by Ana Bazac

An important aspect of the human relationships and positions towards norms and even towards values is discipline or, better, the degree of discipline: and certainly, its feedbacks to relationships, norms and values. The pandemic has emphasised just the shortcomings of this necessary order in society and, more, of this accepted order.

Therefore, discipline may be somehow equated with social order – the existence of social rules which constitute the framework of the continuity/rhythmic functioning of society – and obviously, with the (general) respect of these social rules.


However, what does discipline mean? The Latin origin of the word helps us.  The starting verb is disco, discĕre, didĭci, discĭtum, to learn, to find, to know, to study, while in its word family discĭplīna, -ae was education, instruction, learning, science, object of research, order, moral principle and habit. As we saw, in our modern meaning and letting aside the scientific disciplines or branches of study, discipline is just the respect of rules in a social institution/structure. But already the Latin origin points out that it is not about an impersonal phenomenon – like that of order, to continue the above introduction – to which people may look from outside, as if it would be an objective given as the sea, the stars etc., but about a social construction/phenomenon of social construction that is not only cognitive but also (and foremost, since here not the epistemological aspect is important because it is inherent in the understanding of every human idea) the practical result of the human deliberation and association.

There is no discipline without the contribution of the human beings asked to conform to the supplied rules, because it is just the result of the compliance of people to these rules.

But how is this agreement fulfilled? The agreement as such is not a mechanical conformity, it is not obedience, but it is a deeper, or a more superficial, understanding: the understanding as such being the result of the previous analysis, discrimination of aspects, search for causes and insight of consequences of the respect or bypassing the rules, however rapid could they being. Discipline seems to be a behaviour that simply accepts the social order /is the result of the behaviour simply accepting the social order, but it is more than that – have the old Latin  warned: if the behaviour of people asked to be disciplined is only imitation and hypocrisy, it will vanish at the first wind disturbing the social edifice.


Accordingly, discipline is the knowledge of tasks, responsibility, consequences brought about by a certain social order or rules, their assumption. If so, discipline is/supposes their internalisation, people being fully aware that they took over the logic and problems of a certain social order: thus, that they are committed to fulfil them.  The Latin have summarised: discipline is knowledge and, on this basis, order or, better, moral order, principled order. And when both these aspects are fulfilled, discipline as requirement ceases to be imposed from outside: it becomes a simple habit; and at this level/on this basis, the humans become free to be interested about other problems than the compliance the rules. Indeed, when the social order is imposed from outside and people are preoccupied for their submission to the rules, the space of the flight of their minds is (much) narrower.

In this way, we outran the first features of discipline: compliance based on understanding. This understanding means rationality and rational, but in this moment we already face new problems in defining discipline. Because: both the understanding and rationality, and the existing order that requires compliance are socially determined.


The fact that for the working people in the present pandemic the most urgent task is their protection from the disease, i.e. provision with protective ware, while for the investors and beneficiaries of the business-as-usual is back-to-work in all the non-essential industries describes the social/class origin – as by far the most important origin of “contexts” – of the social divide in the process of understanding and the concepts of social order.  More clearly, we do not reduce the social origin of the meanings of social concepts to the individual relativity: because the discipline of people is not a “taste judgement”, to use Kant’s concept and delimitation of judgements, and even the taste judgements are generalizable and reflect criteria which are all social and universalizable. The category of individual is not as individual as one thinks according to the individualistic pattern of the mainstream ideologies. Discipline is a behaviour both understood by the human persons and imposed by society. The problem is that society was and is constituted on the basis of domination-submission relationships and just the concrete social positions within these relationships give both the type of discipline one assumes and the legitimating theories of discipline.

The idea of different meanings of the same concepts/theories about the social order is well-known from old. And just for demonstrating that the dominant model of social discipline is the only one/the best, the philosophical and social sciences theories have depicted it as the most reasonable in “the best of all possible worlds”.  In its turn, the political practice has applied the above representation about reason as basis of social discipline through the stick and carrot policies or, better – and especially nowadays – through the stick and huge manipulation policies. While the military practice has reduced the above “civil” practice to social control through punishment. The military discipline has developed not as and application of the pattern of social discipline as reasonable behaviour, but simply as unquestionable and unconditional obedience.

