1. The Firefighter and the Architect
Praise of Plurality : how respectable would it be, this purpose may seem far removed from the immediate concerns raised by the major crisis opening the second decade of this century. We would draw up an imaginary architecture for the future, without realizing that it is rather time to block fire, flood and ruptures, threatening to spread everywhere.
Yet everyone knows that without a coherent architecture, catastrophes will multiply, gather, and intricate. A simple argument will summarize the reasons to focus as quickly as possible on a pluralistic project : looking for a global equilibrium. Indeed, all current "emergencies" can be read as resulting from major imbalances: imbalance between wage earnings in Asia and in the West; imbalance between the huge mass of financial credit and the real economy; imbalance between the american power of creating paper money in excess (largely due to the cost for deploying a US globalized police army) and the weakness of its economic activity; imbalance between the burden of social and health coverage and the longevity of inactive people ; imbalances between technicized activity, human labor and the unemployment rate, between needs for energy and availability of resources, etc.
The reasoning here is that the most important imbalance, one that leads all others, is misperceived : even when the harmful effects of the system as such on the ecological context are clearly determined, we struggle to assign to it a central role in the general destabilization. On the contrary, we easily tend to see as a heal what is the illness itself. We clench on the soothing image of a universal regulatory streamlining, but there lays the problem : the main imbalance we suffer stems from the very fact that we underestimate the limits of cultural and natural resisting capacities under the weight of our global organization, whatever might it be.
Plurality refers thus, firstly and essentially, to a limitation and a better distribution of the burden. Recognizing that Man and Nature (that we combine hereafter under the category of the “Familiar World”) can not long endure neither the American way of expending energy nor the Chinese way to exploit people, Plurality offers a basis to rebalance our activity.
How ? First, simply by acknowledging and respecting what implies the multidimensionality of the human being. For "balance" means to admit that (no matter how supportive of progress we might be), we can not "burn out” the whole Planet because of one prevailing passion, be it the systemic one. We know that playing with huge credit fascinates us like honey appeals to the ant, and therefore disables us to slow down the trend to exploit ourselves and Nature beyond the permissible (although this happens preferably through the exploitation of others -for example those put to work by the big chinese labor dealer named CPC, in behalf of the world capitalism).
Because we know that we do not easily recognize our limits, it should be settled there a principle : in front of any mobilization of each person by the Global Society (under the pretext of "making a living"), people have a right to exist and stand for their familiar world and themselves. This mode of existence (including many non-market activities or exchanges within a limited market) must be recognized as an essential human right.
Plurality offers here a principle that sets up a sticking point for the strongest trends in disequilibrium: recognition of the Other, in ourselves as well as around us. The child, the senior, the opposite gender, the nomad, the dreamer, the artist, the independent and self-producer, the volunteer activist, the wildlife practicioner, the happy sober consumer, etc. In short, all the personnal commitments in a chosen, fully assumed and therefore non-alienated activity; all the Selves not already doomed in the hells of job-seeking or black Fridays furies. This is indeed irreducible to the marxist cynical "reconstitution of the workforce" attributed to capitalism, and which can only aggravate a gradual erosion of human survivability as part of Nature. Building on this principle of the Other, we can fully grant the neglected or crushed human dimensions, including the need for studious and artistic curiosity and contemplation (the world of culture, kulturellen welt) or that of respectful confrontation with non-human nature (Unmenschlichen Natur) or even that of communal democracy, etc.
The pluralist principle stands there to stop a collapse without assignable limit by presenting us an intriguing symbol that might suspend our ruthlessness (at least to distract us and prevent our greedy impulses for a while). Thus Pluralism is not only a futuristic concept : it is to be used as a tool in the field of emergency.
Of course, in the immediate future, it is likely that legitimate national States – quite the opposite of pluralistic entities- will take over the management of deficits and debts without rejecting the already-drained Poors, and will launch programs supporting employment and consumption. But, if the populist temptation of action against the foreign (or domestic) enemy should be avoided, what better alternative to it than to rebuild society from the requirements of balance and mutual respect? What better opportunity to finally give to our republican pediments a sense that is not hollow : service of personal freedom by creating the conditions of one’s autonomy; service of equality by giving individuals and their familiar communities some concrete means to oppose the monstrous global institutions; service fraternity by allowing a warm vicinal solidarity to prevail over the cold shemings of profit accounting ...
Let us give only one example of a possible clutch between solutions to the crisis and Plurality: their direct relationship can be manifested in the need to reduce people’s and familiar worlds’ dependency on homogeneous money and logic of power. Recognizing their right to practice and defend domestic production and local markets against overwhelming encroachments, we immediately treat the problem of their addictive indebtment. This recognition may be regarded as utopian or regressive, but that's only because we are so addicted to the "system" that our political classes become incapable of any innovation in the sense of… common sense.
Technological divergence implied by such a basic "empowerment" can also create sustainable jobs and fund specific networks, including barriers protecting them from the central financial Moloch. That depends, again, from a political will, which really does come into existence and lasts as long as it is tied to a specific "people" emerging on this basis, so that the predictible drift to " money supremacy " will be warned and avoided with as much revulsion as tyranny for Athenian citizens of the classical age.
2. Anticipating criticism of a pluralist utopia
Plurality may be especially criticized for it is not safe or stable: this is the case of trends that, in history, led to specialization or hierachy. For instance, we may recall the Indian system of castes, which includes those two distortions of a possible original pluralistic intention. One response to these failures is to imagine a "fractality" that makes each dimension respectable both outside any competing areas and within each one. For example, a world of cities should contain irreducible aspects of protection of "their" Nature, while a world of Nature should not ignore the urban logic to be enclaved within it, even restricted to few locations of its territory.
