Interviews

"Our public sphere has become a kind of mincing machine for our lives"

  Foto: Kim Manresa

Foto: Kim Manresa

28/12/2018
Ester Medico
"We are living in a society of very weak and inflated egos that are easily burst"
Marina Garcs

 

Marina Garcs (Barcelona, 1973) joined the UOC this academic year as professor of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. An omnipresent philosopher, she argues that philosophy “is a way of life” and that “philosophizing has always been a subversive act”. This year, she has received the Ciutat de Barcelona Award for her essay Nova il·lustraci radical (Anagrama, 2017). In the last few years she has published works such as Un mn com (2013), Filosofia Inacabada (2015), Fora de Classe (2016) and, most recently, Ciutat princesa (2018). At the root of her thinking we find a common denominator: finding alternatives to the “crisis of civilization” we are experiencing to survive in an “increasingly less inhabitable world”.

 

So, you wanted to study journalism but you finally decided on philosophy. Why?

I imagined that being a journalist would give me the opportunity to continue pursuing what concerned and interested me through language, but the media world of the early 1990s dismantled such a romantic idea. In my final year of secondary school, I had a great philosophy teacher who made me realize that I could tackle a very wide range of questions and problems, as long as I examined them in depth.

The term philosophy is a Greek word that means ‘love of wisdom’. Tell us more.

It’s one of these words that are never exhausted by any definition because it’s always alive. It’s very old: twenty-five centuries. I have sometimes defined it as “the expression of a particular voice that seeks a common rationale”. Philosophy is not a theory that can be ascribed to just anyone, as it is one of the first cultural practices that we can attribute to an author, characterized as a life in relation to others and using this voice to question them and offer them the chance to think together.

What role does it play in today’s world?

We are living in a time of change, when philosophy is experiencing a revival after a certain degree of cultural, social and academic discredit, not only in the academic world, but also in the public sphere. This is happening because we are experiencing a crisis of civilization and, in this context, we need to be asking fundamental questions that enable us to find our place in such an uncertain world with such bleak prospects.

Do we have enough time to think?

Today, reflecting, the possibility of not only putting into practice processes but also of stopping and changing their course, goes against the commonly imposed uses of time, work, life, consumption, communication, and so on. This is why it’s even more important to advocate the practice of thought.  

So, how can we protect this practice of thinking?

Thinking is an act of resistance that depends on each person, but it’s something that we cannot sustain on our own, we need others; it’s not possible to think in absolute isolation. This is why I strongly advocate philosophy as the backbone of education from an early stage, like the increasing number of schools that include philosophy from infant and primary levels.

Talking about education, there are more people with university studies than ever and ICTs have opened up the gates of global knowledge. Nevertheless, you say that we are “enlightened illiterates” and you denounce “intellectual desertification” and “delegated intelligence projects”.

I analyse an issue that is very important because it puts many things into question. Our culture is heir to the Enlightenment, which was based on the premise that more education, more knowledge and more information gave us more freedom. It enabled us to make autonomous decisions both as individuals and as a group and, therefore, transform the world and bring it closer to specific values such as ethics, justice, politics, better living conditions. Without rejecting all this, we find that there is a new ignorance that has nothing to do with the fact of not having access to education. We are big consumers of information, of training, we are given knowledge and we possess the abilities to achieve our goals, but we are not necessarily more emancipated individuals. Why? Because we know what happens in the world and in our environments, but we don’t know what we can do about it or how we can intervene. This gap between thought and action, between knowledge and consequence, which incapacitates us despite everything we know, is actually enlightened illiteracy.

 

Crisis of civilization and democracy

 

Do you think fear dominates us and does it define current political logic?

Human beings live with fear and making it the basis of political argument means, for instance, that elections can be won by a political proposal that we believe to some extent ‘protects us’ more effectively from our fears. This means that we are clearly experiencing a crisis of civilization in which shared values don’t matter as much as the offer of security. This crisis of civilization creates great planetary uncertainty, because we only imagine a future in catastrophic terms. These days, the most repeated phrase seems to be, “this will end very badly”.

