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Mercy

by Ana Bazac

If I would dedicate this note to the upcoming Christmas, it would be simple bumkum: “holidays are always the occasion to show our compassion for the unfortunate, our goodwill, our charity, au fond our love for humans, are they?” And tear-exciting palaver about poor children and mothers finding their happiness (goods necessary for the everyday life, or the pay of healthcare and school, or even a little house lightened by both the candles of the Christmas tree and the until now inexistent TV set) with the help of benevolent sponsors would follow. 

Actually, the euphoric donations in order that everyone to have holidays seem to be breaks in the ordinary course of things to take more and more, and to do anything to earn ‘one’s living’. This course excludes from the ordinary habits that to have mercy towards those suffering the injustices ‘society’ imposes. And I do not refer at all to the habit to give something to the beggars: a kind of mercy resembling somehow to the pattern of “holiday benevolence” that outs of one’s pocket pennies in the idea to not arrive in the situation to need these pennies; or, by giving to the beggars ‘the donor’ finally recognises the appurtenance of both to the same species; or, his ‘generosity’ is a preventive movement of a possible overthrowing of his position in this relation: it’s better to give broken money when they are panhandled, instead of begging, is it not?

But the structure of social relations framing us – the domination-submission relations – made us and formatted our mind in such a way as to think that they are normal/human, and the only normal, and that the human duty of everyone is to strive for his/her existence/the existence of his/her family, and to consider that the Others, especially the far away from us, would be only accidental and non-important elements within the environment surrounding us. The world shaped by the domination-submission relations always in evolution and having the form of “the West”[1] has induced in our habits the absolute priority of our duty towards us /our family and, since this individualistic way of thinking was presumed by us as the only normal one and pertaining to every other normal human being, the symbol of this absolute priority in the relationships of the individuals with God.

Our egotism is so huge that we have privatised God, and think that if we owe only to God our full human commitment, so to adore Him, and not the human beings and the humanity from every human being – so the absolute submission to Him would substitute our availability to commiseration towards Others (since we share the same miserable human vulnerability) – God as such would serve us, and not the Others. “Help me, God”: me, me, me. We do not think that Others ask in the same manner the God they imagine; and yes, we are taught to consider God as omnipotent and His help to some ones as not decreasing the infinite amount of potency and help towards the whole humankind, but at the same time we put His poor magnificence in a very embarrassing situation: we ask God to assure our victory in the war waged against Others who pray God to win against us. And this is not only literature: Jaroslav Hasek wrote in his unforgettable Svejk in the WWI about this foolish practice, but the same happened in the WWII, and in the ‘post-modern’ wars of the Empire against all who wanted to exercise the human autonomy; and do we not have a whole hierarchy of priests in our armies and prisons? And do we not ask the blessings of priests, when we start a business that inherently competes with other ones?

Irrespective of our faith and our Sunday/“holiday benevolence”, or just on this basis, we lost the capacity to being merciful. Rather, we search – and find, of course, since the power relations are the most interested to legitimise domination-submission with different ideas of inferiority of those whom they subjugate – reasons for our cruelty. Pay attention: it is not only about a visible physical cruelty: most of us do not have weapons and do not whip our subordinates, do we not?; but also about a visible spiritual cruelty – the words and ideas we use in order to put the Others in ‘their deserved’ lower place and to force them not to escape from it; and also about a passive form of cruelty – the above ones were active – consisting of not acting against cruelty, and not being merciful.

Why did we lose our capacity to being merciful? Because to being full of pity towards the Others – and, once more, towards not only ‘our neighbour’/fellow from our community, but also towards all those far away from us[2] – means, nowadays when we have learned from the whole human history, not to give them what abound us, but to search for the causes of their socially induced suffering, and to act against these causes.

To have mercy means to be indignant. Indignation means courage to solve things in an efficient way: this is the reason the problem of beggars is not solved by giving them our oblation/the tiny symbolic act of donation and remembrance – and yes, again, the Islam with the compulsory rule of annual donation to the poor (2,5% of the wealth of the individual) as well as the rule of voluntary donation, all in the name of God, and not of the philanthropists, and all of these without hurting the feelings of the beneficiaries, is superior to the religions which only exhort people to give and the donation would be done on behalf of the philanthropist, the source of wealth being this one; but, obviously, Islam is only a religion (not shaking the social order) and even the Islamic charity has in view only the narrow community, i.e. it has a historical conditioning and limitation  – but by instituting such a social arrangement as to avoid  the social polarisation and the decay of some ones to the undesirable state of ‘assisted’ helpless and hopeless.

If indignation means courage – we all do remember the place of courage between the ancient Greek cardinal virtues – it means also not only ‘to forbid giving to the beggars’ but, chiefly, to act in order (not only to free the slaves, as in Islam, but) to undo the structural causes of situations in front of which common people feel mercy but do not know how to get out from both the tragedies generating their mercy and their impotence to act against the causes.