Obviously, the modern civil world’s democratic tendencies – as criticism and the processes inciting the critical attitude – have countered the dominant models of disciplines. We can refer to literature about the weakness of military rigour[1] or to philosophy deconstructing the civil institutions (hospital, prison, Church)[2].

But what is ardent today is not to make different synopsises about the ideas and their rationale related to other ideas and to cultural facts – as most of the intellectuals from humanities do: ideas about other ideas about other ideas, OK, but losing the real life –.


The class divide in front of the pandemic  is not an excessive point of view. The reaction of people of letters when the first orders of physical distancing and self-isolation were proclaimed was that of description of their feelings in this new situation. Boredom, nostalgia,  recollections, poetry about virtual love. They worked from home and thus the danger of infection was much less or not at all.

In New York, these people lived in Manhattan, the other ones, the working people serving directly and indirectly the former – in Bronx. The first goal of these ones was to keeping themselves safe during their everyday toiling and agglomeration in trains and buses transporting them to work and back. Then, their same first goal was to having their jobs: because otherwise, as it was proved after the months of state (federally or Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE))-backed mortgage, i.e., protection of the homeowners[3]/ tenants and mortgage loan borrowers, one could not “stay calm” because postponement in the mortgage and rent payments was no longer accepted and the sword of evictions fell/was to fall. The moratoriums on residential evictions, the federal and states housing protection against housing insecurity[4], will certainly cease after the pandemic, but the unemployment, the student debts[5], the difficult or null affordability of the necessary health care, the insecurity of jobs and decent income – meaning, in fact, lack of perspectives for an individual and social development – show the class divide of the capitalist society with the highest number of Nobel laureates.

Not only the homelesses considered – before the pandemic – that the economic system unfairly favours the powerful[6].


Thus, these 70% lived the contradictory state in which, on the one hand, they knew that something is wrong in the deep down of the system and on the other hand, they had to follow the path drawn in this system in a disciplined way in order to survive.

The present pandemic was and is the example of this contradictory state: not of its origin – because it is not, on the contrary, it was generated just by the system – but  of its irreconcilable contradictions.

Those living from paycheck to paycheck were and are interested to keeping their jobs and thus to respect the discipline required by the pandemic. This discipline meant and means to use the protective gear and a protective milieu, the old workplaces and transport transformed because of the pandemic. Certainly, the protective gear and this protective milieu cost, so – because the cost cannot be transformed into excessive price increses, since these increases would undermine the purchasing power/the demand/the profits – the employers  complied with the known/even official requirements in an insufficient manner. The working people – from nurses and doctors to caregivers in care homes, workers in meatpacking units, teachers, Amazon workers, autoworkers, delivery workers etc. – were and are never against the discipline required by the pandemic. On the contrary: when they protest and even strike, they do not oppose it, but they oppose just the lack of direct and immediate conditions for a safe workplace.

The pandemic has only made visible  the lack of general, indirect and mediated conditions of living for the 70%. The real fact that the death occurred – leaving aside the criterium of age – mostly among those who leave every morning for a tiring and interminable work, never imagined by those who comment outside it,  shows that the protests and even strikes before the pandemic did not work. The general decent conditions of living and working of the entire society – sine qua non for a real social consensus, solidarity, thus discipline – were not met. Now, during the pandemic, people arrived to protest and even strike for the minimal necessary immediate conditions to survive. They want to keep the workplaces, but not with the cost of their lives.

Discipline concerns the logic used in the social communication. On the occasion of the first lockdown, one of the official arguments/message was the shutdown of nonessential activities. Actually, the art museums and the theatres were closed, but not the armament plants.

Accordingly, the contradictory state generating an unsatisfactory, if not even lack of – discipline was generated not by the working people, but by the capitalist structural relations: concretely, the complex of institutions have proven to be inefficient because their first goal was back-to-work/ maintaining the level of consumption and the raising of profit. This is the reason of the, practically, uninterrupted nonessential industries and activities. And this is the reason of destruction of small commercial industries and units, as well of culture, and the strengthening of the big capital; as usually, the “creative destruction” – now occasioned by the pandemic – was converted into a new stage of concentration and centralisation of capital and of reduction of the high mass culture supply.


