Welcome to 2021, the era of vulnerability



Pale and his features drawn, Emmanuel Macron holds his phone at arm’s length to inform the French “face cam”. The same day he rushed into isolation after testing positive for Covid-19. His voice dull, his forehead wrinkled, he then exposes his symptoms, looking tired. Its activity will be slowed down, he warns. A communication that immediately contrasts with the presidential style that is his, sometimes bordering on arrogance when it comes to crossing the street to find a job or even to criticize the “lazy”.

In this period of great upheaval, he was not the only one to have abandoned (at least for a while) the conquering register. ATn the edge of tears at the beginning of December, the trembling voice, Brian Pallister, the premier of Manitoba, launches at a press conference:“I’m the guy who steals Christmas… to protect you”. The emotion is there, palpable. The video will go viral. Also in Canada, three years earlier, the strong man of the government, Justin Trudeau bursts into tears: his singer friend Gord Downie has passed away. Tears that will also flow down the cheeks of the Prime Minister when he talks about the discrimination suffered by the LGBT community. On November 26, the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, seems prostrate. She wipes her misty eyes with the back of her coat sleeve: on television, she has just publicly apologized for the slaughter of millions of mink raised for their fur and suspected by the government to be carrying a version mutant of Covid-19. These policies, of different nationalities and cultures, have chosen to “split the armor”, as the saying goes. An exercise hitherto often overplayed in time of electoral campaign, rather highlighting the false sincerity of the candidates than their true emotional qualities.

The open spaces Glass windows of Defense are not exempt from this basic dynamic which is spreading from companies to the whole of the Company. If the DRH battalions and “Chief Happiness Manager “ large groups are now familiar with “CNV”, non-violent communication, it is now the CEOs who are following the movement. From now on, some are venturing to share their moods with their management committees, no longer hesitating to brandish their doubts about their ability to lead in the face of the ineffectiveness of the strategies they have nevertheless carried. Faced with this unparalleled health and economic crisis, the masks seem to be falling. A shame in a society that now lives … masked.

We have known the era of exhaustion, that of bodies and souls, sometimes leading to resentment mixed with democratic fatigue. We sometimes had the impression of navigating in cardboard settings, locked in a loft with pollsters analyzing our behavior behind one-way windows during the beginnings of this crisis. In tribute to David Graeber and his “bullshit jobs”, we could have generalized the expression “bullshit gov” : how a democratic system that is supposed to be the best can run so empty, tired, burnout sometimes in bore-out ?

And then faced with this immense political, social and economic fatigue, faced with these successive confinements, we collapsed and we are now propelled into the era of vulnerability, carried by the younger generations.

If you are attentive to it, you will see this word written at the turn of each article, you will hear it spoken during each informal conversation. It is not, however, recent: its development dates back to the 2000s. But it quickly experienced a notorious transdisciplinary success, swirling from “psy” sciences to environmental sciences, twisting from criminal law to sociology (to replace the term “exclusion” ). To the point of bordering on polysemy, even semantic void. At the risk of soon becoming a dead leaf whose only ambition is to be in the wind, to paraphrase the philosopher Gustave Thibon.

Latin vulnus, vulneris (the injury) and vulnerare (hurt), the vulnerable is, according to the dictionary Larousse, the one “who can be hurt, hit, “which can be easily reached, which defends itself badly”, “brittle” and “sensitive“. The vulnerability is “a potentiality to be hurt” recalls the historian Axelle Brodiez-Dolino on the Vie des Idées website. And this vulnerability can embrace multiple realities. Psychic vulnerability in the face of this invisible enemy which led us to voluntarily live a prison experience, economic vulnerability of our jobs now essential or non-essential, vulnerability of our health care system and our hospitals which had been asked to save money before the ‘unimaginable pandemic, vulnerability of our urban lifestyles turned towards bars and restaurants in an attempt to forget the smallness of our apartments, vulnerability of teleworkers and students who have become digital minors, stuck behind a screen eight to ten hours a day day, without seeing the light of day, vulnerability of our planet subjected to global warming and whose hours are now numbered …

In a world that we know is vulnerable, we have tried to numb our vulnerability and the cohort of associated emotions. Brené Brown, researcher in Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Houston and best-seller author “The power of vulnerability” returns to our toxic ways of being in the world: “We embrace anxiety as a lifestyle, productivity as a core value, and perfectionism as an ideal.” Out of the question to express our feelings and convictions for fear of being laughed at, impossible to take the first step for fear of being rejected. We want to be powerful and sure of ourselves, respected and loved, act as if our actions have no consequences on others, never apologize or open the discussion to try to appease, keep only positive emotions, forget about the disturbing. And above all, above all, to remove the destabilizing.