Thus, mercy is not a feeling of the week, begging for help, neither of the pharisaic well-to-do who think that by donating they shoot (not two, but) three birds with one stone: they calm their conscience, appear as worthy philanthropists, and help the structural domination-submission relations to last. Being indignation, mercy is not a passive feeling, but quite revolutionary. And today, we can understand and exercise this shift of the traditional modern and far from being a heroic sentiment of mercy: just this traditional sentiment was rejected by Nietsche.

So, mercy is not a patching of the present capitalism, as the promoters of the power relations insist to use it as a medicine of the systemic crisis – including/especially in the present phase of possible turning to a new old rule of the isolationist and protectionist ‘national’ capitalism that, yet, would be very doubtful to counter/stop the internal logic of capital as such: a hypothetical future welfare state interventionism is, on the contrary, stopped by the inherent logic of transnationalisation of capital –. Mercy, as indignation and not only recognition of the Others, but also as deep feeling of mutual substitutions of different humans and situations, underlies the present possible social conscience of more and more people: that the power/domination-submission relations are not intangible and eternal, but historical, and that the common people’s determination to act “in the line” of the understanding of this logic of society/history is essential for the realisation of this logic. Did Hegel not demonstrate that this logic is inevitable, inherent to the historical laws and existent through the development of the (human) spirit?  And thus, that this logic does not annul the free will of the humans?

The holidays seem to be breaks: the noisy and coloured clichés of the American style advertising of a happy Christmas with tree and more and more wares bought in a febrile manner ‘because otherwise it would not be real holidays’ tend to suggest that society would be, when all is said and done, united/or at least the community of happy buyers is united, is it?, and that a general mercy and benevolence would reign. The “supply and demand holidays” are the illustration of an ideal society, a tranquilizer, or even sedative, of the common people: ‘there are so many donations’ that it would not be a place for mercy. In fact, the holidays are moments of preparation of the future ‘normal’ state of homo homini lupus without any mercy. The holidays are exceptions in the more and more Orwellian “state of exception” (Agamben) of neo-liberal politics: but as the ancient Saturnalia, neither the holidays do last forever.

But if so, if mercy was confiscated by the powerful and diverted from its genuine meaning of human solidarity – the feeling of mutual substitutions of situations and states lies at the basis of the human solidarity – by them, it results that the common people must take back this sentiment by giving it the contents of action against the causes of the necessity of social mercy.

Words? No, unfortunately. The biggest richness of man is time, his life span. And this life span is according to the contents of life. But both the span and the contents were and are systematically wasted by the powerful beneficiaries of the power relations. And the tense of above verbs shows that there is about the present, and not only about the past. To give only an example: the fact that some people were detained unlawfully in prison without never being charged with a crime[3]. Can we remain silent in front of such a tragic, and present, miscarriage of justice: the irreversible losing of time – in fact, of the life span – of the individuals? And if we begin to speak, can we not understand that our mercy – towards the victims, but also towards all the human beings – is constituted not only of constructive attitudes towards the victims (and mercy means only constructive attitudes), but at the same time of constructive attitudes punishing the ruthless powerful arbitrarily bereaving humans of their time: because punishment is “a prerequisite to democracy with its meaning lying in the protection of social values”/of freedom and equality in front of the law and without which there are no rational justifications for the human conducts[4].

Thus, mercy means also punishment: love and determination to correct; according to the human rationality, the only one allowing the expanse of universal means of the human existence and regulation[5].

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notes

[1] See Joschka Fischer, Goodbye to the West, https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/goodbye-to-american-global-leadership-by-joschka-fischer-2016-12.

[2] Ana Bazac, „La souffrance de nos lointains. La réverbération philosophique des scandales récents de torture et d’abus liés à la guerre en Irak”, Anachronia, Hamburg, 8, 2007, pp. 180-214.

[3] Zaida Green, “Guantánamo Diary author released after 14 years in illegal detention”, 19 October 2016, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/10/19/guan-o19.html.

[4] Virginia M. Giouli, “Wittgenstein and the philosophy of punishment”, in Wittgenstein und die Zukunft der Philosophie. Eine Neubewertung nach 50 Jahren/ Wittgenstein and the Fure of Philosophy. A Reassessment after 50 Years,  Beiträge der ÖsterreichischenLudwig Wittgenstein Gesellschaft/Contributions of the AustrianLudwig Wittgenstein Society,

Volume IX (1), Band IX (1), Herausgeber Rudolf Haller, Klaus Puhl, Kirchberg am Wechsel, 2001,  pp. 257-262.

[5] Alain Badiou, Saint Paul : La Fondation de l’universalisme, Paris, PUF, 1998.

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