Byung-Chul Han, The Palliative Society. Pain Today Byung-Chul Han, Translated by Daniel Steuer, Polity Press, 2021
Our societies today are characterized by a universal algophobia: a generalized fear of pain. We strive to avoid all painful conditions – even the pain of love is treated as suspect. This algophobia extends into society: less and less space is given to conflicts and controversies that might prompt painful discussions. It takes hold of politics too: politics becomes a palliative politics that is incapable of implementing radical reforms that might be painful, so all we get is more of the same.
Faced with the coronavirus pandemic, the palliative society is transformed into a society of survival. The virus enters the palliative zone of well-being and turns it into a quarantine zone in which life is increasingly focused on survival.
And the more life becomes survival, the greater the fear of death: the pandemic makes death, which we had carefully repressed and set aside, visible again. Everywhere, the prolongation of life at any cost is the preeminent value, and we are prepared to sacrifice everything that makes life worth living for the sake of survival.This trenchant analysis of our contemporary societies by one of the most original cultural critics of our time will appeal to a wide readership.