Zygmunt Bauman and our possible political futures

While stripping soggy tiles from a bathroom wall, I listened to the recent LSE Ralph Milliband lecture given by Zygmunt Bauman:

Click here

It’s a must listen.  While he is obviously now ageing, and slower / more hesitant in his presentation than he was at his fluent best, his insight and wisdom are such that there is still much to learn.  Many of the themes covered in the lecture (and the subsequent very interesting discussion) can be found in his many recent books analysing the condition of our modern way of living.  He’s written too much, but of those recent analyses, I particularly recommend two books:

1.  Postmodern Ethics,  the first of his books which I read, which greatly enriched my understanding of the challenges of ethical living today.

2.  The Individualised Society  which explains so clearly so many aspects of our contemporary social condition.   I quote from and depend on Bauman in my ‘Dilemmas’ book.

The best quote from the lecture is actually Bauman quoting Richard Rorty:

We should raise our children to find it intolerable that we whose it behind desks and punch keyboards are paid ten times as much as people who get their hands dirty cleaning our toilets and a hundred times as much as those who fabricate our keyboards in the third world.  We should ensure that they worry about the fact that the countries which industrialised first have a hundred times the wealth of those which have not yet industrialised.  Our children need to learn early on to see the inequalities of between their own fortunes and those of the children as neither the will of God nor the necessary price of economic efficiency but as an evitable tragedy.  They should start thinking  as early as possible about how the world might be changes so as to ensure that no-one goes hungry while others have a surplus.   The children need to read Christ’s message of human fraternity alongside Marx and Engels account of how industrial capitalism and free markets, indispensable as they have turned out to be, make it very difficult to institute that fraternity. They need to see their lives as given meaning by efforts towards the realisation of the moral potential inherent in our ability ot communicate our needs and our hopes to hone another. They need to learn stories both about Christian congregations meeting in the catacombs and about workers’ rallies in the city squares, or both have played equally important roles in the long process of actualising this potentiality.  The inspirational value of the New Testament and the Communist Manifesto is not diminished by the fact that many millions of people were enslaved or tortured or starved to death by sincere morally earnest people who recited passages from one or the other text in order to justify their deeds.  Memories of the dungeons of the inquisition and the interrogation rooms of the KGB, of the ruthless greed and arrogance f the Christian clergy and the communist nomenclatura should make us indeed reluctant to hand over power to people who claim to know what God or history wants.  But there is a difference between knowledge and hope. Hope often takes the form of false prediction, as indeed in both documents, but hope for social justice is nevertheless the only basis for a well lived human life.

If you want to read more, here’s a little flavour from Postmodern Ethics, to whet your appetite:

As Max Weber told us, the world as conjured up by technbology is a ‘dis-enchanted’ world:  a world without meaning of its own, because without ‘intent’, ‘purpose’, ‘destination’.   In such a world, ‘natural necessity’ is an abomination and an offence,   lese-majeste  to high and mighty humanity  –  and all resistance of  ‘dead matter’ is but a constraint to be broken.  On the other hand, wants (if only backed by technical resources) become human rights which nothing could question or argue away – even the wants of other humans (if not backed by such resources).   In modernity, says Louis Dumont, there is no humanly significant world order..  ..{T}his world devoid of values, to which values are superadded by human choice, is a subhuman world, a world of objects, of things…  It is a world without man, a world from which man has  deliberately removed himself and on which he is thus able to impose his will…


3 thoughts on “Zygmunt Bauman and our possible political futures

  1. Hi Danny! Thanks for the pc. Quick search on the net and what do I find? Stirling’s premier blogger. You’ve great stuff here. I’m OK; my better half is on the mend after a wee op. Email me when you have a moment and I’ll elaborate about how things are at chez Nerberg. Regards, Eivind

  2. Pingback: Richard Sennett – understanding the challenges of contemporary living | Danny Murphy's Blog

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