Understanding what’s happening to us

Two cities got attacked in a row in two days. First beirut, then Paris. Two cities I have the luck to know, where I have the luck to have friends and family. The street where the attackers acted in Beirut is one where I passed regularly. The places where the attackers acted in Paris are places where my friends go regularly. An unfathomable account of 169 dead. London, the city where I live now, would be “next on the list”, according to some.

It’s the first time I sit down and write since Thursday. I walked a lot this weekend, I tought a lot. I drunk a lot as well. Like many I remembered the world is a nice place I do not want to leave before long. Like many I have feared, been anrgy, and cried. I cried for beirut, out of fear and then out of relief that nobody I knew had been a victim of the attacks. Then for my friends who started seeing how injust it was that their friends’ and families’ deaths had been a topic of joy for some, for whom the neighbourhood touched was merely a political party’s “fortress”. It was not “fortress”. It is a residential areas. With coffee shops, restaurants, and a market. I feared again for Paris, and was relieved, and cried again. Now I’m starting to see the injustice of the situation again: so many building lighted with blue, white and red, but what an absence of the red, green and white. So many Eiffel Towers, but so little Cedars. What an injustice. I fear for my Syrian friends in France, in England and elsewhere, for my Palestinian friends in Lebanon, possible victims of a hatred they have neither begun nor supported, but suffer from. They will recognise themselves. I fear for my friends in London, in Beirut and other places. And I fear for myself at last.

But I did not create that blog to talk about myself, and I will not break that rule. The feelings I had during these days have been had by others. My personal sensitivity only exists in a universe of interactions, between people situated in different spaces, impacted by an event but who have to conceive a common framing, a single description of what they perceive.

This blog’s title contains the word “frame” for a reason: framings, these partly-routinised attempts to define social situations, are at the core of the way in which we, social beings, live. The absence of any originality in the way we describe our feelings is partly attached to their social nature; as Christophe Traïni recalls in his work on the defence of animals, they are not purely internal elements of human life, but sensitivities, materialised in discourses, objects, linguistic or symbolic settings, the “sensitising devices”. And it is essential we manage to understand how what happens to us happens, that we manage to think of our situation, lest we be drowned by it.

My point is this is too big for me. It is too big for all of us. I don’t have anything to say, me: I’m merely a student in political science, with a cabinet full of articles and a few books on which to stand to understand the incomprehensible mess around me. And maybe that is a wonderful luck.

I read Friday a sentence, written by I cannot remember who, which summarises all I think after this week enbd: “We will need a lot of intelligence now”. This is the most important sentence right now. We are all on edge. We did not sleep, or little did we. We are grieving, we are angry. And yet we will have to take a step back. We will have to try and understand what is happening to us. Because nobody will do it for us. Let us face the facts: our “elites”, both political and intellectual, are completely overwhelmed by the situation. For the most of them, they are in situations where they simply cannot think, and do not know how not to be. They have proven this to be the case until now, and there is nothing hinting that this may change. This is neither a populist attempt, nor a scientific point, it is a spontaneous intuition, which may well be wrong. But until now, from what we can observe, we have to wager that it is correct.

What this means is, we will have to go back to the task when it is the hardest. There is a lot to do. Nobody will do it for us. We will have to read and write. We will not be able to content ourselves with ready-made discourses. It is a luck: many already do not. But we will need more. Understanding what us happening to us will become a matter of life and death. More than before, we will have to do a little more for intelligence.

In 1998, French philosopher Cornélius Castoriadis described a situation which has not stopped since, in an article called “Stopping the rise of insignificance”:

Education should be more oriented toward the common things. We ought to comprehend the mechanisms of economics, society, politics, and so forth. Children get bored learning history while it is fascinating. We should teach a real anatomy of contemporary society, how it is, how it works. Learn to struggle against beliefs, and ideologies.

Aristotle said “Man is an animal which desires knowledge”. It is wrong. Man is an animal which desires belief, which desires the certainty of belief, hence the weight of religion and political ideologies. In the labour movements at first there was a very critical attitude. Take the second verse of The Internationale, the Commune’s song: “There are no supreme saviors, neither God – exit religion – nor Caesar, nor tribune exit Lenin!

(…)

In his Oration to Athenians, Pericles says: “We are the only ones in whom reflection does not inhibit action”. Very admirable! He adds, “The others, either do not think and are daring, and commit absurdities, or, thinking, do not manage to act because they only consider discourse and opposing discourse”. Currently we are in a phase of inhibition, for sure. Once burnt, twice shyed. We do not need big discourses, we need true discourses.

(…)

Freedom is very difficult. It is very easy to let go. Men are lazy animals. A marvellous sentence from Thucydides says: “One has to choose between resting and being free”. And Pericles tells the Athenians, “If you want to be free, you have to work”. You cannot rest. You cannot sit down in front of the television. You are not free when in front of the television. You believe you are free switching channels like idiots, but you are not, it is a false freedom. Freedom is activity. And freedom is an activity which self-restricts itself, which means it can do everything but it must not do everything. And that is the big problem of democracy and selfishness.

It is time to start getting active again, collectively, and immediately.

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