Quite different is the problem raised by a possible success of pluralism. Because it is the success of something specific : a new way of expressing an anthropological constant... which has so far never met human kind as such. Indeed, wee look here for an appropriate form of implementing directly Plurality on the world scene, without any support from previous experiences on smaller scales.
Here History leaves us orphans, although it remains full of highly instructive premonitory or preparatory lessons, (as we suggested in texts on conversations between religions or civilizations). But at the same time, the fact of proposing signifiers claiming to reflect directly a virtually eternal plurality, as unchanging as the division of the human subject by speech, looks like an ultimate transgression : are we not proposing, in fact, to replace the seditious unconscious debate against an explicit order, always re-emerging between resistant and free souls (or what's left of them below neurotic repressions), by a new explicit order, this time without any possible unconscious criticism?
It is true that the critical function of unconscious or symptomatic contradictions disappears when politics take in charge (directly and therefore more consciously) questions which remained buried in the Unspoken ?
But the unconscious mind itself, -so much resistant in its tortuous way- to the ideology of social slaves, to which, alas, we must worship, can it disappear? Is it not precisely this radical and unbridgeable difference between the respective secret positions and "what can be openly said in the conversation", that founds in itself the fundamental virtue of pluralistic conversation?
And of course, we must argue that, like any statement meets its imperfection, its limit, its inadequacy, and the suffering caused by its own faults, the pluralist statement will also meet its other side, its default, its unspoken, unconscious , and secret truth, veiled by visible symptoms.
If this is true, it will not likely appear, anyway, as some unconscious search for expressing an even deeper plurality, because I believe that many symmetries to be deployable in the heart of our elementary pluralist tetralogue (Societality, Familiarity, Culture, Rule of Law) are enough to exhaust a large part of our querulous energy about "what is not taken into account". At least, far more than the declining bipartisanships which today seem to want to pay off all oppositions within their fake dialogues ! We can not expect a resurgence of some Unconscious criticism on the side of "too much plurality," because, unlike the current market regime, the pluralist conversation does neither lead to an overflow of structures or objects, nor to the disappearance of any meaning by satiety (abolition of desire).
I believe, however, that there would be a breakthrough by a new form of the Unconscious, expressing the indestructibility of human desire, chronically associated with symbols, limited but therefore “power packed” and full of conquering energy. For, if a regime claiming to replace the plurality of dead things and their “mechanical motion” (as Hegel said, masterfully predicting a central feature of capitalism) is unconsciously dedicated to meet the requirement of civic debate as its radical opposite, an openly pluralistic regime will inevitably call for a representation... of what can not be shared in pluralism.
This future challenge of our anthropological plurality is, by definition, impossible to predict or prescribe. However, it must necessarily be manifested either as an integral requirement of Singularity (which does not reduce the human being to any collective position) or, even more, as a radical challenge to any conversational position. The "dark side" of Plurality – with which it really converses - will be revealed as the other side of its own idealization, as the desire to destroy all pluralistic order, as a great impulse to escape any conventional conversation.
So we can already see how should be considered an undefined area of freedom, of wilderness, a "right to non-conversation" within the conversation itself. Thus, we may hope that a call to radical barbarity would not built on a potential revolt against the pluralistic frame itself, and would not destroy a “pluralistic order”, politically tolerable but still highly precarious in its underground layers.
Then we need to stick to a central intuition, not to cancel retrospectively all our purpose : conversation exists on a conscious and political level, only because it exists primarily on the unconscious level, and not in a prescribed political form, whenever the last will reveal its meaning. All our alleged substantial construction between polarities of man as a being of culture (again : Societality, Familiarity, Culture, Law) is only maintained because of the openness, the void it digs under it, and that we may designate as well with the words of a sphinx : conversation only supports humanity as liveable, because it does not finally put in common one thinks is its "essence" : an indefinable Singularity, which allows anyone to speak and engage in society with dignitiy, from a “personnal” point of view. Conversation is the reverse of what moralists and normativists (what most sociologists remain in the tradition of Durkheim and Mauss) never cease to preach: a framework that forces us to a mutual agreement. Of course, this is partly true, and Mauss' theory of the Gift is still what normativism has expressed with most profoundness.
But normativism exceeds its function (recalling the need for an internalized Rule) and submits itself to neurosis (as an extension of religion) when it suggests that all social life can be subsumed to mutual adjustment. Even if I make birthday gifts for my little neighbors, in order that their parents honor rmy child when his (her) turn comes, I will never give my child to neighbors or to Society. My Familiar world (grouping precisely those whom I call "mine" (oi emioi) is not other people’s property, at least concerning a certain core of intimacy. And if I don’t attribute more priority to the fact of enjoying my familiar world, I am proceeding (under control of social neurotism) to become a prison guard with my own children (this harassment imposed on me and my people causing most of domestic and societal violence).
And that's exactly what it is about : the rule that forces us to share what we are becomes helpless as regards the "fundamentals" of human existence. It becomes even pathological. Here, it is not the Gift (like any other normative system) that becomes necessary, noting the Subject as "worthy of esteem," but the organization of the field of "non-distributable" items . This is what we are dealing here, and that alone, which is already considerable, given the challenge for survival which depends on it.
A this point, Conversation becomes a concept that shifts from triviality: because it is not another bland version of the law, the code or the norm. It is the aknowledgement that we do not firstly converse for exchanging or swaping useful things and services, but, primarily for exerting the right to keep what is exclusively ours and therefore founds our innermost dignity, our very entitlement to be a “subject”, regardless of further recognition by others. Indeed, at its root, Conversation is neither exchange nor communication, except information about what we are : rather it is the implicit field of statements that evokes, by being well organized, what is making my specificity and what I could never really give you, being a sign of my singularity, a specific element of a chain of signifiers denoting “there is somebody there”, and not only a certain amount of organic matter, ready to be transferred, exploited or possessed, used and abused. At the same time, Conversation implies recognition of your own specificity, which I could never consume, or absorb. It is, in a sense, a level of mutual recognition higher to reciprocal gift, or which includes a ultimate gift: allowing each to experience one’s own singularity at the risk of loneliness.
