Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Are we all strangers - answer to Bauman's thesis

 „We are all strangers“ -  by asserting this, Z. Bauman suggests that our identities have been split up within Europe. It will make integration harder if not resolved since then a policy formula such as „unity in diversity“ shall be without a chance. Still he wants to overcome all kinds of schisms. Why he considers this to be of utmost importance, he clarifies right away in the opening statement of his essay 'Europe of strangers':

"It is not for the first time that the idea of unity hovers, like a spectre, over Europe. It did so once a thousand years or so ago, after the Great Schism between Western and Eastern Christianity: as the spirit of the true and only faith radiating from Rome. It flew again, at the dawn of the modern era, but that time in the dress of Reason, tailored in the workshops of the learned seekers of the one and only - scientific - truth. And there was a third approach as well: in the garb of progress, bound to rise together with smoke from the factory chimneys of
industrial age." (1)

Of course, once the failures of these grandiose visions (Christianity, Enlightenment, Industrialization) are realized, he can imply that the fourth attempt of trying to unify Europe by creating the European Union is equally at risk. Hence such an attempt leaves little room for complacency.

However, some more thoughts have to be given to such a challenge before European integration can be put into perspective. Here some seemingly nebulous or side events may be a wise point of departure for further going reflections. For instance, it could mean in Berlin not having a summer residence in the Tuscany, but close by in the district called Schöneberg. There would be an apartment on ground level, with the famous Berlin room facing a garden. Of interesting is a rocking horse standing near that door opening up to that outer space. Children used to ride on it when they wished to gallop off in their wildest dreams. No wonder for Karl May had left deep traces in many minds. It includes the philosopher Ernst Bloch and the theorist of literature, namely George Lukacs.

The impact showed itself in minds not merely socialized in a particular way in the post-war period, and as long the wall was still standing. For this big divide in Europe had made out of people living in the East to be strangers to those in the West, and vice versa. Consequently they were respectively disposed towards only certain theories. After the wall came down, it became obvious that these differences could no longer be covered up. Still, post modern thinking is inclined to skip over contradictions or rather devalues them by the method of de-constructivism.

One of the most obvious contradictions came up once another human being was called 'complete stranger' even if he ended up lying in bed beside the woman who called him that. By that time, 'stranger' had taken on a specific meaning.

However, it is hard to imagine that Bauman had this in mind when contemplating how the European Union came about and under which conditions its unity can be threatened. Since this includes making empirical observations of how the European landscape has changed since 1945, of interest is here his reference to industrial production.

The derivative from an industrial era to a new organisational unity

Bauman seems to suggest that the industrial age gave shape to an organisational unity which made up that third attempt. Rather than clarifying what he implies by 'unity' as a derivative from industrial production, he continues contemplating the fourth attempt at unity being far more political although its departure point has been the Steel and Coal Community. Here the crucial question in need to be posed is if the industrial era has really vanished completely out of sight?

De-industrialization in the East after 1989 - how they became strangers

Bauman may be right when looking alone at what happened in Plagwitz in Leipzig. Prior to the fall of the wall, there existed until 1989 many factories, some of which employed up to 2000 people and even more. Yet once the cold wind came in from the West after the fall of the wall, there set in de-industrialization on a massive scale. Justifications for this massive change were coupled mainly with investment needs and the demand that everything has to be efficient and above all competitive according to Western standards. (Similar arguments were used after Greece came close to defaulting due a huge state deficit.) Consequently one factory after another closed down and left many simply stranded.

While the buildings became industrial heritage, the laid off workers ended up becoming taxi drivers or something else if they were lucky to find another job. However, the vast majority of them ended up as the permanent unemployed.

There is something specific what happened at personal level once the wall came down and which became a general social trend. Not only did the men suffer loss of job, but on top of it many were abandoned by their wives. The women were much more practical orientated and had no problem to combine having children with a job even when alone. Hence they found out very quickly that socialization in Western Capitalism meant adapting to the code of corporate identity. Hence they could not reveal that someone in the family was not a 'success'. At first the unemployed husband had to stay at home when the company held its Christmas Party, but very soon divorce followed.

