Life, by Reyes Mate

This post is also available in: Spanish

Life as a value.

It may be worth remembering the distinction between bios and zoe. Material life, animal life, bodily, and bios, social life, historical, human. There has been an increasing importance of the body. I am not so sure this has been a defense of the bios. The experience of dehumanization in the 20th century has left deep scars in society. One does not kill with impunity. The murderer is also dehumanized when destroying life. Hegel already say that in a writing from his youth, The spirit of Christianity and its fate. It’s the clearest experience in the extermination camps. The subject of the body is fundamental here. Borges has a short story, Deutsches requiem, in which he tells the story of a Nazi official who is going to be executed by the allies. The night before he dies he goes over his life and sees he has en impeccable service record. He has been in the service of the new man, the Reich, Hitler, and he has performed his duty. When analyzing in more detail, he realizes there’s a little stain: one day, performing his role of judging and condemning, he found a man who was clearly innocent. An old man, a poet called Jersualem. He almost spared his life. That was his stain: the weakness of thinking about sparing someone he had to kill, just because he was innocent. But he overcame temptation and he ordered him killed, in order to fulfill his service record. When he is going to die he asks himself if Jerusalem ever understood why he had died, but he knew clearly: “I had to kill”, he tells himself, “the compassion which started to re-emerge in me.” Here’s an idea programmed by the Nazis: one had to kill the feeling of compassion, of humanity. And the best why to do that was to kill the other physically. And there was an actual strategy for Hitlerian youths to kill and thus numb that compassionate feeling which was part of a millenarian humanitarian culture. Primo Levi says in one of his books that in extermination camps not only the Jews died; also humankind, the humanity of humans. This can be seen in the 20th century: people worry about the body while ignoring the person. Economic globalization has a lot to do with that. We created the conditions for a humanitarian treatment of the human being and the only result was the globalization of the market. I think in 20th century philosophy hasn’t been up to the threats humanity had to face, and that a great deal of the blame lies on the anesthesia produced by barbarity. It is becoming harder to understand humanity because we are victims of our own violence.

Seen in this life, the question about the meaning of life would be better answered by humorists.

Yes, because the sense of irony lies in realizing what’s not there. That question is posed by humorists and by the witnesses of barbarity. They aren’t only survivors of a catastrophe: they are survivors of what’s human.

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