Étienne Haché, philosopher and former professor at Campus Saint-Jean, publishes a bi-monthly “controversial and philosophical” column.
Étienne Haché, pH D
A friend recently reminded me that in the Chinese language the word “crisis” (WéiJi) is made up of two ideograms, one meaning danger, the other opportunity. They say exactly the same thing as the formula of the German poet Hölderlin taken up by the philosopher Martin Heidegger in his reflections on technique: “Where danger grows, there grows what saves”.
Could it really be that the favorable character of a crisis, when analyzed and understood, can become a moment of truth? It was the hope of Pascal, he who considered that it was necessary to face death in all conscience and serenity, instead of sinking into inertia and entertainment.
As far as we are concerned, what crisis is it exactly? Should we speak of a crisis of crises in the manner of Pascal, in the sense that we have reached the summit of a deep existential confusion; worry which, far from paralyzing us, would give us an extra soul for action? An unprecedented crisis, then, although marked by a very long process, amplified in a way by a transmutation of values, Nietzsche would say, and by the extension to all spheres of instrumental reason?
Perhaps the reader will soon have included in this crisis the extremely complex situation in which the Saint-Jean Campus finds itself. All of our little crises somehow find their place in this major existential crisis. I will have the opportunity to expand on the subject at greater length in my next column, which will focus exclusively on Campus Saint-Jean.
Moreover, some will have noted the discourse according to which to manage current affairs the logic of number and profit is the only possible law. However, this discourse is no longer tenable. Indeed, as soon as we get out of day-to-day human affairs and have to confront exceptional and serious situations like the one we are experiencing today, the “neo-liberal mantras” and the “univocal and monomaniac culture of market ”are insufficient. With good reason, moreover.
The precursors of liberalism – let us think in particular of Adam Smith and his metaphor of the “invisible hand” – would not have excluded State intervention in order to maintain competition, support education, health, and enable markets to operate and save cash-strapped or loss-making businesses. This is what we observed during previous economic and financial crises, including that of 2008 which strongly shook the planet and Alberta in particular, with all the consequences that we know for the Campus Saint- Jeans.
With all due respect to supporters of laissez-faire, the feeling of crisis and urgency aroused by COVID-19 has only confirmed, once again – recommendations from the major international monetary and financial regulatory bodies to the support – the need for large-scale state intervention throughout the world. Canada was no exception. Each day that passes is sufficient cause for the federal government and the power in place to justify and extend funding and aid. The debt and the deficit will wait, they say.
TIME OF CHOICE
WHAT REMAINS OF THE UNIVERSITY?
All in all, why should we always justify ourselves, constantly remind ourselves that a nation, a country, a society, even a university or a small campus like Saint-Jean is not a company, and that the citizen, the human being, the parent, the educator and the child are not this “one-dimensional robot” which aims to maximize his profit and his personal interests. It is very sad to note that the “homo œconomicus”, whose history and emancipation also have their source in the quest for autonomy from centuries of domination, misery and suffering, has today become the only anthropological horizon of those who celebrate success, excluding poverty.
As the historian of literature, Paul Hazard (The Crisis of European Conscience: 1680-1715, 1935) aptly relates, the West entered an era of freedom almost four centuries ago. However, this story seems to end today in a singular sterility. Victory of liberalism and its leading technique? Yet we have become unable to imagine the long-term effects of our system and instruments of leadership. It’s as if we’re on a driverless train or on autopilot, launched at full speed through the night, invariably heading for a wall.
Produce to consume, consume to produce; endless circularity, in the absence of any goal and independent of any content. How, in such a situation, to encourage action without delay? As Hannah Arendt says, our time is more active in destroying man by reducing him to an animal laborans. Working and consuming are the hallmarks of people without desires and without horizons. Nothing encourages to see the future.
After the collapse of great ideals and values, we are now witnessing, as Michel Henry (La barbarie, 1987) pointed out so well, the end of human emancipation resulting from progress. This is due to a confusion in the usual language, that of progress and innovation. In fact, there has been no progress since 1990, the date that marked our entry into the globalized knowledge economy. This is how progress has been replaced by the magical idea of innovation, under the influence of new technologies, digital technology and artificial intelligence.
Now, if progress as understood by Kant, Hegel and Marx no longer exists, on the other hand innovation can become deadly, comparable to a narrowed visual field; whereas progress, based on an end-oriented conception of history, demands sacrifices. Innovation is a great palliative substituted for sacrifice to solve the mass of our daily problems. This is how innovation replaces innovation, with problems arising from all sides …
“Creative Destruction,” said Joseph Schumpeter. Never in our recent history, apart from the two World Wars, has the world been so disenchanted, disarmed; a world that is nothing more than a meaningless system and structure.
A question to conclude this missive. How to rebuild our common worlds? The answer to this question is contained in ethics and politics and it involves reaching within us what aspires to meaning. This is where we can act.
Fortunately, there are still brave, honest fighters in this world who have a sense of honor and dignity. But the task is immense for them, as the gap is growing between our will to live and the lifestyles that are imposed on us.