Bellamy, F-X. (2020). Permanecer: para escapar del tiempo del movimiento perpetuo [Remain: to escape the time of perpetual motion] (Enrique Alonso-Sainz).
Bellamy, F-X. (2020).
Permanecer: para escapar del tiempo del movimiento perpetuo [Remain: to escape the time of perpetual motion].
Encuentro. 205 pp.
When one has before them the latest book by the French thinker and politician, François-Xavier Bellamy, the first thing that stands out is its cover. The photograph of a gargoyle of the Nôtre Dame cathedral, still, motionless, in an observant, waiting position, dominates the front of the manuscript. This image is a perfect allegory of what the reader will find on the following pages.
Bellamy invites us to reflect and turn our eyes towards what surrounds us. In a time where time itself does not exist, where change, speed and innovation are the general tonics of daily life and of collective thinking, is it worth stopping and remaining? Is it worth it not to subordinate ourselves to the speed that the world invites us to go? Is it necessary to go along with today’s frenetic pace of life and thinking? Questions that seek answers through a deep and critical overview of collective thinking in the 21st century.
“One of the characteristic features of this moment in human history is the affirmation of change as a fundamental norm” (p. 46). Everything is in constant movement, we do not allow ourselves to stop, which, according to the author, involves an absolute loss of fixed ultimate objectives and, therefore, of direction. Whereas before progress sought to achieve an end state of greater perfection, innovation has now turned change into an end in itself: “What moves us is the passion for movement and nothing else, since we do not need to know where it is leading us. […] We do not run to chase after goals, rather we run for the sake of running” (p. 57). This is how things are. Everything has become a fad, and what is trendy has become the moral principle of an entire society that seeks the constant indulgence of its desires.
A good example of this could be justice as a means for the progress of society. It has undergone a metamorphosis, seeking to adapt to society and its desires before the intangible ideal of building a better society, which leads to legislating to satisfy rather than to progress. However, justice is in itself external to time, unrelated to movement, eternal. One can desire changes that lead to a more just and better society, but in order for real progress to be possible, it is necessary to accept “that fixed point towards which we are heading, even if we do not know it perfectly well” (p. 123). If there is no collectively accepted end point that supports the change we have accepted, there can be no real justice and, therefore, we will not be able to improve, as every desire ends up expiring or being satisfied and transforming into another.
In reality, what we seek today is the total rupture with that which apparently coerces our freedom to do and undo as we please. Modern history teaches us how humans are inclined towards the perfection and development of technology only to undo the natural restrictions that affect the freedom of the person and stand between desires and satisfaction. A very clear example is the conquest: of the moon: “why do we want to go to the moon, other than the fact that we can’t stand that something is far away?” (p. 146); or the obsession for immediacy that leads us to want to break the limits imposed by space and time, “it is not only a matter of allowing ourselves to go anywhere, but of reducing to a minimum the time required for the journey. It is not a matter of delivering the object we want to consume but of delivering it immediately” (p. 147). No resistance can come between us and the object of desire.
This obsession with change and the breaking of limits is not only realised in that which is external to us, but the very attempt to break through the obstacles of life itself and the condition of being human are also subject to this current. Transhumanism and posthumanism have this desire implicit in their philosophy. If we are free, for example, nothing can prevent me from having a child with certain features or from conceiving a child without the need to get together with another person of the opposite sex, if the desire to have a child exists, it must be able to be satisfied. Nevertheless, these supposed walls that we want to tear down and which represent a defect in life, are in reality that which defines it in the strongest sense. To want to put an end to death itself, the greatest limit imposed on human beings, is not, as transhumanists and posthumanists claim, the death of death, but the death of life itself. The person must have a goal to aim for. Life has a direction, it is not infinite, and it is this movement, this insurmountable limit, this ultimate goal, which gives it meaning: “if we become absolutely mobile, we will be absolutely dead” (p. 152).
Returning to the idea of progress, this has also become very distorted in recent times, “progressivism has destroyed the idea of progress by describing change as necessary as a matter of principle” (p. 126).
Progress implies something greater than a simple change, it implies a real improvement geared towards a specific purpose, “there can only be real progress if there is something permanent to approach” (p. 122). There really are many innovations today, great advances in fields such as science or technology, but this does not mean progress. In many cases, innovation improves technology, but does not eliminate conflicts, it only displaces them. Never in history have we been able to move so much and so fast, and never in history have we spent so much time moving around either. Great innovations have not always led to our progress, many have only displaced the problem.
An example of this false idea of progress is politics, which has given ground to such, inserting the word transformation in all discourse as a banner. Everyone who comes to power gives in to a supposed transformation of society, a change, supposed progress for the sake of evolution; something very wrong in reality. Due to this quest for change, there is a very high risk of putting an end to this order that has been formed and slowly matured, “which is irreplaceable in its complexity, its flexibility and its richness” (p. 101). The speed we have reached is so frenetic that there is no possibility of transmitting that which we have inherited and which is immobile. We are exclusively looking ahead to the future, on a circular horizon that has no end and that prevents us from looking at the past. Progressivism has forgotten that the essential goods are those that require the most time, and that not everything can be subject to the desire for immediacy. Thus, Bellamy urges us to recover the very meaning of progress and politics, the objective of which should be to recognise and transmit that which is worthwhile instead of blindly transforming everything, to make real progress instead of change for the sake of change.
Nevertheless, the author does not deny the need for movement; on the contrary, the idea of remaining completely immobile is as absurd as that of moving altogether. What should not take place is movement for the sake of movement, one should accept the immobile, permanent part that gives meaning to life and makes us move in a particular direction. Movement should not be seen as bad, provided that it makes sense, but running for the sake of running makes us lose our mind, the very essence of a person. We have completely discarded the intrinsic aspects that we cannot quantify or control, forgetting that “our work, like our lives, reaches fulfilment in the form of gratitude […], what is most essential to our lives is and will always be that which cannot be counted” (p. 177), that is to say, that which must not be moved from us. If we completely lose sight of the meaning of our lives, if we forget the immobile part that sets the direction, we will lose life itself.
In short, perhaps Bellamy is right and we have to remain. What is perhaps not so clear is how to do it, what decisions or measures we should take politically and collectively to put the brakes on this movement and channel it towards a goal. Or how we can transfer this approach to the field of education, to which it is intrinsically related, where the development of such would also involve going, in many cases, against the current.
It is clear that we cannot live or educate in perpetual movement, we must learn to wait, evaluate, think, remain and look back at the past in order to recognise what will make us better in the future. Perhaps we should be, in part, like that gargoyle of Nôtre Dame, which is still, patient, observant, fulfils its purpose and remains without changing its essence, because it knows that there is no point in changing if it does not lead to progress and thus better performance of its function.
Enrique Alonso-Sainz ■