Giving itself the right to be indifferent to agreement or disagreement, to final accordance or to continuous controversy, Conversation is what allows Man not to resort to mass suicide in order to deny the ultimate impossibility of any purely 'fair' share or perfect social order. It is the optimal framing of the inner division of the human subject, as far as this division remains one’s destiny, although one does not want it, and does not want to know anything about it. Being the barely tolerable form of the consubstantial dissociation of the speaking primate, Conversation produces, next to the one that lives and dies, and to the one who engages in the generous (or mandatory) act to pay "for oneself", an “escaping being”, woven with challenge and resistance, and who does not surrender to anybody nor nothing, not even a depressive “ lucidity ". It is essentially a human encounter, with no other goal than itself and being not necessarily weighted with heavy concerns of "problem solving" or moral dilemmas. We would say (to paraphrase Milan Kundera) that Conversation reflects "the unbearable lightness of human encounter ..." Which is perhaps of much more crucial importance that all agreements and all disagreements.
We may now confront us with two other decisive objections to the attempt of praising Plurality, thus defined : the first would summarize our discussion as a reverie, imprinted with idealism and utopia; the second can point out that behind our desire to organize plurality, lays a bypassing form of totalitarianism.
As regards Plurality as a dream, I could call to testify that famous Nez Perce shaman addressing the Americans invading his land a century ago: "My young men will never work. Men who work can not dream, and wisdom comes from dreams. " But I will not, because my purpose here it is neither to tell a dream nor to utter a prediction, but to present a deduction in the manner of the most classic tradition in social science research.
I have merely raised again the questions posed, for example, by the work of Norbert Elias on the long term evolution of a civilization. The great historian and sociologist describes Western history since the Middle Ages as a slow process of social integration within a "social monopoly." Elias dedicates most of his studies to show how wars among nobility, infinitely repeated over the ages, were, slowly but surely, building up the very order that would eventually choke them . He also observes that within this order, the oppressed don’t take any empowerment, but find better protection through the generalization of an administration which is both more central and decentralized, and whose power is even greater than private interests remain opposed.
But there is a question Elias does not point out (not to mention the tragic totalitarian convulsions of the twentieth century) : what is the fate of these monopolized societies ? More: what is the destiny of a ultimately monopolized society, for instance that corresponding to the end of globalization ? In eliasian terms : What's going on in the late game, when all the spaces of independence for individuals have been circumscribed by interdependent structures ?
It is curious that Max Weber, the great thinker of rational bureaucracy, has never elucidated what would happen to it, not in case of a crisis (and thus a collapse confronting us to a backward move), but in view of its perfect world fulfillment ? I tried to answer this question in terms as rational as possible, though we are dealing here with a fascination with the One, and responding to the old myth of Narcissus, eventually falling into his own reflection , that is to say the most precise idea of self and world, the thinking of the World reduced to the rule of automatized thought ? What is now called "Digital reality".
Let’s try to put it in a synthetic formulation : once established the administrative monopoly of societal organization, and once this monopoly "secured" outside by a world organization, there remains only one way for residual human energy :it turns against itself.
Self-agression is consistent with the unstoppable logic of the "general economy" conceived by Georges Bataille, and designating the energy we must absolutely spend as living beings . It does not mean that "Man is bad", but that there is no other way for this urge, or rather, because all paths (like water) eventually join in the path of steepest descent. The attack on the world itself by this pure "consummation" need being limited by the ecological "wall", generalized self-agression remains the only open way for exerting the human living force, in the context of a planetary unification.
Then a mortal mechanism spreads out, that neither Weber nor Elias (who believed in a kind of absolute communism) have illuminated: the higher the "system" sets up its regulations and the deeper it reticles them into every intimacy and vicinity, the stronger it triggers irrational and not political replies by people. The more these reactions are increasing, the more the system –in behalf of the monopolized society- secretes new and more branched means to police everyday life. As society becomes a moral police in itself, fear of the offender perceived as an enemy from within, progresses and becomes soon the main concern. This "cindynisation" (risk-ization) of Society keeps growing as it becomes logically impossible for every citizen, every institution, to respond to any disorder other than by questioning the residual energy that manifest crumbs of freedom, in increasingly narrow interstices. So are we afraid of the slightest cry of a child, the slightest sudden movement, the slightest manifestation of joy or anger, the slightest trace of dirt and disorder, the smallest risk taking. The whole "civil" society is now tending towards a single goal: to track down the most tenuous signs of arbitrariness.
I could follow on myself, my friends and my relatives the steady progress of this collective madness in recent decades, and I saw how any revolt, even derisive, becomes difficult in this stiffening process, which nevertheless continues to activate basic reflexes of jealousy, through the networks of societal power. Needless to say that the continuation of this collapsing mechanism, blithely amplified by politicians and media , leads directly to the death of society.
Therefore, the scheme of Plurality, here proposed as an ultimate regime, has not been developed as a distant utopia, but as a response of last resort to avoid a fatal direction. I do not know if such a regime is possible, although I have attempted to show that it is certainly less difficult to invent than one might suppose, considering the huge scale of the task. But what I am sure of, at this point in my thinking, is that if this is not Plurality that takes in charge and tries to heal the bloodless legacy of globalization, the extinction of civilization is in view, through the return to conflicts of great violence . These troubles will,- no doubt with an exorbitant price, given the weapons that mankind has henceforth-, find (and probably for only a few of us) areas of freedom without which, no offense to Elias, human beings simply can not breathe.
