15/04/2021

Less arrogance, more empathy

3 min
Mural painted in Bombay, India.

1. Helplessness. "Death and ignorance do not make a story". Says Cécile Alduy, a French researcher in literature at Stanford, after recalling two moments of Macron: in 2017 when he declared that he intended to be the "maître des horloges" (i.e. the one who sets the pace) and on March 15 this year when he said that "the owner of this time is the virus, unfortunately". An impeccable synthesis of the impact of the pandemic on politics which cannot find a way to fit the current crisis into its usual forms of discursive presentation: euphemism, promise, confrontation. For the moment, incapable of constructing an alternative discourse based on empathy and complicity, political leaders have found no other resource than fear, as if we were children.

The differentiation between need and desire is classic. Needs demand a response and have a route, desire is insatiable. And politics move between the pressure to address needs, by which it will finally be judged, and the feeding of desire in the form of a great promise, always distant, to frame the citizenry.

The pandemic highlights the helplessness of politics - at the same time as it brings to light long-standing deficits and fractures - and blurs the illusions of the future. In fact, for a long time we had been living in a kind of continuous present, which had led us to forget the past and obscured the present with the power of technological changes that seemed to minimise the human condition. And suddenly we have found ourselves confronted with new vulnerabilities, that is to say, with the risks of believing that growth and technological development (converted into new ideologies of salvation) will redeem us. For the moment, they have not even been able to prevent a pandemic like those that devastated very backward societies.

Conclusion: the doors of the future can only be opened from the experience of the present, which is how the present becomes the past. How can we make the pandemic a springboard for a political discourse that abandons euphemism and polarization in favor of recognition and assumption of reality, recovering the democratic culture of solidarity and thus avoiding the path, which sometimes seems irreversible, towards post-democratic authoritarianism, which seems the destiny of neo-liberal economic dogmatics?

2. Frustration. The spectacle we are seeing these days of complete dissociation between the needs of the pandemic and the rages of politics is frustrating. We see it in Madrid, almost like a caricature, where the mess with which the pandemic has been managed wants to turn it into a political battle under the slogan "Socialism or freedom", by Ayuso. As grotesque as it may seem, it is yet another manifestation of the central conflict of today's politics: authoritarian projects at the service of the most deregulated and uncontrolled economy against the equitable impulses of the democratic tradition. Biden's initiative in the United States, which is taking advantage of the impact of the pandemic to summon the world to a new New Deal, may repair Trump's shambles but we shall see how far it can go. In the meantime, authoritarianism continues to gain a foothold everywhere, in its various decantations, for example in Mexico, as Roger Bartra explains in the book Regreso a la Jaula, in which he exposes the reactionary project of President Obrador.

And precisely because they are mutations that create tendencies, it is necessary to appeal to democratic regeneration. It is unacceptable that in a situation like the current one, weeks go by and Catalonia has no government due to the struggles of groups that, under the guise of strategic discrepancies, poorly disguise a struggle for positions and interests. It is unacceptable that Catalonia should renounce to an active policy on the different fronts that must be used for reconstruction, in the name of principled positions that are only an expression of impotence. Everyone must learn from their own experiences. We have two recent ones: the vicissitudes of a political confrontation that for some time has been demanding responsibility from all parties, and deafness predominates; and the management of the pandemic, which continues to be based on fear and on the arbitrariness of a capricious strategy of opening and closing. They say that crises are opportunities. Politics now has one to recover its reputation. Less arrogance, more empathy.

Josep Ramoneda is a philosopher

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