. These populations’ lower susceptibility to the virus (insofar as it is real) is not a good thing at all. It speaks to the larger endemic problems in public health and the inequalities in life expectancy that come with that. For not just deaths of people dying from Covid are ‘contracted’ into a couple of months in 2020, as I put it earlier, but all other premature deaths are as well. These deaths happen in early 2020 although they also could have happened later.

Socio-economic inequalities thus directly translate into Gestalt of Erscheinungsraum, into being part of the apparitional world in the first place, and for how long to be a part of it, as opposed to being nonapparitional and unliving, being part of the unliving Earth, piece of rock.

THE ENDEMIC GESTALT OF WORLD POPULATION IS METAPHYSICALLY DEFORMED and we don’t care enough, we’re oftentimes fine with it, for most causes of death don’t have that Covid choreography, simply cannot make us notice the Gestalt in the first place.

But this permanent contraction and deformation has to stop.           

I am not at all critical of the un-calibration described above.        

To the contrary, I think we should take ANOTHER STARE AT THE GESTALT OF POPULATION and un-calibrate ourselves AGAIN, totally unhinge uns and topple our harmful calibrations for another insurgeny to ONCE AND FOR ALL end the injustice of different life expectancies, hunt down all YLL without mercy and FLATTEN OUT ALL DENTS IN THE HOLY FIGURINE, ALL DEFORMATIONS IN ITS APPARITIONAL VOLUME.



What the Hopkins University Covid-19 world map put on display is an ‘epidemic of testing.’[43] For along the virus around the world moves the testing, and what the map shows is the testing and not the virus. The best and the worst pandemic response both end up with zero Covid cases and zero deaths, in the latter case because not a single test is conducted.

Living inside the Hopkins map in the early days, you could feel the fact that the world population is an invisible object that resides out there in the dark and that its Gestalt (insofar as tagged with ‘Covid-19’) is articulated by mundane and glitchy procedures – I remember were the early Gestalt of Covid-19 underwent some bizarre zero-time shape-shifts where Chinese health officials played with their accounting methods... You could really feel that the emerging Gestalt of Covid-19 was very unevenly articulated, that the ratio of outbreak size to number of tests was vastly different in different countries, and that low numbers in many cases signified only lack of testing.[44]   

Typically correlated with low GDP and/or high levels of autocracy and incompetence, the invisibility of Sars-CoV-2 infections, which converts into a lack of treatment, is the big inequality issue around the current epidemic. For it is one thing to find that the highest infection and death rates e.g. in the US occur in poor and marginalized parts of the (urban) population.[45] But it is another having to assume that most symptomatic infections and Covid-19-related deaths will probably not show up in any statistic[46] and hence will never be a part of the Gestalt of Covid-19. See the large portion of undetected Covid deaths inside the excess mortality even in European countries (here at least absolute numbers of deaths exist).[47]

Unfortunately the same thing holds for the state of global health at large. She who not even enters a birth registry and whose life does not feed into any life statistics has a bad chance of getting medical treatment when required.[48] Estimates say that every year some 50 million newborns leave no administrative trace, and so does their premature dying.[49] They are not part of the Gestalt of population. But correcting the injustice in life expectancy requires the civil registration of all lives: EVERYBODY NEEDS TO BECOME PART OF THE GESTALT OF WORLD POPULATION. The Gestalt must be ‘rounded’ in that sense. AND ONCE IT IS PROPERLY ROUNDED, LET US NEVER STOP STARING AT THE GESTALT OF WORLD POPULATION. WE MUST LIVE WITH THAT MONSTER, DESIGN OUR LIVES IN ITS UNCALIBRATING PRESENCE. Never must the Gestalt recede into the background again.         

That’s why I wear that tin figurine – taxidermied eagle – around my neck at all times.



This is what we get by looking at Covid-19 through the Gestalt of population lens:








The human world population is intertwined with the withdrawn world populations of animal and plant species that humans share ecosystems and the planet with while mostly having no idea they exist. But just as its Gestalt has in the past couple of centuries emerged from invisibility, so have the Gestalten of the world populations of some non-human species by way of the taxonomic and bookkeeping interests of human natural historians, collectors, biologists, ecologists, etc. While an estimated 85+ percent of species remains undocumented and Gestalt-less,[50] the Gestalt of the few domestic animal species whose world populations are in the billions today are excellently documented (simply look it up in the meat production industry statistics). I visualize the Co-Gestalt of their interaction with the human world population as clouds hanging in the air that ecologically feed from each other or intertwisted hurricanes/vortices. Another – equally precarious – Co-Gestalt emerges from investigating the interactions of the human world population with the wild animal populations dubbed ‘viral reservoirs,’ and with the virus populations themselves whose passage from animals to humans probably accounts for 60 percent of all novel human diseases (= zoonoses) since around mid-20th century.[51]


