“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” Albert Einstein
Through giving, one recognises the interrelated nature of human beings. Rather than the selfish arrangement where an individual maximises his own profit by charging a price for delivering a service, giving is this outward looking gesture that seems to say “hey, I’m here to help. Your wellbeing concerns me. And anyway the health of my own sphere depends on yours – we are connected”.
Regrettably, this act of gesture is being subtly shelved by the so-called sharing economy as peer-to-peer service providers such as Airbnb and Uber are making any kind of help available, but to anyone who is willing to pay the price. By this effect of embedding a transactional aspect to some gestures that were until now untouched by market forces, it is steadily commodifying every aspect of our life. Whereas before individuals would probably offer their accommodation for free to friends and family when they were away, loading it on Airbnb will now grant them an extra buck for it. Even the impulse to help a friend with writing his or her CV is being challenged by platforms such as People per Hour that will allow anyone to monetise similar advice by marketing it to strangers. Continue reading
How easy it is be stuck in some kind of apathetic pessimism these days. Falling into the trap of a bleak appreciation of things has become the new norm, as enough bad news are flooding our social feeds to make us want to hibernate in spring. Of course, dramatic things are taking place both at the local and global levels. From the rise of nationalism across Europe to the situation in Syria and the first moves of Trump’s presidency – you name it. All of this is sending shivers down our spines, and for the right reasons. But Philosophie Magazine was asking in March whether it is possible to be well in a world that isn’t (“Peut-on aller bien dans un monde qui va mal”) – I want to ask, when has the world ever been OK?
Not only does this kind of positioning seem to obscure the ongoing atrocities that have accompanied humanity across the ages, but it also reveals something of the nature of our reflection on things and of the illusion that lies at the core of it: that the world is something that can be ordered, unified, and that any event that does not go towards this unity is bad, ill-conceived, a cause of desperation and apathy. As French philosopher Michel Foucault said, “my point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism. I think that the ethico-political choice we have to make every day is to determine which is the main danger.” Continue reading
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” Abraham Lincoln
Democracy, sovereignty. Bureaucracy, globalisation. The Brexit debate has brought forward a whole gear of concepts that have been massively over-used, in an urge to give some intellectual weight to each side’s arguments. The EU? a bureaucratic machine – a loss of sovereignty for its member states. The UK? A country that can face the winds of globalisation on its own, with Brexiting finally allowing its population to make choices on a democratic basis. Is it a euphemism to say that some of us have felt betrayed by the striking emptiness of these claims? That it felt like complex notions such as sovereignty and globalisation have been overly simplified and used as smokescreens to justify all sorts of self-interested political moves?
Democracy is an interesting one. On one side the Leave campaign was shouting at will that the sprawling EU machine had led to an atrophy of democracy. Leave to regain control! On the other side, it was fascinating to observe how a flurry of disdain and cynicism from the remain supporters blew on social media after the referendum results, as some claimed that this is democracy in action – or, give a voice to the people and that’s what they do with it. So what’s the diagnosis here? Too much democracy? Or not enough? Continue reading
“No man is an island” John Donne
How obsessed our society in the western world has become with individual well-being, performance and time control…from being productive at work to maintaining a healthy sex life and maximising happiness, pushing ourselves beyond limits has become common practice. Many would comment that, apart from nurturing the ego and unleashing our narcissist tendencies to compulsively expose our achievements on social media, this trend should be regarded as positive. After all, who wouldn’t want to maintain a healthy and dynamic lifestyle? Who wouldn’t want to be able to maximise his time between getting fit and taking care of his kids, just like this guy demonstrates in a rather extraordinary fashion?
Of course, seeking to achieve control on oneself and to maximise some individual aspects of one’s life is not inherently wrong. It even denotes a form of courage and a sense of commitment which are largely laudable. The problem here is that contemporary obsession with well-being reveals far more than just a desire for self-control. Rather, it exposes how the neoliberal mindset has reached its apogee: an individualistic mentality that denies the social and political dynamics at work in our welfare, and which inclines us to take full responsibility for our life by becoming healthy and productive elements of the capitalist system. As a result, the search for individual well-being is rapidly replacing collective forms of struggle for socioeconomic rights, and our energies are now channelled against ourselves, in an infinite quest for control and performance.
“After all, if you do not resist the apparently inevitable, you will never know how inevitable the inevitable was.” – Terry Eagleton
Breaking the Dry
February is a good and happy time of the year. Indeed – it is seeing more and more people break the painful dry of January. So after a full month of committing to all sort of sparkling ginger drinks it is time to reunite around nice dinner tables and celebrate with a portion of food that could easily suit one’s weekly dietary need. February is, therefore, a time for political debates. The ones that get launched over a glass of wine and never really properly end. The ones like “Is capitalism the best socioeconomic system humans can get” and which easily inflame the tone of a large table of friends sharing an upper-middle-class background.
