New Humanity Movement

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Buenos-Aires

In this book the famous Polish sociologist discusses the daily life of persons living in big cities. In the era of the global village, the big commercial centres could become either places of possibilities or of frustrations, either places of decadence or of development, either places which offer happiness or fear, places where problems abound; yet, they could also be places where creativity is put into motion to provide a more humane human society”.

by Paolo Balduzzi

What first attracted my curiosity was the title of the book. I was intrigued by that ‘and’ between trust and fear, not to add also the fame of the author. Zygmunt Bauman, in fact, is a famous investigator of the contradictions of modern times. I read the whole book in a few hours; after all it contains only 79 pages. His reflection focuses on life in the city.

His analysis, distributed into three chapters, is clear and logical, and it offers a deep insight on what goes on in our cities. It is impossible to say in a few lines the essential elements of his thesis; yet I believe it is dutiful to try to identify the key features of his research.  

He starts by affirming that  modern cities are passing through a new historical phase which started at the end of the XXth century with the advent of globalisation. According to Bauman, this process is rendering our cities into places where security is lacking and there is a general decadence. Adopting Robert Castel’s theory, the author traces the origin of this phenomenon to the substitution of a well-knit community with independent individuals.

The capitalist society saw in this independence of individuals a source of profit, emphasising productivity rather than relationships, and substituting fraternity with solidarity. This renders all individuals equal and without the freedom to express their personality and creativity. It also undermines the welcoming of those ‘different’ from us, the foreigners, with the result of generating solitude and fear, as we very well know. This is the basis of the major problems that the local social community has to face. Foreigners, instead of being feared because we are not familiar with them, should become an opportunity of ‘mutual enrichment’.

Cities find themselves unable to deal with these problems because the citizens are paralysed by fear and thus not open to face the new challenges that need to be addressed with the support of the whole population.Sao-Paulo

For example, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the poor are segregated; yet, to eradicate poverty and delinquency, what is needed are ways of creating bridges to promote reciprocal understanding between the various cultures, the needs and the resources.

Another example is the waterfront of Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city. Here there are certain areas which are advertised as ‘safe’ for the citizens living in a city that has become dangerous. On the other hand, quoting Nan Ellin, the author proposes public spaces where creativity, as the result of diversity, is affirmed. This creativity could render city life more intense, and thus promote a meaningful dialogue.

‘Mixophobia’ is the tendency to avoid relationships with others in the effort to safeguard personal goods. If we work hard on it, this tendency, little by little, could give way to ‘mixophilia’, that is, enjoying knowing new ways of living, thus increasing the possibilities of public and social interaction. According to Bauman, ‘mixophobia’ and ‘moxophilia’ could coexist, not only in every city, but also in every individual. It is evidently a most uncomfortable co-existence. The art of living happily with the differences, and make the most of it in terms of stimuli and opportunities, is fast becoming the most important ability that a citizen needs to muster.

Since human nature is the same, cities, in spite of objective differences, have a common destiny. The author suggests that the way ahead is to find the true meaning of living together in full awareness of the prevailing differences in order to fight the psychological terrorism that globalisation has produced in relation to the others.

It is thus necessary to adopt this ‘compassion’, this ‘taking care’ of the others, to a world-wide dimension; it is only by standing by each other that cities could mutually donate their experiences in solving problems and making their resources available.

Diversity is the basis of reciprocal enrichment
. In taking up the needs of the others and integrating them into society, the latter has everything to gain. Moreover, it rediscovers its true identity, the community feeling, and empowers every citizen to contribute to make ‘humane the human community’.
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