Autogestión nº 154: “The Counterculture of Commitment”

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Editorial

To speak of the counterculture of commitment effectively means that we are facing a culture of “non-commitment.” To avoid the risk of commitment, we have ended up betting on a culture of indifference.

Of indifference and good conscience. Because commitment, which is always a task that requires a firm determination of our will, is born of the duty to which our conscience calls us. Indifference and good conscience become, then, a tremendously harmful and destructive cocktail for the common good, for the development of people as peoples, and for the construction and advancement of that old revolutionary aspiration called universal fraternity.

The “non-commitment,”  which irremediably ends in self-justified indifference in the face of evil, is becoming one of the dominant features of our ways of life and of the hyper-individualistic, emotivist, and hedonistic culture in which we are immersed. The Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman clearly explains how difficult it is in liquid postmodernity for us to commit ourselves to an identity, an ideal, a place, or a community.

The world around us is “liquid.” Some go further and call it vaporous. We cannot trust any work, function, idea, cause, group, or institution to stay in the same form for very long. But neither the work, the ideal, nor the group can rely on our stable commitment to them. Pete Davis places in this context what he calls “the mode of infinite navigation.” He says that the defining characteristic of our generation is to keep our options open without seriously committing ourselves, in the medium and long term, to any of them.

The tension between these two ways of conceiving existence, the one that keeps us in the painless and accommodating indifference of non-commitment and the one that commits us by assuming the risk of fidelity to duty, exists both in society as a whole and in each one of us.

Having made this observation, it is then worth asking about the reason for its success and what makes it so attractive. The choice of “non-commitment” also has its philosophy. Not committing ourselves firmly to something perhaps has to do initially with a critical stance against the voluntarist commitment that often ends in failure, disillusionment, moralistic rigidity, or pure cynicism. We cannot simply dismiss that this postmodern “non-commitment” may have something to do with the failure of rationalist modernity, of the independence and absolute autonomy of the individual man, which was going to put an end, with its commitment, to all the evils of the “obscurantism” that preceded it. Perhaps even initially, the “non-commitment” is not exempt from the search for an identity that simply wants to free itself from inherited choices and does not want to miss the latest wave, the next innovation that will bring it closer to the lure of the “happiness product.”.

But “non-commitment” ends up slipping irremediably into new miseries that produce pain. The first of these is paralysis. With flexibility comes the pain of “paralysis by choice.” The more choices we have and the more times we jump from one choice to another, the less satisfied we will be with any choice and the less confidence we will have in committing to anything. Second, anomie. Anomie is the feeling that there are no rules, laws, or principles on which to organize one’s life. Thus, this jumping from one option to another degenerates into loneliness and isolation: the discomfort of having no connection to anything, of having no set expectations for yourself, of lacking something really important worth persisting for. Third, superficiality. When we spend our time frantically searching for new experiences, we miss out on the deeper ones, the ones that can only emerge if we stay with something for a long time. The permanent search for new and novel dopamine sensations ends up becoming an addiction. Addiction is in the most pathological sense of the term.

Guillermo Rovirosa, whom we have mentioned on many occasions, describes the man of “non-commitment” with total clarity and crudeness. It is about a mediocre man. “A mediocre man is a frustrated man. What gives meaning to the human struggle is precisely the permanent struggle, and the mediocre man is the one who does not want trouble. What meaning can the life of a man have whose maximum aspiration consists of not giving meaning to his life? As much as you have, so much are you worth. This is our mediocre motto. To “have,” all the human virtues of honesty, friendship, fidelity to one’s word, worship of truth, sense of justice, probity…”

If the culture of “non-commitment” seems to be spreading at full speed, it is also true that millions of people, past and present, continue to give shape to what we will provocatively call here the counterculture of commitment. And they are the ones who continue to defy the sterility and violence that are rampant in the culture of “non-commitment.” They feel responsible for what happens in society; they love the places where they live and the neighbors who populate them; they turn ideas into long-term reality; they watch over and maintain their denunciation of the institutions that destroy communities; they devote themselves to their profession, which they try to live vocationally; and they constitute the spaces and groups where companionship and friendship are forged. They build relationships with concrete things. And they demonstrate their love for those relationships by working with perseverance, closing doors, sacrificing, and giving up many other options for them. We offer you our commitment to this “counterculture” of bonding, of relationships, of freedom linked to responsibility, of tireless work for the common good, and of solidarity, in the hope of discovering in it not only a much more effective culture for an authentic revolution of fraternity but also much more full of joy and meaning.