3. About a freedom that would not become an order
Regarding the second serious objection that one could bring to the proposal supported by this work- accusing it of being potentially very useful for a new totalitarianism - it is not without value . Indeed, this is not because the content of it is called Plurality, that the proposal is pluralistic in itself !
The very bulk of the work in which we must engage here is self-demonstrating: we can not treat seriously Plurality without covering so many different aspects that very soon the "total social phenomenon" treasured by Marcel Mauss comes back, threatening us for the very attempt to master and manage its contradictory forces.
Even in the case, still unimaginable today, when humanity would move towards a universal framework for expressing a sustainable balance of its few major anthropological dimensions (Nature, Culture, Techno-rule, Civility, Familiarity, etc..), the very metaphor ensuring the societal value of this framework would sooner or later become a legitimate doxa, a new episteme for discharging other forms of thought, henceforth judged as incongruous.
Despite all the assurances that a pluralist system relying on anthropological irreducibilities may allow a greater degree of real freedom than today binary systems, we can understand why remains there some serious suspicion : after all, history has accustomed us that almost every proposed organizations in history ultimately became tyrannies (even the most virtuous “democracies”) !
One may well protect, with the utmost care, the free existence of counter-powers (such as those provided by the U.S. Constitution for example, under the leadership of skilled anticolonial libertarians like Thomas Jefferson), and two centuries later, give birth to a monstrous military-capitalist system capable of transforming the multitudes into armies of salaried slaves, condemned to become simultaneously obese and over-indebted consumers.
Assert that the irrepressible passion to dominate to be eventually united in the bosom of the Almighty would not find one day the passage by which it would overcome all pluralities, is underestimating the violence of this passion, inherent to human symbolic communication, and the intelligence of men who, historically, have devoted themselves to it, at the price of their own death and others’ sacrifice. So I am under no illusions about the ability of the "parliament of feelings" (including reason) here outlined, to stop for long this spontaneous trend. I just think it can be installed as a timer, and allow, therefore, escapement according to several lines of flight.
The first possibility, which will soon occur if partial sovereignty of the major areas of human life is one day globally instituted, will be the resistance of those unwilling to turn down their own passion on a predefined social constitution, even widely and reasonably presumed as anthropologicaly well based.
In a novel of political fiction , where I imagine a world divided between four space-time (wild nature, cultural shrine, city, and underground technical network), there are strange beings, who live on the dividing borders, kinds of no man's lands where they can collect and recycle waste from various estates. These beings, called "frangins" (slang french for “brothers’ ) precisely because they live on the fringes , focus all criticism, all rumors, gossip and all racist stereotypes, because they refuse to be defined in one of the four major orders. They are not really foragers (because they love to tinker discarded machines), nor licensed technologists or villagers (they live in loosely organized bands). They shun the campuses of high cultural transmission that bores them, without subscribing to any conservative tribal ritual heritage. They are addict to pilfering, indulge to illegal mixtures, and speak pidgin and gibberish or infixable and untranslatable Creoles. They refuse to clone and to use gene therapy worshiped by Techs, but they unite sexually with no rules. These are the guys who prevent you to keep going in circles (or in squares). So these are obviously the real heroes of the pluralistic world to come.
Note that their very existence, inevitable and inprogrammable, allows our utopia to remain livable, not to become totally oppressive in its turn, at least for some time.
Also, paradoxically, the Frangins (Fringers) are the guarantors of a certain continuity of this imaginary pluralist system, because they do no require their own "entification", but do no demand a return to a homogeneous humanity. They live in a Minimal Plurality, not to add a fifth category, but to keep the few official categories opened to some degree of arbitrariness and "entropy" which only legitimize it.
Nothing would stop, of course neither admiration nor contempt attempting to destroy these refractories (as they still destroy today the so-called "first nations" idealized, honored with statues ... and alcoholized). But this sacrifice (where one would find something of the trends noticed by René Girard), would also put in debate the usefulness and relevance of an anthropological model for Plurality, and thus ensure its survival for long !
It is clear that revolt against any categorization, a game with the limits of reason which fascinates us all, has something to win with the pluralistic model: it allows it to make a spring from a first recognition that does not allow any "group-thinking", or any dogma .
What role can political plurality play in the opening of this free questioning?
I believe it is essential: Plurality resists by itself to the illusion that man exists, within his lifetime, only in the pure alienation of a single collective thought, system of values or lifestyle. It holds a first irreducible dispersion of the "Self" (as an imago invented by competing social forces to design and control the indestructible individual capacity to betray any loyalty) between sovereign and antagonistic positions, that could each be made autarcic (as religions and nations could easily turn in previous predominant societal metaphors). Acknowledging this dispersion, Plurality leads everyone to find one’s main passion, but at the same time it calls to experience how much we miss others, and also to consider the inherent inadequacy of one’s passion without denying this gap by rushing into narcosis or neurosis.
Beforehand it was money - with its infinite fluidity and independence from concrete objects – which could give the impression that omnipotence was within one’s reach, once associated with technical inventiveness. (in fact, that still happens in the real world, far from our utopia, but our use of the past tense allows us to keep some hope about a possible future.)
Tomorrow, in the pluralistic world, we’ll feel every day that money is only a particular area, itself reducible to a set of quickly obsolete objects or perishable items, while large parts of life escape its dictature. We’ll be somehow free from this fatal attraction. Of course, we’ll may believe we have finally reached our ideal in regulating the game between antagonisms, but this illusion will become more difficult. And while the game will slow down and filter our immemorial tendency to rush together in the same Imago, we’ll eventually discover our own entrance to the path to Singularity, which also escapes a prescribed plurality.
This means this very path is a condition for a sustainable disagreement, while the previous homogeneous systems were hiding and forbidding it, making it heroic. Indeed, who says “irreducible plurality” implies that we each possess something we do not deliver to the debate. However, in a sense, that “something” we do not deliver on the public square is the same for one and all, but paradoxically, it is the only thing that can not produce any unified imago: the impossibility to be entirely identified, located, and defined, specially by the biotechnological concept, prevailing today as the ultimate truth about the human animal.
4. The field of unplaceable "Self"
"We are allowed to dream that mechanical progress wrests from itself the ransom which houses our hope, forcing it to give back a small change of solitude and oblivion, in exchange for intimacy, which it massively steals from us."
Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes enjoyment Tropiques (1955)
Reaching the time for synthesis, we can not help feeling some remorse : we have almost entirely drawn our perspective as if the human condition came down to a simplistic set of a few different positions, without any vacuum, without any alternative to a mandatory conversation .
But the social field (as the combination of such positions as Societality, Familiarity, Culture and Rule) also causes in humans its escape towards what would stir beyond this grid. Not only the Social is attracted by the non-Social as the free atmosphere where we could finally breathe as "ourselves", but one wonders if this is not the main result of the cultural forcing of humanity that leads us to a tiredness of being ... socially defined, and beyond, drives us to medidate on the Self.
I would play here with the title of the book by Alain Ehrenberg dealing with depression as the specific illness of our time . The problem is that for this sociologist (this syndemologist, would I say in my lingo), there is no other Self than the social Self.
Whether we are tired of it, I admit, especially in times of victory of a regime as total as the technochrematistic one. But, specifically, the fatigue to be a caricature of the social Self does-it not refer to the fact that one cannot devote oneself to the “true Self”, located at the opposite to the Societal, in search of a strictly subjective view, and a singular point of view?
We may consider how the search for Self has always been monopolized –if not invented by- by collective drives, by religions or philosophies. Therefore, this quest has been so perfectly mingeld with these ideological institutions that even today any investigation on the beliefs can not even think a difference between personal questioning and answers given by the various organized “faiths” . This is a curious paradox that the utmost privacy, secrecy, or intimacy, will become automatically common normative and business objects for massive organizations! The more people tend to turn to the singular meaning of their personal lives, the more they build up organizations responsible for regulating this impulse, and marshaling it back in the right way of social utility. Although it begins with small groups, sects or fraternities seeking to defend at least what their members have in common (their creed) against global society, it always ends up, after the weakest minorities have been eliminated, with mandatory registration fields for all; a frightening hell and an ideal paradise are soon camped, for which the will to withdraw as well as that of commitment are to be duly instrumentalized .
Differences among religious styles are certainly not to be minimized : between the Capuchins telling slaves or poor workers that their suffering mimics that of Jesus, and the Jesuits who appear more supportive of masters and scholars ; between a rabbi who acts as a simple witness for his community and another one, great doctrinaire pointing at the path of repentance (teshuvah) with prophetic accents, etc. But in general, the religious drive, whenever derived from the person, is completed and organized by a societal process of dogmatic fixation, which becomes ever more oppressive to individuals. No religion is exempt from this strain which no longer has anything personal, except its unremitting aim to reduce each person to the social persona .
But if it is true that the personal quest remains itself, in a sense, a sheer product of Societality –and a cause of any sociality-, we have not stressed enough how a radical openness about a chosen solitude (as opposed to seclusion) remains a necessity produced by the very excess of society, even if only to draw the courage not to yield to its most absurd constraints to mobilization, and to allow then consistent political choices.
Admittedly, the throbbing recurrence of the individualistic concern over the ages, can not just be turned back on criticizing the petty-bourgeois soul: from the ancient philosophies aimed to authentic interiority (like Stoicism or Epicureanism studied by Pierre Hadot), to new waves of nostalgias for a lost Self (like post-war existentialisms), the revolt against the simple fact of Societality is a "anthropological constant". To aknowledge it is not incompatible with a sense of intellectual progress: we henceforth know that it is neither the group itself, or "others" who are "hellish", nor this or that totaling regime, or even this or that "grand narrative" (that we deconstruct for saving our life in the postmodern age), but strictly speaking Societality by itself, that we produce here and now, as a strong –but invisible- lid above all of us.
In this ongoing struggle to understand better of what is woven this unbearable power, (struggle in which the French thought, more tortured than others, has proved historically fruitful, and of which we assume here the fully positional inheritance), there is indeed some progress to recognize that only Society -albeit the most liberal one- is itself the root of totalitarianism, independently of the special structure that is given to it in various times and places.
This awareness has its backhand : accepting that "free society" (as a global entity) is the only legitimate framework for perceiving reality is paradoxical : it means we accept to destroy the first condition of free participation, implying a real opportunity of choosing to be “non-social”. Without a substantial -and not only formal - liberty of escaping the Whole (which carries into perspective the very concept of Society), there would probably be no opportunity to hold any conversation because it would appear as an unsufferable yoke, and in the worst (psychotic) case, as a table for dissecting the human subject in vivo. Conversation would become even more constraining that it would be more balanced and harmonious, and would not tolerate to be interrupted by asymmetric encounters, or unequal power relations.
But in order to be substantial, this freedom of challenging the conversational framework in virtue of the ontological solitude of the human subject must be taken seriously for its content, for what it says it wants. So that it could function as a condition of plurality, we must also accept to recognize -if only as a metaphysical bet- that man is not only a social being or even a Buberian “intersubjective” being, but also a possible "Self", made of mere fiction, sheer loneliness and pure uselessness, a being supposedly "thrown there," destined to be essentially ignored by the Great Other .
This intuition has often led the philosopher to cleave between a return to mystical inwardness, and a jump into the least acceptable political commitments (Nazism for Heidegger, Stalinism for Sartre). That should not lead us to deny this problem. On the contrary, one can understand that, anxiety gripping the professor at the prospect of disappearing into the cave of the hermit, strange symptoms and contradictory behavior may easily affect him. But then, the absurdity which appears here is not, therefore, that of the issue raised, but that of the vacillation of the professorial position itself, half-goat half cabbage, half inward-directed, half-institutionally led.