It is what you call the “posthumous condition” in your book Nova il·lustraci radical.  

This term is the common interpretation of a world vision in which the future imaginaries that guided our civilization have collapsed, upon which we have built an apocalyptic dogma where we see the apocalypse as irreversible. There is a whole ideological and narrative construct that turns the current crisis of civilization into the realization that we are irreversibly heading towards the end of the world. Returning to the idea of fear, whoever manages this apocalypse and its diverse forms of salvation will ensure political, technological, cultural and economic power for themselves. We will be ready to buy from anyone who is capable of saving us, even if that only means a few of us. This is what happens in contemporary politics and also with a whole ‘army’ of technology experts and false promises of salvation. We have to break down the apocalyptic dogma and expose the merchants of salvation and come up with new possible forms of emancipation within this context.

They are clear signs that democracy is going through a difficult time.

We are living through a time of democratic involution at all levels, and of political and ideological counterrevolution. We see it with various countries’ electoral results but also in the acceptance of increasing global inequality and the residual nature of vast human communities that are regarded as excluded from the current system and therefore denied any hope of a dignified life. There are two main aspects of the crisis of democracy: growing inequality (whether it is even possible to live in our environment in minimally dignified conditions) and growing authoritarianism, associated with the enhancement of power relations, in terms of the link between control, security and restricted freedoms.

What is the level of social unrest that you detect as an activist?

Unrest is very clear in terms of housing, precariousness, and gender relations in the neo-patriarchate, for example. All this is real and happening very actively. Young people are building other types of emotional, material and economic lives, but it’s far from a hot topic in public discourse.

What outbreaks of social unrest can we expect for 2019?

One of the main currents concerns the relationship between life and the territory (housing, destruction of the territory and coasts, mass tourism etc). Then there is the whole question of the European border, our environment’s great wound, which is being reinforced, sewn and re-sewn using surveillance and concertina wire, but is also becoming infected. Sometimes, when I think that a few decades later we’ve looked back and wondered how 1930s and 1940s European societies were able to live with extermination, the holocaust and other such unbearable phenomena, I think that in the future, people will ask themselves how we were able to live with this border and everything it involves (refugee camps inside and outside Europe, outsourcing captivity, social misery caused by war and climate wars, and so on). Finally, there are environmental issues, which are serious, because it’s no longer just about environmentalism, but about life itself.

Are we losing our sense of humanity?

Human beings don’t know what being human means. Human is a term that encapsulates ideals, monstrosities, values, stories of horror, and more. What actually makes us human is the knowledge that we have to fight against all this to be able to transform ourselves, but the moment we somehow give up is when we lose our sense of humanity.

 

The agora and the public debate

Are we tending towards simplicity in public debate?

We are not only inclined towards it as a human temptation to overdo or exaggerate our own position, but even the algorithms we use to connect to each other, not only on social media but also when clicking on the news or reading content, are now designed to feed back and self-confirm. The life we lead today, online and offline, is closely targeted to continuously self-confirm what we already think, what we already are, and how we show ourselves to others. In contrast, dissension troubles us and we avoid making the effort to connect with languages and ways of life that we don’t understand or that don’t align with our own. The effort to disagree and to be different is penalized as ineffective. Everything must have an immediate response of acceptance or rejection: I like or I don’t like, I click on a story or I don’t, I retweet or I don’t. Binary logics are taking hold and everything that complicates or nuances them is seen as interference. Luckily, however, there are many points of exchange, learning and discussion where it is possible to create a different society.

How can we combat these binary dynamics?

In the educational and cultural world we must be careful about how we communicate and be sensitive in all aspects, from writing well to learning to listen or adding nuances. For me, these are fundamental ethical and political tasks. In the end, these acts of resistance are what will allow us to transform this tendency to simplify, polarize and trivialize everything.

And we must coexist with post-truth tendencies.