Viruses are older than cancer. They are messengers from the RNA-world, the world where the unliving Earth produced within itself the first genetic replicators and living cells.[52] Being pure replicators, and never having become anything else but evolutionary machines, they remind me of the fact of evolution. Current Covid-19-related mortality showcases and modulates the universal scene of generationality, where generationality is the way evolution manifests itself to us. Generationality signifies an Earth in the making and testifies to the evolutionary nature of the world population – to the populational, macroevolutionary and cultural evolutionary mechanisms through which Homo sapiens were probably implicated in driving nonhuman megafauna and all other human species into extinction early on, became agriculturalists that that set off an evolution of domestic species with a new (agro-)biodiversity of their own, and today with its 7.8 billion often highly interconnected and mobile exemplars cause a mass decline and extinction in the world populations of wild animal and plant species (whose Gestalt mostly is not drawn before they’re gone) by way of habitat intrusion and mixing species across the globe. This scenery of mass extinction and planetary homogenization – this ecstasy of sameness in an open field of extinction (Anthropocene = Homogenocene[53]) – is required for pandemics to emerge in the first place.[54] No other could produce them. If it persists, pandemics are likely to repeat.[55]

At the same time, the ways to treat viruses and pandemics currently on display quite surprisingly provide us with a precise model and metaphor of how to live on this planet.

The intuitions prevalent in the humanities where dealing with ecology and (new) materialisms place a lot of symbolic capital on concepts and imaginaries like entanglement, cohabitation, ‘companion species’ and ‘making kin,’ symbiogenesis, etc. I fear this is misleading for thinking about feasible human-nonhuman relationships on Earth and orienting ecological governance. Because while it is true that cognitively and affectively, the permeation of causal interplay in (human) ecosystems as well as the Earth system at large is paramount (because governance affords knowledge and love), behaviorally the best model for ecological governance is SOCIAL DISTANCING: The RADICAL SOCIAL DISTANCING of humans and their habitations and ecologies and material cycles from animals and plants in the ambient biosphere, the DIS-ENTANGLEMENT OF GESTALTEN of human and animal/plant world populations. The survival of animals and plants in the Anthropocene biosphere requires NOT humans becoming their companions or kin, no, it critically depends on US LEAVING THEM ALONE.[56] 

The whole repertoire of SEALING OFF showcased by the pandemic response is super helpful: sealing yourself off your environment (and vice versa) by keeping a physical distance, by putting a mask on, by putting full protective gear on. Think of how a intensive care unit with a fragile and infectious patient is carefully shielded from its surroundings, how a virological lab is hermetically sealed off from the outside, how an entire city is cut off from the rest of the world: this is the model. It can teach the world population how to RETREAT into a couple dozen of dense urban greenhouses / mega-cities as bioreactors for the human species, all inclusive with their fusion reactor technologies and food exclusively harvested from bacteria[57], sealed off from the other half of the Earth that is being left alone as planetary nature reserve: As biodiversity vault and Holocene museum. I simply take this idea from Wilson’s Half-Earth[58] and translate it into the virologist’s lexicon:



This is almost like leaving the planet. The virologist’s full gear is so reminiscent of astronauts walking on the moon. For me this is the model to walk the Earth. Walk the nature reserve in a spacesuit or #staythefuckathome.



[1] From The Frontlines: Dr  Erik Blutinger, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWws7APGgmg.

[2] ‘People Are Dying’: Battling Coronavirus Inside a N.Y.C. Hospital | NYT News, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE68xVXf8Kw.

[3] “This Is for Real!”: Shocking Video Shows Body Bags Being Forklifted into Lorry in New York, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT7I_dYxMjI.

[4] New York City Doctor: ‘The Things That I See in the ER Are Scary,’ accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGnxNsKtkjI.

[5] A concept from my Genealogy of the HalcyonTM, published as No. 41 of Sync2 Magazine Vol. 2 (2019), ed. Andreas Bülhoff, online at  sync.abue.io/issues/191025df_sync2_41_halcyon.pdf (accessed May 26, 2020)

[6] Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Nicholas Rescher, G.W. Leibniz’s Monadology: An Edition for Students (Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991), 17 sec. 7.

[7] Hannah Ritchie, “How Many People Die and How Many Are Born Each Year?,” Our World in Data, accessed May 26, 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/births-and-deaths.