Here, let us show a first degree ingenuity, would it be severely irritating to the spirit of scholarship, all cluttered with a thousand echoes of the same idea revived again and again : Death as destiny of each one, inevitably raises for him or her the question of the Self, and this beyond any social regimentation, and beyond any idea of duration. It is this death which make us “singles” and potential traitors to any great cause. That is why it is it which finally opposes us one by one to the Societal (since death takes living beings one by one, even a supposedly non reflexive and non sexual bacterium !) . Therefore, the Societal becomes for us a last representation of God, an essentially oppressive Societal God, just because it is "stealing" us for its service every second of our lifetime and the smaller mean of pursuing happiness.
But in a world where the person is brought, by the excess of Societal, to reject progressively any societal suggestion on the afterlife (such as judgment of the dead, in order to push them to be good in their lifetime) death is not only eternal : it becomes absolute. As absolute, it leaves no room for any judgment of the Dead. The Living, having no more than one life and each person being nothing but one’s life (which one has always known without wanting to know), life becomes one’s most valuable asset. This precious lifetime is woven of single encounters with others, relationships, and includes societal and familiar affects and implications. It involves politics, since, for example, preserving nature is a condition of each of our lives. But it is freed from all worries of a debt to the Societal. Rather, accomplishing a full singularity being the sole purpose of each person, the link with others can only be hedonistic, this including endurance, solidarity and love. One of the political solidarities which then becomes the more necessary is the fight against all forms of exploitable guilt, from voluntary slavery to multi-generational endebtment, from redemption to sacrifice. Of course, paradoxically, this fight may require a number of self-sacrifices! Every man, even perfectly atheist, may prefer to die or flee to support a life in which his family will be happier than in another, more oppressive.
Think of the disorder (which has already pointed the Evangelist) to which would lead such “dropping out” if it were to become widespread: the slave would not want to work (despite teaser shots distributed by tyrants and their classmates), the free man would neither want to discuss or organize nor to pay his taxes, the father would loose any interest in his family, the mother would become indifferent to her children, etc. Terrorized by the possibility of a monachial or eremitic dispersion (from monos, one who is alone, or eremitis, one that goes in the desert), every Super-Society does everything to take on the train of mysticism, to gather the flock and bring them all back home: it will be readily understood. It is also very significant that, when it cannot stem a very large movement of crowds fleeing from “civilization” (as it happened at the dusk of the Roman Empire), Super-Socius tries, at least, to organize it.
It may be - each will judge in one’s own way - that human culture as such operates in the natural evolution as a breakthrough such as the question of the singularity is raised, and then, once asked, keeps elaborating, and asserting themselves with even more irreducibility that grows and solidifies at the opposite side of the big "thing" which means to mingle humanity, society and planet.
5. Project “Diversion"
There are, doubtlessly, a specifically human fatality to rush collectively towards the same Idea, through the best of reasons. Strangely enough, this merger of intelligent living beings in the worship of the Ideal favours the biological trend in any eusocial species to be organized following the model of the anthill, but it dismisses them from the noble tasks which reflects the human brain, born of the sociality of challenging small familiar groups . This trend has been spotted long ago. Scaring men about their own possibilities, it has led to proposals for self-protective organizing, but no one – from the institution of law to the division of powers, and from the latter to the market regulation - have never managed to eradicate it.
The proposal deployed in our work does not pretend to achieve much more! We barely dare - in the registry of imagination - to outline the framework of a plausible temporary conversation and make it last as long as possible before inevitably coming to closing remarks and therefore to the agreed terms of the Official Universal Thinking (O.U.T !).
We only dream, by matching our statement of the problem to the style of this dissenting conversation, to disorient some time the fascinated or frightened precipitation to “Humageneity”.
Unlike the religious undertaking, which hosts the virulent infantile neurosis embedded in the adult, promising eternal life, unlimited power and infinite love, our purpose is not to calm down the "Game of Mankind" by a misleading sedation. It is not question to achieve peace, ecstasy or nirvana, even if it's the green paradise. However, and this time unlike the state and market logics that claim to organize relations between all men according to a sheer utilitarian reason, we take seriously the irreducible character of passion blooming from childhood and anchored in the adult. We assume that the social game may recognize this passion without submitting to its hellish dictatorship and its drift towards suicide by over-querulence.
Conversely, we assume that Passion carries with it an absolutely right demand: to be recognized as “oneself" without any justification or functional utility for others. Therefore, we aknowledge the tragic contradiction between the uniqueness of each speaking being and the societal cooperation, which necessary leads to a balanced compromise between them, the only point where the moral (societal) entity and the ethical (personal) one might rejoin.
Such a compromise may itself be passed through a recognition of the plurality of passions in which people live their singular achievement. That is why tomorrow's conversation must first be one that separates and attracts the passions of living differently, knowing that the speaking being is so made that he still wants what the other is. To make this precarious plurality working, the only "trick" we use is "to organize jealousy" in establishing the quintessential and immeasurable difference between semiotic universes. Since we’ll never been able to stop a human being to want what the other has (and vice versa) instead of what he is, is it not appropriate to propose "alternative lifestyles" as outstanding values (instead of despising or idealizing them) ? Is it not implying a certain " democracy of passions "? Therefore, is “democracy of passions” not the real name of the pluralist society ?
Let us admit this is not an illusion but just a diversion : our operation is then to oppose the current idealized “growth” (a grim march to a coordinated death, in behalf of a technicized competition) not so much to its mechanical opposite (“décroissance”) but at least to three other ideals: the incalculable need for a singular identity, that of the encounter with unexploited and natural life; that of a non informatisable friendliness (conviviality).
