It is evident that nowadays, in practically every context, social networks, smartphones and virtual reality are our daily companions. The silence that is felt in public places, for example, is an indication of a deeper change in the forms of interaction: in the last century, technology has increasingly changed human relations, and even philosophy has questioned how new media have influenced the conceptual problem of the Other.
In particular, messaging systems and social networks have revolutionized human relationality, reducing it to a faded image, cold just like those screens that convey our interactions and capable of transmitting a much lower quantity – and quality – of content. to the normal communication that occurs in presence ”In Lévinas’s philosophy, the face is the only channel of fruition of communication and dialogue with the Other-from-me: another human being, with a different realization of existence.
Emmanuel Lévinas , a French philosopher who has studied the theme of the relationship with the Other in depth, states in Totality and Infinity that «the presentation of the face puts me in relationship with being . The existence of this being […] takes place in the indelible urgency with which it demands an answer ».
From these words we deduce that our relationship with the Other requires an existential exchange, that is, a discussion on reality: dialogue is a form of sharing experiences and communicating feelings. The face is necessary not only as an expression of the infinite possibilities of existence, but above all as a guarantee of the truthfulness of our message.
In the Society of the Spectacle , a famous work by Guy Debord, the image becomes the paradigm of social relations, and in virtual reality the face becomes pure scenic representation, losing all its emotional and personal qualities. Today these statements take on an almost prophetic significance: think of the profile image typical of Facebook or Whatsapp, static images that represent, or even replace, our person.
The Other, and therefore the otherness as its philosophical conceptualization, is replaced by an emptied representation: already in 1967, Debord wrote lucidly: “where the real world is changed into simple images, simple images become real beings, and efficient motivations for hypnotic behavior ».
The man who loses his reference points with respect to contact with the Other in the experience of the face has replaced the historicity of his experience with the nihilistic consciousness filtered by the image. Nihilism, denying the Other all its qualities and properties, conceives it only as corporeality. The philosopher Sergio Givone perfectly explains the phenomenon: «in the proliferation of obscene images, the other is no longer a person, but only a body, naked life», he writes. “And then the life of the Other, the Other, is nothingness”.
Givone explains how the image, static in itself, can only, at most, convey an emotion or a sensation: nihilistic consciousness takes shape precisely in the privation of the encounter with physicality and with the thought of the Other-from- myself. The agglomeration and convergence of these factors produces the nullification of the Other and its consequent objectification: thus finding ourselves “stunted” of a real empathic bond, we make the Other an object.
The difference between historical and nihilistic consciousness finds its crux here, since history is not only the study or knowledge of the past, but also an action that turns towards another man. The existentialist thought saw the human being as the whole of his history in the world, the Heideggerian Being . The nihilistic approach makes the human being a formless body without history.
To give a concrete example, the European migrant crisis, ongoing since 2013, is the complete realization of the objectification of the Other. The migrant is demonized and deprived of every human and emotional component; he becomes a burden, an enemy, the evil one who must be marginalized and crushed, also because of a political rhetoric that finds an easy scapegoat in the hatred of the foreigner. The objectification of the migrant, reduced to pure corporeality, triggers a negative ethical reaction: the Other becomes the cause of every economic, social and political problem and, consequently, only its elimination can lead to the resolution of these problems.
The philosophical theories that we have analyzed can certainly give a key to reading these events, suggesting, for example, how it is possible that individualism and indifference are such widespread reactions to these situations. The decrease in direct relationships with the Other could in fact be one of the causes of these behaviors, although obviously it is not enough to explain them in their complexity.
Yet, we can confidently say that our society is expressing the need for a return to humanity and the truthfulness of direct communication. There is a need for the Other to be brought back to its original structure, restoring greater centrality to the dimensions of relationality and dialogue. Dialogue – Socratically understood as teaching and shared knowledge – is the tool for comparison and exchange of ideas, opinions and values that leads to change and, therefore, to growth.
The dialogue, by placing two faces facing each other, allows us to grasp greater nuances of that discourse which is not the simple sharing of words, but which is also a real all-round experience. Dialogue re-establishes the person in the stoic meaning of the term, that is, the human being who has a role in the world entrusted to him by his destiny; furthermore, dialogue restores the human person in his totality: his character, his history and his way of being.
In virtual communication all this does not happen: the Other is an ordinary interlocutor, present only as the static image that captures a certain moment – its complexity and its personality are completely canceled.
The concept of relationality as a full concept is essentially reciprocity. Reciprocity is one of the founding postulates of communication: with it I recognize the Other as a moral subject, affirming the relationship as an “I-you relationship” and not “I-it”. As stated by Andrea Poma, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Turin: “the relationship is an original ontological structure: it is a reality not understood in the ego, nor including the ego, but actually between the ego and the you “. Only in physical and visual relationality can man regain contact with the Other as his fellow man, as You, as a person, defining and redefining the individual through a continuous relational process.
In conclusion, in my opinion, we should replace the paradigm of otherness: it must no longer be just cultural, ethnic and social diversity, but ontological otherness , that is the recognition of the Other as subject to itself and, at the same time, subject which one can find a constitutive part of one’s being. The Other becomes himself in the act of recognizing his diversity, which is realized through dialogue and, more generally, in relationality.