The other in contemporary society, a fellow human or “something” disposable?

Is the impossibility of living with who is different, of sharing a territory without annihilating each other, inscribed in human nature?

Humberto Maturana has demonstrated that it is the language and the possibility of cohabitation what makes us humans. Analyzing the evolutionary process of hominids that populated Earth more than three million years ago, Chilean biologist highlights the moment when our ancestors were able to stand on their back feet as the founding moment of human origin, what implied that they were able to raise their eyes away from the floor, start reproducing frontally through the embrace, and form small communities with the purpose of sharing food and childbearing. Thus, the word appeared as main mechanism for coordinating actions. We can imagine our ancestors seated in circle at the center of a village or in a cave, sharing stories, recreating everyday anecdotes, making collective decisions in spaces of peaceful coexistence.

Today we live in the global village surrounded by intelligent machines that allow us to relate with each other surpassing limitations of time and space. However, as those first men and women, we remain beset by the need to tell others who we are, what we do, where we are, what we think. Our conversations expand throughout the planet through keyboards, displays, cellular phones, graffiti, songs, images. We need to express ourselves even if it is only in 140 characters. But we have not been able to eradicate violence, we continue contending against one another, fighting for territory, building visible or invisible walls that separate us from the different ones.

Opposing realities coexist. On the one side, human evolution is associated with the conquest of territory through the annihilation of the enemy. On the other side, it is the space for coexistence, the enjoyment of being in community and doing things together, what makes us connected human beings, intertwined by family, social, affective and work bonds.

These almost philosophical reflections should be framed within the serious consequences that capitalism is producing in our societies, where solitude, fear, and violence are turning life into an increasingly more precarious good.

Anthropologist Rita Segato who has thoroughly studied violence, especially the one perpetrated against women, has coined the terms pedagogy of cruelty and neuro-military programming to name the mechanisms used by capitalism to conquest new objective and subjective territories: new lands and new layers of self to be exploited. From this perspective, the increase in human cruelty is the result of a strategic action destined to mine the ability for creating bonds, links, networks, complicities. This strategy of the predatory capitalism tries to reify life, teaching us in different ways—some persuasive and others violent—that bodies and nature are things. In this way, life projects are turning into consumption projects. For Segato, violence is a key tool in this process of neuro-military programming destined to producing exemplary messages regarding the other, the different (woman, old, migrant, poor, black, dissident) go spare, thus, is dispensable. From there, appears a reactive wish for order and heavy hand against everything that deviates from or destabilizes the fiction of normality.

Privileged values in this reification project of the world are productivity, competitiveness, cost-benefit analysis, accumulation and concentration of goods and wealth. In this context, human beings are reduced to the condition of eternal consumers that, beset by shortage, run after consumption products and experiences that only when they are obtained can bring happiness. Society is transform in a total enterprise where there is place only for winners and where adversaries, the different ones, losers are ousted as interlocutors through repression, censorship, and criminalization.

In The Destruction of Empathy, Amador Sanchez Savater[1] asks if the recently much-emphasized “drift to the right” is not in the first place an ideological, identity or political issue more than a social and affective annoyance, a perceptual and sensitivity hardening, that more than pursuing concrete objectives, tries to produce insensibility: marks and makes us see the other as another and distinguish between the sunk and the saved, between those who are inside and those who are outside. A dog-eat-dog war, where general competition and the every-man-for-himself—matters so much present in mass media scenes and narratives—“teach” us to perceive the other as an obstacle or threat, as an enemy or, in best case scenario, as a disposable and dispensable person, with whom we have no bond.

The destruction of empathy is closely linked with the devaluation of collective action as if nothing unites me with the other, if far from considering him/her a fellow I assume him/her as disposable, then our destinies have nothing in common. Therefore, every social praxis aiming at achieving a community-mobilized social transformation becomes meaningless.

That said, if we talk about “destruction” of empathy, we are saying that such sentiment is inherent to humans and that it is necessary to generate strategies to prevent it from expressing itself. Thus, we could infer that a way of resistance to the reification of the world is to nurture a political project that bets on strengthening bonds, producing community, cultivating new sensibilities and loving ways of being and remaining together. Is rejuvenating that second skin by which we are able to feel what happens to the unknown others as something owned and close, that sensible common where it is possible to feel others are fellow humans[2].

This strategy might seem naïve or utopian; a proposal that ignores power relationships and the complexities of problems that are presented in every dimension of contemporary society. We do not see it that way. We believe that conflicts are part of human experience and their denial is not the path to overcome them; instead we bet on collectively going through them, coordinating actions, incorporating many voices, including multiple perspectives.

El concepto de cuidadanía quizás sea útil para describir una apuesta colectiva capaz de expandirse, como una onda, desde el cuidado de sí al cuidado de los otros y de allí, al cuidado de nuestro planeta, que el capitalismo de rapiña ha puesto en peligro como nunca antes en la historia de la humanidad. En nuestros días el cuidado no solo es un imperativo ético sino que se ha transformado en una cuestión de supervivencia. Cuidamos o perecemos, dice Leonardo Boff.

The concept of carezenship[3] might be useful for describing a collective bet capable of expanding itself, as a wave, from the self-care to caring for others and, from there, to caring for the planet, something that predatory capitalism has put at risk as never before in the history of humanity. Today, caring is not an ethical imperative but rather it has become a survival issue. We care or perish, says Leonardo Boff.

Contemporary world places us before a crossroad that Italo Calvino described as: “hell of the living is not something that will come; there is one, is the one that already exists here, the hell we live in every day, which we form by being together. There are two ways for not suffering it. The first one is easy for many of us: accepting hell and becoming part of it up to the point when we do not see it any more. The second one is dangerous and requires constant attention and learning: search and being able to recognize who and what is not hell, in the middle of hell, making it last and giving it space.”[4]

[1] . Amador Fernández Savater. La destrucción de la empatía. Diario

[2] . Idem.

[3] . N.T. Neologism made by combining caring and citizenship.

[4] . Calvino, I. (2002) Las ciudades invisibles. Ed. Siruela. Madrid


If you like this text, by filling up the form that appears in this page you can subscribe to receive once a month a brief summary of Opinion Sur English edition.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *