Michel, a Kairos reader, has been writing down his experiences for a few weeks now, caught up in this madness we are currently in. He was waiting to send it to the Kairos editorial office, one day or another… It was after reading « Bande de solitudes »(1) that he made up his mind. We relay his words in our « testimonial » section.
Today, rage and anguish are eating away at my heart. Fear haunts me. Not so much that of being contaminated and contaminating by the bug as that of suffocating under a leaden blanket and letting everything that makes us (still) alive suffocate under it.
Lassitude gnaws at me. Of these long days without any other contact than through the screen. Endless video conferences where you can fear at any moment to catch the virus of the discord. The sadness gnaws at me, to see cultural centers, libraries, solidarity restaurants, alternative places closed, all these places where humans meet to recreate together moments, movements that make sense. To see condemned the footbridge of the Maison de quartier in my neighborhood, where my dear friend who left in May used to have her coffee and chat with those for whom∙le∙s this footbridge was like a bridge that maintained the link between their solitudes. To learn about the bankruptcy of an organic store, the suicide of a young man…
Today I am afraid: around me, around us: uncertainty, anguish, or revolt… Unhappiness, anguish (and/or revolt) parasitize our conversations, dull our hopes… Among our loved ones, even the most serene ones, show signs of weariness or suffering (or submission, which is also deadly). I hear and see from many quarters that » people are going crazy ».
Today we are as if we were struck down by a new Leviathan(2), we are under the influence of the fear that it distils. We react to it by blind submission or by revolt, which sometimes blinds us as well.
What to do?
As Naomi Klein has shown(3), neoliberalism is well suited to authoritarian rule. Worse, as many authors analyze(4), emptying democracy of its content, leaving only an empty form, is part of its foundations and was theorized by its designers such as Hayek and others. The strategy of shock, as suffered by the Chileans under Pinochet, consists of imposing extreme austerity, measures that aim to render the population powerless, to make them give up all claims, in short, to submit. In short, to bring them down.
Is it that, like Comte-Sponville, » I would rather catch the Covid-19 in a free country than escape it in a totalitarian state « ? If I hesitate, it’s because I’m not particularly afraid of catching it. But I want to respect those who are afraid of catching it, who want to preserve their health, which is more fragile than mine, and/or that of loved ones for whom they are worried. Nevertheless, I fear authoritarian, even totalitarian order above all, and I fear it especially in its insidious, mutant, elusive, hard-to-understand form, which is neoliberalism. And now I fear very, very much for my little, not so solid, mental health. I fear this order for my « little freedom », but above all for our freedom, our freedoms, to demonstrate together in the street for the climate, against the extinction of species or for social rights, to meet face to face to remake the world or to cultivate a collective garden… All things that are so beneficial, so important for our well-being, our psychic health
Between the submission that makes us live under the empire of anguish and the rage that can lead to hatred or despair, I am rather of those who « have hatred ». And yet…
Perhaps, in the end, between the terror of the one who integrates the dominant, anxiety-provoking and liberticidal discourse, and the fear of a totalitarianism that is coming, all is not played out: what to do? What to do?
A few weeks ago (it was before the second confinement), V. a neighbor came to ring my doorbell, inviting me to an impromptu performance on the occasion of the artist’s tour that was taking place the following weekend in the commune. All joyful, she tells me that » thanks to Covid « , to the rituals of applause at eight o’clock in fact, bonds were created between neighbors, who organized a party in their street. This » grace » irritated me, violated me and I told him so. And she understood that it was upsetting me. It must be said that V. finds meaning on the path of Buddhism. This inspires him to take a certain approach to life. Does this approach inspire me? No. Do I despise her for this? Certainly not. It is true that she and her neighbors, by organizing street parties in September, have done something, have made an act of connection. And it’s true, when I passed by the street where V. lives and saw the traces of the party, drawings with colored chalk on the tarmac, it gave me a real joy. I said to myself, well, here, life has returned. Did V. and her neighbors help the inhabitants of the rotten streets of Saint-Josse, the women who are victims of violence from their men, the nurses on the verge of burnout, the old people in their homes? No. But some of them have made something that makes sense, that is inhabited by a certain impulse of life. So life remains possible. Until when?
