In his recent book on the pandemic, Slavoj Zizek identifies a crucial deadlock faced by governments in attempting to control the virus. “A strong state is needed in times of epidemics since large-scale measures like quarantines have to be performed with military discipline,” and this may include the ruthless control of information and top-down shaping of narratives. Inevitably, “this control itself spreads distrust and thus creates even more conspiracy theories,” leading to a population that is impossible to control and difficult to lead.

Writing at the very beginning of the pandemic, Zizek predicted almost precisely what would happen in the United States: “It’s not hard to imagine that large bands of libertarians, bearing arms and suspecting that the quarantine was a state conspiracy, would attempt to fight their way out.” Meanwhile, even as media outlets struggle to debunk such conspiracies, skepticism and distrust remain pervasive:

“The central message, that shadowy elites… are somehow ultimately to blame for coronavirus epidemics is thus propagated as a doubtful rumor: ‘it’s too crazy to be true, but nonetheless, who knows… ?’ The suspension of actual truth strangely doesn’t annihilate its symbolic efficiency… the only way out is the mutual trust between the people and the state apparatuses.”

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