Nov 162014


I don’t know how many of you have been following the story of Kaci Hickox, the amazing nurse who went to Africa to treat Ebola patients then was jumped on by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and her home state Maine Governor Paul LePage. She was locked up, then quarantined and threatened with jail, despite having no symptoms. She was quite outspoken in her disdain for the efforts to control her behaviour.

I put this story next to another, the recent Canadian decision to simply revoke the citizenship of Canadians deemed to be behaving inappropriately. One used to thing that citizenship was irrevocable. Clearly not.

These stories reminded me of Giorgio Agamben’s concept of State of Exception, an idea I am only loosely beginning to understand (something like the gambit by which so-called modern democracies unilaterally exclude citizens from the bare rights to citizenship, make them non-people, and thus tend ineluctably toward totalitarianism — okay, tell me how wrong I am).

So I put together a couple of items. First, a little animated explanation of Agamben’s concepts of Homo Sacer and State of Exception. Then a lecture by Slavoj Žižek, at the beginning of which he takes a wild detour into an explanation of how western liberals mistakenly interpret the concept to State of Exception to refer to people traditionally thought of as dispossessed and voiceless. No, Agamben says. We are all in a State of Exception.

The case of Kaci Hickox just proved it.



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