Strange is that this could happen to two people who had once understood equality under quite different terms. As long as East Germany existed, the state oppression treated more or less everyone equal, regardless if intellectual, worker or farmer. Thus a man who was housekeeper of a Kindergarten could be married to a woman who was a doctor. This did not matter since social equality was much greater and not necessarily derived from a job. Status played only a role for those who were orientated according to the hierarchical principles of the party and the army. The rest of the society did not care about that and in their opposition found a strong unity even though it was more self understood than being explicitly expressed either in the media since state regulated or in culture kept apart from the present. Also there was no way of looking down on someone doing the job of a housekeeper. He may be an intellectual and did this job out of political reasons just as others sought to work for the church to keep at least some distance from the party. Once this Eastern world opened up to the Western one, all of a sudden status gained through work mattered more than anything else. As a result many couples could no longer conceive themselves to be compatible with each other in this different world. Many left their 'life partners' even if the father or mother of their children and ended up searching for a new partner who understood better the rules of the West. It may explain why there is a strangeness underneath this overall notion of many becoming strangers to one another in this modern Europe seeking to unify East and West, but also North and South.

The global corporation

Even while the vanishing of the industrial age seems to hold true, generally speaking, this is not entirely true. Insofar Bauman thinks society has moved well beyond the industrial stage, and therefore into what for lack of a proper term is called Post-Modernism, he subjugates reality to a belief that life is no longer being regulated by mass production. That was a key subject matter for Walter Benjamin after First World War. Yet should this newest phase be really called post modernity or post industrial era? And what about mass consumerism about which Herbert Marcuse would write to predict that the multi-facet human being was at risk to become 'one dimensional' - another explanation of the term 'stranger'!

Once reduced to being a mere consumer, it would mean that the human being no longer lives according to the full potentialities of the self. Already Dostoevsky warned that the planned city was merely three dimensional whereas the human being had a million potentialities to live the real self.

An example of global corporation: Danfoss by Sonderborg, Denmark

The complete disappearance of industrial production is alone doubtful when looking down from the headquarter building of Danfoss and seeing below the rows of modern factory buildings. Not only does it make immediately visible the industrial presence, but what was called 'unity' in the industrial age prevails today under modern managerial method, including the one borrowed from Japan called 'just in time'. That methods means no materials are stored, but have to be delivered on time for production to continue. In turn, that spells out another need for coordination on the basis of a multi-linear interdependency between raw materials being gathered for refinement till the customized product can be delivered to the customer in time, that is precisely at location and time when wished for. Such precision in planning and managing leads to further going marketing strategies.

Too often critical theory of society ignores what happens in the corporate world. Consequently a lot goes unnoticed although these managerial methods have tremendous social and cultural implications for a specific region but as well world wide since a company like Danfoss has a world wide outreach.

The Danfoss complex with its headquarter and factories is located near Sonderborg in Denmark. It shows how an industrial complex has changed since the first invention of the thermostat for heating purposes was made. Out of the original founding of the company, Danfoss has emerged as a global corporation. Since similar industrial productions continue to exist in Germany but not in Greece, while more and more production units are outsourced to China and elsewhere in the world, it is naturally of interest how material production and managerial methods continue to determine the organisation form of paid work.

As a matter of fact, there prevails still something more than what can be captured with the term 'unity'. For modern managerial methods have already realized if the organisation is driven by only a single value i.e. the economic one, then it shall be lost in a world made up of different cultures and hence values. As a result the practical side of making modern business work in a highly competitive world embraces far more forward looking analytical methods than what many critics realize.

Somehow Bauman has made an adaptation of critical theory at metaphorical level, so that he can evoke images linked even to a pre-industrial age. Reference to ghosts leads him to conclude wrongly that industrial production is no longer as relevant in Post-Modernity as it was in the original phase of industrialization. Still, he does talk about global managerial methods lacking in over sight leads, and uses this to explain such embarrassing moments as to when horse meat ends up at the butcher. Rightly so he can assume that these gaps are created by global management of these corporations being unable to follow up what happens at various local levels. 

As for Danfoss as a company, it is based on the simple invention of the thermostat used in heating installations. Since that invention, it has grown into a world wide company. At home base the complex includes as well the house of the founder now a museum to illustrate under which conditions this original idea was given birth to. It includes wooden beams which Russian prisoners build into the ceiling. They did it in exchange of some degree of freedom and better treatment when compared with the usual slave labour in prison camps.


                 Danfoss main factory by Sonderborg                      2010

The socio-economic environment created by Danfoss

Likewise some further thoughts ought to be given to the surrounding such a company creates. With many people dependent in the region upon work at Danfoss, it reminds of the company store in some American town with everyone not only making their money at that company, but likewise buying from its stores what they need to survive. It does also explain how then the category 'stranger' takes on a definite meaning in such a social environment over determined by just one company. For it will be the person who does not follow the rules nor wants to use the connections to the company to find his or her way.