The inadvertence between the first goal of the working people – to keeping themselves safe – and the first goal of the capitalist class,  to keep and rising the profits, explains the problems of the communication of officials and the state of social discipline. In the first moments of the pandemic, the call for social responsibility resonated with people: the crowded holidays/gatherings, the storage of basic necessities, shopping driven by panic and “flight” in rural areas was considered by all as irresponsible[7]. The young people who partied in the streets and on the beaches of Miami excelled in the “don’t panic” message, but this message was not powerful.

Even the contradictory claim about the existence of products for consumption – as if they would have been made by aliens – thus keeping the consumption habits at their level, and the message to transform our lives, to leave our old habits because of the responsibility required by the pandemic, was understood. People undestood the difficulties – till the sacrifices – of the medical staff and the essential workers and honoured them.

The main idea was the consonance between the individual responsibility and the social one: shown by the institutions. But when this idea proved to be transgressed by the real facts, when the discrepancy between the self-restrictive individual behaviours and, on the other hand, the programmed insufficient protective measures – because the serious protective measures would have meant the absolute lockdowns (as in China), the shutdown of nonessential activities, the  provision of all workplaces with protective ware (as well as the transformation of public transport and even of social buildings), and the development of medical treatments without any consideration of profit – became conspicuous, things changes. Actually, just the capitalist logic needs the officially repudiated anti-gear (anti-mask) and inexistence of virus movements.

The above-mentioned contradiction between the two socially determined goals can be controlled only through the means of confusioning the social conscience. That this confusion is related to the deterioration of the trust in social institutions was and is not so important for the establishment: because, first, the deterioration as such is based not only/not firstly on confusion, but on the real state of things; and because the establishment considers that just manipulation, including through confusioning, can stop the direction of the conscience based on deep distrust in the dominant institutions towards popular democratic alternatives to these institutions and establishment.


In front of this situation, the present general mood is a deeeply alienated discipline. People feel the social discipline as something strange and imposed: they wear masks because they avoid the fees, interpreting the true elements of the anti-mask movements (that the mask does not stop the  spread of the virus – AB, but if it is universally weared together with keeping the physical distance, it defends the individuals and at least slows the spread) as proofs for their intimate opposition against all messages of the establishment.

At the same time, the individual goals to survive do not coagulate into a social goal to survive through the thinking and deeds of a coherent alternative to the present society. People are more home-centred in home-centred communities than ever. Once more, the social discipline is only apparent: “this social discipline is fake, is not mine”, but at the same time just this discipline shows the real domination-submissions structural relations: that just this discipline “is mine”.


At the visible level –  but always hidden by the dominant ideologies, be they official or “irresponsible negationist” – the state of the social discipline is the class divide. In this respect, the mood is the result of the (conscious and unconscious) class  contradictions – people do not comply because of the counter-example of the well-offs who transgress the laws[8] – and the huge confusion generated by the all dominant ideologies.

Indeed, on the one hand, people see the wealthy behaving as if there would not be any peril. On the other hand, both the official and negationist ideologies are superficial, mixing half-truths and lies.

The cause of this situation is the multiplicity of voices/interests/groups of scientists/groups of businesmen that promote, ultimately, the dominant “ideologies”[9] of the moment: these dominant ideologies can be grasped through the class interests lens, manifested also on international/spatial level; for example, in the spring of 2020, the dominant ideology was the rejection of chloroquine and other preventive and alternative treatments and the support of Remdesivir, until the World Health Organization has adviced against it[10], while after then the ideology of vaccines and rather of “our” modernes ones against the Chinese[11], Russian, Cuban ones has continued to ignore the complexity of the problem, the fallacy of reduction to one solving model, and the  evidence that the political interests[12] and partisanship once more challenge the public suspicion towards science. Actually, without the transformation of health care into a universal right (to free, public, high standard health care) and thus rejecting the private profit purpose[13], neither the trust in science nor the internalised social discipline can be met: and the social space is filled  with a mixture of rightist conspiracy theories against discipline and empathy, and official chaotic and hypocritical call for responsibility.

