"”The Call of Calls” , its strength, it holds it from our shared conviction that the subjective division and the social division cannot be wiped out regardless of the efforts by powers to liquidate them. Reducing now Man to the unit of account of an anonymous "human resource", to a force enrolled in a general mobilization in the service of performance and competitiveness, enslaved by sophisticated (and often persecutory) managerial devices, can only lead to suffering, muffled rebellion, and outbursts which will say tomorrow how intolerable is the denial of human and social development. No technical, scientific, or economic power, whatever its pretensions to perfect its totalitarian manipulations, would be able to “delete” the Subject, or the Conflict, this anthropological achievement of democracy. "2
We wish to address this text on Plurality to those who refuse to let themselves go with the flow, tossed among incapable ruling classes and talkative media, toward a destiny of Panurge’s sheep concocted by a global society that does not hide anymore it is devastating human beings and their world.
As a digest of all societal experiences that led to collapses (which Jared Diamond minutely examines3), "Globalia 4 is probably the most dangerous and most uncontrollable of all, because –during periods of growth as well as when crisis come-, and whether liberal or authoritarian might be the states- it imposes to everybody and to Nature a dream of proliferating mechanics. Certainly, it unifies humanity, it is changing it into an organic wholeness, but it is finally to project it in the direction of technical domination, disrespect of self, of others and the world, in the sense of a confinement, or a collective implosion. And most importantly, this techno-society occupies most of our poor lonely planet, and admits no alternative, no other way to live. It makes us all unable to survive outside it.
Given this finding, the issue raised here can be expressed simply: how Globalia, this unifying but demeaning fiction, that takes us all on behalf of the collective wealth, can be –not replaced by another ideal, more beautiful, but perhaps even more absurd- but rather balanced and slowed by other ways of thinking and living? How a balance between several different consistent and sustainable ways of existing on this Earth can occur beyond globalization (this final thrust after many thousands years of greedy impulse for power, leadership, abstraction, and universality ?)
Such a question, so simply put it would be, immediately arouses another one : how a bearable future could hatch from a long term trend to concentrate crowds in gigapoles, both dependent and turbulent, passive and querulous, crazy with comfort and always anxious, ever more willing to call, through fears and desire, a universal police?
And if, by any chance, social forms and new policies should rise that reflect human plurality in the age of globality, are we doomed to try superhuman efforts to invent it from nothing ? Otherwise, how can they emerge from existing categories?
One way to respond is to scrutinize, along with political scientists, the daily developments of existing institutions and spheres of influence. Another is to look for changes logically or necessarily called by some powerful aspirations, remained unfulfilled in past or contemporary framing of human activity.
For example, we note that the current global economy does not spontaneously respect Nature and inclines on the contrary to its destructive transformation on an unprecedented scale in human history 5. This system also painfully prevents men and women, constantly blackmailed to support employment and consumerism, to enjoy their short lives in their friendly and Familiarityneighbourhood. We can see that the media-cultural industry - for long critically analyzed by the Frankfurt School- forbids people expressing directly and mutually a lot of feelings and talents. Other aspirations - simple or sophisticated - are not accessible to many, despite the relentless "progress" of technologies, because they are rejected by formatting procedures required to keep personalities at a childish stage. "So, wrote Herbert Marcuse - 45 years ago- unidimensional behaviour and thinking are forming. In this form, ideas, aspirations, objectives which, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either dismissed or reduced in order to become the only terms of this universe. "6
Can it be otherwise? Is a unifying and standardizing fiction not a condition for weakening our innate turbulence ? Indeed, it could be argued that excess of freedom has been a main cause of fatal behaviours leading to jeopardize life on the surface of the Earth, and therefore the existence of mankind itself. We should then accept that conformity, obedience, servility, obsequiousness, force of habit are powers which ultimately must be used for the collective wealth : don’t they create the necessary regularities for effective policy, and facilitate the disciplines to enable implementation of decisions, in the common interest ? We should therefore think, for instance, that to make effective guidance to reduce fatal greenhouse effect linked to human activity, it would be better to constrain the masses. Otherwise, we would never obtain the necessary changes.