The dominance of the company in the region is over powering. Alone every morning and evening, the traffic flow indicates what one sided dependency upon just one company exists in that region of Sonderborg. It demonstrates as well a tremendous alienation exists between people and nature due to this type of organisation of work. For the endless traffic jam happens along roads which stretch through a beautiful country side. It is really an odd sight. In effect, some people say it in private, that if the region is to develop any further, then it must free itself from this grip of Danfoss. Also the philosopher Oleg Koefoed would add that people have not only lost as a result almost all contact to nature; they have as well to the sea now perceived only when seeking some pleasure during vacations. No wonder when the future of even bigger ports depends on decisions being made in favour of still retaining an industrial port or by going completely in just one direction which favours tourism and yacht racing.  

The aesthetics of an estranged world

Of interest are the managerial decisions which are made in such a self created environment. Denmark is famous for design, so it is hardly a surprise that the board room shows sophistication already visible in the entrance hall with an elegant reception desk and near-by a plant wall to greet visitors.




Likewise when stepping into the board room of Danfoss atop of its headquarters from where managers have a bird view of the factory complex below, it can be quite a surprise for those who have quite a different idea of the management world and what rules its taste. The equisitive style shows that aesthetic reflections play a huge role in what amounts to a specific life style being adopted by management on a world wide scale. It exceeds the classical power of picture by which dominance was excercised in the past.

Conference room of Danfoss Company

Managerial concerns of Danfoss about local-regional developments

Contrary to Bauman's criticism of corporations lacking oversight and hence likely to neglect things that happen locally as well in the region, Danfoss does pay attention at least to certain things happening in the immediate surrounding. Naturally it has to do with retaining its full capacity as a functioning unit. 

As a matter of fact, one of the main worries of Danfoss is not to have sufficient qualified workers in future. The company observes a dangerous trend in education since only two out of ten students enter technical courses which would qualify them to work for the company. To entice younger generations to take up technical paths in education, the company has created for this purpose a technology museum. It has a wider impact since already families with small children tend go to visit the museum. In this indirect way the company seeks to motivate the future generation not to go into the fields of the Fine Arts, but to take up engineering and technological orientated studies. The museum has to serve clearly the interest of the corporation and only at a secondary level the wider community - just as culture has only secondary competence at EU level while much is geared to the need to have value for the economy. The company of Danfoss substantiates this still further by having set up a lavish scholarship and internship system while it has modernised its hiring methods which give a chance even to non technical trained students.

Still, there exists in this region an overall trend which has everyone worried. Out of the ten youth which leave the region, only two return. The rest stay in dynamic cities like Copenhagen or Hamburg, if not other cities offering more opportunities.

'Strangers we may become in a modern world'

In mentioning the fact of the youth leaving, thereby leaving behind their parents who belong to the ageing part of society, it can easily happen that both become strangers in Europe. Once someone has left behind birth- and childhood places, he or she can easily end up being rootless i.e. without a clear cultural identity allowing access to a sense of community based on a deeper knowledge as to what can be trusted in society.

Once the youth departs, they leave behind a landscape which is deprived of not only a honest vitality every young generation displays when challenging traditional and often even corrupt ways of doing things. As someone observed, many landscapes are being slowly emptied of all kinds of work opportunities especially in the middle range. Left are only low paying service jobs e.g. restaurants, hospitals, or else highly paid ones i.e. the qualified, managerial jobs. This is because the main work has been outsourced to plants in other parts of the world where wage costs are much lower than in Denmark. And if the decision is made to return production to the main plant of the company, then the new production mode shall be even more technologically orientated and will, therefore, require even less labour force. That puts all into a worrying mode as to what future shall a region have, if there is to be faced a double threat: drain of youth and loss of jobs?

To all of this has to be added the new communication mode of the youth. It is no longer interacting so much with some friends around the corner, but via Skype and social media to someone in some other part of the world. And they communicate all the time. As one father, himself manager, describes it, even after it has turned dark and the parents' rule persists that the children have to be home by that time, they can continue while at home the discussions with their remote internet partners long after this specific hour and they will do so till they finally go to bed.

All of this means less categories linked to production shall be experienced at the level of sense impression. Interactions based on virtual worlds are very different from children going to the blacksmith and watching how he changes the shoes of the horse. Sparks fly and work is then still visible. If work entails learning on how to exist in future, estrangement from a landscape goes with the removal of any kind of visible work with which the youth could identify itself while growing up and into a job. Earning a livelihood while developing still further going interests in a life based on real experiences has become ever harder to imagine in such an environment.

Ghosts hit reality

As if to anticipate what Bauman says next, this aesthetical stringency means not only a certain aura characterizes top management environments, but something else. Bauman captures that in an indirect, equally poetic way. It seems intuitively he conjures up powerful metaphors when seeking to describe the present world. Moreover he does not seem to hesitate even when he names reality differently from what is the usual norm. For instance, he evokes the image of ghosts and other spooks:

"If spectres, ghosts and other spooks have the habit of travelling light, scoffing the walls and deriding borders - realities are known for just the opposite inclinations. We call them "tough" or "hard". Realities do not move easily; they resist push and pull, claim solid foundations and surround themselves with thick walls and closely guarded borders." (2)

Ghost like is the spectrum of power. It is not a matter of unearthing something. Rather the travelling light describes itself a journey in need to be taken not around the world but around the desk to see the other side not being complacent but attentive. If that is the inclination towards domestication of power, and this in avoidance of violence, it does make sense to speak about borders, guards and various other kinds of hindrances before something can be grasped. For the real power tries its best to stay 'invisible'. Likewise it conducts itself in a way to exercise the maximum of authority without having to use any visible violence or power.

The level of sophistication in all of this needs to be explained. For the short coming of critical theory has been all along to overtly criticize the power structures of Capitalism, but once inside was unable to speak up in any coherent way. The failure is underlined by many resigning to the fact that corporate power has become ever stronger in a global world. 

Nation State

If it so that the logic of production and managerial methods dominate, while the imagination recedes, or else has been already captured (kidnapped may be a better word), then it is important to focus on another kind of dialectic to make the real imaginative and the imagined real. No where is that shown better than when Bauman clarifies the term 'nation state' in an interview he gave back in 2012:

"The concept used in the West is that of the “nation-state”, not a  “national state”; instead of conveying the idea of the state by one nation from among a multi-national population, it suggests that “nation” and “state” are two aspects of the same entity: that a nation is unimaginable without a state and a state is unimaginable without a nation. A modern state needs a “nation” to “legitimise” itself, justify its demands for obedience from its citizens by invocation of a common past and shared destiny – whereas a “nation” needs the coercive power of the state to make its unity (“sharing”) real – to replace the multitude of local traditions or dialects with one history, one language. With the emergence of the modern state, the trinity of nation, state and territory has been established as the seat and holder of sovereignty.

Today, as a result of globalisation, we are witnessing the gradual yet steady erosion and emaciation of that nation-state-based territorial sovereignty. No one state, however rich and militarily strong, can now claim full and undivided sovereignty on its territory. No one can “do it alone”, we are all dependant on each other and cannot do anything without taking into account the actions and reactions of people who are far, far beyond the reach of our local - national - powers. And after a couple of centuries of nation-state building, the time of diasporization has arrived…" (3)

But now comes a twist seldom used when making a case for a definite political analysis. For Bauman evokes once more the term 'unity', but now the schism is between Europe and nations:

"If unity was Europe's spectre, nations were its realities. Over the years, nations proved to be the grandmasters of the exorcist art. They managed each time to sweep clean the haunted house, chasing the ghost of European unity away or forcing it to skulk and mope in a few dark and musty corners."

Why Bauman does not admit that Europe is even if a fiction, still a necessary one as Bart Verschaffel has ascertained, may have to do with the difference of the meaning of fiction in the English language compared with literature on the continent implying to be reality. It may also be connected to the philosophical term of unity still in need to be defined.

Unity - the perception of things

To recall in philosophy perception of a diverse or complex reality presupposes a unity so that things can be grasped in a coherent way. The dilemma is out of the empirical gathering of materials no such unity can be deduced, never mind be constructed. Naturally some would suggest the key unifying force can be also a real love insofar as that gives certainty to an otherwise uncertain world both in terms to belonging to and having access to otherwise unknown pleasures. Still, there is the risk of becoming a victim of a romantic view on life since this leads usually to become an outsider. 

Edmund Husserl pondered more the phenomenological uncertainty in perception since someone standing behind a shop window on the other side of the street may be just a puppet to display clothes but could also be a human being. The moment that puppet moves, it can be identified to be a human being. So something extra has to be added before the mind can be made up, so to speak, that it is not a puppet but a person alive and breathing. Such a problematization of perception has never been developed better than what Merleau-Ponty managed to do. Unfortunately he could not develop more systematically thereafter his philosophical premise since he may have allowed too much his thinking be dominated by his political viewpoints.

There is another way to approach the question of perception from different angles especially of what constitutes a sense of unity. There is the possible view from the outside into the house, best developed further as a model when compared with what can be perceived when looking from inside the house to the outside. The difference will show itself in terms of the imagined life those must lead who live inside that house compared to what can be an extension of life in a world stretching all the way out into the universe. But what unifies both forms of perception is what Kant called the 'unity of apperception'. But even by Kant the split between perception and concept was also real since he had to admit any concept is blind if there is no perception (which in German is a much more powerful concept once called not 'Wahrnehmung' but 'Anschauung' since the latter implies a point of view, and therefore goes much farther than mere perception.)

Given these different directions of perception, along with all philosophical problems this entails even though merely hinted at and not developed further here, it is rather strange for Bauman to say that nations were the realities of Europe while the continent itself was a 'spectre' of unknown dimensions.

The identity dilemma of Europeans

That is why a limitation to Europe is already invoked when reference is made to the European research space as if the continent can be treated like a 19th century model, and not what takes place in the 21st century.

The real and the imagined 'self'

That then touches upon the illusionary compared to the real self, whenever understanding is needed to bridge the gap between the real and the imagined with neither being a fully fledged unity of sorts. Rather it can be said certain systems work like the need in Germany to take the car every two years to TÜV for inspection so as to guarantee from at least a technical point of view the safety of the car.

However, it does not say anything about safety in terms of the driver's skills or what would make people move in accordance not to just technical systems, but in terms of consideration of the other. That every dispute in traffic results in more or less comical eruptions of anger underscores the need to understand unity from quite a different angle. For to be able to assimilate all the information coming towards a driver while going down a street means to know the movement within a system goes according to certain rules, but there are also some unexpected moments possible like a child suddenly dashing out and into the street to chase a ball. Dealing with the unexpected is a mark of relying more on the uncertain than being fixated fully on what should be certain. For here the absence of unity makes itself felt since then dogmatic demands are made so as to instil fear rather than learn to deal with an imperfect world.

Beautiful is nevertheless the 'ghost house chasing away the unity of Europe' as if this time a real synthesis should not come about. But something does not correspond here with unity being chased away. Can it be that the house itself represents a self assertive principle of someone or something wishing to be the prime deciding factor and nothing else? It is not quite clear why he chose such a metaphorical conjecture unless he does not wish to make it into a psychoanalytical contemplation of 'what is'. Rather he would like to trivialize that what spells out the typical reaction of the child which does not get its way. It sulks all the way into adulthood, and even beyond.

The double bind

Still, there is suddenly a kind of double unity: of Europe and of the house. In between not only ghosts seem to hurry back and forth to carry messages to the philosopher who thinks like Popper about 'conjecture and refutation', if only to switch over to a rejection of any kind of over determination since the clock has been replaced by clouds. Obviously the difference can be understood in terms as to what shall determine behaviour.

In Detroit, it is surely the clock linked to the factory belt of the big three car makers and which Diego has captured in his mural as life determined completely by the big three. As for clouds, they can spell bad weather and therefore provoke a cancellation of an outing. Naturally all of these associations cannot be called as of yet a strong reply to what Bauman tries to say, metaphorically speaking.

Interestingly enough, this is where Bauman brings his argumentation into the present: Europe emerging out of the ashes of Second World War.

"Fifty years ago, the day when the bloodiest, thirty-years long and almost uninterrupted mutual massacre of European nations was proclaimed (but not believed!) over, it could have seemed that the spectre of unity would never again haunt the ruins. And yet not only has the spectre returned once more, but this time it has proved to be uncharacteristically immune to exorcisms. Is the fourth approach to succeed where the other three failed?"

