Mark Hunyadi

Understanding the world is already transforming it.

The world to come will be populated by robots, we will intervene on our genes, we will artificially manufacture living things, we will live in societies that will ask us to obey decisions formulated by algorithms that we will not understand. Every day, new techniques, scientific advances, social facts, ways of living, working and playing are imagined. We are promised a world free of the material and physical constraints that bind us to this world. All of this, we are told, will be done in an ethical manner that respects our rights and freedoms. Yet this world that is coming may be ethically detestable and socially pathological. We do not perceive it because we are blinded by a kind of democratic schizophrenia: society promotes our individual freedoms but locks us into the shackles of lifestyles we did not want. Freeing ourselves from this paradox is a political challenge. This is what the philosopher Mark Hunyadi, whom we met for UP' Magazine, tells us.
Mark Hunyadi is part of this new generation of thinkers who, armed with a solid theoretical background, are deciphering our societies at their most up-to-date. Mak Hunyadi, a professor at the Catholic University of Leuven, was born in 1960 in Switzerland to Hungarian emigrant parents. Disciple of the great German philosopher Jürgen Habermas He taught philosophy first at Laval University in Quebec and then returned to Europe, to the University of Louvain in Belgium. His research is always oriented in the double direction of moral philosophy and applied philosophy. In this field, his early work was devoted to subjects such as drug addiction or violence; in the 2000s, his most important contributions focused on biotechnologies (especially cloning), but also on the precautionary principle; since 2006, he has been very active in the field of the ethics of nanotechnologies, and has been working on posthumanism since 2008. His latest book The tyranny of lifestyles denounces a paradox: our society values individual freedom and autonomy above all else, but what affects us most in our daily lives - lifestyles - escapes ethical and democratic deliberation .
Is it possible today to exercise a critique on the world, on the world conceived as a whole, a critique, in the broad sense of philosophy? To this simple question, however, it is impossible to answer in the affirmative. Mark Hunyadi is categorical, the critical activity of the world understood in the broadest sense is abandoned by philosophy. He goes even further: " Philosophy, especially moral and political philosophy, has deserted the world ". 

The resignation of ethics

How did it come to this? Because, rather than looking at the world as a whole, we ended up fragmenting it, breaking it up. Ethics has fragmented its subject areas: bioethics, medical ethics, ethics of disability, ethics at the end of life, environmental ethics, animal ethics, research ethics, ...". This is the path that the ethics of our time has chosen to withdraw from the world: to parcel it out, to fragment it, to atomize it, to pulverize it - literally: to analyze it. ». Our ethics have become analytical and this, according to Hunyadi, is the surest way to remove the world itself from any fundamental questioning, and to "... the world itself...". allow the systemic forces that govern it to develop unhindered ".
Ethics has thus become the system's accomplice. Today, to criticize really means to measure everything by the yardstick of human rights, to check that the liberal ethics of individual rights is respected, and therefore that in general no harm is done, that discrimination is avoided and privacy is preserved. A " little ethic It is a "service" that is served by the multitude of committees, charters, regulations and ethical institutions of all kinds that abound in our advanced societies, but which in reality serve to validate what they are now powerless to criticize. Mark Hunyadi takes as an example the precautionary principle, which he has studied at length: "The precautionary principle is a principle that we must not ignore. In risk management, the precautionary principle is used to avoid excessive or unreasonable damage, but it is used to improve the overall technical-scientific approach. The precautionary principle does not serve to criticize the technological hold over the world, but to make this hold more fluid.. » 

We obey decisions we don't understand.

For our interlocutor, the field of robotization is the one that gives the most striking image of this general resignation of ethics: "... the field of robotization is the one that gives the most striking image of this general resignation of ethics. Since we converse with pre-recorded voices on the phone, since we obey the beep of our seat belt telling us to buckle up, we have become accustomed to an environment populated by machines; since we manage our relational, professional, intellectual but also daily and administrative life by computer, this logarithmic environment has become natural to us.. And this is nothing," he adds, "compared to the world populated by androids who will soon be responsible for accompanying our old people, looking after our children, fighting the enemy, assisting the seriously wounded, guarding prisons, driving our cars, watching over museums, regulating traffic, before they become the companions of our daily life, watching over our sleep and our good mood, regulating our administrative tasks while taking care of our personal hygiene and our dietary balance.
They will be able to recruit staff by selecting CVs, or be members of boards of directors. Perhaps one day you will be able to marry your robot, the logical consequence of this cohabitation for better or for worse. In any case, cutting-edge research in Japan focuses on empathetic robots, capable of deciphering feelings sufficiently to play the role of a human substitute in a social relationship.
Mark Hunyadi warns us about this... algorithmic reign that lead us to obey decisions we don't understand. He insists on making us aware that " The imagination of researchers, coupled with intelligent capitalism, has no limits when it comes to imagining a world that is technologically lightened by the material and physical constraints that bind us to the world. ".

In the ethical respect of individual rights, we are being prepared for a world that can be ethically detestable and socially pathological.

Admittedly, it will be objected that every time a new invention is put on the market, we are concerned about the safety of the new invention, we set up commissions to ensure that our private lives are respected in terms of information technology, and we ensure that the safety of end users is guaranteed. The philosopher sees this as the cause of the problem: " Even as ethical regulations multiply, we can no longer deal with the fundamental ethical question of whether this is the world we want. ".
It is true that this question is never asked: have we ever been asked whether we want a world populated by robots, whether we really want a way of life made up of interactions with programmed brains, whether we are seriously considering a society in which we abandon the most vulnerable - the elderly, the children, the sick - to machines, because we do not have time to look after them? The preliminary question is never asked because we are guaranteed that all this is in full compliance with the ethics of individual rights. This is how we participate " to the construction of a world that could be perfectly undesirable from the point of view of our social life; a world that is ethically just, but socially pathological ». For the philosopher, this is one of the most powerful paradoxes of our time, and there is something tragic about this paradox when we are presented with the advance of this technological world as inevitable.
ALiberal ethics does more than simply allow the mechanical deployment of the system: it plays an active part in it, by making it possible to ethically whitewash a world whose ethical quality in general is not questioned. "
So let's not fool ourselves. When Google sets up an ethics committee but invests billions of dollars in its ever more powerful algorithms to compete with man, when the big firms in Silicon Valley and elsewhere join forces to create a university of singularity charged, among other things, with reflecting on transhumanism, when public or private ethics committees abound, how can we think that these bodies can really issue the slightest criticism of the system that installed them? Mark Hunyadi explains: "The question is: how can we ensure that these bodies are able to make the slightest criticism of the system that has set them up? It is a question of ethically whitewashing a project that is in itself immune from any possible criticism... ». He insists on what he considers to be the essential but neglected point in social theory: "liberal individualistic ethics and all the institutions that embody and support it (charters, committees, commissions, standards, regulations, declarations) - this ethics, therefore, focused on the avoidance of harm, is the most important immaterial factor in the material reproduction of our societies. Far from being a tool for criticizing or questioning the system, liberal ethics promotes, fluidifies and guarantees its reproduction.. »
Thus, by focusing exclusively on the ethics of individual rights, we are allowing lifestyles that we blindly adopt to be imposed on us. It is in this sense that Hunyadi speaks of " Lifestyle Tyranny ». For the philosopher, the "way of life" is that which is imposed on us, and which affects us so strongly, while being out of our reach.

We have a kind of democratic schizophrenia...

The Hunyadi way of life covers behavioural expectations that are sustainably imposed on the actors by the system. Thus, he explains, we are expected, for example, to earn our living by working, to be efficient, to know how to orient ourselves in our technological environment, to behave in a rational manner in general according to an end, and to conform to the roles imposed on us, to consumption patterns, to be cared for, to be loved or to be educated... These are expectations that are imposed objectively, i.e. independently of the preferences of the actors.
The philosopher insists on distinguishing lifestyle as an expectation of the system, from the simple practices that one is led to do. For example, shopping on the internet, using the television as a babysitter, or going on holiday to Ibiza is not a way of life, for the simple reason that these are not behavioural expectations demanded by the system. They are practices made possible by a certain state of technical and cultural development of the system, practices that many adopt out of comfort, conformity, lack of imagination or laziness, no doubt also for pleasure; and these practices are certainly, in many ways, characteristic of an era. But they are not behavioural expectations. Again, lifestyles do not say what actors do, but what is expected of them. 
Lifestyle is the face of the system experienced by the actors, the contact zone through which they ensure their social integration, since integrating into society means adopting its lifestyles. What is determined, however, is not the actors, but the lifestyles themselves, which are mechanically dependent on the system - that is why they escape the actors, even if they are proclaimed democratic.
For Mark Hunyadi, " Lifestyles do not form a superficial layer that we can change as we please, just as we change our clothes: by constituting our zone of contact with social life, they give shape to our very existence, in processes of subjectivation in which behavioural expectations play an essential role.. "The paradox the philosopher points out is that"The way in which these expectations of behaviour are reproduced and imposed on us belies the cardinal values of freedom and autonomy on which our society is based. Our democratic rights are being turned, like a Moebius ribbon, into a tyranny of lifestyles.. " This means that we are suffering from a kind of democratic schizophrenia, which is nothing but alienation by lifestyles: " while society promotes individual freedoms so that everyone can satisfy his or her preferences, the individuals who are the bearers of these freedoms are required to bend as if by destiny to the resulting unwanted lifestyles ".

A political challenge: producing something common

Today's great challenge is therefore to overcome this paradox and the resulting democratic schizophrenia. In other words, it is a question of reappropriating lifestyles. How can this be achieved? Mark Hunyadi gives us some keys. But before that, we need to understand that the system reproduces itself through fragmentation: fragmentation of society into individuals, multiplication of particular ethics, sharing of the public and the private that fragments by privatizing them the conceptions of the good. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, disciplines, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, disciplines, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, disciplines, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, disciplines, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, disciplines, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, disciplines, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation: knowledge, research objects, skills, etc. The system itself reproduces itself by fragmentation. In this context, an individual response that would rise up against the ways of life that the system imposes on us is vain and illusory, since it would only add to the fragmentation. There may be attitudes of withdrawal (refusal of mobile phones and hyperconnection, refusal of excessive consumerism etc.). But these practices are moral heroism and are politically insignificant. From then on, Mark Hunyadi comes to the idea that "... the only way to make a difference is to make a difference. since the system reproduces itself through fragmentation, only a common institution or the establishment of common institutions will be able to defragment it ». The strategic tool that would stop the automatisms of a system that reproduces itself by fragmentation would be "...". commonplace ». For Hunyadi, that means " instil reflexivity, thinking, criticism, stop the automatic reproduction of the system ".
While everything is being done today to abolish reflection, to renounce understanding, to blur all criticism, while the "automatic" society, as Bernard Stiegler would say, is bathed in an ocean of unreflection, "... the "automatic" society is a society that has no time for reflection. Understanding the world is already transforming it. ".
How? What modus operandi ? For the philosopher from the University of Leuven, digital tools and social networks - emblematic products of our lifestyles! - have a leading role to play in the political recomposition of the common. In this respect, he had evoked the idea of a virtual parliament in his last book.
There's something about this idea that's " gleefully ironic "he says, since it would turn the current changes in our lifestyles against the way those lifestyles are changing. « In this case, if the Internet is the very example of an evolution that has transformed our lifestyles without anyone in particular having wanted it, it could become the very tool that opposes this blind evolution, a dynamic of democratic reappropriation. ".
But Hunyadi is lucid and warns us. Digital communication tools have a difficulty of principle: they are certainly powerful tools for information, participation and mobilization, but they are much more difficult tools for deliberation. « Clicking is not deliberate "he warns us, pointing to the phenomenon of petitions, a recent study of which showed that its development was concomitant with a decline in physical, offline participation. In one click, the signatory of a petition " empties its mobilization potential: just wiggle your little finger... "
The challenge that this philosopher poses to us is both theoretical and practical. It is a question of articulating this common policy with the fundamental democratic achievements that we rightly hold dear, without however making individual rights the unassailable horizon of our moral architecture. Rather, it is now a matter of taking democracy to a higher level of the democratic age, by allowing the democratic and reflective reappropriation, at all relevant levels, of our lifestyles. He concludes: " I am not unaware of the difficulties in principle and the practical difficulties associated with such a program, but let us consider that in the absence of such an objective, in the robotic and automated world we are predicted to live in, it will in fact be the computer programmers who will have the upper hand over our lifestyles. ".
This article was first published on UP' Magazine on 18/03/2016

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