We share below a reflection on idiocy, first and foremost our own, or that of those who believe, in action, if not in thought, that some modicum of happiness is to be found in the splendid isolation of work and consumption. We have for the most part come to accept that our survival, our success, depends exclusively on our own individual efforts (an individuality sometimes extended to the family), that it still remains possible to keep above the water by just working damned hard. What is then sacrificed are friendships, loves, communities, politics in the noble sense of collective self-making, in sum, autonomous creative life. And even for those who are not yet idiots, capitalist social and political relations struggles to assure that all desire to be.
The reflection is the work of Germán Santiago and Belén Quejigo for Periódico Diagonal (13/01/2016). In what follows, we offer it in translation …
In the wake of all that is said regarding political individualism, a reflection on idiocy becomes urgent. According to its etymological significance, “idiot” originates with the Greek “idiotes”, used to refer to those who did not concern themselves with public matters, but only with their private interests. The root “idio” means one’s “own” (thus “idiom”, “idiosyncrasy” …). The suffix “-tes” signifies “agent”. Idiot, then, according to its etymology means, “the agent of that which is one’s own”. As Plato said, the price of having nothing to do with politics is to be governed by the worst women/men, given that men and women, corrupt, avaricious and selfish by nature, always tend to safeguard their own interests and not those of the majority. To wash one’s hands of politics (“the art proper to citizens, of life in common and of society”) denaturalises the position of men/women within their community and leaves them out of the negotiation and the agreements that govern the still reigning fiction of the social contract: human beings, far from what social Darwinism has been dictating, are social and political animals, both in origin and development.
However, the neoliberal ethics of solitude, success and competition is at its height, to the detriment of the ethics of the commons. The dominant economic ideology tends to limit the right of assembly, not on the basis of law, but morality, criminalising and reproaching all practices that can emerge from agreements contrary to its norms. This lack of setting things in common leads to a single way. Rationalist individualism tries to justify isolation and the atomisation of society with the promise of freedom and success. The idiots (“idios” means “alone” or “isolated”) are thereby guided towards isolation and detachment from the community, they are seduced by the promise of economic freedom, they are attracted by the siren calls towards the tyranny of labour, which far from liberating them, will make them more slaves and will subject them to permanent relations of domination in which there will only be time to produce. The dictum of the Polish concentration camp becomes more true in our society than ever before. The promise of happiness is tied to it: Work (individual work) will make you free.
The Indogermanic root “fri”, from which derive “free”, “peace” [“frieden”] and “friend” means “to love” (“lieben”). “Free” therefore refers to “what belongs to friends and lovers”. One feels free (and equal) in a relation of love and friendship. It is this bond and not its absence that makes us free. Freedom is the most relational of words. Freedom is not possible except with an other.
“Idiot” is she/he who believes that they can be free without others and at the expense of others: this is the idiot’s moral fantasy. To be free does not mean the absence of commitments or independence. The lack of ties and of roots does not render us free: it is bonds and integration that keep fear and disquiet away, it is sincere relations and not the use of people that save us from idiocy. Far from what could be thought, the increase in economic capacity due to work does not expand the domain of our socio-political decisions. It rather disperses them, provoking thoughtlessness. It is ingenuous to believe that in an interconnected world, that one can live, in some way or other, at the margins of community.
It is the fear of others, introduced since childhood and present as a constant in all of our stages of development, that is the key to the success of neoliberal ethics. When someone works ten hours a day, they are for ten hours alone. Fourteen hours then remain in the day, which must be divided between private interests and sleep. Political life is thereby reduced to a minimum or simply suppressed. “Private interests”, which paradoxically are foreign to the worker, as they belong to the owner, impede the development of a life in common. The neoliberal ethic of work and money has also triumphed in the political domain: the solitary individual disenchanted with the world believes that, in her/his solitude, that nothing can change and that no one can hurt her/him. The idiot is the coming model of the citizen, a morally amputated individual who flirts with the phantom of liberty and who sees her/himself sustained by a politics that exiles the concept of community, substituting it with that of security and competence. Consequently, where by nature there should be relationships, there is fear. The idiot is the trace of absent love.