Against Social Distancing: A Critique of the Ideology of Isolation

plague flagellants

As of now, multiple states and cities have been put into what amounts to near-complete lockdown. Most of the East Coast of the U.S. has prohibited mass gatherings of people and forced restaurants to stop serving people in the building. Some states have even started to enforce curfews and travel restrictions.

At this point, the speculation is not when this will abide, but how much worse it is going to get.

These measures have been based around a general preventative principle: social distancing. Social distancing has, in the span of a month, gone from tactic to unquestionable dogma, and I believe it is worthwhile to unpack how it functions ideologically and why it needs to be subjected to a critique.

Shame is not epidemiology

In a distinctly American way, our crises have brought out the Puritan core of our national psyche.

Social distancing has been predictably utilized as a form of control and shunning; you are a bad person if you go out or meet other people because you are putting your needs above that of the group. You are being bad because you are helping spread the disease. Good people stay inside and follow orders.

Trying to shame people for going outside is more pathological than the disease itself because it completely fails to grasp the current situation. As hard as it is for some people to hear this, diseases aren’t spread by bad people. Anyone can get sick and there are going to be a large number of people who, despite practicing social isolation, will contract the disease and there will be an even larger number who, despite venturing outside and coming into contact with others, will emerge completely unscathed.

Diseases infect people, no matter how self-righteous they are.

The elevation of social isolation into a dogmatic belief in part stems from fear. People seek to perform certain self-congratulating rituals in order to protect themselves from contagion, sealing themselves away in hermetically sealed apartment units from the contagion of selfish and bad people on the outside. The underlying Protestantism of it all shines through as people care more about shaming those they see as disobedient or lazy, trying to berate others into submitting to their personal rituals because they identify personal moral failure with biological contagion. This was true long before any disease broke out; this crisis just helped make this all the more explicit.

They break rules, don’t they?

The leadup to the full lockdown saw the scolds and fear mongers pulling out their hair in panic at the sight of people eating at restaurants, going to the gym, clubbing at bars, going to church, etc. Rideshare drivers breaking down in tears at the idea of dropping someone off at a club, how could they be so selfish? Why aren’t they locking themselves in their panic rooms at the first sign of danger?

Liberated from the obligation of hours of commutes and direct supervision, God forbid people want to take advantage of their time while they still have it.

People were going out to eat or drinking in bars because they knew their time was limited. Shutdown was imminent and in many ways this last gasp only accelerated the perception of doomsday. The worst is assumed: the person at the gym only cares about their own health (an unforgivable crime) and needs to be stopped for their own good. Contemporary ideology is entirely convinced that people are not making calculations or being strategic when they go out to a club full of healthy young people or seeing friends one last time before they close ranks among their family; no, they’re just being hedonistic pleasure-seekers and for this they need to have their movement restricted, activities monitored, and behavior castigated in public.

The reaction against social isolation is a reaction against social control.

The state steps in

At the time of writing, more than a fifth of Americans are under orders to stay home by the state. Social isolation is now no longer a suggestion, but a mandate. Puritanical ethos is law.

Faith in the state, of course, is poorly placed. Its goal at the moment is to preserve two things: its image and the economy. Your health, which will get worse if you’re forced to stay in a 30 square foot apartment for months at a time, is not the concern. You as an obedient citizen are expected to make sacrifices for the greater good and let the authorities make all the decisions about where you’re allowed to go and who you’re allowed to see.

No good crisis isn’t going to be taken advantage of.

Works and plagues

“This Strife is good for mortals”

—Hesiod, Works and Days

This contracting loss of physical freedom has come with a strange kind of liberation from white collar work. The digital economy has turned everyone’s bedroom into their office and, essentially their whole world (unless, of course, you’re working in any kind of job that actually matters for social reproduction).

The divide, now more explicit than ever, is between “survival jobs,” consisting of a hodgepodge mix of Uber Eats drivers, supermarket workers, retail employees, bus drivers, and medics, now is faced with the endless task of making society run despite being exposed to the worst pandemic of their lifetime. Most of these jobs, especially in food service, have no benefits or job protection, revealing again the class stratification inherent in the service economy.