Was it really a massacre of European nations, or of the people living within their agreed upon spaces of control and domination? Europe has lived since 1945 in relative peace, even though it can be argued wounds were created more in Easter Europe. One needs only to remind of Budapest 1956, Prague 1968 and Solidarnosc 1981 when the free and creative spirit was again suppressed, but nothing compares with the break up of former Yugoslavia with the bombardment of Kosovo in 1999 the mark of a turn in the history of the newly unified Europe. But clearly this retrospect does not suffice to explain where Europe stands today. It can be agreed with Bauman that the question whether or not Europe will succeed to prevail as a unity is a serious one. This unity is formed and can be understood in many different ways, but still it is not the same unity as usually understood when applied to a single nation. That difference then does make a difference in the long run.

The politics of 'self assertiveness' - a contradiction in itself

The European dilemma is no longer nowadays that of ethnic assertiveness. The latter contributed to the break-up of former Yugoslavia despite the legacy Tito had left behind. Rather it seems much more modest identity formations are on their way towards a different sense of unification. It is based on 'self-assertiveness.'

The force behind the Scottish referendum and what shall be attempted over and again in Catalonia reminds of Quebec in Canada. All these new brands of Nationalism at regional level in Scotland and Wales, not to forget the Irish, the Basques and many other minorities wish to assert themselves by basing everything on 'language'.

This kind of 'self assertion' based on a native language being spoken and written to uphold one 'identity' makes apparently all the difference to other human beings. Adorno mentioned that often even in the arts can be felt and perceived this struggle to attain a status of 'sui generis' or uniqueness. So while setting oneself apart from a classical enemy like the British in the case of the Irish, or from Spain when it comes to the Catalonian, suffrage as narrative is continued despite doing quite well in reality, economically speaking. Likewise there seems no hesitation to speak of ones collectivity being a 'nation' like Indians do and are consequently referred to as being the First Nation in Canada even though Indians never constituted themselves as such in the past.

All what that suggests an ongoing search for original roots not yet spoiled by what progress of Western Civilization has brought about like an oil spill leaving more than just fishing grounds and sandy beaches spoiled. 

Crucial will be how this self assertion plays out when seeking to explain identity based on one exclusive language deemed to be the best one has in terms of Cultural Rights for everyone. The latter is linked after all to the freedom of expression.

While the cultural policy of the EU has been founded on the subsidiarity principle to grant the smaller over the larger the Right to make decisions, in reality most of the funding programmes of the EU are geared towards financing ever larger units. At risk is in such a mega-landscape to leave behind more and more „the small and beautiful“. Without wishing thereby to evoke immediately the thesis that the large is usually ugly, even though skyscrapers or mega-transportation hubs let the individual fade into the haze of seeming nothingness, some aesthetical reflections might be useful thereof. There is a definite need to examine the tension fields in which identities are created, or rather subsidized, but also written off, if not silenced altogether.

In the case of the Irish speaking writers, poets but also politicians and academics of all kinds can readily identify any policy upholding, or safeguarding the English language with horrific things ranging from the Holocaust to genocide. They can even use the term 'Apartheid', if only to make the point that they are being discriminated against so much that they are near extinction. The loss of breath is weighed and attached to every word spoken by brave man who dares to look the authorities into the face. Yet that Achilles verse is not so much the look but the inflationary use of words. They do more damage in a subtle way by stroking the wrong fires already lit across the continent. So lets see what the power of metaphor such as 'stranger' can do to clarify the situation.

Stranger coming into the Ancient Polis

For one, the stranger who came into the Polis in Ancient Greece was looked at with ambivalent eyes. On the one hand, people were unsure what changes he would bring with him, on the other hand, they knew that their own society was unjust and needed changes. Thus they asked themselves if this stranger could bring about the changes needed? At the same time, there was upheld at least in philosophical terms, that the stranger should be treated by a judge in court just the same as any other citizen. There should not exist two kinds of legal systems. However, that demand applied to the stranger, but not to the slave - a strange way of making distinctions in terms of equal treatment.

On the other hand, we have not become so much strangers to one another within Europe despite the crisis. In answer to Bauman, yes, there have been imposed hardships, but not everyone has given up this unknown part of our European identity. Naturally this holds only true as long as we accept the prime thesis of Adorno that identity is as much non identity. Hence Europeans would become indeed strangers to one another only if they would shut out this European dimension and lock themselves exclusively into their own national identities. Open borders would not suffice to overcome this tendency especially if fuelled by Right Wing Extremism, but also by the Extreme Left. When France did not ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty back in 2005, this astonishing voting result was brought about by what some would call an 'unholy' alliance between the Extreme Right and Left. Even though a relic of the past, there is something definite curious about seeking a reaffirmation of national identity and sovereignty without taking into the consideration the experiences which have been made with regards to Europe as becoming a union of 28 member states.

