The end of emergencies

By Santiago Zabala19.10.2014Culture and Society

We must continue to seek different interpretations of our age to properly respond to its challenges.

Society is supposed to be the realm within which citizens can practice their rights, artists can present their creations, scientists make their discoveries, and intellectuals interpret whether all of these are free and meaningful. This is probably why Karl Popper proposed the opposition of open and closed societies. But “society” can also refer to a civilization’s current political and cultural condition.

After all, since 9/11 we’ve become so alarmed (at terrorism, foreigners, and financial crises) that we prefer to avoid mingling with other cultures, languages, and spaces. Governments have used these fears to suspend constitutional rights and to enact unpopular policies. The intensification of security measures in airports, at borders, and in metropolitan areas are not justified by actual threat, as we are meant to believe, but rather are useful to erect frames around our liberties and the projects of an open society. One of the most alarming consequences of this intensification of control is the disappearance of political alternatives – as if history, society, and culture have ended. But have they?

Taking a stand

Even though such terms as the ““end of history””:http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/21/bring-back-ideology-fukuyama-end-history-25-years-on, the ““network society””:http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1405196866.html, and the ““culture of fear””:http://barryglassner.com/reviews.html seem like simple journalistic slogans to describe our condition, we must continue to seek different interpretations of our age because they help us respond properly to its challenges. When Francis Fukuyama, Manuel Castells, and Barry Glassner coined these terms, they were not simply trying to establish once and for all the conditions under which we live but rather to invite us to understand the current form of our world and to take a stand.

For example, when the Italian philosopher “Gianni Vattimo”:http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/02/2013224152730294977.html explained that mass communication in the eighties gave birth to a “transparent society” where truth lost its meaning, he was not trying to disclose simply the inevitable conflict among different media outlets but also how we ought to live such conflict. In this society, according to Vattimo, everyone is required to become Friedrich Nietzsche’s “overman”, that is, an autonomous interpreter capable of living without certainties.

Philosophers often respond to the question of how we ought to live by declaring the end of epochs or concepts. Jean-François Lyotard declared the end of modernity; “Arthur Danto”:http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/10/danto-end-art-20131029864954814.html that of art, and “Slavoj Ĺ˝iĹľek”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/02/opinion/global/02iht-GA12zizek.html?_r=1&, that of nature; perhaps we should also declare the end of emergencies, considering the level of global control and technological manipulation we’ve reached through the actions of “Internet companies”:http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/10/2012102105523661935.html that can predict the future, “drone interventions”:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/11/us-isis-iraq-air-strikes-drones-advisers-counterterror throughout the world, and the manipulation of our genes.

Recent emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone or the rise of ISIS could all have been avoided given the information and physical resources available. The problem is not only that these sorts of crises (as Naomi Klein explained) are often courted in order to implement “free-market” policies and military interventions but also that they belong to an age in which emergencies are framed; that is, they have lost the power to shock that they once had.

“Functioning” is not all that matters

In this condition, as “Martin Heidegger”:http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/jun/05/heidegger-philosophy said in the 1940s, the “only emergency is the absence of emergency” because we are “framed” (_“Ge-stell”_) by a technological power we are no longer able to control. After all, emergencies, as the German thinker “specified”:http://www.ditext.com/heidegger/interview.html, do not arise when something doesn’t function correctly but rather when “everything functions … and propels everything more and more toward further functioning.” But “functioning” is not all that matters. In domains such as art and medicine, it is essential to allow new creations and experiments to take place without restrictions from market-based power.

The same occurs in finance. The European Union requires its members to accept its technocrats’ austerity measures because it wants us to believe that neoliberalism is the only option we have and that for the well-being of the whole system it must continue to “function” without interruptions, alterations, or emergencies. Technocrats, whether economic or scientific, have become essential to society because their work consists of avoiding these alterations, that is, making sure we do not have opportunities to see the big picture. This is why Žižek recently pointed out that we must “prevent the narrow production of experts. This tendency, as I see it, is just horrible. We need, more than ever, those who, in a general way of thinking, see the problems from a global perspective and even from a philosophical perspective.” But how are we supposed to act in an age in which emergencies are framed?

History will continue to change the course of our lives, but it will also provide alternatives when necessary. But in order for this to happen, we must promote emergencies. This does not mean becoming an armed terrorist and physically menacing the citizens of global society; rather, we must strive to disclose those emergencies that are hidden by the neoliberal technocrats. This can take place through the human sciences (philosophy, sociology, history), which have always developed in opposition to the experimental sciences that are partially responsible for our framed condition today, and also through political action, by endorsing the alternative positions of ideologies such as “communism”:http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/06/20126511494498219.html, movements such as Occupy, or environmental groups.

What unites these positions is a different view not only of society but primarily of those emergencies we are encouraged to ignore: social inequalities, neoliberal control measures, and environmental pollution. The promotion and exposure of emergencies has become an existential affair that we must all endorse if we care about our future.

COMMENTS

MOST COMMENTED

Communication Quarantine

Secretly checking emails, twittering from the restroom, online 24/7. How addicted to the "social media" phenomenon have we become? Markus Albert attempts to find out himself.

Google Almighty

Social media and Google are quickly becoming invaluable to our lives. By breaking with old structures, the little start-up emerged as the most dominant force of the Internet Age.

The Highlanders' Way

The Scottish National Party is governing from Edinburgh. Their central aim: independence from England. But this does not necessarily spell doom for the UK. Instead, we might see the emergence of new forms of partial sovereignty.

Tales from the Shire

The German federal government is relinquishing power to the EU in Brussels. Yet encouraged by the success of regional autonomy movements elsewhere, Bavarians want to bring politics back to Southern Germany - and closer to the people.

Moscow, Get Ready for Trouble

The long shadow of the Soviet Union can be felt even today. Around Russia, former republics and part-republics are experiencing turmoil across national and ethnic borders. If Moscow is not careful to play her cards right, destabilizing forces could soon become energized.

There is Always Room for Mysteries

Our understanding of the universe is continuously expanding. But every question that is solved only leads to new questions. Alexander Goerlach talked to Sir Martin Rees about astronomy, scientific certainty, and the role of religion in contemporary society.

Mobile Sliding Menu