The ideal worker in the eyes of the state now is not the “survival worker,” despite the allowances they are given to travel relatively freely (provided it is during working hours). In fact, the perfect worker is the one working from home, hidden from everyone else and slowly losing their mind to cabin fever and lack of face to face social contact. This is the upstanding citizen, one whose whole life can be reduced to a single room: “put your head down and work away, just wait for things to blow over, don’t do anything that might make things more difficult for us.”

Technocracy and obedience

The widespread and near-universal adoption (at least among the well-meaning) of social isolation in many ways speaks to the wholly technocratic and elitist way in which crisis is still being handled in the present world.

There is no concept of community solutions, but rather a top-down command economy of disaster capitalism with UBI characteristics. Failures of the centralized state are taken to be a lack of strong leadership or lack of obedience by the populace. People just need to listen to the experts, damn it!

Social isolation is a catechism and public health experts are its clergy. Their word here is law and ordinary people apparently have no idea that coming into contact with sick people spreads disease. Young Americans are medieval peasants ignorant of modern medicine, rather than people taking calculated risks about exposure and treatment. It is up to the quarantine state apparatus to make these decisions for them.

There is no room for debate or discussion, only obedience. Don’t think, just act; otherwise people will die.

Christ among the lepers

“Now on his way to Sacramento, Jesus traveled along the border between Stockton and Modesto. As he was going into an encampment, ten men who had breathing difficulties met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a hoarse voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’

When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to your family.’ And as they went, they were cured.”

—Luke 17:11–14

The isolationist impulse produces scared, obedient, and atomized individuals. Freedom is selfish, autonomy is a contagion.

Healing doesn’t happen through isolation; isolation is a way to shut off and hide away the sick and dying. Rather than threaten the already buckling and incompetent health infrastructure, the contagious are told to stay home or risk being shipped off to somewhere even more isolated and inhospitable.

Our collective imagination is itself diseased. In the face of chaos we wait for a savior to swoop in from the outside and solve this problem for us. We felt disempowered before this crisis even began and now that what remains of society has ground to a halt we are even less capable of imagining ourselves as playing any role in our own salvation.

Never forget that the state and its legion of Ivy-certified experts are more than willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives to Mammon to preserve itself. Ask yourself, is the remedy to be christs among the lepers, or the city on the hill?

From crisis to community and back again

In their commentary on the pandemic, CrimethInc. made a series of comments that I think are deeply relevant here:

"We won’t be safer if our society is reduced to a bunch of atomized individuals. That would neither protect us from the virus nor from the stress of this situation nor from the power grabs that capitalists and state authorities are preparing to carry out. As much as the elderly are at risk from the virus, for example, older people are already dangerously isolated in this society; cutting them off from all contact with others will not preserve their physical or mental health. All of us need to be embedded in tight-knit groups in a way that maximizes both our safety and our collective capacity to enjoy life and take action…Within your group, as long as no one has the virus, you can still hug, kiss, make food together, touch the same surfaces—as long as you agree about the level of risk you are collectively ready to tolerate and communicate about it when a new risk factor arises."

The ideology of isolation is a presumption of guilt before innocence, of a hidden sin that you carry with you that can unknowingly seep into the ones you live and drain them of life before your very eyes. The point of social isolation is to make you fear yourself as a carrier, one with an impure seed that you cannot know until it’s too late.

This is a kind of original sin where we are contaminated from the start. But this is not who we are. Community lets us be giving and healing and protective in a way that grants us agency rather than submission. We need mutual aid now more than ever.

The Faustian bargain we are each presented with is that it is better to be safe in Hell than sick in Heaven.


Every crisis in the 21st century plays itself out the same as before. Experts, despite being completely unprepared for what’s happening and offering solutions arguably as calamitous as their problem, are elevated to the positions of unquestionable authority in the discourse and dissent is treated as yet another contagion to be sanitized.

My advice to the reader is the following:

Be critical, even of well meaning and justifiable disease containment measures.

Every crisis is an opportunity. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this one.

All measures can become a new normal. If the state has its way, the pandemic will never break.