But we need to refute these assertions, spreading though the silence of majorities and through versatile media chats: it is not freedom that leads to may be irreversible excess, but rather enslavement or constraint. The poor peasant masses which are still experiencing a destabilizing demographic overgrowth tend to increase the number of their children because they still are obliged to see them as a workforce, their only chance of surviving under conditions of deprivation. Meanwhile, the large post-modern cohort of employees participating in the technological wave do not "play the share holders’ game" because they like capitalism. It is not spontaneity-or even impulsion 7 - which pushes people toward over-indebtedness or compulsive messy consumption: it is the apparatus of coercion, conditioning, permanent assault on lifestyle and corporate recapture of resources and savings, which supports and directs the daily repetition of acts combining into a general drift. The concreting of coasts or agricultural land is not directly due to increasing population, but it has much more to do with the willingness of capital to park the creditworthy and duly motorized crowds for each activity, each residence and each trip . While individuals and small groups, subjected to a sustained bombardment of suggestions and obligations, surrender more or less easily, and are on the long term put in a position to collaborate.
Certainly, when worshipping the comparison of status and benefits takes place of all other beliefs, most of us spend all their energy at it (as Tocqueville had accurately predicted it). But do not confuse cause and effect. Over significant periods, this is not independence and resistance that lead to disaster, but rather the tendency to comply with a common order that does not tolerate any exception. Trading powers and States only practice general mobilizations, rules for all or mass collection. Their policies are always directed to the greatest numbers, even if they can change their course to 180 ° degrees. And yet tomorrow, the elites, terrified by the implications of their own short-sighted policies, will try to turn back and blame everyone who - forced or consensual – has previously endorsed them. This time, it will come to terrify people with a new blackmail, to encourage them to work at a "sustainable de-growth" still harder than they were incited to produce and absorb utilities and polluting energy within the “growth” pattern. From this perspective, nothing will change: we will probably be invited to still more discipline, effort, toil, and still less leisure, pleasure, quiet insouciance, in order to combat a threat that will not only be poverty but environmental and health disaster. We will now be mobilized to prevent Apocalypse unleashed by the earlier productive mobilization.
It is important to argue that such a vision, that one would like to be adopted by a majority, all in the name of human solidarity, is flawed and trapped. It can lead us to barter a vague hope of saving nature cons of a bound future of guarded barracks. We must argue, on the contrary, that the spirit and practice of autonomy, liberation from the major political, military and economic mobilizations are more than ever prerequisites to the amendment of collective nuisance. It is only by restoring and inventing local solidarities, worlds of life claiming originality, food sovereignty and autonomy outside increasingly humiliating global dependencies, that we’ll seize the opportunity, on the long term, to become a more bearable species for ourselves and for life.
But we have not yet identified the principles of legitimacy that ensure to this freedom, to this sovereignty, to this autonomy to be recognized as strong protective foundations for survival. Unfortunately, they are primarily envisaged as retreating or flights from the real world, or aberrant variants of individualism, sectarianism or communitarianism.
The challenge of such a work is, then, crucial: if the tight association between freedom (for people, not for money) and sustainable lifestyle is not understood and assumed, then the greatest risk will quickly be a rise in authoritarianism, which, compared with previous national or imperial totalitarianisms might appear much worse. As the freedom in question is essentially that of being "separate" from the single global system, so that it could oppose ways of acting and living that may hamper a fateful collective excitation, it necessarily relies on recognition of a plurality of modes of existence, of ways of being human. It implies a plurality of "versions of man” which allows thereby a better respect of the humanity as such.
The concept of plurality does not mean that we should return to a fragmentation of groups each believing to be a whole humanity by itself, or even claiming to be "superhuman." The principle of Plurality claims on the contrary the need not to be caught by the ideal of one corporate world, the "national" entity appearing in retrospect as a relay and a learning of the former. Far from being an alternative to the universal mass society, the nation has become rather a trap where everyone is enrolled in a local application of the general model, especially regarding daily management and compliance controls, increasingly finicky.
Plurality is not a technical division of powers. It is one of the most fundamental human rights, although having little institutional representation until now: the right of being respected in the real possibility of being different from other human beings or groups, while sharing exactly the same human essence... The principle of plurality means that every man has an inalienable right to exist on the surface of this planet by choosing how to produce a living, that is, very specifically, the right not to be challenged by the - indeed absolute - dictatorship of what is termed "the System", of which the standardizing universality induces an extraordinary loss of potential, while focusing all its energies towards a single and may be suicidal goal.
