Public Life that is No More


Photo by Romualdas Rakauskas

For the past few weeks, the humanity has been taken over by a collective anxiety and fear. Besides the fears that concern the health, there has also been anxiety over the economic consequences of the current events. While both are in many ways justified and completely expected, it also has pointed towards something that has come up to the surface - and that is that in our modern lives we do not have a conception of public life beyond the economic. The only thing that connects indvidiuals into a shared public sphere is the economy and the only way individuals relate is through identities, something that can come only as a result of completely destroyed collective.

The Identity Bonds

Arksey, Yorkshire, England during the floods in 1932 // Fox Photos

"The degree of respect owing to human collectivities is a very high one, for several reasons. To start with, each is unique, and, if destroyed, cannot be replaced. One sack of corn can always be substituted for another sack of corn. The food which a collectivity supplies for the souls of those who form part of it has no equivalent in the entire universe. Secondly, because of its continuity, a collectivity is already moving forward into the future. It contains food, not only for the souls of the living, but also for the souls of beings yet unborn which are to come into the world during the immediately succeeding centuries. Lastly, due to this same continuity, a collectivity has its roots in the past. It constitutes the sole agency for preserving the spiritual treasures accumulated by the dead, the sole transmitting agency by means of which the dead can speak to the living. And the sole earthly reality which is directly connected with the eternal destiny of Man is the irradiating light of those who have managed to become fully conscious of this destiny, transmitted from generation to generation." - "The Need for Roots", Simone Weil One of the most important values of our times and one of the most important building blocks of our conception of a civil society is the idea of pluralism. The roots of it are in liberal philosophies and ideas, which come to their conclusions coming from the maxim of an individual who is a free being gifted with conscience. However, over the time we have moved quite a bit from the classical liberal ideas and with the development of the postmodern ideas and schools the concept of pluralism extended towards that of complete subjectivity and finally identity. Identity as such has become one of the most important factors not only in the modern politics but also in the way individuals live and define themselves. Identity itself has become a right. With this extreme pluralism, perhaps one would imagine that we would come to live in a world in which so many unique individuals interact and that eventually it would bring about greater tolerance for differences. The final result was supposed to be the reign of pluralism and diversity. However, it appears that the opposite has happened - individuals connect on the basis of identity, rejecting almost anyone who does not fit within the values that come with their identity. In doing so, the postmodern individual enters a world in which everyone shares the same beliefs, follows the same fashion trends, reads the same books, condemns the same people or articles and downloads the same apps on their phones. The identity bonds quickly become homogeneous, lacking the real experience of community in which we are often exposed to people we may not like, and we may not agree with but who we eventually must find a way to tolerate or understand. The identity bonds easily become hostile because they easily find enemies of their identities. Being in a closed group they never really have to see those of values and priorities different than theirs. With time, it becomes hard to see those opposed to them as human beings, let alone members of the same community. These disconnected identities that are often based on nothing but self-identification and rarely relate to anything outside or bigger than the individual, have not built collectivities or a high degree of pluralism, but rather destroyed both. In destroying collectivities and having a sole, isolated individual as a measure of everything, it removed any sense of shared public life. Postmodern identities exist in a vacuum and one of the main characteristics of the postmodern urban populations is a degree of what T.S. Eliot would describe "anti culture." There is, if not a hatred, then quite a negative attitude towards past, traditions and lives of the grandparents. Isolated from the past, a postmodern identitarian is also isolated from the future, as he does not know what to project and build into it. Collectivity of which Simone Weil speaks is not the same like collectivism. Collectivism attempts to establish an inorganic sense of togetherness, it tries to force people into a bond not for the sake of one another and their shared heritage or goals, but for the sake of political system which promises to work for their interests. Collectivity on the other hand is organic, there is no strictly planned strategy to where it leads, no ending point, but rather it comes as result of natural connections between individuals who together aim to build something to last longer than their own lives. In having no end point or a goal, the collectivity becomes in what would Nietzsche describe as "the eternal joy in becoming" ("The Twilight of Idols").

Homo Economicus

"La Serenata", Eugenio de Blaas (1843 - 1932), Italian

As shared heritage through which individuals form collectivities and communities come together disappears, the only thing that is left to connect individuals into a shared public sphere regardless of their identity, regardless of how they choose to live their lives is the sphere of economy. The economy remains as economy is that sector which is often concerned with human's most base needs. These needs are something over which all humans, regardless of who they are and what their views on economy are, can join, because they feel they all can participate and as it concerns everyone. Economic sector is that which feeds, clothes and provides shelter and even if we choose to have a different dietary habits (and condemn others for not doing the same), clothing styles and interior design preferences than our neighbor, it is still an area we share with him. Of course, economy has always been a part of the public life and it could not be avoided, but it was rarely the only form of public life. Heritage, family, community, religion, even politics all used to be seen as a part of public life in which all kinds of individuals participated. When economy becomes the only sphere that people share, people cease to think in terms of any other but economic value. Suddenly, the value of everything becomes the price of it. Hobbies should turn into "side hustles", if you know everything, you better find a way to monetise it, because who else gets joy from just knowing and not making money using that knowledge? Homo economicus fears economic problems more than any others because the last connecting thread of his life may soon begone, and he, being an isolated and alienated monad who often takes pride in his inability to even have a peaceful dinner with his family, realises at least to a certain degree, that he has nothing to fall back on. There is no family, there are no friends, no community to hold each other up and hold each other together until the crisis is gone. But the biggest tragedy of homo economicus is not just his alienation from everything around him, it is also his inability to conceptualise any form of life, any form of hierarchy of values that does not put the economy above everything else. He cannot even value himself when he does something that is not productive and usually the only form of pleasure he allows himself are the dopamine rushes that will allow him to be "even more productive" tomorrow. The rest shall never be just the rest, it shall always be a preparation for the next productivity session. You shall not drink coffee because you enjoy the coffee but because it makes you more productive. There is probably a little of homo economicus in each of us, especially if we consume modern media. Our subconscious consumes these mantras even if we consciously reject them. The time of idleness and calm that has come to us may be used to examine to what degree we have become this reduced idea of a human and how we can relearn to allow ourselves to be bored and enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing.

Links "The Need of Roots", Simone Weil "The Birth of Tragedy", Friedrich Nietzsche "Dolce Far Niente / Sweet Doing Nothing" Support Orphic Inscendence

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