Remember, Sloboda se ne prodaje za sve kuga maske svijeta; Liberty is not sold for all the plague masks in the world.


Appendix: Some points of clarification

After circulating my first draft of this piece, less than a week had gone by before there have been some radical shifts in the current social climate that need to be addressed. We are living in tumultuous times and anything written runs the risk of undoing itself before it can even be published.

First, let me reiterate that the object of critique here is not the practice of social distancing itself, but rather its position in the contemporary discourse around the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing does save lives (when done sensibly), but the problem is how this act of potential solidarity is being transmuted into a double-edged sword of alienation and distrust.

“Social distancing” as it stands is being conflated with social isolation, turning the jogger on the street into a potential carrier and your neighbor into Typhoid Mary. Paranoia leads to messianism at a time when it should be clear that the state cannot (nor wants to) save us. Hucksters and cultists can look to gurus and prayer for solutions, but radicals need to recognize the danger of idolizing isolation and start working toward providing concrete and material aid in the face of imminent crisis.

It should be clear to us by now that we need mutual aid. It is going to be quite literally a matter of life or death. This is not a call to play doctor for the sake of boosting one’s ego, but if you believe collapse is coming then you better start brushing up on basic first aid skills. For your own sake, don’t let yourself be in the position where something goes wrong when all the beds in the hospital are full.

Finally, as much as I would like to be optimistic at a time like this, I know the hopes of this opening up anything but fragmentation are slim. We need to be in it for the long haul and it’s going to be rough for the foreseeable future. Take care of yourself and take care of the ones you love, and most importantly, be ready for the worst. There will be moments of genuine compassion and solidarity that will give you hope, and now is not the time for self-flagellating pessimism.

Even with sober senses, the best we can say is that the future is deeply uncertain. I still have hope that between system collapse and dystopia, we might be able to crack open history and claim a little freedom for ourselves.


There are 16 Comments

Just too bad that unlike you, my (poor) social privilege didn't get me safe n sassy a bureaucratic job like yours, so I ended up working in a survival job instead.

Same. This piece is out of touch, written by someone that fears breaking rules, yet demands it of others to justify their rebellious spirit. Just stay away and stop spreading disease you cunt. There isn't a rebellion here. There is only death and stupidity and you are spreading both.

Enjoy your Chinese-style totalitarian future, you fascist prick.

You've made some valid points to those involved. Sometimes the middle path maybe best. In my homeland, I'd say we be clear of this in a month. Best to avoid the media. Take a 2 week vacation and enjoy a little hemp.

I wouldn't worry about it. Wash your hands before eating, maybe going to a public place, and cover your mouth. Fairly simple.

People are carriers for a lot of virii. Genetics, environment play a role. People are neurotic at times and yes we need mutual aid. Amen.

Original source:

You know what's fascinating to me is, the social distance method? Sure, it "flattens" the curve. But it also results in a higher area under the curve, even if that curve is flat. That means more people die. Bear with me.

When you socially isolate the way most people do, in practice, you are reducing your immune capacity. not only limiting your exercise and reducing nutrition quality, but also reducing exposure to pathogens which might give immunity, and increasing exposure to toxins and practices which immunosuppress (cleaning agents, wearing masks incorrectly/too long, needless consumption of OTC remedies which make SARS worsen).

You can be aware of this and limit it, but epidemiologically this is still going to be a factor on the overall disease progression through that society, making it more deadly. And there are aspects of social distancing which are inherently going to lower immunity and raise the area under the curve: specifically, the reduction of social contact, which allows for less immunity building and sharing within a population, and worsens mental health outcomes which directly impact immunity.

If you had a larger hospital capacity, built by a society which planned in advance for the consequences of globalized/climate changed world, there would be no reason to "flatten the curve". The only benefit that social distancing has, is to delay the number of cases that go into the hospital so they don't get over capacity and forced to deny care to new cases, resulting in most of those new patients (whether they are from car accidents, coronavirus, or anything else) dying while waiting for care. So this distancing does cause deaths to be reduced in our hellscape timeline, but crucially only because society chose to create an utterly inefficient and inadequate system to handle this type of problem. It didn't have to be this way, and we can change it in the future quite feasibly.

It's kind of frustrating to see the "woke" lib crowd blaming average people for not conforming to these ridiculous new behavioral norms, instead of the material conditions which have necessitate this authoritarian dystopia of mandatory curfews. They seem to just uncritically accept whatever the government agencies say as some immutable reality, rather than something shaped by institutions and relationships of social power. So you'll never see most of the people calling out the healthcare system as the main problem, it's always the zoomers on spring break or lazy millenials or burnout, selfish Xers or reactionary boomers or....whatever insult directed at normal/average people is most satisfying in the moment they write the tweet.

Another weird thing going on lately? CDC of USA is saying "dont wear masks, theres no known benefit". Simultaneously you'll see info on their website saying "we have no idea how many people are asymptomatic or how that contributes to Covid-19 spreading through the population, lol no evidence yet -shrug-".

If they made enough fucking masks they would be telling everyone to wear one. Same with the tests. Instead, only the rich and the health professionals "should" get them, they're having regular ass people drop off handmade, DIY N-95 masks at hospitals right now.

(edit: small aside on masks, if there was a push to have everyone wear them, there should also be information on how to use them correctly too. The fact that there isn't a push to generalize mask use, and as a result there is not a push to educate people on mask use, has resulted in me having to let several people know they are literally wearing the fuckers upside down, or otherwise incorrectly, because they've never had to use one before. Mask overuse and incorrect use also creates the conditions for bacterial growth on the mask's fibrous surfaces, which you then breathe in and it directly fucks up your immune system, making you ironically more vulnerable to other infections like COVID-19. So if we had a general mask directive, which actually educated people on how to do it, we would have substantially less transmissibility that I bet you could measure epidemiologically if you had a control group and a treatment group)

And people think these organizations are primarily guided by science! Nope, it really is all about the material conditions and social relationships, baby. It would be funny if we weren't gonna see so much needless death handwaved as "a natural disaster" or the result of "reckless socializing" instead of placed at the feet of our corrupt and utterly feckless socioeconomic elites. SMH


A lot of that was my own analysis, because everything you see in the news is about the importance of social distancing. Which, again, in our context is 100% the only option at this point to reduce death. But it didn't have to be that way, is my point, and you can clearly see how this will negatively impact immune response over a population.

Let's discuss my points on immunity:


**Toxic cleaning agents**

**Over The Counter Drugs Increasing COVID-19 Adverse Outcomes**

Above, you can see that while pretty much any drug is going to worsen the underlying condition and people should obviously be encouraged not to take anything, governments are giving conflicting and unhelpful advice to encourage people to *buy* one OTC drug or another. To prop up the market. Search "COVID OTC" on any search engine and you find articles about the *markets* but not the lack of WHO recommendations or people talking about how suppressing immune response is a terrible idea for a deadly virus with no recognized treatments. Utter disregard for human life.

**Immunity & Social Interaction**

This part is the most relevant, because it's inherent to the epidemiology of the social distancing recommendation, and can't really be fundamentally eliminated (but perhaps, ameliorated). Everything else is capitalist nonsense that is the result of our social systems not being designed to handle social distancing.


In short, both physical and psychological "touch" and contact is *crucial* for overall **physical** immune health, especially in people with preexisting psychoemotional distress (all of us under capitalism? Lol)

You've laid out suggested alternatives, but in the same comment described why the current material conditions do not allow those alternatives.

Would it be better if we had more medical facilities and less need to flatten the curve? Absolutely, but that's not the case; hospitals are short on supplies, short on staff, and there aren't enough of them. Would it be nice if we all had plenty of masks to help protect each other while out in public? Absolutely, but that's not the case; there aren't even enough masks for the people currently providing us with food and medical attention, and the general public doesn't even know what to do with masks when they have them.

Social contact is important for people's well being, but so is not catching/spreading a deadly virus. Maybe we should talk about ways to ameliorate the pains of social distancing while practicing it because that's what our material conditions require?