[8] My estimate using decade averages, based on Ritchie, “How Many People Die and How Many Are Born Each Year?”

[9] See previous note.

[10] Max Roser et al., “World Population Growth - Our World in Data,” accessed May 26, 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth. – Good read: Erle C. Ellis, “Overpopulation Is Not the Problem,” The New York Times, September 13, 2013, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/opinion/overpopulation-is-not-the-problem.html.

[11] See Daniel Falb, Geospekulationen. Metaphysik Für Die Erde Im Anthropozän (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 2019), 47–73.

[12] “Coronavirus Recession,” in Wikipedia, May 26, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Coronavirus_recession&oldid=958917420.

[13] Gita Gopinath, “The Great Lockdown: Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression,” IMF Blog, accessed May 26, 2020, https://blogs.imf.org/2020/04/14/the-great-lockdown-worst-economic-downturn-since-the-great-depression/.

[14] Based on the 579 USD flow of climate finance in the 2017-18 period as measured by the 2019 Global Landscape of Climate Finance report, accessed May 26, 2020, https://climatepolicyinitiative.org/publication/global-landscape-of-climate-finance-2019/.

[15] Based on the 165.785 million USD of “Net Official Development Assistance and Official Aid Received (Current US$)” in 2018 as calculated by the World Bank, accessed May 26, 2020, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ALLD.CD.

[16] Based on calculations in Karin Stenberg et al., “Financing Transformative Health Systems towards Achievement of the Health Sustainable Development Goals: A Model for Projected Resource Needs in 67 Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries,” The Lancet Global Health 5, no. 9 (September 2017): e875–87. The third of the Sustainable Development Goals – “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” – is spelled out in more detail here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg3#targets (accessed May 26, 2020).

[17] Reference year 2015. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg3#targets

[18] “We don’t know what the level of excess deaths will be in the epidemic, in that, by the end of the year what proportion of people who died from covid would have died. [...] It might be as much as half or two thirds of the deaths we see, because these are people at the end of their lives or have underlying conditions.” Quoted from 

Sarah Knapton, “Two Thirds of Coronavirus Victims May Have Died This Year Anyway, Government Adviser Says,” The Telegraph, March 25, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/25/two-thirds-patients-die-coronavirus-would-have-died-year-anyway/. The argument is also summed up in this BBC article: Nick Triggle, “Coronavirus: How to understand the death toll,” BBC News, April 16, 2020, sec. Health, https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51979654. – German Covid government advisor Christian Drosten seems to be saying something similar where he states that “Given a slow spread, corona victims will disappear in the normal death rate [Bei langsamer Verbreitung werden Corona-Opfer in der normalen Todesrate verschwinden. Trans DF].” Qoted from  “278.000 Virus-Tote in Deutschland? Wie der Top-Virologe seine Zahl meint,” FOCUS Online, accessed May 30, 2020, https://www.focus.de/gesundheit/news/pandemie-virologe-klaert-ueber-neuartiges-virus-auf-immunitaet-sterblichkeit-dauer_id_11723764.html. – A pathologist who performed the first substantial number of autopsies on Covid-19 victims even thinks that in the German context there will be no excess in 2020 annual mortality at all. See  “Rechtsmediziner Püschel: „In Hamburg Ist Niemand Ohne Vorerkrankung an Corona Gestorben“,” DIE WELT, April 7, 2020, https://www.welt.de/regionales/hamburg/article207086675/Rechtsmediziner-Pueschel-In-Hamburg-ist-niemand-ohne-Vorerkrankung-an-Corona-gestorben.html.

[19] Peter Hanlon et al., “COVID-19 – Exploring the Implications of Long-Term Condition Type and Extent of Multimorbidity on Years of Life Lost: A Modelling Study,” Wellcome Open Research 5 (April 23, 2020): 75.

[20] See the comment section of the preprint at https://wellcomeopenresearch.org/articles/5-75, and the authors’ addendum at https://github.com/dmcalli2/covid19_yll_final/blob/master/Scripts/Addendum.md (accessed May 26, 2020).

[21] See eg. Toby Young, “Has the Government Overreacted to the Coronavirus Crisis?” The Critic Magazine, March 31, 2020, https://thecritic.co.uk/has-the-government-over-reacted-to-the-coronavirus-crisis/.

