A pox on all their houses [or, how lockdown makes clear (to those who have not been paying attention) the substantive content of divisions in ownership of and access to property]

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a great many of the inadequacies of our present systemic model to those who had previously refused to properly engage with them, or been in a state of cognitive dissonance regarding our capacity to address them. Perhaps foremost amongst these issues is that of shelter, given that the demand that all be confined to their houses necessarily draws attention to the disparities in housing wrought embedded in the property relations established through the capitalist system. Simply put, the palatial splendour inhabited by the privileged few in opposition to the squalid tenement flat is a contradiction far less easily sustained when under house arrest. While the fortunate few are able to take a walk around their vast estates and lounge by their opulent swimming pools, the disenfranchised are denied the opportunity to spend time occupying the few public spaces that remain available for common use in typical circumstances, and perhaps even deprived of sunlight if they are not fortunate enough to have a window that faces the outside world. The inherent unfairness in this distinction, obscured when not in a state of exception, is now laid bare for all to see who endure it, even if they would usually accept it as part of the normal order of things, even if they would normally consider themselves amongst the upwardly mobile, aspirational types who shall one day occupy the grand mansions they covet while trawling social media fabrications of ideal lives. In the “american dream” inflects the thinking of the entire world, seducing us with its distorted image of what constitutes happiness. The distinction between haves and have-nots is brought into even sharper definition when we not only consider the difference within the beneficiary nations, but also remember the kinds of shelter in which huge swathes of humanity dwell. Shacks of rusting metal or rotting wood propped against each other form the only kind of shelter available to those confined to shanty towns by the misfortune of the circumstances of their birth. For the billions of the exploited, the word ‘housing’ is scarcely sufficient to describe the makeshift structures under which they lay their heads. And what of those who have fallen between the cracks, for whom both networks of familial and communal solidarity have failed? Those dispossessed who have nothing more than cardboard boxes with which to fashion a shelter. Those whose plight has not been a priority until now, whose numbers have grown exponentially since the 2008 financial crash. Well, in the wealthier nations at least, solutions have mysteriously materialised. It is has suddenly become apparent that the resources do exist to deal with homelessness in this moment of crisis. An awareness of their innate human right to enjoy the basic necessities has materialised it seems, but from where? Out of the good conscience of the political classes, finally coming to their senses, excavating some minute amount of common human decency? Of course not. The need to put a roof over the head over the homeless has emerged only as they represent serious potential vectors of infection. Such are the times in which we live. This is not only a matter of spatial difference however, as the problem of security of one’s shelter is equally fundamental. Those whose lives are precarious, who live hand-to-mouth or paycheck to paycheck, with nothing left over to save and no resources to fall back on, suddenly find that enforced confinement prevents them from obtaining the money they need to ensure their material circumstances. Landlords continue to demand rent even from those who have en masse been deprived of their means to pay it. These times radicalise even those who failed to understand that such collective concerns are and were always their own. The entire logic of property relations that constitute political and social common sense must be challenged as this crisis continues to wreak havoc, or else we shall find ourselves in even greater precarity in its wake.

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