Manuel Cruz – 13 FEB 2020 – 00:05 CET Image: Sr. García
Frequently, citizens’ representatives – this diffuse and heterogeneous collective to which we usually subsume under the heading of “politicians” – are criticized by some for turning their task of representation into a way of life, into a real profession. Those who make such approaches, people normally aligned in the most anti-political populism, reproach those who cling to the seat (or position) either for not having another means of living, or another of a quality comparable to that provided by politics.
In accordance with this, it would seem that such sectors of opinion should be glad to receive the fact that people from civil society were incorporated into the tasks of public representation or collaboration with the Administration, without any prior link with the parties and with an accredited qualification in something that could be useful for the governance of the community as a whole. But it is clear that things do not work that way among us. Any citizen with the aforementioned profile who decides to take a step forward and acquire a public political commitment must be aware that, in all likelihood, he will immediately be subject to merciless scrutiny of all aspects of his life.
So much so that some of those who criticized both the usual profile of politicians, as soon as someone with a new profile bursts onto the scene, strive to search through their professional past for elements that allow them to destroy it as soon as possible. They seem to prove that, as Daniel Gascón, Joan Coscubiela or even Borja Sémper himself – each one in their own way – said, never really worried that the newcomer had something to hide, but something to show, something to offer. The objective of such critics, in any case, is not the censorship of what the newcomer may have done wrongly when starting his political task, but the attack on what constitutes the core of his public identity, what he could obtain in the past as a kind of recognition or respect in his professional field.
When someone new enters the scene, there are those who search through the past for elements to destroy her.
The above are not second-hand statements: I have had to live all this in first person, but, since I have already written about it in the March issue of Letras Libres, I will save the reader the details. In addition, it is convenient that the trees, however much they are our own, do not prevent us from seeing the forest, just in case we, entangled in discussing specific aspects, neglect the overall perspective. And what really matters, what is imperative to consider, is ultimately if everything is valid in politics, if we accept that it becomes a monstrous meat grinder (human, of course) or consider that there are limits to which all we should be respectful, because that updated version of “slander, that something remains”, coined in 1625 by Francis Bacon, which is the usual “discredit, that something remains”, not only is harmful to the discredited, but deteriorates so seriously the fundamentals of life in common.
Without difficulty we could all agree that something goes wrong, very badly, when broad sectors of citizens identify those who should provide solutions, politicians, with their main problem. But let’s take this finding to the end. Because, similarly, it could also be said that something is not going well when some of those who have in their hands, by their privileged position in the public space, determine what are the issues that deserve to be discussed in it, use that power, whether for ideological, partisan or economic reasons, for their own private benefit, replacing the really important issues for citizens with those in which they are interested.
It is about the latter that it is inexcusable to think. To those of us who have already warned about the dangers of a notion as equivocal as that of exemplarity, time has unfortunately given us the reason. In the type of cases to which we are referring, it is absolutely evident that our new inquisitors, who at all times fill their mouths by demanding exemplariness from others (and especially public office), consider themselves completely exempt of the same. Apparently, they only have a grandiloquent and rhetorical statement of their commitment to truthful information or freedom of expression so that nothing can be demanded of them. Hence, I have always considered the claim of responsibility more useful for the proper functioning of public life. Responsibility is something that is required of everyone, obviously, according to the power she holds. But no one should consider himself alien to it, from the humblest of voters to the most powerful of the leaders, from the most modest user of a social network to the most influential newspaper editor, including, of course, all those who, in one way or another, actively participate in the public sphere.
The trend towards turning life into an all-embracing spectacle has been increasing rapidly in our society
Because it is unquestionable the fact that the trend towards making a spectacle out of absolutely all dimensions of life has been increasing rapidly in our society – the private one included (social networks provide abundant samples of it on a daily basis) -, a trend announced already in the sixties of the last century by the situationist philosophers, with Guy Debord at the forefront. But a qualitative change in the development of this trend takes place at the moment in which it not only colonizes the entire public sphere, but also comes into contact with another trend in our society, this time of a moral nature. Because social complexity, also growing, makes it increasingly difficult to agree on a minimally shared scale of values. The coincidence of both trends results in the transformation of the spectacle society into the society of permanent scandal. A society, this last one, whose destructive greed in the symbolic does not stop before people or institutions, and to which the appeal to deontological codes seems to be a negligible old fossil, without the slightest meaning. However, the metaphor of public life as a theater in which only the actors are subjected to public scrutiny, while the latter is allowed everything because they have paid their location, is an unfortunate metaphor. And if you want to continue using it, it will be necessary to point out then that in this theatrical representation that is our present we are all involved (with greater or lesser importance, of course), but nobody has the right to consider himself exempt from responding for his behavior, in the extent to which we live in society and how much what we do affects in some way, for better or worse, others.
Let’s go back to the beginning. In times of hooliganism, disaffection, uncertainty and populist temptations, it should be remembered that politics is, as Aristotle said, the art of the common good and not a mere spectacle to entertain or take advantage of. However, these last two options seem to be increasingly the case, and this should serve as a warning as a society: sometimes, the worst thing about one starting a witch hunt is that he ends up acting as a sorcerer’s apprentice.
Manuel Cruz is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona and senator for the PSC-PSOE.