[22] P Walker et al., “Report 12: The Global Impact of COVID-19 and Strategies for Mitigation and Suppression” (Imperial College London, March 26, 2020), https://doi.org/10.25561/77735. The most influential paper in this context was of course the Imperial College Report with numbers on the UK and US: N Ferguson et al., “Report 9: Impact of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to Reduce COVID19 Mortality and Healthcare Demand” (Imperial College London, March 16, 2020), https://doi.org/10.25561/77482.

[23] Damien Walker et al., “More Harm Than Good? The Net Impact of COVID-19 Policies Is What Matters for Health,” Center For Global Development, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.cgdev.org/blog/more-harm-good-net-impact-covid-19-policies-what-matters-health.

[24] Fiona Harvey, “Coronavirus Pandemic ‘Will Cause Famine of Biblical Proportions,’” The Guardian, April 21, 2020, sec. Global development, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/21/coronavirus-pandemic-will-cause-famine-of-biblical-proportions; “UNSDG | Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Children,” accessed May 26, 2020, https://unsdg.un.org/resources/policy-brief-impact-covid-19-children.

[25] “More Harm Than Good?”

[26] Denis Campbell and Caroline Bannock, “Extra 18,000 Cancer Patients in England Could Die in next Year – Study,” The Guardian, April 28, 2020, sec. Society, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/29/extra-18000-cancer-patients-in-england-could-die-in-next-year-study.

[27] “Lives at Risk Due to 50% Drop in Heart Attack A&E Attendances,” accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2020/april/drop-in-heart-attack-patients-amidst-coronavirus-outbreak.

[28] Hilmar Schmundt et al., “Tuberkulose, Masern, Malaria: Die Killer im Schatten von Covid-19 - DER SPIEGEL - Politik,” accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/wegen-coronavirus-weltweiter-anstieg-an-tuberkulose-masern-malaria-befuerchtet-a-1e8491eb-f5a1-4d29-912c-21686250710d.

[29] Philip Thomas, “Recession could kill more than coronavirus,” IAI news Issue 87, April 7, 2020, https://iai.tv/articles/is-a-recession-more-deadly-than-coronavirus-auid-1397. The validity of said correlation has been called into question at least in the short term, see Jonathan Portes, “Lockdown Will Not Cost More Lives than It Saves,” accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/lockdown-cost-lives-saves-200419073936911.html.

[30] Asking this question is not fringe. Here two examples from articles I liked. Bernard Gill: “[O]ne must ask whether the suppression of the infection process, including all collateral damage, does not ultimately cost more lives, years and happiness than a less repressive approach. {[M]an [muss] ­fragen, ob die Unterdrückung des Infektionsgeschehens inklusive aller Kollateralschäden am Ende nicht mehr Leben, Lebensjahre und Lebensglück kostet als eine weniger repressive Vorgehensweise.}” Ibid., “Wir müssen übers Sterben reden - DER SPIEGEL - Wissenschaft,” accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/philosophie-coronavirus-lockdown-wir-muessen-uebers-sterben-reden-a-9a2617d5-7ff6-455c-967b-b3b0858e7b3f. – Holly Buck: “The systemic effects from panicked attempts to achieve the curve may cost far more lives than COVID-19 itself.” Ibid., “The Tragic Omissions of Governance by Curve,” Strelka Mag, accessed May 26, 2020, https://strelkamag.com/en/article/the-tragic-omissions-of-governance-by-curve.

[31] „The fact that officials can enact emergency measures such as they did here without even a documented accounting of how they thought about these follow-on effects should be alarming.“ Buck, “The Tragic Omissions of Governance by Curve.”

[32] Bernhard Zand, Veronika Hackenbroch, “Was in Wuhan geschah: Protokoll einer Vertuschung - DER SPIEGEL - Politik,” accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/coronavirus-ursprung-in-wuhan-haette-die-pandemie-verhindert-werden-koennen-a-00000000-0002-0001-0000-000170816270. – In the German context: let’s find out how many YLL people will have lost through the advice of public health institute RKI not to wear masks (!) and not to dissect the victims (enabling knowledge feedback into treatment).

[33] We were warned: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/10/opinion/the-next-pandemic-is-closer-than-you-think.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

[34]  Paul B. Preciado, “The Biopolitics of COVID-19,” BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY (blog), May 4, 2020, https://biopoliticalphilosophy.com/2020/05/04/the-biopolitics-of-covid-19/.

[35] G. Marois, R. Muttarak, and S. Scherbov, “Assessing the Potential Impact of COVID-19 on Life Expectancy,” Monograph (Laxenburg, Austria: WP-20-005, May 13, 2020), pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/16467/.

[36] Falb, Geospekulationen. Metaphysik Für Die Erde Im Anthropozän, 63f.

[37] Anita Arora et al., “Population Well-Being Measures Help Explain Geographic Disparities In Life Expectancy At The County Level,” Health Affairs 35, no. 11 (November 2016): 2075–82.

[38] This is why, against Agamben who would probably think of all this as a politics of ‘bare life,’ life expectancy is itself a form of life – the most robust and fundamental one I can think of. Read Agambens controversial early contribution to the Corona debate here: “Coronavirus and Philosophers | European Journal of Psychoanalysis,” accessed May 27, 2020, https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/coronavirus-and-philosophers/.

[39] Max Roser, “Life Expectancy,” Our World in Data (blog), accessed April 17, 2018, https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/life-expectancy-at-birth-oecd.

[40] Raj Chetty et al., “The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014,” JAMA 315, no. 16 (April 26, 2016): 1750, https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.4226.

[41] Compared to people with the highest life expectancy today. Number from Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie, “Burden of Disease,” Our World in Data, January 25, 2016, https://ourworldindata.org/burden-of-disease. Reference year is 2017.

[42] See e.g. “Coronavirus: Unpacking the Theories behind Africa’s Low Infection Rate,” The Africa Report.com, May 5, 2020, https://www.theafricareport.com/27470/coronavirus-unpacking-the-theories-behind-africas-low-infection-rate/.

[43] This little phrase is the only nice thing I could pick up from the antivaxxer take on the pandemic – but I find it really nice! – “COVID-19 Map,” Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, accessed May 27, 2020, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.

[44] “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing - Statistics and Research,” Our World in Data, accessed May 27, 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-testing.

[45] Examples: Zadie Smith, “The American Exception,” The New Yorker, accessed May 27, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-american-exception-in-the-coronavirus-crisis; Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Inequality Intensifies the Coronavirus Crisis in Detroit,” The New Yorker, accessed May 27, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-coronavirus-and-inequality-meet-in-detroit.

[46] “Average detection rate of SARS-CoV-2 infections is estimated around nine percent - Georg-August-Universität Göttingen,” accessed May 27, 2020, www.uni-goettingen.de/en/606540.html.

[47] “Covid-19’s Death Toll Appears Higher than Official Figures Suggest,” The Economist, accessed May 27, 2020, https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/04/03/covid-19s-death-toll-appears-higher-than-official-figures-suggest.

[48] “Global Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Scaling Up Investment Plan 2015-2024,” World Bank, accessed May 27, 2020, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/health/publication/global-civil-registration-vital-statistics-scaling-up-investment.

[49] Philip W Setel et al., “A Scandal of Invisibility: Making Everyone Count by Counting Everyone,” The Lancet 370, no. 9598 (November 2007): 1569–77.

[50] Camilo Mora et al., “How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?,” ed. Georgina M. Mace, PLoS Biology 9, no. 8 (August 23, 2011): e1001127, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127.

[51] Kate E. Jones et al., “Global Trends in Emerging Infectious Diseases,” Nature 451, no. 7181 (February 2008): 990–93, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06536.

[52] Patrick Forterre, “Origin of Viruses,” in Brian W. J. Mahy and M. H. V. Van Regenmortel, eds., Desk Encyclopedia of General Virology (Oxford: Academic, 2010), 23–30.

[53] “Charles C. Mann: Living in the Homogenocene: The First 500 Years - The Long Now,” accessed May 26, 2020, longnow.org/seminars/02012/apr/23/living-homogenocene-first-500-years/.

[54] John Vidal, “Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge,” Scientific American, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/destroyed-habitat-creates-the-perfect-conditions-for-coronavirus-to-emerge/; David Quammen, “Opinion | We Made the Coronavirus Epidemic,” The New York Times, January 28, 2020, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/28/opinion/coronavirus-china.html.

[55] Coronavirus Is Our Future | Alanna Shaikh | TEDxSMU, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fqw-9yMV0sI.

[56] Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, “Want to Save the Planet? Say Bye-Bye to Nature: Column,” usatoday, accessed May 26, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/04/22/earth-day-climate-change-column/26073883/. A socialist, I am sceptical of ecomodernism wherever it appeals to neoliberalism; an accelerationist, I am affirmative of ecomodernism wherever it provides blueprints for planning world ecologies at scale.

[57] George Monbiot, “Lab-Grown Food Will Soon Destroy Farming – and Save the Planet,” The Guardian, January 8, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/08/lab-grown-food-destroy-farming-save-planet.

[58] Edward O Wilson, Half-Earth Our Planet’s Fight for Life (New York: Liveright, 2017).