Arquivo da tag: Individualismo

Judith Butler: To Save the Earth, Dismantle Individuality (Time)

Judith Butler, April 21,2021

However differently we register this pandemic we understand it as global; it brings home the fact that we are implicated in a shared world. The capacity of living human creatures to affect one another can be a matter of life or death. Because so many resources are not equitably shared, and so many have only a small or vanished share of the world, we cannot recognize the pandemic as global without facing those inequalities.

Some people work for the common world, keep it going, but are not, for that reason, of it. They might lack property or papers, be sidelined by racism or even disdained as refuse—those who are poor, Black or brown, those with unpayable debts that preclude a sense of an open future.

The shared world is not equally shared. The French philosopher Jacques Rancière refers to “the part of those who have no part”—those for whom participation in the commons is not possible, never was, or no longer is. For it is not just resources and companies in which a share is to be had, but a sense of the common, a sense of belonging to a world equally, a trust that the world is organized to support everyone’s flourishing.

The pandemic has illuminated and intensified racial and economic inequalities at the same time that it heightens the global sense of our obligations to one another and the earth. There is movement in a global direction, one based on a new sense of mortality and interdependency. The experience of finitude is coupled with a keen sense of inequalities: Who dies early and why, and for whom is there no infrastructural or social promise of life’s continuity?

This sense of the interdependency of the world, strengthened by a common immunological predicament, challenges the notion of ourselves as isolated individuals encased in discrete bodies, bound by established borders. Who now could deny that to be a body at all is to be bound up with other living creatures, with surfaces, and the elements, including the air that belongs to no one and everyone?

Within these pandemic times, air, water, shelter, clothing and access to health care are sites of individual and collective anxiety. But all these were already imperiled by climate change. Whether or not one is living a livable life is not only a private existential question, but an urgent economic one, incited by the life-and-death consequences of social inequality: Are there health services and shelters and clean enough water for all those who should have an equal share of this world? The question is made more urgent by conditions of heightened economic precarity during the pandemic, exposing as well the ongoing climate catastrophe for the threat to livable life that it is.

Pandemic is etymologically pandemos, all the people, or perhaps more precisely, the people everywhere, or something that spreads over or through the people. The “demos” is all the people despite the legal barriers that seek to separate them. A pandemic, then, links all the people through the potentials of infection and recovery, suffering and hope, immunity and fatality. No border stops the virus from traveling if humans travel; no social category secures absolute immunity for those
it includes.

“The political in our time must start from the imperative to reconstruct the world in common,” argues Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe. If we consider the plundering of the earth’s resources for the purposes of corporate profit, privatization and colonization itself as planetary project or enterprise, then it makes sense to devise a movement that does not send us back to our egos and identities, our cut-off lives.

Such a movement will be, for Mbembe, “a decolonization [which] is by definition a planetary enterprise, a radical openness of and to the world, a deep breathing for the world as opposed to insulation.” The planetary opposition to extraction and systemic racism ought to then deliver us back to the world, or let the world arrive, as if for the first time, a shared place for “deep breathing”—a desire we all now know.

And yet, an inhabitable world for humans depends on a flourishing earth that does not have humans at its center. We oppose environmental toxins not only so that we humans can live and breathe without fear of being poisoned, but also because the water and the air must have lives that are not centered on our own.

As we dismantle the rigid forms of individuality in these interconnected times, we can imagine the smaller part that human worlds must play on this earth whose regeneration we depend upon—and which, in turn, depends upon our smaller and more mindful role.

Why Pope Francis’s climate message is so hard for some Americans to swallow (Washington Post)

 – June 18, 2015

With the official release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, it’s clear that several strains of thought prominent in the U.S. will be particularly challenged by the document. That includes U.S. individualists who tend to support limited government and fewer environmental restrictions — Rush Limbaugh has already accused Francis of Marxism — and also those who perceive a strong conflict between science and religion.

The Pope’s entire case for caring for “our common home,” as he puts it, is moral. And the precise moral worldview being articulated — what might be called communitarianism, the idea that we’re all in it together, that “it takes a village” — deeply challenges an individualistic value system that research suggests is quite prevalent in the U.S. In several places in the text, indeed, the pope explicitly critiques “individualism” by name.

“In the particular case of the United States of America, which does have a strong individualistic trend, we will be challenged by the Pope,” says Bill Patenaude, a Rhode Island based Catholic commentator who writes the blog Catholic Ecology.

Vatican announces pope’s message on climate(22:40)
Vatican leaders released Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical June 18 in Vatican City. (The Vatican English)

At the same time, the document also represents a mega-merger of religious faith and a vastness of carefully researched scientific information — challenging the conflict-focused way that so many Americans have been conditioned to think about the relationship between science and religion.

In essence, then, the Pope rolls science and faith into a comprehensive statement about our global, common responsibility to address the planet’s vulnerability.