Like developing a closed circle of contacts to reduce physical isolation (same concept as fluid bonding with sexual partners; if one of you has it you all have it, but you don't spread it outside the circle). Like interacting from a distance via windows, doorways, yards, in local outdoor spaces with plenty of space between people. Like regular phone calls and video calls. Like watching movies "together" online. Like long-distance creative collaboration. Be inventive.

Social distancing is temporary; dying from a virus is not.

I agree, what the commenter was saying though is that the way "most people are doing social distancing" has these problems from a medical and biological perspective. And there are inherent negative effects from reduction of touch.

So i think we should do as you are saying, find ways to ameliorate this distancing. For example, remaining touch bonded with a limited number of partners, and limiting use of medication and making sure to focus on improving diet and exercise through digital mealtimes, mutual aid delivery services of groceries to vulnerable ppl, and maintsining social distancing during communal exercise in parks, etc.

Lots of straw men, paranoia, and conflating a bunch of different things. Yes we shouldn't trust the government (duh), but that doesn't mean that whatever the government says about anything is automatically a lie to gain more power and control. Using this logic, should we completely disbelieve all weather forecasts too?

"All measures can become a new normal. If the state has its way, the pandemic will never break."

Governments are made up of people too, and they don't want to be sick either. Not absolutely everything is diabolically Machiavellian. Governments depend on the smooth functioning of society. If everything is shut down, governments collect a lot less taxes, and if a third or more government workers are sick or dead, how does that help the state keep control? So no, the state is not trying to keep the pandemic going. They might try to keep some of the emergency measures in place, but only by incorporating them into the context of a fully normally functioning society -- after the pandemic.

"Governments are made up of people too, and they don't want to be sick either. "

indeed. and by and large, those people at the top of the political pyramid scheme - in most countries - are in the highest risk groups. coincidence?

Did someone bother to read the numbers, statistics, graphics with your own critical mind, if you have one?? From Crimethink to this piece its is possible to see brain washing..... It is needed to go a step back on the analyses of what is happening. Just TRY to find out if this virus is as bad as the global mediatic brains washing says it is. From there, maybe write something.....
Here you have other perspective:

What is your anonymous blog link supposed to prove exactly?

the blog is not mine. if the fact that is anonymous gives you a feeling of mistrust forget about it.
make your one investigation, try to find out about influenza deaths in previous years, in the usa, in italy, everywhere.
question "deaths with covid-23 or deaths due to covid-23?" "how many of the death died with HPV, was the HPV the cause of the dead?" "will i would be in panic if i had to see live numbers of death car accidents in the usa all day long during days?" "what is the chinese population? how many people born and die every day?"
"what is exactly a virus? how a virus lives? how the damage of a virus is connected with the surrounding ecosystem?" "what has the north of italy in common with whan?" "why are the hospitals so full or so empty?" "why the army is in the street?" "are funeral services closed by panic?" ....................

if your attention span is not completely fucked by technology read the Comments on the Society of Spectacle by Guy Debord

something happened?

this is so laughably out of place, especially on an anarchist site. Kinda like some senior pig being frustrated that someone posted views somewhere without signing with their full legal name, so they can't get SWAT teamed and sent to jail. Oh the butthurt!

preserve the status quo, and it's going to lead to a contracting of wealth in the hands of the already wealthy, especially in the U.S. where they're only giving out one check in order to help people...and then there are business loans.

but i like the article overall...have fun while everyone else is freaking out, like the people who wrote this above i'm very curious and fascinated as to how this whole thing is going to turn out, too bad a lot of people are too dependent on a job they maybe lost and are just caught up in state of anxiety about the ciris.

I think you're pretty right, no way this isnt going to benefit the already wealthy who can afford to either work out of the home or whatever. 6 something million unemployed in the US? Crisis time

LORDY Lordy, don't drageth Jesus into this fouleth political brawleth, he seeth thou filthy lungs breathingeth their dirty urban stench and fumes! Thou family conformeth to living together in isolation, BUT NOT LIKETH JESUSES 40 DAYS OF SOLITARY DESERTETHNESS. Thou family of 6 crowdeth into a single 90 squareth house, that maketh it 15 square metreth per person. THEY BEETH FORNICATORS ADULTERERS AND INCESTUALETH.

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