The identity dilemma

If any identity presupposes synthesis in the making, it has to be taken into consideration that this cannot be realized by Hegel's 'negation of the negation'. Such a logic would exclude the differences and the otherness of the others, and therefore allow only for an abstract identification with the state, while at personal level the destruction of identity would be nearly 'total'. 

The stranger in oneself

There is something else. Too often single reference is made to stranger as if only the 'other'. Forgotten or overlooked is thereby the 'stranger' in oneself. Call it the unknown part of the self or the one not yet realized to exist, hence not lived, it can be as well the self which has been treated like those sent into exile. Once they return, then as complete strangers. It entails an element of non recognition while it can imply as well this part is not merely strange, but does not belong in reality to the self as known from a previous phase of life. Most of these possible cases are themselves the result that self understanding has been reduced from early childhood days on by a socialization which excludes many potentialities of the self. It happens if only to fulfil social norms while the particular 'branding' of the individual reflects itself use of only such categories which ensures the individual fits into the system. Hence the unknown self is treated like a stranger even though the roots of belonging are the same.  

Camus articulated something else in terms of stranger. There are two distinctions to be made in his case. Even after the Germans had started to occupy France, he could not forget his affinity to German culture and called them in his famous letter written before he entered the Resistance movement still: 'my friends' even though through their aggressive actions they had become in the eyes of the others not only strangers, but enemies.

By calling them still 'friends', presumably Camus wished to avoid becoming himself such a stranger i.e. by taking up arms and fighting with the aim to kill. He feared to become unrecognisable in terms of what he had up up to then, namely a Humanist rooted in a culture of non-violence. So he was extremely reluctant to take up arms and to resort to violence. He delayed for a long time the decision before entering the Resistance. So when he finally did make that decision, the letter to his German friends took on the form of an apology. He tried to distinguish between the enemy coming from outside and the human being residing still inside.

All of this can be related directly to advise given by those who served already in the military when seeing off their friends about to enter with the military a war. They would caution them to be careful not lose their humanness. They had experienced it themselves what it does to the self once the killing of others has started. It does lead to an estrangement from the self.

On the other hand, Albert Camus shows in his novel 'the Stranger' all the risks entailed once to be found alone on a beach while seeing someone at distance but coming slowly towards oneself. The risk entails being blinded by the sun and therefore not able to see clearly who is coming. Once not sure, fear creeps in because the approaching figure becomes a 'stranger' with the unknown capacity of being able to do almost everything. Camus describes how fear transforms the potential challenge of the other into a direct threat. The conversion of fear leads regularly to misjudgements and misunderstandings, and therefore to wrong reactions.

Above anything else such estrangement on the beach simulates similar situations in which even simple gestures like raising the arm can be misinterpreted. Since fear makes everything conceivable, Camus shows that it leads to the wrong interpretation of the gesture of the other. Alone when the stranger lifts his hand to greet from a distance, it can be taken wrongly as if he is about to pull out a gun. Instead of taking the gesture to mean a sign of humanity, one which allows people to relate to one another on the basis of a mutual self-understanding, fear implies no trust in the other exists and therefore anything the other does shall be misconceived. No language, or even a simple smile or a simple sign of the hand to sit down together, will do. Instead every gesture the other may make, shall be mistaken as an aggressive act.

In that sense fear and stranger combine in what then appears to be an unpleasant encounter with other, if not an outright threat to one's own existence. The sun will have blended out what was really meant by lifting the hand: a gesture of greeting from far away while approaching. The story of Camus ends in a fateful shoot. Only then the veil covering till then reality is torn down. The stranger is left to bleed to death on the sandy beach.

Naturally in the real story by Camus the main character Meursault kills the Arab from Algiers after seeing a knife flash in the sunlight. This scene is embedded in a complete story. It shows what happens to someone who shows no remorse after his mother has died. Consequently society considers him to be a complete 'outsider', as the one who does not play the game like the rest of society.

Overcoming ambivalences and historical doubts

After the children from Gezoncourt in France (near Mets and Nancy) had gone to the battle grounds of Verdun, and there had a discussion with a historian about the reasons for First World War, they returned home and started to paint a Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth mural. Interestingly enough, they did not give the mural a thematic title, but instead posed one single question: "The other: enemy or friend?" Gezoncourt, Nov. 12, 2010

That question exists ever since former students and friends entered First World War from different sides as shown in the film 'Jules and Jim'. Although both had studied at Sorbonne, they ended up after having been called up by their respective national armies in shooting at each other from either the German or French side of the trenches. Doubt exists till today if the other had ever been really a friend, or was just one in disguise, in order to hide hostile attitudes.

