Alain Deneault, room for doubt

Woke, racist, sweet dreamer or “privileged”. For several years now, bird names have been raining down on the public debate. Positions are sharpened and words are deprived of their meaning.

“When our debates turn into struggles, they fall into moralism, agitation and intoxication,” writes philosopher and essayist Alain Deneault in a new essay entitled manners. From the cannibal to the left to the right of the vandal. A rich book, both posed and combative.

The space of doubt and nuance seems to him to shrink. A space that is nonetheless necessary for any complex thought. A place where not everyone would be encouraged to choose side between two extremes, while urging to really act in the face of issues that are far more crucial to the planet and to humanity.

Against pervasive generalizations and the dialogue of the deaf, the essayist tries to break down the masks worn as much to the right as to the left, and give the words back their meaning and power. A courageous action, as it seems difficult to take a stand on these issues.

“A book very often starts from a malaise,” explains Alain Deneault, who joined his office on the Shippagan campus at the Université de Moncton in New Brunswick, where he is a professor of philosophy and sociology. “An unrest over practices, he continues, speaks, methods, attitudes, which were those that were in people who belonged to my social class. And I tried to do justice to the complexity of certain problems that we tended to to simplify a lot in considerations that were both harsh and blindly polemical. ”

The essayist, known for his critical thinking on capitalism, tax havens and mining companies, this time tried to give us tools to understand contemporary customs. He wanted, he says, to take into account all the difficulties of being self-critical on the left, “without providing ammunition to the far right or the radical right that is prevalent today”. A real balancing act.

Common causes

It’s the one on the left, the author remembers mediocrity and of band of settlers (Lux editor, 2015 and 2020), where the “intersectional movement” seems to have taken over the traditional progressive currents, “certain intoxicated attitudes of their speech” are heard in particular. Many activists have found a comfortable refuge there for their indignation – very often legitimate, he admits – as well as for poorly assimilated ideas. The essayist, born in Gatineau in 1970, gives as an example the question of “unconscious biases”, the question of systemic racism or even the whole discourse of “privileges”, which risks making us “lose even the sense of social causes”.

“We who still believe in a principle of reason, and who try from a usual point of view to highlight the complexity of problems also through the principle of common causes, founder of left-wing movements, continues Alain Deneault, we feel that our space is shrinking. To a drip. “In a way, we are called to choose our camp. And to think of ourselves in amalgamation.”

“But at the same time, he adds, there is between what I call the cannibal left and the vandal right, an incredible demand for air, a thirst for truly balanced proposals. Not the weighting of the extreme center, which is an advertising and artificial weighting, but an art of thinking about the reality of customs, as was already done in the first treatises on ethics, that is, according to the circumstances. In this respect, Aristotle’s idea of ​​an incredible and almost contemporary liveliness seems to him to be a particularly interesting “compass”.

And while the right wing hides under new clothes (“centered, rational, balanced, responsible, normal, driven by common sense,” he sums up), on the left, the progressive forces continue their fragmentation, their “spread.”

Has the left become the enemy of the left? “If the left deviates from the principle of common causes, it harms itself. If, without denying the historical features and the special handicaps, the Haitians in Montreal-Nord and generational recipients of social assistance in Hochelaga are unable to unite in common cases, the left wing is lost, ”he decides.

Language abuse

Alain Deneault says that through this book he has sought to distinguish between excessive discourse, which he believes harms feminism, anti-racism and the fight against all forms of discrimination – all reasons for which he obviously does not question the benefits.

At the same time, the radical right, on the contrary, will try to assimilate all these sometimes shabby speeches. “She’s going to hype exaggerated or caricatured proposals, and unfortunately the cannibalistic left offers a number of them, making sure they contaminate all the other causes before concluding that there is no problem with feminism, racism. or discrimination.All this, of course, in favor of a status quo.

“And this status quo consists, on a social, ideological or ethnic level, of locking people inside jars as if they were pickles,” he is indignant.

While the “little people” serve as scapegoats, he believes that the “identity left and conservative right know how to hold on to the goatee”, the planet’s climate continues to deteriorate, inequalities expand, and the discreet tenors of neoliberal economics continue to dominate the world.

In evoking language abuse, which the left obviously does not have a monopoly on, he also examines the concept of “sustainable development” (which is not very sustainable), which has been reclaimed by companies and by our governments. He also condemned the “resignation of the media”, which he witnessed during the pandemic crisis – for which the capitalist system, according to him, is partly responsible. Media that have sometimes blindly passed on the words of power and that have not hesitated to reject certain critical words that resonate with the debates that legally shook the medical and scientific community.

Faced with all these challenges, which are by no means simple, it is true, the co-author of Noir Canada: Looting, Corruption and Crime in Africa (Écosociété, 2008) invokes the need as much as the need to “expand the framework”. “If we were able to have rigorous discussions together, at the moment it is the very development of our way of life – this ignorance of the capitalist system – that we would be discussing.”

Like so many others, he calls for the need for radical change, especially in the face of the climate crisis. Calmly consider the decline and limitation of human activity. “Our land system can no longer bear the consequences of this regime,” said Alain Deneault. It is now howled by scientists, no matter how cerebral and cold they look, who see that despite the indicators hitting the red all the time, we are on a false plane, we continue to grow exponentially and run with our own collective losses. »

In his eyes, the situation is clearer than ever: “The meme is the deepening of the abyss into which we lock ourselves.”

Manners. From the cannibal to the left to the right of the vandal

Alain Deneault. Lux editor, Montreal, 2022, 312 pages. (In bookstore May 5)

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