3 letters on Future
Making Kids at Age 40
Dear Nikolaus Hirsch,
We think of making kids at age 40. This implies that we imagine dying at around 90. The pace of generations can slow down. The future can wait. We do not want to abandon the planet. We are not only egoistic towards other contemporary inhabitants of the planet, but also towards future inhabitants (whose appearance we keep on postponing).
How long do we want to remain here? Why is the egoism of the living ones towards future generations never taken into account in discussions about ecology?
All the best,
Pier Paolo Tamburelli
Born in mid 1960s, we were part of the first generation of “natural-born” Europeans. But we need rethink Europe. We were its pioneers and maybe also its first ideological victims. We went to the European School. From kindergarten to the European baccalaureat.
Now seems to be a different time: not only of pessimism but of the sclerosis of Europe (of which Europe is to blame for everything that doesn’t work). Back then, optimism pervaded. Promise. The sum was more than the sum of its parts. Europe was more than the sum of its nations.
You and I learned geography and history in French. We read Le Monde Diplomatique as if it were our mother’s milk. We knew its editor, the young Ignacio Ramonet. We knew everything about the Commissariat, the Council, the Parliament. Brussels, Luxemburg, Strasbourg were the reference points of our political geography. And slowly we also learned something about European ideology. Something that was wrong with this paper tiger that tried so hard to play a role on the global arena.
Dear brother, what has Europe become today? What has to change? Do we, as your latest book suggests, need another society?
You are right: we are living in a general climate of disenchantment. Perhaps the only really lasting achievement of “Europe” — outside of language skills and a certain habitual cosmopolitism — is one big thing: peace. The fundamental achievement, being, of course, the peace between Germany and France. In this regard, Europe has been a success story — all the rest, most of the economic and political enlargements have turned out, or will turn out to be failures. They are failures because they are bureaucratic creatures that merely quote or even abuse the European Spirit. Centrists! The ironic outcome, as it seems now, of the Enlargement of the Union, of the deepening of its mutual dependencies, is that Germany is the economic superpower, and the South is a structurally bankrupt colony.
Europe is a wreck. The only way out of this situation is tripartite: a general program of de-centralization, both political and economic; a general re-thinking of the idea of Europe, of its cultural essence, as something not necessarily linked to political bodies and regulations (the question about the nature of cultural and spiritual power, per se); and a New Deal for Europe, in the spirit of Roosevelt in midst of the crisis of the 1930s (a crisis not so different from ours). The New Deal of the present would mean one thing: not just economic re-distribution between rich and poor countries, but between the rich and poor living within them. In essence, the New Deal for the 21st century would be Equality. Not only new regulations for the banking industry (for the ‘unproductive’ parts of economy); not only new taxes for the rich and superrich; not only a project for the public utility of the young unemployed masses especially of the South (following the path of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933–1942, a national work program for young unemployed in the context of public infrastructure building); but a general re-distribution — political, social, economic, and cultural equality inside every country. Which is to say, the core of our coming counter-hegemonic cultural ideal is underscored by a very strong notion of equality and equal opportunity. In part, it is contrary to the politically naive, falsely postmodern idea of plurality and diversity (which has turned out to be the ideology of the well-educated, academic middle classes, which have, in the last decades, not only ignored the socio-economic decline of the lower classes, but also their own decline, in terms of both economic and symbolic status).
The New Deal of the future will center around an idea of equality fundamentally opposed to the spirit of inequality and neo-Darwinism of our present. This spirit is so powerful that it conceals how much living and working conditions have worsened in our life span — how much harder most people have to work for less income and less recognition. A new idea of equality, solidarity, mutual help, and the good life will take the place of the current commitment to competition and the struggle for survival. In many regards, the inauguration of a new epoch, of a new Idea is quite simple: it entails the recognition and the public enunciation of how much the lives we are leading are the wrong lives. The lives we are (seemingly) condemned to lead, that is. The first task for the intellectuals in this regard is to reintroduce the political economy into the cultural field and its discourses. Instead of a self-referential pseudo-politicization of art, literature, and science, what we have to insist on is an ancient truth: that most political problems are, in the end, problems of political economy. The renewed strength of cultural work will depend on the capacity to use this truth, and to couple it with the desire for a better life. And by that, of course, I mean, not only a better life for the so-called Others, the poor, the excluded, but also for us.
And what does this have to do with Europe? The cultural void of Europe is a symptom of the cultural void in general. It is a symptom of the weakness of the intellectual class, which has lost, at least as far as we are concerned, their ruling elites — and the taste for emancipation. The first step to a new emancipatory sequence in history is the acknowledgement of our failures: of the degree of failure with regard to our emancipatory desire; of the degree of domination of the cultural-industrial apparatus (even in its more advanced, apparently progressive parts) over our minds and bodies. Our language will have to change; our habits, our forms of cooperation. I think that the exodus from the habitual forms of work, discourse, and language is the only possible exodus from the current malaise. Which means that the first emancipatory truth is a negative one: many things will disappear, will turn out to be unfruitful hindrances in our struggle for emancipation. New, informal forms of cooperation and survival will appear in the course of this struggle, and already have begun to appear. Our aim is to link the notion of Europe to this emancipatory struggle.