Assuming that, as we attempted to show, these four opposite ideals (technochrematistics, culture, nature, familiarity) form the simplest structure of a world conversation trying soon to surpass most strategic or economic official games, there may be there an opportunity to seize.
Insofar this world conversation would just actualize on the global scene the ancestral tendency to divide men in dialogic positions, it seems to have some chance of actually occuring in one form or another. So, the short time won by the conversation against human folly - and the terrible desire to fight to death one last time - might be enough to postpone the blinding syntheses and the worst resulting decisions concerning our destiny (alas underway, as we know it or not).
We could make good use of the wholesome hesitation that the pluralist palaver maintains for a while, in order to uncover unforeseen opportunities.
1. Except perhaps in case of threats of death hanging over the child, because of war, for example.
2. But what are we ? We may grasp a hint of it in this quotation of Thoreau’s Walden : “
3. Claude Levi-Strauss points out how the totemic systems -notably in Australia- are trying to recognize the individual far beyond the boundaries of the familiar world, but the last is usually constructed, however, such as it detemines specific traits that the Other lacks.
4. The frenzied denigration of property hides under its generous guise a psychic childish mechanism which denies others’ right to détain what I believe to be deprived by them : my being, recognizable by my physical consistency and my inalienable objects in the world.
5.This denigration, which also justifies the expropriation of the poor, has nothing to do with refusing the appropriation of everything by private and public companies, that are still challenging people's right to exist “by their own" in this world. In a sense, radical denigration and liberal concrete denial of the right to be "oneself" through property come from the same proneness of the powerful and the wealthy to capture in people their very “being” . Communism and capitalism expropriate people in the same way in order to give their property (strictly speaking : what they have in proper) to Societal monstrosities. In this sense, property- not defined as private, but as an aspect of the Self - must not only be defended against particular predatory organizations, but as well against States.
6. That does not mean that there are no common or public goods, but these can not be constituted by sided and paupering pacts affecting the "natural" persons. The balance between personal and corporate properties is difficult to maintain because people can often leave their property without regard for the rights of potential heirs (unless there is a law protecting individuals against their own tendency to undergo a jealous or predatory ideology). And so much more than the societal institution has no interest in itself to reinforce the right of people to maintain their "own": the "Left" is frequently infected by primary jealousy wishing to deprive people of their rights to inherit property without taxes, while the "Right" is hopelessly infected with the primary envy to corner (through legal exploitation) what others have. As long as these"foul" feelings have not been permanently identified as being similar and therefore limited in the political arena, the societal policy can not help but to attack the person, either from right or left.
7.McLuhan, Teri C. (1994) The Way of the Earth: Encounters with Nature in Ancient and Contemporary Thought. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster. Incidentally, remember that the Nez Perce (simply named "men" by themselves) believed in plurality: that, conventional and common, of the tetralogy of elements and seasons, meant to convey the character of individuals. We share here a basic belief : tetralogy is a " minimal plurality ". Duality is not sufficient to express a self-regulating conflict. As for the dimensions chosen, we respect their heuristic qualities as systems of signifiers attempting to account for human tendencies, but we do not agree even if they have inspired sophisticated philosophies operating in Western modernity like the Freemasons. Indeed, we believe that elements and seasons incline us to attribute to them the explanation of human oppositions, as if the latter did not speak directly for themselves. But that is what they do, and analogies with other symbolized structures do not reveal but conceal them. We would therefore reverse the direction of a supposed influence: this is because men are divided into the four main passions - Law, Familiarity, Societality and Culture, that they tend to represent them as Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, or Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn (etc.). And not vice versa.
8.Endless struggles that show an eerie resemblance to these pointed by Jean-Claude Ameisen -in The Sculpture of Life, the cellular suicide or the creative death (La sculpture du Vivant, Le Seuil, Paris,1999)-, as defining the evolution of the immense empire of bacteria, finally allowing them to create and sculpt the most complex life forms that we are. I wonder if this fascination with the law of mutual constraint given for "evolution" or "civilization" does not induce some blindness to its exact opposite: the production of forms all the more autonomous that they result from organically integrated constraints. In other words, an even more powerful effect than the taming of autonomy in an organic hierarchy, would be the release of far more aggressive antagonisms at a "higher" level. Less free cells, fewer cancers, but more killings among “higher” organisms !
9. Anyway, evolution and history are not completed (or perhaps not terminable),and wisdom wants us to accept that there are at least two possibilities and not just one. Outright destruction and "Life Sculpture", terminal Wars and "Civilization"; there are always challenging forces and we can not predict which will win the next episode. Freud, already, has left us on this expectation with his Eros and Thanatos eternal battle. Note that the idea of Plurality precisely proposes to stave off both fearful prospects by introducing some mediation, some sort of salutary uncumbrance ? Why, moreover, mediation would be forbidden to exist in nature?
10. I owe to my wife, Valerie Jacq-Duclos the idea that technoscientist culture is basically a "Culture of Narcissism."
On this essential point, (that we have not developed here) we must consider expenditure as a necessary way of spending the exceeding human energy : see the exciting PHD work of Anthony Horrie, "the notion of non-growth from the point of view of the General Theory of Economics by Georges Bataille. "And read as well, of course, by the latter, the great Accursed Share, Volume 1: Consumption, trans. Robert Hurley, New York: Zone Books, 1991 (“La Part maudite”, 1949) preceded by the Notion of Expenditure (study published in La Critique Sociale, No. 7, January 1933), Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1967.
11. Comparing TV news programs in the 1980 and in 2012 is striking: A lot of time is henceforth taken by subjects formerly called "news items", for which it comes to studio teams to appear as auxiliaries of public morals and Police, as “attack dog”s on behalf of political correctness supremacy, while real controversial issues have sharply declined.
