I dedicate this [post] to the electors of [both sides of the EU referendum], to whom I feel close. I feel close to them because they are people who suffer and cause me to suffer. They cause me to suffer because in the proximity of their suffering, I feel them infinitely distanced from me–I feel infinitely far from them. I feel that this distance is our lost community. This distance is paradoxically the vanishing point of our common suffering and, a such, our proximity. What is common to us is the feeling of absolute separation. But this concerns not only our common suffering, but also the suffering that separates us. If I feel close to those people who suffer while they also make me suffer, if I suffer with them, I do not suffer only because they make me suffer. I suffer also with them from that which makes them suffer.
–Bernard Stiegler, To Love, to Love Me, to Love Us: From September 11 to April 21, in Acting Out (Stanford University Press, 2009), page 38 – adapted .
I hesitate to post following the EU referendum here in the UK. I hesitate because of the vehemence of negative expression that has come in it’s wake. We have seen a groundswell of responses, many of which, and from all sides or none of the political spectrum, have been divisive – from horrifying expressions of hatred of ‘others’ to the patronising and derogation of those we find to have different and apparently opposing views. The repeated (and, in extremis, violent) admonition of ‘them’, those to whom one attributes blame, feels, to me, worrying.
In such a climate, and in the face of a level of uncertainty that we all find uncomfortable but that will have been the hallmark of this period five years hence, our collective sense of any form of ‘we’ is challenged: we all suffer.
It is this suffering that can (re)constitute a collective, as Bernard Stiegler argues: “On this path we must cast all doubt aside to fight the imminent possibility of the total atomisation of the we” (Stiegler, 2009: page 82).
If the current climate of recrimination and the disavowal of the other half of the population (for it was a very close vote 51.9/48.1) persists, if we continue to disown one another, that atomisation is, it seems to me, a risk.
“What more than anything is evil is OUR renunciation of thought in favour of the denunciation of evil. What is evil is the we, disquieted about the future of the we, that renounces critique and invention or, in other words, combat” (Stiegler, 2009: page 82).
By all means, we should act, but this action should, I feel, be in solidarity, without fear of those we have seen as other, to try to face the future together. I argue this means we must reject denunciation, we must argue in good faith, we must press the case for a just and fair future for us all – where the stakes are precisely to argue what counts as justice and fairness in an emerging state of affairs.
Note 1: I recognise that in the original quote Bernard Stiegler is speaking of the electors of the Front National. Let me be clear: I am not, in any way, seeking in this case to compare any electors in the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the EU to the Front National. I use this quote because I admire and value the ethos Bernard Stiegler is expressing.