However, we cannot select the emotions to be anesthetized in order to keep only the positive ones. “Vulnerability is not good or bad: it is not a bad emotion, nor a positive one. In fact, vulnerability is the heart of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To think that vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness. Locking up our emotional life for fear that the price will be too high is to move away from that exact thing that gives meaning to our lives ” says the researcher. Which reminds me of these words of Roland Barthes, citing psychoanalysis DW Winnicott (1896-1971) in the chapter “Agony” of his workFragments of a love speech “ : “The clinical fear of collapse is the fear of collapse that has already been experienced (primitive agony) […] and there are times when a patient needs to be told that the collapse which fear ruins his life has already taken place. ”

The collapse has already taken place … And even the “powerful”, yet used to controlling their emotions, falter. They then seem similar to us. Because vulnerability is a universal language and shared independently of cultures, religions or economic models. It is relational, contextual and individual since it does not strike us all with the same force. It is, moreover, and this is very important, reversible. By daring to be vulnerable, by sharing his values, his fears and his joys, a connection to others is created which instills confidence and, as strange and paradoxical as it may be, a feeling of security. We can bend so as not to break, let positive and negative emotions pass through ourselves like thunderstorms on a summer evening without repressing them.

So obviously, to talk about vulnerability, some will evoke this Japanese technique called Kintsuji (gold joint) which consists in making visible the repairs of broken ceramics with a mixture of lacquer sprinkled with gold powder. By revealing the cracks, the gold would give the object more value. I believe this metaphor as empty and inappropriate. Like those commonplaces that want “from the crisis arise opportunities”, than “tomorrow everything will be better”, that need “change software” and other agreed-upon platitudes calibrated for corporate TEDx. Repetitive shocks, we live from them constantly and that does not make us more valiant beings. Vulnerability is first and foremost plasticity.

And this vulnerability is the subject of all the attentions of certain intellectuals, sociologists-philosophers, for whom Western societies have entered a “anthropology of vulnerability”, on the bottom of “risk society (Beck, 2001) and “rising uncertainties (Castel, 2009). The philosopher Fred Poché thus sees social vulnerability as a symptom allowing a political refoundation. Because all human life is due to its fragility: love, democracy, nature, peace … are subjected to contrary winds. He therefore proposes to reverse the paradigm and enhance the quality of a society, not through its technical performance or its ability to adapt to generalized competition, but through its ability to respect and promote what is vulnerable.

Vulnerability is also a question of temperament associated with a generational situation. Among some mobile neo-thirty-something academics, among politicians or entrepreneurs of the “modern world”, you will always find them to take pictures daily, to boast of their instagramable successes. By dint of selfies, they summon the collective imagination of “winners” of the 80s advocating entrepreneurial success and the American model. Ostentatious signs of wealth are gone, replaced by red dresses and rolled up jeans. But the posture and the display are the same: the narration of their own lives until the overdose. On the contrary, for the young generation of under 25s, born with social networks in a world of chaos, vulnerability is their daily life. Followers of self-mockery, willingly ironic, they present their successes and their failures, where our hipsters anywhere or globalized entrepreneurs display only their most glorious feats of arms, “arty ” for the first ones or “challenging” for the latter. Here a TV passage, there an advantageous selfie, embarking on a race for likes on Facebook and Instagram with peers, undoubtedly sensitive to this mode of communication “bling-bling” and dated.

I have a hunch, we will laugh very soon at the communication “has been” and “too much” of these new winners 2020s feat. 80 who want to be open, modern and even … beware … “inspiring”. Dummies laughed at women “Barbara gourd” and other CEOs with briefcase. Soon we will no doubt see, I hope, parodies of these self-satisfied people. Perhaps this explains the popular successes of heritage films like Les Tuche, featuring this family of “Somewhere” (“from somewhere” according to Goodhart), from Bouzolles in Limarais. In other words, from nowhere and therefore from everywhere in France, outside metropolitan areas. The flaws and the vulnerability of the members of this family are assumed. We can easily imagine them living in a house “Sam is enough” so much they are grateful for what they have, while carrying within them values ​​of social solidarity towards the most vulnerable. Against the threats of the outside world, the family is undoubtedly a safe haven in the face of political and intellectual elites, presented as false and deceitful characters, eager for recognition. In short, winners anywhere “so” January 2020.

Anne-Claire Ruel

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