The term ‘post-truth’ encapsulates many things: rumours, manipulation, lies, propaganda etc, but what is specific about fake news? It is a key issue in philosophy, which is especially related to questions of truth, There are two specific aspects of fake news: firstly, the communicational facet provided by current media, which multiplies the sources and intensifies the impact of any statement, news or opinion; and secondly, there is a more political aspect of fake news, which lies in the fact that we behave like customers in all aspects of life. It doesn’t just mean that we are palmed off with lies, but that we ‘buy’ the ideas and the postures that best suit us; whether they are true or false is not as relevant. It’s comforting when we are told what we want to hear because life becomes easier.

Is social media the new agora?

They are also a means of communication and consumption. They are included as part of the public sphere in the sense that things happen there that are outside the realm of our private life. But given that social media has turned the relationship between what is public and what is private on its head, in the end we are not very sure what they involve. Everything is immediately mixed together, without mediation. Social media is built upon very basic human desires, which is why they work so well: being visible, being present, being influential, being loved, interacting with others, and the list continues.

Are they a breeding ground for egos?

We are basically living in a society of very weak egos; society no longer has the figure of the strong individual, owner or sovereign. They are inflated egos that can be easily burst if just one tweet goes unanswered! So, we encounter these cyclothymic emotivisms of enthusiasm and depression, of infinite love, of absolute hatred, of absolute trust, of absolute depression etc; our egos are feeding and intoxicating each other with emotivism.

Are we more vulnerable than before?

What has become more vulnerable is this overexposed intimacy. We are now looking for approval, which means esteem and acceptance, by constantly showing our most intimate, fragile, psychological and emotional selves. They are very easy to affect and very ‘vulnerable’ facets of the individual. Now we see political and intellectual debates in which people respond in such a way that the objective is to hurt the person defending a position. Our public sphere has become a kind of mincing machine for our lives and we must be very careful now in any public activity to avoid being completely torn apart.

Why does this lynching happen?

The public sphere should embrace disagreement and conflict because in this way a society accommodates pluralism, perspective and difference. However, for this to happen, one must have arguments, question things and recompose those arguments, and know how to debate. It is much simpler, straightforward and controllable for us to relate to each other from the lowest stratum of emotions.

 

The role of the university

Do you think universities more necessary than ever?

In this world in transition, if universities want to continue to call themselves universities and not end up being mere higher education companies of patented knowledge, they have a historical responsibility, one related to their definition and its raison d'tre: they are the only institutions whose function is to bring together all the knowledge available, both that which has been created and that which is being created, and to make it universally available to humanity as a whole. At a time when the power and knowledge war is so strong, when there are new forms of ignorance and new monopolies of the knowledge society, the university’s role is fundamental to fairly and freely participating in the transformations of our times.

How did you find your arrival at the UOC?

It was very smooth and I’m very happy. My colleagues have warmly welcomed me. And the new University Master’s Degree in Philosophy for Contemporary Challenges that we’ll begin in October, is a very interesting project that involves the whole of the UOC. It is a programme with a philosophical cast but an interdisciplinary approach. And my objective is for it to not only be an academic product, but to become an important open platform for debate and public discussion; for it to help us to reflect on ourselves (the entire UOC community and beyond) and to be a platform that provides us with tools, spaces and time to reflect on the world without submitting to its dictates and fears.

How do you combine your work at the university with your public activity and personal life?

By doing something that is frowned upon – not taking a break! In any case, one of my great personal changes since September has been that I have stopped commuting to Zaragoza, where I had been professor at the University of Zaragoza for fifteen years. I’ve spent half my adult professional and personal life commuting, and now I suddenly find myself with a normal life – it’s fantastic! I still do lots of things but everything seems more manageable to me now. So I’m savouring life in Barcelona and my relationship with work and family differently. However many things I do, every night I sleep at home, and every night I can be with my children. I’m very happy, mainly to be able to combine life, work, personal and collective concerns, cultural interests and activism.