Most probably, a good majority of these friends have been raised surrounded by social-liberal ideas – the kind of centrist ideology that recognises the prevalence of the market as a way of organising the economy, but nevertheless endorses the state for its redistributionary and regulatory role. Now in their thirties, they have all lived enough to observe the drastic shift towards a reduction of the public sector’s involvement in health, education, and transport that happened since the neoliberal turn of the 80s. They have heard the good old mantra of “private does it better” multiple times. They have recently come across the discourse exposing the ‘necessity’ of austerity in times of crisis – one that legitimates further reducing the supporting role of the state for the public while governments choose to make large tax favours to private giants and to bail-out banks with public finance. They have observed the appearance of the periphery inside the core, as demonstrated by the immiseration of countries like Greece1 inside Europe, with its lot of precarity and high indebtedness. They have noticed the tendency of late capitalism in commodifying not only goods and services but also health, arts, nature and basically everything that’s been spared by the magic touch of the market (have we found a way to trade our souls yet?).
“The place of the worst barbarism is that modern forest that makes use of us, this forest of chimneys and bayonets, machines and weapons, of strange inanimate beasts that feed on human flesh.” ― Amadeo Bordiga
Modernity is in crisis – a view from Edgar Morin
When the French thinker Edgar Morin declared that modernity was in crisis at the start of this century*, that was to express how the combination of technique, science, economy and capitalism, what he called the “four motors of the propelled spaceship Earth”, had failed in its mission of bringing progress to humanity. He explained that humans had fallen short of observing that each of these areas of supposed advancement presented an ambivalence, in other words a mixture of positive and negative outcomes.
Where technique has brought comfort in developed countries, it has also led to the dehumanisation of the workplace through the invention of the work chain. Where science has brought the progress of medicine, it has also created the nuclear bomb. The capitalist modes of production have engendered an economic development on some fronts, but they have also unleashed the forces of neoliberalism which have propelled competition as the new prominent norm in every aspect of life, reinforcing economic inequalities and a sense of despair at the individual level. Continue reading
C’était en Septembre 2014 que le hashtag #NotInMyName était apparu pour la première fois. Des partisans de Daesh venait d’assassiner l’humanitaire britannique David Haines, répondant à l’appel du groupe de faire saigner l’Europe en réponse aux interventions en Irak et en Syrie. Le vent avait alors vite soufflé sur les réseaux. La fureur pacifiste s’était levée, et des musulmans britanniques s’étaient désengagés de cette forme d’Islam radicale en proclamant #NotInMyName. Le mouvement a commencé ainsi, à l’est de Londres, pour se répandre sur la toile en dépassant largement les frontières nationales.
Pas en leur nom, cette version radicale de l’Islam qui corrompt les jeunes esprits en promettant l’Apocalypse. Pas en leur nom cette foi aux accents nihilistes qui négligent les messages de paix du Coran. Certainement pas en leur nom ces appels à la barbarie en Europe. Mais était-il si nécessaire de le dire?
“1945-1990 – Russophobia
1990-2015 – Islamophobia
2015- ?? – Russophobia AND Islamophobia.
Isn’t it time the MI Complex created a new bogey-man?”
― Arindam Mukherjee
A couple of weeks ago, two Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian bomber near the Syrian border. It is unclear whether the collision happened over Syrian soil or Turkish soil. Anyway, normal procedures would have been for the Turkish army to redirect the Russian plane to other territories, not in any manner to shoot it down. Even so, Turkish Prime Minister Sir Davutoglu was fast to consult the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), complaining about his airspace having been violated and seeking reassurance that the alliance would stand by Turkey’s side.
These events were a wake-up call for observers to realise the implications of having Turkey as a NATO member as the situation in the Middle East is becoming increasingly fragile. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which stipulates the core principles of the organisation, mentions that an attack on any member is an attack on all members. Any retaliation from Russia could potentially lead to a confrontation with the 28 members that form the alliance. In short, the world could see the start of WWIII as many commentators were fast to claim.
“How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?” ― Howard Zinn
When the German sociologist Ulrich Beck came up with his concept of World Risk Society in the 70s, he probably didn’t forego how useful this term would be to policy-makers to analyse the world forty years later. Beck argued that modernity, after a period of industrialisation and progress, had reached a second phase where men were now dealing with the negative side effects of this industrialisation, such as terrorism and climate change. These risks, he argued, are global. They can reach everyone anywhere, are unlimited in time, and are therefore increasingly difficult to predict. These aspects, however, does not prevent society to try and put a lot of efforts in managing them, by taking all kind of preemptive actions. In short, the less you know, the more you act.
This notion of global risk quickly became seductive to policy-makers, as pictured by Donald Rumsfeld expressing himself in 2002 at the Department of Defense. Then Secretary of States of the United States, Rumsfeld talked about the potential link between the Iraqi government and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda by using the term ‘unknown-unknown’ risk. Picturing it as unbounded, unlimited, and unpredictable, Rumsfeld argued that this global risk offered all the reasons to go and engage time, money and human energy in the Middle East, apparently. That way, he legitimated the American interventions that would follow in Afghanistan.