This system, which, for example, takes away our right to plant for our own consumption wheat that is not already owned by a global seed-supplier, or which prevents us to access to fruit or vegetable varieties that have disappeared from the countryside, while ruining any attempt to set up free conservatories. This system, which, while pulling off any real possibility to foothold lands (most available surfaces being managed by the food system), poisons the soil, kills pollinator insects and concentrates livestock, cloned and stuffed with hormones and antibiotics in industrial deadly processes.
We have therefore chosen to defend the idea that only the principle of plurality and the conversation it keeps between different lifestyles may prevent the common tendency to damn all, such modern zombies, in a kind of world-concentration camp 8.
But to what, positively and precisely, relates this Plurality principle? What is its practicality beyond its statement?
The answer is not to look out very far : Plurality as a necessity concerns the foundation of any human organization, namely our daily most intractable but partly contradictory aspirations . Thus, the individual human lives on several dimensions that cannot be brought to the same logic without forcing or oppressing : living with one’s family, having children, cannot -regardless of public or private powers efforts- be reduced to a collective organization. Sharing the beauty of the world and expressing one’s unfettered joy of living cannot be reduced to calculating earnings by property or work. Talking with others about compromises which accommodate viable meetings and cooperation is another thing that will never be mechanized or fully professionalized.
But the mere observance of these different and specific practices (family life, cultural activities, politics, etc..) is constantly harassed or denied by the tendency to "act globally" which, by the ways of institution, marketing or communication dictates to each where one’s own work or leisure must take place in the great whole.
This totalizing orientation is not certainly not new: it is specifically human and related to symbolic language, which leads us to identify ourselves as homogeneous subjects, to imagine aspects of reality as whole blocks, to want the best and fearing the worst as if opposed like white and black, to think with general laws and to desire to understand and control the system (like in "Lords of the Ring”) that governs all things and prohibit any human turbulence, any excessive singularity.
But this immemorial inclination becomes more pathological when human systems are actually converging to one universal web. It then calls for vigilance and research of cons-trends. It's time when the Hobbits must leave the County to defend their difference and independence!
It is therefore proposed here to consider what resources we can use to respect the different areas of our lives, and to treat them as sources of specific (although partial) sovereignty, irreducible to one another and not to be “fastened” by a middle or upper term. To do this, we’ll assume that the main aspirations, the main needs of Man gather in several key dimensions, but that these dimensions always remain in tension, in contradiction. Thus, their satisfaction can never be perfect and the optimal situation that man can achieve is a balance between them, while struggling against their unconscious tendency to merge in the direction proposed by the one of them over others.
The largest dimensions required for a minimal plurality are mainly based on two pairs of opposites: on one hand, there is an irreconcilable contradiction between the Societal (naming the broader arrangements linking all human beings) and the Familiarity(for their localized, specific and intimate solidarity); on the other, we can find two great styles of interaction : formal (leading to calculation) and sensible (using our metaphorical abilities).
It is a common error -induced by long-standing supporters of Societal- to believe that the Familiarityis a part or aspect of the Whole. No, it is a form of social life itself, even if it must reflect its environment, and is increasingly dependent of it. In reality, the survival of the Familiarityas a sovereign or independent mode of existence is to be played in a merciless struggle with the tendency to reorganize life in ever wider arrangements, making human companies looking like giant machines, armies, and crowds of people at once isolated, concentrated and disciplined 9.
But this direct confrontation between Familiarityand Societal is smoothed and negotiated daily with the help of some great mediating activities, which in turn form pairs of opposites: for example, Culture (by which we seek to rally and to seduce our fellows by appealing to the sense of self in the world), and Rule (by which we order groups by measuring strictly calculable relationships) 10.
Do not believe that these stylized mediations are, again, only aspects of a whole: “Culture people” and “Regulation people” are forming real societies, powerfully incorporated, which also represent specific "ways of living ", although they are widely employed to operate in tension between Societal and Familiar. To put it schematically: between those whose countless cohorts spend their professional lives to calculate how much they earn in market activity, and those who devote themselves to artistic expression or quest for oneself, there is an obvious gap (although people may belong to both sides alternately).
Of course, each dimension of basic humanity, on its turn, contains many different shades. But that does not dampen eagerness to symmetry, which greatly helps to treat them with respect and fairness : thus, in the cultural field, more individual impetus and more collective training must admit each other. In the field of Rule, the part which tends toward abstraction and accounting systems must not forget that civility is first settled by political agreements between humans, or that good conventions cannot escape a friendly conversation between peers. As for the Familiar, it divides itself between a more social solidarity, a closer intimacy and a return to one’s own body, facing loneliness and death.
