Zeros and Heroes: On Computational Compassion and How to Escape the Social Game of Hopscotch

Among this quarrelsome species that we call human, indifference is a luxury. Perhaps a day shall come when we will have the opportunity to live our dreams without worrying too much about the dreams of others. But as long as the latter are nightmares, we shall hear ubiquitous screams amplified by social networks, millions being spent to keep us falsely awake with so much irrational pain that we could fill up an ocean with the cacophony of our miseries.

What is the relationship between God and the media? The latter seem to have stolen the virtue of ubiquity from the former. The new media are now buried, almost invisible, in the multiple environments that make up our daily lives, right down to the hollowness of our synapses.

The first humans one day looked around and they saw stones, animals, trees, other men, women, children, more stones, a sun, stars. The first question that is undoubtedly at the origin of intelligence is: what unites all these realities? What is common to all of these phenomena? What is everywhere the same? Thus was born religion, then philosophy and also mathematics. Religion affirms what must be the same everywhere. Mathematics tries to understand what must be the same everywhere. Philosophy concludes: everything is in fact different, but the intellect, thought is everywhere able to unite us provided that we accept the ubiquity of that difference and understand the desire for unity in our hearts.

We have entered a world of digital humanism, computational compassion, endlessly producing a show of zeros and heroes. Globalisation superproduces this ubiquitous reading grid, like a mental second nature, to such an extent that emeritus researchers have proposed that the universe be compared to a hologram, a vast binary simulation. Everything would be information and bits, logarithmic equality. We mistake the universe imposed by our levelling capitalism for the truth of the cosmos. One religion replaces another. Everything is – must be – everywhere the same, say the advocates of emotional informationism, aiming at the transubstantiation of everything and everyone into arithmetics. Equality, not of opportunity, but of result. The flattening of the world.

In her speech at the UN, the young Malala Yousafzai was right to speak of equal access to education: we must work to equalize the initial conditions offered to each and everyone, such that they can work creatively and joyfully towards what is possible and what is their ideal. One should not predetermine the finish square, nor, as in the game of hopscotch, impose that the finish square should be the same for everyone. Too often, a priori political equality, which we should strive for, turns into a posteriori standardization, an equalisation of goals that is forced upon us. One dogma replaces another. In our delirium of good humanist virtue, we forget to think for ourselves. If the slave cannot yet, sometimes the new master can no longer.

Difference, creation, the multiple, this is the ubiquitous. Oneness is an aspiration. The cosmos is a dance between the creative becoming that Descartes called continued creation (and as is now known, I call it Creal) and the ideal of an ordered unification. Any tendency to favor one aspect of this polarity over the other introduces an unhealthy imbalance. This leads us to a wisdom that the Greeks, in particular the Stoics, but also Aristotle, already explored, and which was recently emphasized anew by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze: the golden mean (“commencer par le milieu”). The happy medium is this balance between creation and order, difference and repetition, which governs the performative stability of any living system, and which can protect us from the sad media. This equilibrium is almost nothing, it is an invisible, an infinitesimal point between two forces, a strange attractor. When a system touches this eudynamic balance, new possibilities can emerge.

The crealecticians, a man or a woman, will be ubiquitous but not standardised; they will live in a creative environment of spiritual matter and organic spirit. We are right to want to keep the old-fashioned fanatics out of our cities, but let us not replace the symbolic violence of the religious past with a new violence, that of a world in which equalisation is the new agenda that closes mouths and minds in a prison of pseudo-peaceful conformism. The right to life in peace, the right to dignity, the right to education are essential; they should not tarnish the resilient joy of living and thinking for oneself.

Why Philosophize? Because No One is Like You.

Philosophy is the only authentic attitude in life because it does not pretend to know which road to follow or attempt to tell someone else which definite road to follow in life.

Each new appearance of a human being on earth reshuffles the possibles. Each newborn arrives from the Creal, deeply unique, deeply capable of multiple meanings, practices and beliefs. It is quite fascinating and sublime that after thousands of years of human experience, there are still no precise life rules that can apply beneficially to each person as a singular being with a singular destiny. Despite all the science of things available, there is not much that parents can impose rightfully on a human that is never a thing, but a singular person. We can teach interchangeable tools like languages, precautionary habits or table manners, but there is no predetermined golden path to follow, no educational standard for personal bliss.

Each person must create for herself her destiny rules: this is the deep challenge of embodied philosophy. You must have the courage to face the fact that your soul is off-road by nature. We are in the Creal, despite the societal inauthentic efforts to completely cover it with realistic protocols, rules and recipes.

One might take the highway and stay on it to pretend they know what a safe life is. We might follow real codes, but those are always superficial like driving on the left or the right – easily forgotten and replaced. Sleep-driving on a supposedly secured highway won’t make your existence safer as a person. Your body might be temporarily protected but you are not a mere body. There is no such thing as necessity in matters of subjectivity. You, as a unique person with a unique biography, are condemned to be existentially and philosophically creative and responsible for your own meaning. You cannot escape your responsibility towards philosophical honesty. Your anxiety is not a call to adapt and adjust: it is a call to embrace your uniqueness and the adventure of your life. Be brave, be.

No need to travel to Alaska to be in the wild. As persons, each of us is in the wild here and now, without equal, without peer, without predefined way. Practical philosophy, even if just five minutes a day, is the only responsible attitude towards life, and life without philosophy ends up in hypocrisy and denial.

Philosophising your life is not a choice nor a luxury: it is the only authentic way to live, because in the end, even if many may like you, no one is like you. No one else is you.

Inauguration of the Center for Medical Humanities and Social Sciences at Uppsala University (6 October 2020)

From January 2020, I will be officially part of the team, to work on philosophical health
Seating randomly, I found myself next to Bourdieu and Descartes. I actually had dinner face to face with one of them some twenty years ago.

Can Philosophy Heal Us? France Culture Radio Show (French Language)

La Philosophie peut-elle nous guérir? Avec Wolfgang Wackernagel.

France Culture – Émission “La vie comme elle va” – 22 Septembre 2005

Listen to the programme below, in two mp3 files. Écouter le programme en deux fichiers mp3:

Trump’s Unnoticed Mantra: “Esprit de Corps”

President Trump uses the phrase “esprit de corps” on a fairly regular basis. Am I the only one to notice it? (Perhaps because I just published a book on the intellectual history of esprit de corps.)

Here is the last-to-date occurence of the phrase “esprit de corps” in Trump’s mouth, from September 2020:

I want to thank everybody for working so hard in Florida. And they’re very good at this. The people in Florida handle it; they know how to handle it. And the people working there know how to handle it. The governors have all been spoken to, and it’s a combination of real spirit. And they have a tremendous esprit de corps.

Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump in Press Briefing | September 16, 2020

And below is a short video from 2018: