Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Ethics for humanity to come

ETHICS / In the era of technology, the Western roots in Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions lose enchantment. Umberto Galimberti advocates for an ethics of aimless wandering, denouncing dominance and embracing a cosmopolitan, biocentric view that life on the earth is the measure of all things.

L'etica del viandante (The Ethics of the Wanderer)
Author: Umberto Galimberti
Publisher: Feltrinelli, Italy

Unlike the traveler, who is concentrated on reaching the destination and does not care about the journey, the wanderer has no fixed destination and is dedicated to the journey. In his latest book, the Italian philosopher and cultural anthropologist Umberto Galimberti proposes the ethics of the wanderer, «without a destination and points of departure and arrival,» (p. 43) as the ethics «for humanity to come.» The processes of deterritorialisation have brought our actual ethics, based on notions of property, territory, and border, to an end, and the wanderer can be a new point of reference. In this magnificent monograph, Galimberti comprehensively summarises the intellectual history of the Western world, presents the fundamental problems of today, and proposes what, according to him, might be a working solution. His writing is academic, but he is openly guided by the desire to contribute to solving the major political issues of today: to reduce the suffering of the poor and the migrants, to end war conflicts, and to prevent environmental catastrophe from taking place. His thinking demands acknowledging humanity’s marginal position in the universe, yet his interests remain deeply human.

Umberto Galimberti
Umberto Galimberti

Love for others

According to Galimberti, the entire development of humanity, from the club to the atomic bomb, was marked by the culture of the enemy. At present, he writes (p.427), we are at the point when we need to ask whether human evolution has reached the final phase and will end with the destruction of life on earth or whether there exists another phase, qualitatively different, not regulated by the culture of the enemy, but by the brotherhood. The brotherhood is a secular version of the Christian notion of love for others. The ideal of brotherhood was announced by the Enlightenment and by the French Revolution’s cry for «liberté, égalité, fraternité,» but the West solely focused on the pair liberty and equality, which, with liberal democrats and social democrats divided the political horizon (p.50). On the other hand, the brotherhood remained limited by the logic of belonging: its notion of nationalism limited the brotherhood to the members of the same nation, and its notion of class limited it to the members of the same class. Galimberti believes that it is possible to overcome these limits by following the deepest sense of the Canticle of the Creatures by Francis of Assisi, who called «sisters» the water and the moon, and «brothers» the wind and the sun, who, in short, extended the brotherhood from humans to all creatures, since we are all connected.

The age of technology

At the heart of the transformations that call for a new ethic is technology. Unlike in the times of European modernity when technology was seen as an instrument in the hands of human subjects, free to use it for good or bad ends, today, technology has become the goal in itself. All human aims and ends can only be reached by the use of technology. It might seem that humans gained more freedom in this way since technology made it possible to overcome several limitations, such as spatial distances. However, as the greater part of human communication, contacts with public administration and banks, consumption, and socializing are performed through computers or smartphones, we are not free because we simply can’t choose not to use them. Technology is not a means anymore; it has become our world. In the age of technology (p.23), we have to rethink humanistic concepts such as freedom and identity anew. And we have lost certainty since, with technology, humanity’s power to do so has immensely exceeded its capacity to predict. The action, actant, and effect don’t refer to humans anymore but to the accumulated knowledge that can’t be understood nor controlled. By this, the responsibility, which was the key reference point for all the historically existing ethics, has been removed from the actions of individuals and collectivities.

the entire development of humanity, from the club to the atomic bomb, was marked by the culture of the enemy.

Embracing the unpredictable

The Platonian idea of the ethics that can, together with politics, control technology has become outdated; the ethics suitable for the unpredictability of the new world of technology is the one of the wanderer who, not having a map, is dealing with the difficulties as they present themselves, with the means momentarily at a disposal. The technical universe, with no objectives or visions of the world, in a certain sense, «frees the world as an absolute and continuous novelty» (p. 39). In this new context, a new type of freedom announces itself. It is not anymore the freedom of the sovereign dominating their kingdom but of the wanderer who doesn’t «dominate not even their own life.»

Galimberti’s philosophy is a unique, elaborate, and timely development of the heritage of those modern thinkers, from Nietzsche to Foucault, who have been critical of, in the words of Freud, ‘the naive self-love of men.’ Today, we not only know that humanity is not the center of the universe, it doesn’t have a privileged place in creation, and human beings don’t control their minds. We have reached the point where our naive belief that we are in charge could cost us dearly. Human beings are the first species in the history of life that became a geophysical force. Changing the atmosphere and climatic equilibrium, emitting toxic waste into the air, water, and soil, and polluting rivers and sees, human beings are endangering the ecosystem to such a degree that the effects have become irreversible and can be fatal.

We have reached the point where our naive belief that we are in charge could cost us dearly.

The planetary and cosmopolitan ethics

The idea of civilization promoted by the West is incompatible with life because the diffusion of this idea all over the planet would mean the end of the biosphere; therefore, Galimberti says, «humanism of domination is the humanism without the future» (p. 46). No measure based on technology can help to avoid the catastrophe. What is needed is a paradigm shift from the anthropocentric belief that the human being is the master of nature to the biocentric (after ‘bios,’ the Greek for life) acknowledgment that human beings have no privileges over other forms of life; they are not masters but an expression of nature. The ethics of the wanderer is planetary because it sees life on the earth as the measure of all things.

The state

At the same time, this ethics is also cosmopolitan because it maintains that the goods of the earth belong to all of humanity without discrimination. It demands respect for life in all its forms, including those that make life possible, such as air, water, plants, animals, and the atmosphere.

In conclusion, Galimberti’s view is significantly different from the common sense beliefs that the processes of globalisation in the realm of markets and technologies and the parallel weakening of the state should in some way be halted or reversed. The wanderer, who in their nomadism encounters the borders, demands the state to be relinquished once and for all, writes Galimberti (p. 51). The state is based on the culture of the enemy, which assigned to the state the monopoly of violence. It does not care about the forms of life, air, water, animals, or plants; it is concentrated on limiting the conflicts among its inhabitants and now seems to exist solely to defend us from the desperate people of the earth (p.53). The states promote peace only on the inside of their borders, but not on the outside; outside their borders, they are ready to declare war against their potential enemies anytime. The market and the technology are seriously responsible for the geological imbalances, but paradoxically, they may also, by refusing to accept the borders, launch a decisive blow to the power of the state (p. 52).

Like other Galimberti’s books, the Ethics of the Wanderer is itself an artwork. Erudite, well-structured, and beautifully written. His powerful ideas smoothly evolve in front of the reader’s eyes, but plenty of space is also left for interpretation – as an invitation to reflect and imagine the future way beyond common discourse. In his own words, «Sono pensieri ancora tutti da pensare, ma il paesaggio da essi dispiegato e’ gia’ la nostra instabile, provvisoria e incompiuta dimora.» (These thoughts are still to be thought, but the landscape they unfold is already our unstable, temporary, and unfinished dwelling.)

Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.

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