The paradox of this age is wide open in our smartphones: among those who most strongly abjure cultural relativism as a disease of values and loss of references, there are many who most quickly disregard the difference between truth and falsehood with contempt for those who claim it. São Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro on an international scale, but a little bit everywhere this is a flagrant contradiction that visits us every day in murals and news.
The daily and increasingly intrusive adversary of an informed, serene and committed to tolerance relativism (and for which not everything is relative) is this other cynical, arrogant and irresponsible relativism, which has released itself from the truth and argumentative coherence, allowing become the most radical anything goes provided that it serves the purpose of a single agenda, namely, that of hatred of cultural relativism, with the imperative to eliminate it from the Earth's surface. Values and truth are separated, as if they were different worlds - from reality you can say what comes to mind and find a way, even if the Earth is flat, but from the values there of anyone who dares to raise a question . There was a time when we said that this was fundamentalism and we fought it. Today, we realize how well it was sown in our societies hi-tech and soft skills and knowledge.
Ironically, this path of relativism of truth and absolutism of values in no way makes these more universal. On the contrary, it is a path that leads to the universalization of hatred towards the other, under a growing deafness and inability to intercultural dialogue. Legitimized the incommunicability of values, each culture, each nationality, each religion, stubbornly adheres to its own, even to hatred. Where dialogue would be expected, only verbal confrontation remains. They are still words where there is no war, but instead of the reasons stated there is only strength. And unreasonable use of force is a good way to define what violence is.
This desire for unquestionable values is supportive of the nostalgia for nationalism, of a community of protection that is founded in the same language, in the same territory, in the same religion taken as official, in the same history, and which has a lot to do with a reaction to losses and vulnerabilities, those brought about by an individualism that leaves everyone to their own devices, those of the losers of societies based on the principles of competition and success. But also those brought about by globalization, whose evil is, above all, to repeat this same logic of individualism, simply taking national economies as individuals now. There are undoubtedly causes, they simply do not have to be accepted as reasons. The right answer to the vulnerability of the modern individual cannot be the hatred of the other, his contemporary and his cultural difference.
It can be argued that national communities survived centuries under the link to values, to solidly established social roles, to the stability of a gregarious identity above the choices of both. The same will be said of religious communities. In the face of the threat, it is more natural to close ourselves off. And all this cannot fail to be taken with some seriousness when the story that is being made in the era of globalization is a story of impoverishment, vulnerability and resentment.
On the other hand, in accelerated and virtual societies, the precariousness more recognized as economic and social also has a moral aspect. The growing reactivity in our times must be understood as the moralistic equivalent of existential precariousness, in an era where nothing can be patiently waited or trusted.
Mistrust entered people's lives in such a way that, for many, nothing more than biological nature, the one we were born with and did not choose, is no longer considered serious. The other, the acquired one, the one that Aristotle compared, in “Nicomachean Ethics”, to a second nature, and we compared habit and education, became worthless, inauthentic, a lie, the result of relativism if not inculcated by some device of strength. The mistrust is such that, for many, it is preferable to conform to what cannot be chosen. A woman is her biology, and a man is equally. If the truth has already deserved more respect, freedom has also deserved more affection.
But, more deeply, the distrust that makes it increasingly difficult to be others to each other, giving new reasons to the famous “Hell are the others” (L'enfer, these les autres) of the play “Huis Clos”, by Jean-Paul Sartre, makes culture itself intolerable. The current change is so profound that it makes sense to ask if more than a post-human age we are not entering an era of post-otherness. And, all things considered, if this is not the way we enter that one, darkly.
What to do?
The alternative to an individualism and a globalization that precarious economic and social existence are not closed communities, without others, that only communicate through signs of strength and that have their subsistence in power, concretized in the forms of respect, hierarchy , the unquestionability of values, as if they were an impenetrable mass to thought. But, undoubtedly, there is a kind of will to restore that impenetrability to grow in our societies, be it under the pretext of the order of values, or of the world order, or of the social order, to remember the authoritarian formula “God, fatherland, family” , sometimes even very explicitly. It is the integralist motto that Bolsonaro in Brazil and Vox in Spain resurrected from the time of the other lady.
In light of this, it is important to congratulate this papacy of Francis, for being on the right side of history, which is that of humanity. After a remarkable encyclical on integral ecology a few years ago, now this new encyclical letter from Pope Francis, “Fratelli Tutti” - on fraternity and social friendship - stands against hate speech and populism. With Francis, the Catholic Church has the courage to belong to this world and this time. For example, when he says that "the digital movements of hatred and destruction are not - as some claim to believe - a great form of mutual aid, but mere associations against an enemy." (§42)
Today, places of resistance are lacking, so everyone is welcome, in a fight that has to assume two priorities.
It is useless if it is not a fight for common sense, which forces us to go to those who differ, and to propose dialogue, even discussion, as long as it is argued. Much more than having reiterated the agreement of those who already agree, it is important to understand why they disagree with others, and based on this understanding, seek, with uncertainty about the result, to shorten the boundaries of disagreement. This is a genuine dialogue. We will fail if we close ourselves in a bubble, no matter how convinced we are to be right. The conviction of reasons must be taken to others, even if it is necessary to revolutionize social networks.
Second, resisting essentially involves resisting reactivity. We will fail if we fall into the trap of letting normality become just reacting, incapable of more and, therefore, more obsessed with reacting, even addicted, as if the anguish of emptiness were installed if there was nothing to react to. Some days ago it was the girl caught with two boys in a carriage, the other day it was the unfortunate taking of a mayor, or the tweet of a deputy, the displaced comment of a secretary general of a party, someday we will be subjected to any video recording by hand of any stranger.
Obviously, a permanent “Apanhados” cannot be the destination of public discussion, even if all the dominant paths, of social networks, and of newspapers and televisions increasingly rendered to the model of those, point to it. To do so is to contribute to post-democracy, which distracts and obsesses us news in the same proportion that it gives up democratizing structural political decisions.
This reactivity is the nerve that populism presses every day. Nothing is easier than to give reasons to react against and thus maintain a permanent polarization. Just call “a gypsy” a presidential candidate who is preparing to take the lead in anyone who calls her that. To resist reactivity has to be to give the answer, without ever leaving the political debate hostage to a strategy that just wants no political debate at all.
But it is crucial to realize that populism only takes advantage of the conditions it finds, and then promotes them. Hypersensitivity to the faults of others, even of intolerance or insensitivity, is still a form of intolerance. And the mass reaction, of thousands or millions, to the faults of others, even if persecutory, is still a form of persecution. This regime of intolerance towards the other is installing itself in the social world even among those who do not recognize themselves and are opposed to populism. So we need to be aware of the ways in which we resist reactivity. Don't fall into that trap, save space for touch.
The struggle for common sense
Nothing justifies hate speech and the cancellation of tolerance. In addition to condemning the weakest to fear and humiliation, hate speech universalizes the threat "stop being others or die!". But to criticize and fight it requires us to know how to situate it in its time. In order not to fall into the language that suits you, of reactivity only, but also to understand this time in which it is located and that we are living.
Perhaps the best way to characterize it, with all the alarmism that is justified, is to witness directly an attempt to genocide alterity, not of others in the flesh, but of their right to be others, different, with others values, other cultures, without the ignominy of the label of inferiors, a door that opens the pretension to be able to discriminate and dehumanize. It should be an attack on common sense this way, but it is possible to lose common sense for the most horrible causes. And this is how the obsession in our times against cultural relativism must be read. For it is only a matter of defending the right, which must remain at the center of common sense, that no culture should feel inferior in spite of the greater technological strength of one in particular.
What is at issue is that we continue to take for granted the refusal of cultural supremacies, whatever they may be, but very particularly the European one (as Chega defends for example), the white one (as Trump admits), the patriarchal one (like these and too many others maintain). For this sensible relativism, of common sense, of liberal values and of tolerance, the choice for inclusiveness is at stake, having as a single limit the conditions that make it possible. And it is necessary to understand the relativity of this relativism, which is mobilized by an idea of sophisticated progress, which has universalism as a regulatory idea, through coexistence and contamination and consensus dialogues, for a landscape of cultural diversity and values : the human world.
The author writes according to the old spelling.