These different dimensions are not only the organs of every society. They are also worlds in themselves, because they collect and arrange for themselves features of collective life. It can even be argued that each of them might claim to sustain a special social life around its way.
In the cultural order, for example, monasteries were in various religions, enabling to survive people who found shelter there. While the campuses are no longer places of production of means of living for the academic community, but in history, the latter was able to find forms of organization mitigating its dependence on other powers. In the domain of Art, more centered by expressive practices, one might evoke the "artists’ villages” of the nineteenth century or the latest 'art squats', involving a degree of autonomy.
One could, in the order of civil life, remember that the cities have long demonstrated their ability to nourish their populations, before the scale of urban concentration turn them into space monstrosities, geographical cancers. Although even in this case, the “régies” may try to keep for the city a minimal governance capacity over some basic resource like water.
Regarding the Familiarityworld, it is still representing, in its anchoring in forest or land (mainly in poor countries), an active principle of relative autonomy, even if the "System" is trying to destroy its most humble capacities.
Regarding the Societal, the evidence is no more to be given, of course, of its ability to nurture as a constant priority, “separated groups of men" (in the words of Marx) which constitute state apparatuses, even when public debts reach unsustainable levels.
. In short, each principle cannot only be reduced to a systemic function because it is, in itself, a "way of life" that may very well - if the right circumstances arise-, settle itself as a surviving pattern, even without being fully supported by others. We can thus assume that these different dimensions may be supported (at least in part) by specific space-time resource and logic -such as home economics for the Familiar, patronage for the Arts, public power for the Societal, or profit for the accounting-activity, although they might be closely related to each other at the same time, in “normal” circumstances.
In this regard, the anthropological theory on which this “simple” proposal is based (but we hope to show that it is not simplistic) states that the main anthropological pluralist dimensions form, in their confrontation itself, the necessary structure of any human conversation field. Thus, the (societal) sociopolitical organization does not deteriorates in a fateful totalism, provided it does not grab away from people their freedom to live in a really private world. The emotional energy of Familiarity demands, meanwhile, to remember that we are first living beings issued from warm intimacy and relationships, that come necessarily from interpersonal and local skills, without which the human being is lost in the established machinery of “ reasonable” relationship. But that machine is probably an inevitable structure because without it, Familiar worlds may destroy each other quite easily. It could however be reduced to a more elegant and lightweight frame, as evidenced by village societies without hierarchical device, and which adjust their conflicting relationships with others only by scope of myth and ritual (and not as us with a burdensome and intrusive surveillance and constant-although discrete- “pruning” of the least of remaining free activities and gestures). For what is referred to the cultural or moral perspective, it expresses by always diverse and strange ways our personal denial of a “mass link”, mechanical and desperately all-covering, in which humanity would be destroy along with life.
Finally, the logical structure means for each of us that our agreement requires a minimum common language founding clear oppositions and precise distances as conditions of mutual respect, although it is never isolated from more "fuzzy" dialects invented in the conversation itself. However, if we allow this structure to mechanize itself and pretend to organize our lives in our place, we take the risk to see the machine changing the most insignificant incident into a disaster, because we’ll no longer have any mean to resume the reins of our destinies11.
And indeed, if only one of these basic dimensions is crushed by a strong alliance between the others, everything human will warp and collapse : for example, without the passion inspiring our familiar life, all our social construction withers 12. Without logic and right measurement, it fails to function. Without civility, that is to say without bearing its socio-political difficulties, it misses its goal and its rationale. Without moral and cultural sensitivity, everything and its opposite would seem to be possible, which would nullify any sense of collective history.
Of course, the dimensions described above do not agree unanimously or by majority. They never combine harmoniously. Spontaneously, they fight well and try to prevail upon each other, so much that the project to see them forming together the basis of a "cooperation between men" (as Norbert Elias hopes) is probably not realistic.
But here, we should pay attention to the fact that the problem we must address is at the same time a protective solution for plurality. And this is our most actual task: outwitting History using conflict and dissonance against itself. Opposing the madness of a living species faced with temporary excessive easiness, by utilizing opposite crazes ; defending and promoting plurality against our animal and human inclination to drown in power like ants in honey, being convinced to do it by the central agents in charge of the system. For saving us from this recurring temptation, culture itself has the capacity – left to our judgement in each time- to recognize the part of truth that we have ruled out in order to go even faster and all together toward a common destiny. This is, for example, the ability to organize ourselves politically to prevent the conversation between the human dimensions and passions to end with the frivolous and absurd victory of only one of them.. It is ultimately our ability to form fields of conversation that are not aimed to solve technical problems but to protect themselves as symbols of mutual respect.
