Let’s put it like this: a bare life is a life that can be sacrificed without major ethical concerns. Among humans, sacrificed lives are also often exposed to all forms of violence, from hostility to harassment. Therefore, all sorts of abuses might also signify having a life taken by the potentiality of authority.
Previously I commented that within power dynamics, ‘bare life’ is not unified. That is, among all humans clearly at a disadvantage, there’s no agreement that the problem is power itself and all its devices of ‘authority. Different groups and individuals play the role of the ‘oppressor, often contradicting their principles against the oppression they classify as unfair.
When a life is taken or abused, the first question is always “who cares?”, followed by “who is “who’”?
Once I heard a vulnerable woman who looked for support from a transgender professor who told her that they only do things when forced. That is, they only care about someone when any call of ‘authority is knocking on their door. That could be a call from someone above their position or a potential ally. Still, it was shocking to realize that well-educated people that should be committed to passing important values to their students (through their attitudes) have a sense of care about the other as merely performative.
I have been raised in an environment with the understanding that solidarity is the key to any change for the good we wish to see in society. When classification and judgments are stronger than any compassionate values, people find excuses for the lack of care as not needing to care about the ‘bare life.’
But it also happens that to care about life goes beyond privileged and non-privileged citizens.
If one sees the value of life finding a place on a hierarchy, from the most ‘valuable’ to the less ‘valuable’ according to social norms and beliefs without questioning hierarchy, how ethical can it possibly be?
Let’s situate the ‘bare life’ as opposed to the ‘sacred life,’ understanding that ‘sacred life’ is a concept often applied to human life. As we know, not all human lives have the privilege to be considered as valuable as any life. Moreover, to unfold those concepts from the start with the Greeks, all nuances and changes through history would make this navigation quite complex. We leave it as a commentary for the moment.
As I already mentioned, ‘to care about life’ can be performative when measuring the social impact of ‘not care.’ From Kohlberg’s proposals of understanding moral education, that perception would be below a really advanced consciousness of morality.
That would be a conservative approach where the individual only ‘do the right thing’ motivated by the fear of punishment (legal, moral, social) instead of feeling and understanding what is the right thing to do.
For Kolhberg, the lower level of morality would be the selfish one, which is also not far from the conservative. The selfish individual measures the consequences out of the fear of being caught or not caring when dealing with lives that have less value on the hierarchies that separate the ‘bare life’ from the ‘sacred life.’
The conservative approach adds to the selfish approach, the sense of how others will see you, and the efforts of being seen as a ‘good person, a good man, father, husband, brother, professional and so on, and a good mother, daughter, friend, etc. Therefore, this is not about empathy or sympathy, that is, feeling what the other feels or putting oneself in others’ shoes. That is not about “I feel happy seeing people happy” or “I feel dignity seeing beings respected and cared for.”
Fear of being caught by the rules, for instance, like racism, homophobia and transphobia are crimes, expressing hostility towards individuals with such motivations is socially prohibited. The sad part is that it does not stop those ‘target’ individuals from showing hostility against others’ lives on all its diversity when they also have a chance of doing so.
Let’s put it that way: I am a woman, mixed-race and ethnic background 100% committed to social justice, not only in words but in actions proved by life experience. And I have the right to discuss the problems I see when people who also suffer prejudice demonstrate incapacity to see what is at stake when they choose to put their position of power and the institutions above the concerns that make them be in certain positions.
That might be opaque, so let’s carry on and talk about those animals I encounter on organic farming. I suddenly recognize my bare life on their bare lives. Beautiful animals, full of grace and tenderness, so dependent on the system that can decide by tomorrow who will live and who will die.
I walked with those goats inside a forest where they could find their food on their own.
I remember my life as a city person who never questioned what represents the food I am consuming. And when I ate meat, it was almost as if they were not beings.
Now I see their eyes, their breath, their feelings. And when I suddenly have to move with heavyweights, a sign of hard labor, I see how they move from where they were to watch me.
They stare at me as wandering what I am doing or even questioning why I am doing this.
It looks like they know that I don’t need to do that, really. I was just there to be closer to them, see who they are, and express that we are not that different from each other, and I sympathize with their bare lives.
I also don’t know about tomorrow. I don’t know with all my education, the experience of life and all that I could achieve and share as knowledge, art, and caress will represent something different than just being a piece of meat on somebody’s plate or being a discarded life that could not have the privilege of having enough ‘other’ to care about my destiny. This is an Earth life. If I, as anyone and anything else, represent stardust, none of those questions matters. But while I am here, I shall have a life with dignity and question the blockages that deny my merits and relevance to this system.
Human values seem so lost in contradictions. I understand if, in the past, out of the desperation of hunger in hard winters, individuals from the northern hemisphere needed to kill animals in order to survive.
But now that we have many creative resources to change the old ways of living, there’s no excuse to remain ignorant.
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