In a recent interview with Swedish television, the French president Emmanuel Macron was asked why young people in Europe are drawn to extremist ideologies and terrorism. In his answer Macron mentioned that there is a crisis within the Islamic religion, which I believe is correct, but what truly stood out for me was when he continued by saying that there is something fundamentally wrong with our European society since young people who are born in our countries are attracted by propaganda exclaimed by extremists and terrorists over the Internet. Macron's clear-sighted analysis is that we suffer due to a lack of imagination. We need mad and beautiful projects to invest ourselves in, and we need to experience that we are part of something greater than ourselves. The agonizing truth, according to Macron, is that our European society does not offer such projects to many of its young citizens, which in effect means that they more easily fall prey to extremist ideologies.
The established rationality that has made use of knowledge and technology to fold our world has purposefully made it very difficult for most people to be mobile to guarantee stability. To name perhaps the most pressing example, according to UNHCR, 65,6 million people are currently forcibly displaced worldwide but very few of them find open routes across borders. In 2016 only 189,300 refugees found themselves permanently resettled. The code guiding geopolitics on a global scale is implemented also locally in European cities. Our urban planning officials segregate groups from each other, leaving the most socioeconomically vulnerable to fare for themselves in areas plagued by low employment rates and criminality. It should surprise no one that the people Macron was asked about are born into such areas, nor should we be surprised that the clear majority of those who have joined ISIS or similar organizations are young men. I do not believe it to be the sole explanation but our communal inability to venture into bold new projects generally has a more consuming effect on men than women. To be a rock star warrior fighting the Great Satan in the Middle East is much more alluring than to be unemployed and with no greater purpose in European ghettos, specifically to young men, which is worth pointing out since the castrated discourse on gender differences is designed to make us not see it. Socioeconomic circumstances are an important factor to take into consideration but so is gender specific desires.
If we remain a tedious society with low ambitions then you can understand why young people will continue to be drawn to bad ideologies that offer our young something greater than themselves.
The situation in Europe is a crisis that places an ethical demand on its citizens. Unfortunately, the most common critical response is to morally attack otherworldly abstractions so grand that we could not possibly transform what they aim to represent. Such an approach is, I think, the easiest way to avoid responsibility since it creates a self-aggrandizing illusion that we are siding with the refugees and immigrants, while we keep benefitting from the current set of folds. To be ethical primarily means to courageously create the world anew but instead of leading ethical lives we tend to settle for self-serving moralism, which as Nietzsche writes is the herd-instinct in the individual. In this sense, secular Europe is still inherently Christian and the tremendous event of the death of God is still on its way, still traveling—it has not yet reached the ears of men.
Meanwhile our political discourse is caught between stale conservatives advocating the building of new walls and reactive leftists willing to throw the whole level of the strata into suicidal collapse. What they have in common is that they operate with the capitalist rationality as a given. The former wants to protect it to keep extracting useful labor and the latter desire to mindlessly dismantle it, but neither of the two sides of the spectrum can even remotely imagine a world beyond it, just as Macron diagnosed the situation. In this way, we are all being kept at a standstill to the satisfaction of the powers that be. Our task is subsequently to cross established borders but we also need to keep in mind the Whiteheadian notion that “the art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.” This is a delicate challenge but it is not an impossible one, should we manage to break free from the coagulated discourse we are currently situated in.
Since being is seen by most people as given once and for all, politics has been reduced to a representational game of competing negative judgments proclaimed by a self-serving priesthood. Public access to universal values like truth, justice and equality is denied based on their otherworldliness. “Universals explain nothing but must themselves be explained,” writes Deleuze, but no such explanations are given. Politics thus functions like negative theology—we cannot know what truth, justice and equality is, we can only say what it is not. Kafka masterfully narrates in The Trial what kind of bureaucratic and capricious societal organization this way of reasoning leads to. If we want a non-fictional example the EU works just fine, despite Macron’s great hope for the union. And to be clear, I do not favor injustice over justice or inequality over equality, I am simply saying that the representational logic governing our political life is inadequate in terms of the task set before us since it limits our imaginative powers from creating the kind of mad and beautiful projects we so desperately need.