This view is beautiful and good: but now the question is whether we are ready to divide the human world in as many partial sovereignties as there are politically sustainable human dimensions. Are we willing to give up the idea of a world government in charge of the whole of humanity, for a better distribution between independent bodies like Familiarity, City, Nature or Culture, etc. ? Each endowed with its own space-time and its own normativity? Each being the beginning of a stronger plurality and a deeper fractality ?
While the vital interest of such a question is not understood and supported, we will not be ready for plurality in the planetary future. And as long as we are not ready, we should expect that the logic of absolute sovereignty of the global world-society can only be used… to turn against its subjects, and finally to forbid each of us to breathe.
1 Édouard Glissant, Faulkner, Mississippi, Stock Paris 1996, p 13
2 Roland Gori, Christian Laval, "The Call of calls”, A year later, December 22, 2009 (See The Call of Calls, Mille et Une nuits , Paris, 2008
3 Jared Diamond, Collapse, How societies choose to fail or succeed, Viking Press, 2005
4 I am quoting here the title of a novel by Jean-Christophe Rufin (Gallimard, Paris 2004), which shows with some prescience how a society of “universal commodity” may turn into total dictatorship.
5 As evidenced by this very fact: between 2003 and 2009 only, the Amazonian forest has lost more than 10% of its surface.
6 Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, Boston, Beacon, 1964
7 We do not entirely share the views of Bernard Stiegler according to whom society today "drugs" people by enslaving their own impulses, and discarding the possibility of living according to the sublime ideals of self-sacrifice. If Consumerism indeed produces the only fully legitimate state of narcosis, it is mostly because it traps people in stimulus-response situations, without giving them time to organize themselves differently. Any condemnation of the current system leading to a moralistic nostalgia seems more generally misdirecting its criticism. Worse, it could be easily "deterred" in case of serious crisis, when utilization of guilt is a favourite tool of power, a temptation for all politics.
8 On a superficial level, the assertion that "only one principle can ..." seems paradoxical when the principle is that of "plurality." But logically, we have little choice: either plurality or unity can triumph but not both at once, because they are pure opposites. Therefore, it is not the same thing to affirm plurality as the only principle and advocate any other principle required for salvation. Because plurality comes down to a conversational situation in which everyone comes back as a protagonist. In other words, once plurality has emerged (necessarily as the sole principle), each can more efficiently defend one’s position : it is no need for a metasocial warrant of plurality, because the latter exists in the very performance posed as part of a conversation.
9 We will remember the beautiful and prescient book by David Riesman (more valid than ever) : The lonely crowd, Yale University Press , 2001Paris, (1950).
10 This concept is cleared in : De la civilité, ou comment les sociétés apprivoisent la puissance (Civility, or how taming corporate power), Paris, La Découverte, 1993. A first draft on the “ tetralogy” of human dimensions is present in: La démocratie des passions, Paris, PUF, 1996.
11 This is probably what happens with a global crisis, which occurs in a global economy when we believe –like many Americans-, that it is sufficient to meet the rules to make the game produce winners all the time. But to spend what you have not yet- even respecting the rules- can lead to ruin, because no unpredictable future can be entered into calculation. Failing to understand that the future can not be ruled, tens of millions of believers in the American dream have managed to ruin themselves and the world. George Soros attributes uncertainty to the fact that our "cognitive" side struggles against our "manipulator" side : we belong to the world that we know and then thwart our own predictions by our own "reflexivity" (The new paradigm for financial markets : the credit crisis of 2008 and what it means, Public Affairs, 2008.) Without disputing this, we will argue that “reflexivity” also brings an element of certainty: a disaster will be associated with the free acting of market forces which cannot take in account this reflexivity without suppressing the game itself. As for uncertainty, it exists already, even without reflexivity, because the world is never fully controllable by thought, which builds up only a schematic, imaginary and very partial abstract of reality.
12 We recall what said Hegel: "we must say that nothing great was done in the world without passion." (Reason in History, 10/18, Paris 2003 (1822-1830)).