It matters how this ambivalence, or rather this not knowing what was really the case is being played out in the minds of people living today, but constantly confronted with these memories and identity changes. In retrospect it seems possible that the person was already hostile before one met and studied together, or were the changes in him only due to having been forced to enter the war against his own will? Whatever he has become a mixture of friend and stranger with neither side sure what will have a higher priority the next time. Since Second World War followed thereafter shortly, the minds already ransacked by all kinds of doubts due to First World War were unable to take up any further self critical reflection.

They entered much more mechanical, or even less humane the Second World War but considered it to be no longer an adventure as they had projected upon First World War. Rather the task became one of retaining the ethics of a professional soldier while seeing that war had become among other things a technological feat.

All of this and more meant an even greater defeat of humanity. It made out of everyone a stranger who had lost any linkage to paradise. This negative conclusion resembles very much 'Angelus Novus' by Paul Klee: the angel looking back at earth from which it has been just blown away backwards. Such an image merges the Christian fable of Adam and Eve having lost paradise due to Eve - blame it on the woman - having eaten the forbidden fruit: the apple, with a part of European literature looking at 'Paradise Lost' (Alexander Pope) out of the perspective of a question whether or not 'paradise' can ever be regained.

The attempt at a merger of these two strands turned into a caricature of the self, and of the other. For once identity is linked to the nation state, and therefore history being treated one sided by leaving out always the other side, the creation of stereotypical images can manifest themselves. It signals the near, if not complete loss of human self consciousness about which Marx had spoken in the introduction to his dissertation about Epicure and Democrit.

Who is a good friend? The value of friendship

Aristotle defined a good friend as someone who can be trusted to tell one the truth and who would point negative consequences of actions about to be undertaken, even if that would only become evident 200 years from now. Friends do not need to lie to each other, not even the 'noble lie' to uphold their relationships. 

As shown by Martin Jay, the practice of mendacity is justified by the argumentation that people are not really interested in hearing the full truth. Max Schurr, the doctor of Freud, would say, all demand to hear the truth (of the diagnosis) but very few can really take it. 


It seems to have been forgotten that truth means to be sober, and therefore able to trust the sense of touch. Another way to understand this is to become engaged out of enthusiasm, but at the same time not to become intoxicated or infatuated by any early success. Winning alone can hardly be called having fun. There is a great gesture when one allows the other to win as well, in order to keep the balance. Thus this kind of sober friendship is of crucial importance as it upholds the sense of community, for then the ethical spirit of mankind is truly alive.

Hatto Fischer
Athens July/October 2014

1. EUROPE OF STRANGERS Professor Zygmunt Bauman It is ...



2. op. cit.

3. Interview with Zygmunt Bauman conducted by Igor Stiks (2012) „The Past of Central Europe is the Future of Europe, an interview with Zygmunt Bauman“ Citizenship in Southeast Europe, http://www.citsee.eu/interview/past-central-europe-future-europe-interview-zygmunt-bauman



Zygmunt Bauman: Order, Strangerhood and Freedom

  1. Vince Marotta1

+ Author Affiliations

Zygmunt Bauman: Order, Strangerhood and Freedom


  1. 1Deakin University, Australia marotta@deakin.edu.au


In the final decades of the 20th century, issues such as identity, Otherness and the role of social and cultural boundaries have been prominent in social theory, sociology and cultural studies. In this context, an analysis of Bauman's work is important because it raises pertinent questions pertaining to the nature of social and cultural boundaries and the nature of boundary construction under modernity. The metaphors of inside and outside and the idea of the boundary are significant in Bauman's critique of modernity's search for a meta-order and in his examination of strangerhood. The article illustrates how this ordering process manifests itself at the individual and societal levels of modernity. Bauman's contention is that modernity's search for a meta-order leads to the construction of boundaries and to exclusionary practices. It is the presence of the Third, for Bauman, which threatens the certainty of order. Different images of the stranger in Bauman's work are identified and the ways in which Bauman's conception of freedom and `community' is intrinsically linked to his work on the ambivalent stranger are demonstrated.

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