Let’s take them in turn:

American Individualism. The United States, says Dutch social psychologist and intercultural researcher Geert Hofstede, is “one of the most Individualist…cultures in the world.” Individualism, in Hofstede’s definition, is “a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families.”

Hofstede isn’t the only one making such observations. The Pew Research Center noted recently that “Americans’ emphasis on individualism and work ethic stands out in surveys of people around the world.” That’s not to say that every American is a rugged individualist — just that this way of thinking, and feeling, is more prominent here than in many other nations, according to researchers.

There are many benefits to individualism, in the sense of how it drives people to strive to succeed, and allows them to choose their own paths and innovate in order to get there. In the context of the Pope’s encyclical, though, what matters is how such an outlook also helps to explain why we have such conflicts over collective environmental problems like climate change. For instance, numerous studies have found strong links between manifestations of individualism — such as free market beliefs and libertarian values — and the denial of global warming, or the perception that it isn’t a very serious problem.

That includes the research of Yale law professor Dan Kahan, whose “cultural cognition” model divides people’s moral values along two axes — one running from being very hierarchical to very egalitarian, and the other running from being very individualistic to being very communitarian. In this analysis, individualists are people who are much more likely to assent to statements like “It’s not the government’s business to try to protect people from themselves” and “It’s a mistake to ask society to help every person in need.”

Here’s a figure from Kahan’s research, dividing people’s value systems up into four quadrants based on where they lie on the hierarchist-egalitarian and individualist-communitarian spectra, and then further noting what kinds of issues those in the different quadrants tend to view as “high risk” and “low risk”:

In the context of U.S. politics, we’re used to watching hierarch-individualists (Republicans) and egalitarian-communitarians (Democrats) clash along both moral axes. But the Pope is a different blend than we’re used to. “The Pope is hierarch communitarian,” says Kahan by e-mail. “No doubt about that.” In this analysis, Francis lies in the top right quadrant of the diagram above. Yes, he’s pro-life — but also an environmental activist.

The communitarian side lies at the heart of the Pope’s current environmental endeavor, and his call to address a global, collective problem — warming. And to focus, in particular, on how it harms those who are most vulnerable.

“That’s very much where the climate problem has taken the environmental movement is concern for the people who are affected by it but didn’t cause it,” says Evan Berry, a professor of philosophy and religion at American University. “Interestingly, those are the most basic concerns of Christian morality. This is Catholicism 101. So the fact that that’s how a Christian leader would think about environmental questions, it’s surprising that that wasn’t on the table many many years.”

It’s there throughout the encyclical — and not just when the Pope calls the Earth’s climate a “common good.” He criticizes “individualism” by name on several occasions. Here’s one example:

Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about changes in society.

Or as the Pope puts it later, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

So clearly, Francis is critiquing individualism — especially at its extremes.

Science and Religion Conflict. At the same time, from the Scopes Trial to the stem cell saga, we are also a country that has traditionally seen major battles between science and religion — and has thus been conditioned to see them as being in conflict. It’s a perception that actually comes from two separate sides — from many religious believers but also from many atheists or non-believers.

While perceptions of conflict are most centrally focused on the teaching of evolution, they extend throughout realms involving reproductive health and even into the environmental arena, where U.S. evangelicals tend to be considerably less accepting of climate change.

Pope Francis is having none of that. Indeed, the encyclical contains a grand statement about the necessarily complementary relationship between science and faith. “Science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both,” Francis writes.

“The catechism of the church is very clear on that,” says Patenaude. “Faith and reason are not opposed to one another. They are the two strands of the DNA of Catholic intellectual thought.”

Francis’s encyclical lives up to that merged identity — much in the way Pope Francis himself does, with his chemistry background.

For instance, Francis doesn’t just say humans are causing global warming. He enumerates the greenhouse gases much as a chemist might:  “carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others.” And he also lists numerous non-human or natural factors that influence the climate — “volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle” — before finally reiterating that it’s mostly human caused.

And the heavy layering of science extends far beyond the climate issue. As the Post has described, the encyclical is full of scientific content on a diversity of environmental issues — sometimes even throwing around highly technical concepts like ocean acidification, “bioaccumulation” and “synthetic agrotoxins.”

So if you’re one of those who insists that science and religion are in conflict — or one of those who stokes that conflict — Francis presents a major challenge. And it’s worth noting that while it isn’t central to this encyclical, Francis has also spoken up in the past in favor of the Big Bang and evolution, two major scientific concepts that have met with considerable religious-driven resistance in the U.S.

So in sum, here we have a leader of one of the world’s dominant churches articulating — and soon, coming to the U.S. to further articulate — a vision in which science and faith are partners in a communal quest to protect the vulnerable from the rampant profit motive and exploitation of the Earth.

For U.S. individualists and science-religion battlers, that is going to be serious cause for contemplation — which, perhaps most of all, is what Francis’s encyclical is asking us for.