Thus, the problem of discipline is not a simple question of means of social control and compliance, of protocols regarding standardised human beings. It reveals the intertwining of cultural, social, emotional values necessary to every “ordinary” man with the inherent human logic. This logic suspects the unilaterality and formalism of the “only solution” epistemology, of the formalist and reductionist manners to treat complex problems according to the “only dominant thinking” where the progress would have only one path and only forward, where holism does not exist and when the environment/the compraising system of systems does not exist in favour of the single targeted purpose (be it the scientific fixism criticised by Paul Feyerabend or the political contexts of science or the consequences of a scientific theory). Discipline cannot be met without a general politics of prudence and precaution[14]: which can be implemented only on the basis of an alternative view about the world societal organisation.


Finally, the class condition of the problem of disscipline is once more revealed by the attitude (meaning, thinking) towards the January 6, 2021 events in Washington. Not only the official policies during the pandemic have showed the propensity of liberal democracies toward military type social control. This type of form of domination-submission relations is related to the official  ideologies singing  together “the power of (the American) democracy”, the necessary military type rigour (whose acceptation in exceptional times is a pretext for continuing the censorship of all those rationally inquiring the social facts), the illusion of the continuity of the “unity” (said Biden)/”bipartisan civic engagement” of the “elite” of both parties in order to not instigate a “populist tyranny”[15], and the faith that “moderate” political reforms can restore “trust in government”[16]. This fanciful image absolutely ignore that the social discipline is the result of more than compliance to political forms: it requires deep economic and social balances which, as the majority of the 70% consider, are definitely broken.

This is the reason of depicting the 6 January event as a coup/insurrection. The event was, undoubtedly, a right-wing uprising, crushed as every uprising, but not a coup: a  riot, a “pseudo-coup”[17], rather accepted by the Democrats as a means to legitimate: the new power of Democrats and elected president, the  political “centre”, and the politics that impose obedience, including by all means, even through authoritarianism. The disproportionate evaluation of the event as a coup concerns also all the popular revolts, i.e. left-wing democratic, and not right-wing populist ones[18], and thus the event was rather a tool of the powerful, and not a danger for them. And if Trump is a didactic personage (obviously of extreme-right, using in a distorted manner the deep exasperation of people, concretely against the Democrats whose government they experienced[19] and whose voice was not insignificant neither in the Trump era; thus Trump had a populist discourse, meaning that he attacked real problems also; but in an extreme-right politics/manner, not solving them at all), it would be a mistake to not see that his demonization is a pretext to cover the structural  causes of the social problems; and to divert attention from the class opposition to the simple (interwar and post-war liberal) image of the “struggle against fascism” and of the “unity of the people in democracy”.

The event is, however, a warning: that these transgressions of the limits of a “peaceful democracy” will happen if the big social problems are not solved; and will happen incited not only by the Republicans; and because the dominant layers are afraid of  the left-wing class movements, of conscious class opposition, the lumpen-proletarian mob will be supported. The right-wing radicalisation can be stopped only by a left-wing popular democratic radicalisation.

At the theoretical level, the contradiction between the theory of continuity of structural causes generating the present appearance of the world and, on the other hand, the theory of necessary discontinuity/transformation of capitalism is pendant to the political concepts – like “behavioural fatigue” as a cause of the decrease of discipline in the second half of 2020[20] – used in front of the pandemic. Therefore, the lack of social discipline is not explained only through individual sense of discipline (lack of, empathy, difficulty to anticipate, exercise and education of vigilance, self-awareness, sensitivity to purposes – short term, long term, content-form, major-minor, principles-occurrences – self-restraint, openness, spontaneity), even though all of these aspects coexist and are intertwined. The social discipline, however, is something more: the social causes mentioned above cannot be ignored, since the aspects of rather social psychology – suppressed rational feelings lead to explosion, poor official /dominant explanations, distrust of the sources of explanation, distrust in the ability of the establishment to manage the common/social problems, need to openly communicate these feelings, needs to act in order to change the evil (whatever this evil means) – depend just on the structural causes, the structural relations of the present society. The social discipline supposes the domino effect within all these causes and psychological manifestations.

Therefore, the simple characterisation of people as mob, indisciplined irrational fellows, is not sufficient.


# Notes

[1] Ana Bazac, « L’idiot solennel : réverbération d’une formule de Hasek », La Pensée Libre, 175, http://www.lapenseelibre.org/2019/07/n-175-l-idiot-solennel-reverberation-d-une-formule-de-hasek.html.

[2] Michel Foucault : Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique, Paris, Plon, 1961; Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison, Paris, Gallimard, 1975.