An article found in a pile of old newspapers…
« Hate and fear [anguish rather?] are two sister alienations. Screaming « Down with Hitler » or « Down with Stalin », « Down with Jaruzelski »(5)  or « Down with Putin », it often makes no more sense than shouting « Down with Big Brother »(which does not exist). It is even taking the risk of conferring on our targets a mythical power. By exhausting ourselves in hating, we blind ourselves to the best possible strategies of resistance. Because, if it is vain to hate, it is constantly necessary to resist, to oppose islands of personal and interpersonal existence to the rising tide of abusive normalizations, whether they are economic, social or media. If there is hope, it can only be in man and in every man, starting with oneself and with those we live with here and now. No one has the right to resign the name of man. We must consider that the « last man » is always ourselves. […] That the slightest degradation of man, inflicted on the least of men thousands of kilometers away, reflects on our intimate life by wounding our deepest humanity. To accept inner bondage is to endorse, and often to entail, the bondage of others. The future of everyone is at stake in each individual case. The defense of the self is inseparable from the defense of humanity itself. The reconquest of the man is to be redone every morning… on oneself. This is what Orwell’s voice tells us. « ,(6) himself written from his book Sous le soleil de Big Brother, Précis sur 1984 à l’usage des années 2000.
The author comments on a famous scene from 1984, where the torturer, O’Brien describes the future as a boot crushing a human face… forever.
On the edges of the world
To paraphrase the words of the philosopher Emilie Hache(7), referring to the American author Ursula K Le Guin(8), are we dancing at the edge of the world? On a narrow and dangerous path with a possible fork in the road to a world like before, or rather much worse than before, to the precipice in fact. Or another towards a different world, really different? Knowing that the first one is a wide way towards which the direction of the traffic leads us, towards which the dominant discourses push us. The second is a set of narrow, bushy paths of the kind that are easily missed. And where it is necessary to make a way, to clear a little, to walk with precaution…
Isn’t it time to avoid taking the wrong path, to change course? And to do this, directions are pointed out to us, not necessarily (not only anyway) by the most extreme. There is a need to rethink the organization of relations between humans, with the planet: thus this appeal(9) launched last May by intellectuals from different European and American universities. We also have to go back to our dynamics at our own scale, at the scale possible for each of us: such a collective garden, a cooperative store, such an initiative of support to undocumented migrants…
Have you read Baruch?
Before the glacis imposed on humanity because of the pandemic, the mobilizations for the climate (and for the other ecological crises) called for creativity, inventiveness, sharing and development of knowledge, in short for something of the order of joy, and ofempowerment : » Joy is the passage of man from a lesser to a greater perfection » said in his time Baruch SPINOZA(10)which made joy a fundamental affect, the impulse of life, one might say. As opposed to sadness, a fundamental affect that « is the passage from a greater perfection to a lesser perfection « .
From there, the illustrious lens-polishing philosopher draws up a typology of joys and sorrows. In these, he defines aversion, fear, hatred, despair. Among the first, he places self-confidence, love or hope…(11)
The discipline which is imposed to us in front of the crisis of the Covid calls upon a whole series of « affects » pertaining to the sadness, of the passage therefore to a » lesser perfection, a surcroît of impotence ». Without going so far as to agree with those who see the crisis as a kind of stunt, in the face of the reality of the threat, is there no other solution than to submit to an authoritarian order? Or to be carried away by a desperate revolt? Is there no room for creativity, for community initiative, for spontaneity?
Getting out of the infernal alternative
We must continue to take initiatives to stay connected, and to support, relay, and make known those that are taken. We must express and hear our fears, our anger, hear and make heard the cries of anguish(12). We must listen (critically) and make heard, the dissident voices(13), or those who express concerns about the future of our rights(14). And let’s discuss it! The goal is not to replace a single thought with another single thought, a truth that would be forbidden to question by other dogmas.
