Men being men, vigilance must be the watchword. In his philosophical essay Human, all too Human, Nietzsche enumerated several of the characteristics of the human being above and beyond religions, philosophies, cultures and beliefs. They included a hypertrophied ego, a taste for power, gregariousness, pretension, social role-playing, etc. : a never-ending human comedy in which men create illusions, lie to themselves, and deceive themselves and others. The common man is nothing more than this, claimed Nietzsche ; only the exceptional artist can rise above the human condition. The moral philosophers, from ancient Greece to Kant’s practical reason—by way of the Confucian, Hindu, and Buddhist spiritual traditions, as well as the three monotheistic religions—also affirm that such is the human’s sorry state, the single cardinal difference being their claim that the common woman and man possess the intellectual and ethical capacity to overcome their state. Humankind is in shadow ; if it aspires to full existence and to light, it must seek education and critical intellectual mastery, the counterpower of the individual and collective conscience. Mankind must be positively and constructively wary of mankind, of their fellow man, of their families, of the members of their faith community, of their fellow-citizens. Depending on whether they are alone or in a group, they are not the same ; not the same in a minority as in a majority ; not the same in power or in opposition ; theirs are not the same victims, the same executioners. The same persons, wearing different hats, are no longer the same : beware of self, and keep an eye on those like you. The final verses of the Qur’an, seen in this light, are troubling : at the end of a revelation of light and of the moral horizon, the repeated appeal for the protection of the Unique against mankind delivers up the secret of our societies : with or without God, alone or in society, oppressed or oppressors, we remain human, all too human. Dangerously human.
History is replete with ideologies of freedom, justice, liberation of the downtrodden and the exploited, that have been turned against the very people they had mobilized, or that have reproduced the same logic of exclusion and terror toward those whom they claimed to set free. No civilization, no political philosophy, no religion can claim a monopoly of its contradictions, of its opportunism, of the hopes dashed, despoiled, manipulated. The liberal and financial illusions of capitalism, the promises of equality and justice of socialism and communism, the moral ideals of the Islamists have been invoked and shown to be empty… All have guilty blood on their hands. No exceptions. The great capitalist democracies protect their interests and sow death and dictatorship in the name of their “civilizing mission ;” the socialist and communist resistance, in the name of justice, as in Vietnam (and so often repeated) end up exploiting, killing, torturing. Yesterday’s victims of extermination, who lay claim to such status, have become today’s oppressors, as with Israel (and with so many other peoples and ethnic groups around the world). Muslim leaders, self-proclaimed reformers, Salafi literalists or violent extremists, who had promised the Islamic ideal of peace and justice end up enmeshed in power struggles, conflicts of ego and self-serving interpretations, reproducing little more than repression, the death of intelligence, and the elimination of their opponents.
Grim realities ; grim truths. While we speak of liberating uprisings in the Middle-East and in Africa, while we speak of universal consciousness, while the shared values of democracy or the ideology of the free market and the liberal economy seem to be imposed on all of us, we must remain more than ever vigilant. Those who, in the West, yesterday supported dictators now support the people in the name of the same logic of self-interest. Those who yesterday supported the peoples may well end up supporting dictators, as in Syria or in the petromonarchies, in the name of dark interests and calculations. The mass movements, the emotions, the shared illusions are dubious councilors ; the crowd can be carried away, can become collectively blind, blinded, and dangerously ignorant, easily manipulated. The world is a complex place and the influence of the media in its representation and its power of communication and interpretation is a remarkable amplifier of emotions, and of illusions. Instantaneous and mass communication is the mother of mass naivety. Should we then lose hope ? Is there any hope ? But to lose hope is as dangerous as to nurture false hope. Where then can we find hope that is responsible ?
In relation to ourselves, to our neighbors and to societies, we must develop counterpowers, spaces of spiritual, intellectual, social, political, cultural and economic resistance. True critical consciousness begins precisely with this essential requirement : an ethics of counterpower that observes and seeks to master and to forestall the slippage of its own ego, the potential betrayals of its sisters and brothers in faith and in struggle. A counterpower that resists the excesses of power but does not hesitate to identify the latent oppression that slumbers among the minorities, the oppressed and the victims of today. The ethics of counterpower require an ethical counterpower : in the name of the overreaching principles of freedom, dignity, and justice, the humanity of humankind must be submitted to ethical judgment, one that is never compromising, compromised or selective. Such a position cannot mean that we flee human society, social or political commitment : quite the contrary. In the light mankind’s destiny, and of its human, all too human characteristics, there can be no question of offering power to those who will abuse it without counterparties, without requirements. To power we must hold up the demanding and determined mirror of resistance, and of counterpower, one that will make no concessions, neither to our brothers, nor to our foes. This is the awareness that, in the final analysis, is the cradle of just and reasonable aspiration, where the oppressed, the poor, women, the excluded, who so often count for almost nothing in the circles of power, emerge as subjects of their own history, and become the motor of historical change. The power of counterpower is but another name for conscience, a synonym for faith.