Today, it is increasingly common to use the word "humanity" to refer to our common belonging to a species that we are becoming aware of every day as being threatened by itself. However, from a social and historical point of view, mankind as such does not exist. Our belonging to humanity is always conditioned by a particular cultural affiliation..
Men have in common their human nature, but their belonging to the species always manifests itself in a particular context, which may be temporal or cultural. Plurality is an irreducible characteristic of humanity. The very essence of mankind is its diversity.
Man is thus always situated on a fault line between the universal (belonging to a species) and the particular (belonging to a culture, to an era). He is fundamentally inscribed in the register of culture. And cultures are by nature different; their diversity is not an illusion or a secondary and fortuitous characteristic. All cultures have a "centre of gravity". (1) that allows them to offer different answers to essential questions. Seeking to reduce these differences is tantamount to annihilating these cultures. It is thus impossible to assert the existence of an absolute and universal law that can determine our moral, religious or political choices. To think otherwise is the leaven of totalitarianism. Cultures are diverse and it is this diversity that makes the richness of human societies.
● This characteristic is valuable but eminently fragile because human societies are both conflictual and cooperative. This specificity must be accepted as an intangible law, even if it shakes up two ideas that have been prevalent in all periods of human history.
The first idea is to believe in the possibility of removing antagonisms within a reconciled and harmonious society; an irenic prospect of a social paradise on earth.
The second misconception is to adopt a vision - be it liberal, racist or nationalist in nature - that views human societies as a space of conflict, war and competition between individuals.
Reality combines the two visions. What is characteristic of man is both aggressiveness (2) which forges creative activity and vital dynamics and at the same time altruism understood in the sense of adopting cooperative conduct beyond the sphere of genetic kinship alone.
Human existence inevitably takes place in a tragic constraint between these two opposite poles. All human societies have this dimension; our contemporary societies are no exception. The veneer of universalist individualism and the full force of the social contract do not succeed in masking this irreducible character of the human being: his existence is not conceivable without belonging to a group, a community, a family, a corporation, a religion. Human society is necessarily plural, and this plurality inevitably gives rise to clashes and struggles; but it is also capable of weaving bonds, of inserting itself into organic relationships that produce meaning.
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● To say that unity is multiple is to affirm the very principle of human identity. In Terre-PatrieEdgar Morin ardently describes this fundamental principle: "Each human being is a cosmos... Each one carries within himself treasures, deficiencies, faults and abysses. Each one carries within himself the possibility of love and devotion, hatred and resentment, revenge and forgiveness. To recognize this is also to recognize human identity. The principle of human identity is unitas multiplex, multiple unity, both biologically and culturally and individually. » (3)
(1) See: Johann Gottfried von HERDER, History and Cultures (1774), Flammarion, 2000.
(2) Cf. Konrad Lorenz, Aggression, a natural history of evil, Flammarion, 1969.
(3) Edgar Morin, Terre-Patrie, Seuil, 1996.