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Project Of New Optimism

When I last year tried to imagine what this year would look like, I’d hoped that we would have emerged from the general crisis of the pandemic and that we’d have the time and space to pose questions and reconsider the meaning and humanising of our lives. Nobody can lead a meaningful life by themselves; people are responsible for one another. I’d though the new year that was then ahead of us could be a year for considering and constructing that new responsibility.

The question I now ask myself is whether, during this year’s pandemic and the implementation of preventative measures, we even recognised the space for those new responsibilities. I would say yes. Yes! That’s the idea of adapting to new living conditions and the need to again ask the question of what kind of world we want to live in in the future, and what kind of relationship we will have towards nature and our natural environment.

It has become clear to us – or at least it seems so to me – that nature cannot be separated from culture and the two must think in unison. This isn’t just about defending nature, but creating it. And our adaptation would thus have to imply not only adapting nature to suit us, but also adapting ourselves to her.

The year that we are about to leave behind opened the question of ecology or, as Felix Guattari would put it, some kind of ethical-political articulation of the three ecological registers: the ecology of the environment, the ecology of social relations and the ecology of human subjectivity. We are obviously living in a period during which our planet has experienced intense technical and scientific transformations that have resulted in an environmental imbalance that threatens human life. At the same time, in a world that’s dominated by media and information, individual and collective human life has been seriously brought into question. The consumption of mass media has endangered family life, while the standardisation of behaviour has led to relations with others being reduced to the most superficial expressions.

In a society where antisocial individualism dominates, it is difficult to secure the conditions required for applying democracy, for joint action and for jointly shaping the world around us. On the one hand, that’s because this requires the existence of a nation that has an awareness of community and is able to develop some political concept of its own future, while on the other hand, it is because antisocial individualism strives to eradicate the questionability of self with the idea of one’s own presence in the world, which is a basic condition required for democratic debate to exist.

In a society where antisocial individualism dominates, it is difficult to secure the conditions required for applying democracy, for joint action and for jointly shaping the world around us. On the one hand, that’s because this requires the existence of a nation that has an awareness of community and is able to develop some political concept of its own future, while on the other hand, it is because antisocial individualism strives to eradicate the questionability of self with the idea of one’s own presence in the world, which is a basic condition required for democratic debate to exist.

The development of technology, the information revolution, could provide people with much more free time in the future. Whether that time will be a period of increased unemployment, anxiety, marginalisation, loneliness and neurosis, or a period of culture, creativity, a quest to rediscover nature and environmental invention, enriching lifestyles and sensibilities, will depend entirely on us. For me, this creates space for new hope; for optimism based on reflections of holistic ways of being in a group, for considerations about a new articulating of relations between subjectivity and the body versus mass media uniformity and “telematic” manipulations of public opinion through advertisements, surveys – i.e., for some form of the art of living.

For something like that to emerge, it is essential for us to have a new culture of action that must precede a new political doctrine. The first step. We need to desire joy, because joy doesn’t exist if we don’t desire it. We need intelligence as a delight and a weapon; the kind of intelligence that excludes conflict and requires a different economy of disagreement. Education that requires genuine reform, against futile knowledge, against hard work, against boredom. Education that justifies itself in the shaping of a critical thinking and qualified student, and not in the satisfying of the needs of the labour market, not in knowledge that’s meant to turn us into good workers and not into creative people. And above all, work on language. Pleasure in language. The importance of the selected word, thoughtful, construed and elegant sentences, cultivating a sensibility for nuance.

That’s the project of new optimism. A project that would reject the notion that egotism is morally acceptable, reject the notion that the accumulating of capital and economic growth are commendable social goals. A project that sets out with the assumption that production should be based on needs and not on the generating of private profit. A project that implies increased economic equality and includes global solidarity. Such a project would be a magnet for political energy. It would imply new social practises, new aesthetic practises, new practices of the self in relation to the other, the different, the strange; in short, a new subjectivity and respect for nature and life.

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Comment by Zoran Panović

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