On Common Dignity

Translation of an article by Amador Fernández Savater on Alberto Casillas, the waiter who placed himself between the rampaging police and the 25-S protesters who had sought refuge in the bar where he works. His act appears in this excellent short video on last week’s events in Madrid.

Originally published in eldiario.es on the 29th of September.

Alberto Casillas y Goya, del 3 de mayo al 25-S

Alberto Casillas and common dignity
Politics is the conflict over setting the border between the tolerable and the intolerable: the very definition of dignity. Where is the threshold of what we can no longer tolerate? It is firstly a matter of perception and sensibility. That threshold of what we reject also sets out an image of common dignity. Alberto Casillas marked out the line with his own body in the doorway of the bar where he works as a waiter. That act has turned him into a hero, not only for those of us who sympathise with the 25-S, but for anyone who perceives and feels the police repression of that night to be intolerable and outrageous (“shame!”).

A normal everyday hero. A reluctant hero. An accidental hero. But also: a contradictory and paradoxical hero. Because Alberto Casillas is a voter and member of the PP [Partido Popular]. His act complicates our vision by skewing stereotypes: the prior images of what things are. Those of people on the left about voters for the right. Those of Rajoy about the “silent majority”. At the same time. He is a very powerful symbol: he demands of us that we pay more attention to sensibilities, acts and behaviours than to identities and the political correctness of ideas.

It doesn’t matter who you are nor where you come from, but what we can do together. That was the guiding principle in the squares of the 15-M. The practice that the movement called “inclusivity”. Starting off from problems and situations that cut across society, not from prior identities. Bringing to the fore what unites: the rejection of a system that turns us into commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers; the active aspiration towards a real democracy (now). Leaving behind what separates: ideological and identitarian rhetoric. Using common and open names that anyone can feel involved in (‘indignados’, ‘99%). Non-identitarian identities. Inclusivity is not just a cunning strategy (to avoid criminalisation or so that more people sympathise), but another way of understanding and practising politics that trusts in the abilities of anyone and sets forth other images of co-existence.

‘The final struggle’ is the expression that defined the revolutionary politics of the 20th century. Emancipation (‘the New Man’) entailed the destruction of the other, the enemy (the class enemy, the national enemy, etc.) The external threat, the other who was radically other, with no features of common humanity. Epic politics, politics of war and purge. Today by contrast we ask ourselves very different questions: “how do we live together?” “What unites us, despite all that separates us?” “What does the common [lo común] consist of?” No-one is going to disappear and this shared world is the only one there is. Is it possible to invent a co-existence between people who differ that does not undermine anyone’s dignity, common dignity? An impure, uncomfortable, fragile politics. One that does not affirm one part of society against another, but rather seeks out what cuts across time and again. That trusts in the power of the encounter to transform us. That trusts in, welcomes, and embraces all the Alberto Casillases of the world.

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