Santiago Alba Rico
Translation: Manuel Talens – Revised by Machetera
Is it possible to show interest in the pain of a man who is not a relative, of a boy we did not raise, of a woman we never loved? Is it possible to choose as equal an unequal distant human being or to choose as a kindred a remote foreigner? There is a sociological explanation for both hostility and indifference but perhaps there is none for this glowing crystallization of uncontainable sympathies that through their very chemical composition precipitate an intervention in the world.
We usually call “solidarity” – or maybe we should call it – the armed hand of compassion, the solidification of commitment: the act of freely choosing other people’s needs, of voluntarily suppressing the very conditions that allow this act of freedom once one has been shaken by the pain or been contaminated by the idea of a stranger. The active compassion Todorov identifies with the “morality of sympathy” finds its highest expression in the absurd and luminous decision of solidarity suicides who – not being able to bear the suffering of the Jews – jumped with them into the livestock wagons which were driven to the concentration camps.
On the other hand, active commitment (associated with the “morality of principles”) summarized itself in the example of the many communists or socialists from all over the world who abandoned their homes and families to die in the Spanish civil war fighting against Fascism. Compassion and commitment, morality and politics, crystallize nowadays in the admirable coherence of voluntary workers and doctors who decide to share both the pain and struggle of Gazans as a consequence of physical and intellectual intolerance before the concrete suffering of fellow humans or any kind of injustice.
Marx used to say that solids dissolve into the air. Solidarity – its etymological relative – also dissolves into the air. It is true that capitalism, which liquefies all consistencies and only allows the weak and conflictive bonds of consumerism, constantly deactivates political and moral connections with others. But it is only partially true to pretend that “nobody cares about other’s suffering” while bombs are being dropped in Gaza. Rather what we call “indifference” consists of a fluid current of majority sympathy toward those who are unjust: the rich, the powerful, the famous and even the murderers.
We care about the suffering of Spanish princess Letizia or about the suffering of John Travolta; we care about the American soldier who cannot adopt an Iraqi dog or about the Israeli father who has lost his soldier son; we care about the pain of a suicidal millionaire and about the racketeer who undergoes a prostate operation. Such a passive solidarity with the powerful – banally explained by the insistence with which we are forced to look at them and by the pleasure we feel by equalling ourselves to unequal superiors – strongly supports the very force that persecutes and criminalizes any solidarity towards the weak and just.
At the same time, by demonstrating solidarity with winners, morality and politics also lose their extensive capacity due to the existing disproportion between what we can know and what we can do, that is to say, between the order of information and the order of intervention. While our field of vision is virtually limitless – Australia or Pakistan are closer than our own kitchen – our field of intervention is being constantly narrowed to the point that without any organization, without any means, without any collective projects, the only place where we can exert authority is our own kitchen: the more we curl up into private and domestic matters the less we can influence the external world.
Both solidarity and salary also share the same etymological root. Only the salary is solid; and a long series of economic and political interventions against compassion and commitment have ended up giving birth to this unusual oxymoron: paid solidarity. Nowadays the term “solidarity” lacks any ideological electricity and it is only an administrative matter that is being used to hide and reproduce class conflicts, inequalities and the force of the powerful under a fraudulent and monopolist institutionalisation: we have “humanitarian” armies, of course equipped with weapons and power of intervention, with their monstrous solidarity soldiers distributing corpses and blankets to cover them; we also suffer the measles of NGOs which are – with few exceptions – postmodern branches of governments dedicated to “demoralize” and to “depoliticize” all scenarios of poverty or violence, that is to say, to blunt and empty of content the original concept of “solidarity” in order to convert it – like any capitalist contract – into an individual exchange among unequal people.
That’s how we Westerners have ended up excluding the rest of the world: we pay salaries to specialized solidarity soldiers while at the same time we don’t feel solidarity with the victims – no way – but with the paid solidarity soldiers (and their governments). Outside such a virtuous circle there are only the poor and wicked or, what amount to the same: terrorized and terrorists. And day by day it is getting more difficult to distinguish between the two.
Manuel Talens and Machetera are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. Talens is also a member of Rebelión. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.