Resilience and the world after

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They say it all the time in interviews, they repeat it in every article, they say it again, as quickly as an old hand in politics in an intermunicipal association with parallel blurred structures, at the turn of their sentences. Since the beginning of this crisis, one term, in addition to the long-lived term « post-crisis world », has become popular: resilience. But isn’t this term, whose meaning is noble and whose scope is worthy, becoming the paragon of (neo)capitalist speech?


On your marks, get set? Go away! If the term has been popularized by the neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, and used in all sorts of ways (I remember, for example, a « School and Resilience » published by Odile Jacob ten years ago), it is much older than that and has a first meaning in the exact sciences. It is the ability of a metal to resist impact. We are not made of metal (at least, not yet; although, with implants of all kinds and other fillings for decayed teeth…), but we are assimilated by a sleight of hand to a material that can be melted, that can be dissolved, but that has a resistance to shock. Like reeds, we bend but do not break (at least outwardly).

From the Latin « resilire », « to jump back, to return by jumping » (which gave, let us note, the verb « to resiliate », and the noun « resiliation », which have clear meanings of abandonment or stopping), the word has had an exciting history, passing to our English friends (and ex-European partners) where the term « resilience » is attested as early as 1824. We waited until 1906 and La vie au grand air (French magazine of all sports) to find this word in French in an anthropological sense: despite crises, problems and difficulties, fist up, here we are again and stronger, please. But the word is not yet common. It’s about taking a step back, in every sense of the word, to come back even stronger.


So, when words have slalom-like trajectories, one is dazzled by the capacity of ideologies to take them back. These great panaceas that the world needs are often recovered. There is obviously no shortage of words for « resilience », which is part of the large family of words that imply that we move forward, that we do not stagnate and that we progress. Long live the limits. Thus, in addition to the word I am interested in today, I would like to evoke the soccer metaphors: first, the remontada of a team (but also of a part of the Lambert family, steeped in ultra-religious references, when their fight seemed to be winning on the other side, that of the cessation of care for poor Vincent who had not asked for anything); then, the rebound, which we forget — because we associate it more than in its turn with a serious revival of a virus that is talked about a little in the media — that it also expresses a revival of a behavior, a curve, a statistic.

Resilience, in this family, is not linked to a sport, in an idea of advancing or progressing. It would rather imply, in a certain softness, the rather obvious but not very refined expression: « Back to better jump ».


Seen in this way, it could cause an unfortunate synonymy with the term « recession ». Except that the recession is above all economic, then cultural, social, etc. Secondly, recession does not at all indicate that a recovery is possible: in this word, the future is uncertain. If there is one word that fits our era of rapid backtracking, it is « recession ». What on earth is the miracle of using the term « resilience », then? Out of optimism? By denial of reality? For stupidity? Or out of a boundless desire to give perspective?

It should be added to the record of resilience here that the term also has a zoological history, in the case of a species that appears to be dying out but takes advantage of a moment when it is endangered to regain its strength and prepare the future of the species. Quite the opposite of a race to the front, the resilience of the human species would have consisted in the action of withdrawing, at a (critical) distance, from a set of doctrines, actions, consumption and exploitation that are at the very least ineffective, at worst harmful, in order to better find itself, reconstitute itself and strengthen itself. From this meaning, attested as early as the 1960s for certain species of African animals, humans could not help but seize upon it. The danger, for the human being, is like for all the species of animals, social or not, civilized or not: it is, in its extreme stage, the lethal danger. What is it for man? Death, caused by illness, accident, tragedy, natural disaster, at the base. So much for the physical dangers. For the intellectual dangers… The list is too long, since we are fed a lot of information and entertainment on our screens and social networks that atrophy our brains and shrivel our grey matter, preventing us from using our critical neurons and our capacity to take distance and reflect on our condition of mortal and finite beings. So, the clever minds used a hyperonym, that of trauma. A trauma, as a reminder, is a set of general or local manifestations that exert a violent action on the organism (in a physical sense) or a violent emotional shock (a bereavement, an attack, a serious accident, a big failure, being put on the street…). We might as well say that neoliberal society, with its armada of violence going as far as structural and systemic violence or state violence, is not left out. But everything is fine because the French, Belgian or American population is resilient. We fall seven times, we get up eight, what a joy! But with what means?

The illusion offered by our ultra-liberal and ultra-supervised societies is to say: it’s thanks to the support of others that you get by. It’s also about making a lockdown or curfew seem like a trauma. It is not traumatic in itself to stay at home. Discovering that you have four walls, doors, windows and people around you is not a trauma, it should be an opportunity. On the other hand, this society that claims to be resilient says very little about those left behind, the excluded, the migrants, the isolated elderly, the young people who need to move and live, the poor who live with 6 people in a 60 m² room, the homeless who have to deal with their traumas themselves with their meager or non-existent means. It is traumatic to force entire sectors to close, it is traumatic to throw money at professions that just want to make a living from their passion, it is traumatic to leave entire sections of society unoccupied, which some say are « non-essential ». Yet, society does not offer them ways to be resilient or to have the means to try to become resilient.

The society of (over)consumption pursues its objective of progress and race towards an infinite necessarily better, forgetting the mortal and fragile dimension of the human being to whom we should rather teach what are his limits, how to respect them and to call upon a salutary distancing and a saving awareness which would make everyone progress: the human being that we force to live and to manage alone without tools, nor reflection, nor values, nor positivization of the event.

It is then a human being who becomes little by little a robot, programmed to advance, until the hole where he will finally fall.

David Tong

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