Friday, March 31, 2017

Zygmunt Bauman on the European refugee crisis

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman passed away this past January at age 91. In an obituary appreciation (Adieu, Zygmunt Bauman! Aljazeera 01/13/2017) Irfan Ahmad observed:

In Wasted Lives (2004), Bauman took up the issue of transformation of humans as surplus - a process only accentuated under neo-liberalism. Refugees, unwanted immigrants, prisoners and other groups exemplify "waste" as the excess, the redundant.

Bauman's argument in this important book was as follows: As an order-building and social-engineering project modernity creates the category of the outcast only to secure its riddance.
Until the end of his life, Bauman remained engaged with the issues he cared about. Including the European refugee crisis. Why the world fears refugees (Narrated by Zygmunt Bauman) Al Jazeera English 10/13/2016:

In The Migration Panic And Its (Mis)Uses Social Europe 12/17/2016, he wrote:

Massive migration is by no means a novel phenomenon; it accompanied the modern era from its very beginning (though time and again modifying, and occasionally reversing, its directions) – as our “modern way of life” includes the production of “redundant people” (locally “inutile” – excessive and unemployable – owing to economic progress, or locally intolerable – rejected in the effect of unrest, conflicts and strife caused by social/political transformations and subsequent power struggles). On top of that, however, we now bear the consequences of the profound, and seemingly prospectless destabilization of the Middle-Eastern area in the aftermath of miscalculated, foolishly myopic and admittedly abortive policies and military ventures of Western powers.
This is a critical fact about the refugee crisis in Europe right now, the military conflicts in the Middle East. And this is something over which the US and the EU nations do have some real power. The is a definite trade-off involved in that new interventions and escalations of current interventions and arms sales from the NATO nations can be reliably expected to generate new waves of refugees to Europe:

All in all, as things stand now and promise to be for a long time to come, mass migration is unlikely to grind to a halt; neither for the lack of prompting nor for the rising ingenuity of attempts to stop it. As Robert Winder wittily remarked in the preface to the second edition of his book Bloody Foreigners – “We can park our chair on the beach as often as we please, and cry at the oncoming waves, but the tide will not listen, nor the sea retreat”. Building walls in order to stop migrants short of “our own backyards” comes ridiculously close to the story of the ancient philosopher Diogenes rolling to and from the barrel in which he lived over the streets of his native Sinope. Asked for the reasons for his strange behaviour, he answered that seeing his neighbours being busy barricading their doors and sharpening their swords, he also wished to contribute to the defence of the city against being conquered by the Macedonian troops of Alexander.

What has however happened most recently, in the last few years, is an enormous leap in the numbers added by refugees and asylum seekers to the total volume of migrants knocking on the doors of Europe; that leap was caused by the rising number of “failing” or rather failed states or – for all intents and purposes – stateless and thus also lawless territories, stages for interminable tribal and sectarian wars, mass murders and round-the-clock banditry. To a large extent, this is the collateral damage done by the fatally misjudged, ill-starred and calamitous military expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq, ending in the replacing of dictatorial regimes with the open-all-hours theatre of unruliness and frenzy of violence, aided and abetted by the global arms trade, unleashed from any control and beefed up by the profit-greedy weapons industry with the tacit (though all too often proudly displayed in public at international arms fairs) support of governments greedy for increased GNP. The flood of the refugees pushed by the rule of arbitrary violence to abandon their homes and cherished possessions, of people seeking shelter from the killing fields, topped the steady flow of the so called “economic migrants”, pulled by the all too human wish to move from barren soil to where the grass is green: from impoverished lands of no prospects, to dreamlands rich in opportunities. Of that steady stream of people seeking condition of decent living standards (a stream flowing steadily since the beginning of humanity, and only accelerated by the modern industry of redundant people and wasted lives) ... [my emphasis]
Baumann is looking at the major contours of the problem, particularly in reference to the current refugee crisis in Europe.

He describes the social dynamics by which even disadvantaged groups can be set against each other:

And there is another exceptional (that is, reaching beyond the “normal”, extemporal distrust of strangers) reason to be resentful of the massive inflow of refugees and asylum seekers; reason appealing mostly to a different sector of society – to the emergent “precariat”: to people afraid of losing their cherished and enviable achievements, possessions and social standing, rather than those human equivalents of Aesop’s hares, sunk in despair fed by having lost them already or never having been given a chance of attaining them.

One cannot but notice that the massive and sudden appearance of strangers on our streets has neither been caused by us nor is it under our control. No one consulted us, no one asked our agreement. No wonder that the successive tides of fresh immigrants are resented (to recall Bertold Brecht) as “harbingers of bad news”. They are embodiments of the collapse of order (whatever we consider as an “order”: a state of affairs in which the relations between causes and effects are stable and so graspable and predictable, allowing those inside to know how to proceed) that is no longer binding: a sort of “sandwich man” carrying the announcement “the end of the world as we know it is nigh”. They, in a poignant expression of Jonathan Rutherford (see here), “transport the bad news from a far corner of the world onto our doorsteps.” They make us aware and keep reminding us of what we would dearly like to forget or better still to wish away: of some global, distant, sometimes heard about but unseen, intangible, obscure and mysterious forces powerful enough to interfere also with our lives while neglecting and ignoring our own preferences. The “collateral victims” of those forces tend to be, by some vitiated logic, perceived as those forces’ avant-garde troops – now setting up garrisons in our midst. Those nomads – not by choice but by the verdict of a heartless fate – remind us, irritatingly and infuriatingly, of the (incurable?) vulnerability of our own position and fragility of our hard-own well-being – and it is a human, all too human habit to blame and punish the messengers for the hateful contents of the message they carry ...

At the end he quotes from Pope Francis' homily on his visit to the Lampedusa refugee camp in Italy of 07/08/2017. Here are the full two paragraphs in the Vatican transcript which Bauman quotes in part:

"Where is your brother?" His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! Once again I thank you, the people of Lampedusa, for your solidarity. I recently listened to one of these brothers of ours. Before arriving here, he and the others were at the mercy of traffickers, people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others. How much these people have suffered! Some of them never made it here.

"Where is your brother?" Who is responsible for this blood? In Spanish literature we have a comedy of Lope de Vega which tells how the people of the town of Fuente Ovejuna kill their governor because he is a tyrant. They do it in such a way that no one knows who the actual killer is. So when the royal judge asks: "Who killed the governor?", they all reply: "Fuente Ovejuna, sir". Everybody and nobody! Today too, the question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: "Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?" Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul ...!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business! [my emphasis]

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