Pascal Bruckner 86, Maître de conférence at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris, 1986
(Tears of the White Man)
Here again, though, our analysis must be refined. A universal and angelic and limitless fellowship would be disembodied, insufficient to deal with the misfortunes of any particular category or group of people. Through large-scale institutions, unions, political parties, and associations, I can reinforce and enlarge it to global dimensions, and through them I am obliged to make gestures of abstract charity in the form of food, medicine, and money, to countries whose names I do not know. But we choose our causes as our causes choose us, in an inner encounter with the outside world, in which the world proposes as much as we dispose. This is why we cannot honestly embrace all causes and also why we cannot be disinterested in any of them. When we express concern for Poland, we may be scolded by those who would have us also remember El Salvador, Lebanon, or South Africa. We must reply that a thousand causes for outrage are only so many reasons to do nothing, and that if we are urged not to prefer one struggle over another, East or West or South, we are being pushed toward an involvement that has no limits, which is really complete lack of involvement. It would mean the fairyland of solidarity with no concern. I feel solidarity, period, like some mystical and bloodless love that floats in the air. To be effective, solidarity has to becircumscribed and channeled. Other solidarities can be based on it, but only as aims sought by other people. To be effective, responsibility must choose a limited field of action and a specific geographic area (which is not related to its distance). Without that, it is indeterminate, blind. Our need for political action and sympathy beyond national borders must be tailored to the scale of causes in a particular area, beyond which there is nothing but the hubbub and babbling of the news media. In this respect, too much generosity is suspicious. A fellowship that expresses itself in general terms and that is incapable even of saying the name of those people whom it helps is the solidarity of armchair windbags. It dies of its own purity, from choosing everything. It is nothing but a grandiose slogan, like the postwar label “existentialist,” which was invoked everywhere and anytime. It gives support to the most dissimilar causes with the same enthusiasm. The same people who support the PLO in July with similar arguments, and six months later will support some other guerilla movement. Details are minimized in all cases, and common denominators are sought where historical details should call for exact analyses, strict attention to the facts. It is purely sentimental attachment to people in the outside world, and the Cambodians, Palestinians, and Lebanese all march through the square marked “Victim.”; it is the same preordained ritual for different participants. This kind of solidarity is for mercenaries. of the news media who must impartially cover all the active spots on earth. Let us not ask more of the media than what they already do quite well---make us aware of human problems. Our sort of attachment to the outside world cannot follow the rhythm of the news, even if we do care about it. We must learn to detach ourselves from the hassle of the headlines and hot stories, so we can take root somewhere on earth. Newspapers and television cannot possibly serve as a guide to action because, when the TV screen stops talking about a country, it continues to exist. If we based our attention to the world on the pattern of the news media, we would develop the flexibility of public opinion, which is too apt to take a stand for one group one day and another the next. That is a kind of technological solidarityfor the busy manwhowastes his effort and spreadshimself too thinly. A hand held out in this way will soon be pulled back; reflex solidarity provides aid, but then takes it back again.