We must get out of the infernal alternative. No, we don’t have to choose between Charybdis and Scylla, between the anguish of seeing our loved ones die or the anguish of seeing freedom die, between guilt or libertarian egoism, between submission to oligarchy and technoscience or chaos… Let’s get out of this deadly bipolarity that creates conflicts and even ruptures between loved ones.
Let us say with force that alternatives are possible so that life can resume. Let’s dare to imagine, propose, defend and implement them(15). So that we can get out of those horrible muzzles as soon as possible, smile at our loved ones, organize parties in our streets, share our knowledge, demonstrate en masse for the climate and social justice. While truly caring for the most fragile. Not only in relation to a more or less virulent virus. Also and above all in relation to the violence of our world, violence of inequalities, relegations, relegations… While knowing that we have to cunningly deal with a (relatively) dangerous virus, while knowing above all that we live in a contaminated world, that this is the consequence of centuries of exploitation, dominations, predations, extractivism…(16) That therefore we must live with this contamination, cunningly dealing with it so that it poisons us as little as possible. And above all, join the fight to stop the contamination!
From the farthest reaches of the world, we must find the side roads that lead us not to the precipice, but to the right side. To see where they lead us in the short term, the steps that are possible, and also towards which escapes they open us.
« The desire born of joy is stronger than the desire born of sadness » said Baruch Spinoza. « I believe everything we dream/Can come to pass through our union/We can turn the world around/We can turn the earth’s revolution(17)sings Patti Smith. May they be right.
Testimony of Michel Bastin
- Voir la métaphore célèbre du philosophe Thomas Hobbes, pour décrire le souverain absolu auquel les humains accordent le pouvoir de les gouverner, car sinon, ils n’arrêteraient pas de se taper dessus. On trouve dans tout bon (ou mauvais) dictionnaire de philosophie des références à ce sujet.
- Op.cit. supra.
- Exemple : Grégoire Chamayou, La Société ingouvernable. Une généalogie du libéralisme autoritaire, La Fabrique éditions, 2018
- L’article date des années 80, époque du coup d’État en Pologne. On peut remplacer aujourd’hui par bien des noms…
- François Brune, extrait de l’article « Rebelle à Big Brother », Monde Diplomatique, octobre 2000.
- Dans Imagine Demain Le Monde, 139 / juin-juillet-août 2020.
- Titre, inspiré d’une légende amérindienne, d’un ensemble d’essais réédités récemment : Ursula K Le Guin (traduction . Hélène Collon), Danser au bord du monde : paroles, femmes, territoires, L’Éclat, 2020 (Dancing at the Edge of the World, Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, 1989).
- Voir L’Éthique, parue en 1677, partie 3. On peut lire ce classique en ligne http://spinozaetnous.org/wiki/%C3%89thique_III où sans doute le trouver dans toute bonne Bibliothèque publique.
- Voir L’éthique, op cit, parties 3 et 4.
- Pour la Belgique francophone, Kairos : https://www.kairospresse.be/
- Voir notamment, sur le site de la Ligue des Droits humains, ce long entretien avec Annemie SCHAUSS, professeure de droit public et avocate au barreau de Bruxelles, rectrice de l’ULB : https://www.liguedh.be/covid-19-le-monde-de-demain-une-reduction-de-nos-libertes-fondamentales/
- Ainsi, quelques travailleur.euse.s associatifs et citoyen.ne.s etterbeekois.e.s publieront au mois de janvier un carnet des solidarités, pour rester en lien, reprenant diverses propositions qui sont déjà en œuvre ou qui sont en projet. Plus d’infos : email@example.com.
- Voir notamment à ce sujet François JARRIGE et Thomas Le ROUX, « La contamination du monde, une histoire des pollutions à l’âge industriel » ; Paris, Le Seuil, 2017.
- « Je crois que tout ce dont nous rêvons/Peut se réaliser par notre union/Nous pouvons transformer le monde/Nous pouvons changer la course de la Terre », People have the power, 1988.