12. Many eschatological discourses show this kind of rhetoric "ordeal". I do not recognize myself among the prophets of doom and other blind clairvoyants, and that is why I would argue here that Plurality is not a workaround or a bailout for the chronic "crisis" of the system, as could be policies of financial regulation, or population growth limitation, energy restraint or environmental prevention, all equally necessary as others, and obviously carrying quite useful lulls. Plurality rather establishes a principle of mutual respect and balance between opposing tendencies. So it is a long-term effect that is expected from its cultural success.
13. The first very wholesome reaction coming from a friend who read the manuscript of my heavy Treaty “in praise of Plurality”, was to send me by return mail a short manuscript of his hand, dealing with a quite different subject, with the following words: " about conversation ..." I suppose he meant by this note that Plurality begins with recognizing what the Other has to say. I agree, of course.
14. "The forests of Boscione," Forthcoming. (See the manuscript on the website of Denis Duclos.)
15. Frangins : in choosing this term, I was not aware of its proximity to the word "brother" used by hyper-violent young rebels portrayed by Stanley Kubrick in his film A Clockwork Orange. I do not think my "brothers" would be particularly violent, as they seek to survive rather discreetly.
16. There is a possible pun in French between “frange” (fringe) and “frangins” (brothers of the fringe ?). This is less easy in english (because one drop the “brotherhood” side, except, perhaps, if we recycle the word “frear”, issued from the french “frère” (brother). (I cant’ help to imagine one of the Monty Pythons trying to pronounce “frears of the fringe”, like Pilatus in the Life of Bryan). Fearful !
17. Again, a paradox: that of a work meant to be shared, but, if it is too much, is soon to change in a statement of power, both false and monstrous. But can we hope to be neither published nor understood?
18. Alain Ehernberg, The Weariness of the Self, Paris, Diagnosing the Hisory of Depression in the Contemporary Age, McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal , 2010 (1999).
19. This trend is identified and analyzed by Michel Foucault, especially in L’herméneutique du Sujet, Gallimard, Le Seuil, Paris, 2001, (edited by Frédéric Gros).
20. Thus, the July 2007 issue of the Courrier International inventories hundreds of papers in the world devoted to contemporary Religious practices, but it does reserve neither a page, nor even a word, to the possibility of such a difference.
21. The ongoing process of inventing a new relationship to the afterlife in ‘'near death experiences " is striking from this point of view : at the beginning, it was rather diverse, individual, poorly defined , until the theme attracts some curious self-promoted "scientists". Soon, "thousands" of evidence are collated, specified, ordered. A universal standard-type of testimony is emerging, with spiritual bodies flying off , dark hallways with their luminous exit, welcoming heavenly figures (usually with no sexual feature). And finally "experiences of hell" appear with its flames and its unspeakable suffering of abandonment by God. In short, in the absence of a clergy, it is a self-mediated people that directly reinvents the usual dogmatic foundations of religion. It is both hilarious and scary !
21. One of the last attempts to save the dogma as a cultural principle was that, quite sumptuous, by Pierre Legendre. It is based, as all previous ones, on the fear inspired by the pure individual liberty and its denigration in the name of the necessary covenants and symbolic laws. Speaking in the desert of a society being converted to technochrematistics, Legendre remains likeable, while revealing, in a sort of tragic and prophetic way, the extraordinary potential for self-enslavement contained in any religious impulse.
22. Observe that an original sociologist like Bruno Latour also called his colleagues to get rid of the haunting and totalizing notion of "society." But it is soon to invite us all to focus on the "connection" and the network. But this orientation rather completes the technophilic orientation prevailing in social sciences, and does not help much Plurality, which remains a political concept.
23. A Great Zionist crusader, Martin Buber was also the great theorist of human intersubjective nature. But the "I" and "Thou", how instructive are they of mutual recognition, do not release the subject of the need to "take a stand" for a concrete and not interchangeable dimension in a conversation with more than two mirror characters.
24. The Great Other of the lacanian psychoanalysts sounds like Big Brother. Probably because different types of insights lead us to the same conclusion : eventually, the simple fact of building up a large society allows it to turn against its own builders as its eternal contributors. We worship the idol we have all invented, not knowing it will necessarily become jealous of each of us. Just because our singularity is a logical challenge for its own. Could a singularity be plural ? We, of course, answer “no” . The problem is that the Societal singularity is much more powereful than ours, and its “No” comes out much louder than ours. We may look for an accomodation, but is the Societal, being a lonely beast, able to understand the very meaning of “compromise” ? I doubt.
25. Again, remember the strange discovery made by paleo-anthropologists: the human brain has lost 15 percent of its size during the past 30 000 years. Do collective power and mass civilization come with the dumbing down of our species ? Or, conversely, is a smaller brain, taking less time to be browsed by our flashes and richer with multiple foldings, really more likely to reflect the complexities of self and world ? On the other hand, Australopithecus Sediba (two million years old), of whom a complete skull was found in South Africa (Malapa), is already showing different sizes of frontal lobes, (prominence of Broca's convolution, left side) which is generally attributed to language specialization. More recent Pre-human primates exhibit such asymmetry up with a much larger brain. One might conclude that this is not the language itself, which will force a reduction in brain capacity, but the radical transformation of living conditions from the Neolithic age, for a majority of henceforth “domestic” human beings ( agriculture, cities, mass slavery, etc..).
26. I refer here to the title of my book : Nature ou démocratie des passions, PUF,Paris, 1996.
27. It is difficult to translate in english this concept used by Serge Latouche. It is certainly not a decay, but has more to do with the deceleration of economic growth, only calculated in termes of GDP. This decrease could be acompanied by an improvement of many aspects of the qualityof life.