Eric Sadin has just published a very instructive book on the evolution of individualism, the passage to the era of the tyrant individual. It comes from afar. The liberal individualism from the eighteenth century, which was supposed to allow each and everyone to be free with equal rights and a better general interest, does not really know how to develop. The social and economic inequalities with the industrial society developed.

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The Brutality of Political Relations?

Column by Jean-Yves Chapuis, sociologist, urban planner, elected in Rennes city (France) from 1983 to 2014, former vice-president at the Rennes Metropolis and director of the school of architecture in Rennes. He is now an advisor in urban strategy.

Eric Sadin has just published a very instructive book on the evolution of individualism, the passage to the era of the tyrant individual. It comes from afar. The liberal individualism from the eighteenth century, which was supposed to allow each and everyone to be free with equal rights and a better general interest, does not really know how to develop. The social and economic inequalities with the industrial society developed.

At the end of the second international conflict, the rebirth of liberal democracy and the creation of the welfare state gave a glimpse of a hope that gradually shattered over the evolution of the capitalist world, starting in the 1970s, relocations, deteriorating working conditions, globalization and fierce competition, the social pact cracked. Defiance of the elected representatives is taking hold and this will continue to grow until today. In addition, a disunity between individuals and social bodies is at work. The development of new information technologies will further reinforce this state of affairs and today we are in fact in an anthropological evolution of mankind that increasingly questions what should make a political community.

In the 90s, the self took precedence over the common order. The creativity of each person is emphasized and each person becomes solely responsible if he or she has failed in his or her work. The cult of performance and self-tiredness as Alain Ehrenberg puts it became the elements of this societal evolution or the commodification of Eva Illouz's happiness. Everything is negotiable and everything is accountable, everything can be improved if one wants to, everything comes back to me. Singularity becomes an objective to stand out from others.

The arrival of the Internet and cell phones will amplify this movement. These tools increase my power. I can bend reality to my desires, but even more I can constantly develop my expressiveness. The smartphone gives the impression of a lighter form of existence and increased independence. It is true that it allows an uninterrupted spatio-temporal connection, it reacts without delay to our gestures and the applications allow us to believe that we respond to all our desires and that we are the object of a continual solicitude. A paradoxical process of accumulation and dispossession takes place. We no longer belong to ourselves. We are in fact dispossessed of ourselves. It is oneself that counts, alone. I am the source of truth, what I feel is what is true. The detachment becomes total. The goal is not to act positively on the course of things, but it is resentment that dominates and the fact of wanting to fight, anger, to take revenge on others and on the world.

Paradoxically, it is the experience of dispossession in the face of continual solicitations I no longer belong to myself and violence becomes the only response to this state of suffering. The individual finds himself in a state of extreme saturation.

The ungovernability of society is expressed by the fact that no one can speak on my behalf anymore. As Eric Sadin puts it, we have come to "a totalitarianism of the multitude". He thinks that the loss of faith in politics is definitive? The delinking between the I and the we, leads to the end of a common world.

If so, we agree with the words of the collapsologists who think that the catastrophe is coming and that man can do nothing more about it.

How to react? First of all, to believe a little in human beings, otherwise there is no more humanity, but also to know that we have to change.

What we must retain from this anthropological evolution: certainly we must make our singularity speak, which we can never make speak enough, but we must accept that something always surpasses us and obliges us. We must know how to contain ourselves individually and collectively. This is the work that elected officials must strive to do in order to recreate social bonds while giving more space to the singularity of each and everyone. Knowing that this debate between myself and others is always to be re-discussed and that it requires an equally continuous attention to others. We find again the debate on the municipal organization which must allow to organize the debate and to oblige the citizens to talk to each other and to find compromises. Neighbourhood approaches, as they say, are not simply a matter of discussing projects, but also of asking oneself how to live in one's building, one's street, one's neighbourhood, one's city. It's about continually redefining the contract we have with others. This is why visibility, recognition, speaking out, everything that enables us to get out of society's malaise, to use the title of a book by Alain Ehrenberg, is essential in the dialogue that must be set up in municipalities. We must nourish the debate to create this democracy of knowledge.

How to heal these new psychic sufferings that continually disrupt human relationships? It is in relation to this question that new forms of democracy must be invented in the field, which is not to do what everyone wants, but to make choices following a real, profound and contradictory exchange. To decide and to know that the decision can evolve according to new elements that may appear. To be in continuous movement and to define the we in order to recreate the link between the I and the we, that is to say, to recreate the common world.

Illustration :  Shutterstock

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