[3] https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housing-assistance/mortgage-relief.

[4] Eviction, Mortgage, & Foreclosure Relief During COVID-19: 50-State Resources, https://www.justia.com/covid-19/50-state-covid-19-resources/eviction-mortgage-foreclosure-relief-during-covid-19-50-state-resource/.

[5] More than 6M households missed their rent or mortgage payment in September, https://eu.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/10/17/covid-19-stimulus-6-million-miss-rent-mortgage-payments-september/3694327001/; but not only because of the pandemic, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_debt.

[6] According to Pew Research center, 70% of Americans say U.S. economic system unfairly favors the powerful, January 9, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/09/70-of-americans-say-u-s-economic-system-unfairly-favors-the-powerful./

[7] Domen Bajde, Coronavirus: pourquoi certains sont irresponsables et d’autres pas?, 29 mars 2020, https://www.lesoleil.com/actualite/science/coronavirus–pourquoi-certains-sont-irresponsables-et-dautres-pas-bf451830406922d6c621cbd8e2e64328 (Denmark).

[8] See for example Dr. Daisy Fancourt, People started breaking Covid rules when they saw those with privilege ignore them, 2 Jan 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/02/follow-covid-restrictions-break-rules-compliance.

[9] In the meaning of Paul Feyerabend: translatable as narratives, points of view in different moments.

[10] WHO recommends against the use of remdesivir in COVID-19 patients, 20 November 2020, https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/who-recommends-against-the-use-of-remdesivir-in-covid-19-patients.

[11] Jon Cohen, China’s vaccine gambit”, Science  11 Dec 2020: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6522/1263, Vol. 370, Issue 6522, pp. 1263-1267, DOI: 10.1126/science.370.6522.1263.

[12] Kamran Abbasi, “COVID-19: Politicisation, “Corruption,” and Suppression of Science”, The British Medical Journal, 13 November 2020.

[13] Lau Kin Chi, Sit Tsui (Jade), “The Need for Recovering the Subjugated Knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine”s, Development (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41301-020-00276-8, (https://www.defenddemocracy.press/covid-19-vaccine-as-a-global-public-good-and-the-potential-of-traditional-chinese-medicine/).

[14] Guillaume Suing, Remdesivir, vaccins à ARN et « obsolescence programmée » des molécules : le capitalisme est un frein pour la science, 03 janvier 2021, https://germinallejournal.jimdofree.com/2021/01/03/remdesivir-vaccins-%C3%A0-arn-et-obsolescence-programm%C3%A9e-des-mol%C3%A9cules-le-capitalisme-est-un-frein-pour-la-science/.

[15] Larry Diamond, The Capitol Siege Is the Wake-up Call America Shouldn’t Have Needed, January 7, 2021, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2021-01-07/capitol-siege-wake-call-america-shouldnt-have-needed?utm_medium=newsletters&utm_source=twofa&utm_campaign=It%20Happened%20in%20America&utm_content=20210107&utm_term=FA%20This%20Week%20-%20112017.

[16] Pippa Norris, It Happened in America, January 7, 2021, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2021-01-07/it-happened-america?utm_medium=newsletters&utm_source=twofa&utm_campaign=It%20Happened%20in%20America&utm_content=20210107&utm_term=FA%20This%20Week%20-%20112017.

[17] U.S.: The Pseudo-Coup at the Capitol, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/north-america/u-s-the-pseudo-coup-at-the-capitol/: “a desperate attempt of fascists and what the English call “the bad, the mad and the sad”. However, it lacked any serious plan and organization since a coup would have aimed at occupying several centers of power and holding them by force of arms. While it is evident that Trump incited his fanatical supporters,…(it is obvious that) the formally still incumbent President was not able to mobilize any sectors of the state apparatus for his goal to stay in power”; the same opinion in  USA: Trump’s “insurrection” and the chaos of US bourgeois democracy,  07 January 2021, http://www.marxist.com/trumps-insurrection-chaos-us.htm.

[18] François Polet, Frédéric Thomas (coord). Soulèvements populaires, Paris, Syllepse, 2020.

[19] Tax cuts for the wealthiest and the increase of the social polarisation was not specific only to the Trump administration.

[20] Criticised by Dr. Daisy Fancourt, ibidem.


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