Imagine for a moment our ancestors. Imagine them for real, at some point, no matter when exactly, as tribes distributed all over the world.
There is an open space between huts, a fire, perhaps some children who play between tents, women and men who prepare food or work on some tool. There is an overwhelming silence around them. One of them may mumble some simple melody. The horizon is an ochre line as distant, clear and sneaky as the sea line.
Now a more complicated abstraction exercise. If you were there and
knew their names, if they had any, ask yourself what personalities they
What differentiates them from each other. Observe their gestures, the small details that make them unique. Maybe one of them ties the string on the bow handle differently. Others may paint different shapes on their children’s faces.
If you observe for a long time, you may find many small differences, but it would be quite sensible to state that, on the base, there are not many things that differentiate them. Their personalities are intimately linked to the personalities of others. They exist as individuals, but they exist above all as a tribe. There are many more things that unite them than things that separate them.
Now imagine walking down a street in your city in the present moment, and do the same exercise. In a few minutes, you have seen an incredible number of different personalities. Of subjects with disparate and distant interests, of diametrically opposed ways of dressing, thinking, feeling, being in the world. Today’s world is full of subjects with a strong sense of individuality.
To form our personalities, we choose between a cultural range that is already geographically biased, presented by both the physical and digital environment. Thus we join sports clubs, we choose favourite hobbies, favourite movies, we watch some shows rather than others, we build some ideals and discard others and, of course, we know very clearly what our favourite music group is.
This process, which can be called the individualization process, has been progressive and has existed throughout human history. First it was perhaps a different division of tasks, then the wise old men and women, then the hierarchy made chiefs, divided tasks, everything became more complex, little by little there were soldiers, slaves, kings, prostitutes, witches, monks, government workers, musicians, artists, farmers, thieves, rich and poor, feminists, activists, fascists, dictators. A process that also installed terrible differences between sexes and species.
But it is a double-edged process. On the one hand, it has given a richness never seen before to the human experience. Visions of all kinds, projects, new ways of understanding the world. On the other hand, it has progressively distanced us, deeply and constantly. This estrangement from others, this strong feeling that we are someone separated from the rest, something that we have all felt, is one of the deepest and most serious crises we have today.
It is also incredibly paradoxical. We feel stronger than ever as
individuals in the same historical moment in which we are most dependent
If everything were to fall apart tomorrow, our abilities and our thoughts, however rich and diverse they might be, would not lead us anywhere.
Your favourite series, your clothing style, everything that shapes you and distances you from the rest, including your ideals, is useless if you are left alone in the world. It is not a philosophical exercise, it is literal, the more you feel that you have nothing to do with that supermarket cashier, or with that soldier, with that hippie, the more you deny the evident reality that they participate as you do in the way society, as we know it, works.
And in the extreme case that everything crashes, that the collapse arrives, that the social contract that keeps the economic and financial, social and cultural systems in place is broken, what will you do with your individuality? Where do you put your favourite series? Your ideals?
That is exactly the challenge posed by climate change and the ecological crisis. All that trajectory of individualization of the subjects has been installing us in a myth: the myth of invulnerability.
We are completely convinced not only that we have nothing to do with the majority of the people around us, but also that we can survive, literally and metaphorically, without them. And not only that, but also that we can survive, this time literally, without the basic ecosystems that sustain us, without nature.
This is probably the greatest hoax that human beings have ever suffered.
And honestly, part of the blame lies with capitalism/neoliberalism, which accelerated the process and pushed it to unreal and unhealthy extremes.
We have not been able to create a society of diverse individuals without living immersed in the strongest myth of invulnerability. Colonialism put an end to all those who felt more tribe than individuals, who accepted more the interconnection of everything and everyone, the interdependence and the ecodependence, and only left room for disconnection and the pride of being an isolated individual, a free subject.
Now there is something greater than all of us, greater than history, greater than all our ideals, that threatens us as nothing has ever done before. The collapse.
The collapse of a civilization full of individuals convinced of their invulnerability. Disconnected individuals who have the responsibility to collectively stop a global catastrophe. The solution lies solely in the collective, at a time when this seems almost to be fading away. Saying that it is a challenge is saying little.
What would be the first step, almost philosophically or spiritually, to confront this crisis?
To destroy this myth of invulnerability. Do it every day, all the time, with everyone.
You are here because everything works. If it stopped, you would stop being here, as simple as that.
Your little salary, the moment it enters your bank account, your little moments of happiness, so important and necessary, your brief moments of stability, all of them have blinded you. They have convinced you that you can be in the world no matter what. I may be the first one to tell you so clearly, and in that case, I’m sorry to do it, but it’s not like that. There is nothing that can save you, there is no rich enough millionaire or strong enough individual to survive the collapse.
Give up that myth of invulnerability. Face the fact that you depend on everything around you, that there’s nowhere to run. Maybe that’s the only way you’ll realise that those boys and girls who blocked that street in Madrid on October 7th had every reason to do so.