Humanity draws closer together. We know what people halfway around the world are doing, our actions have consequences for the whole globe. The tables, charts and bullet point resolutions that are criss-crossing the internet at incredible speed are so complex that they are almost useless. If we could perceive and digest everything that is relevant to our daily existence, we would be completely overwhelmed. Ethically as well as psychologically, we would know that our actions always imply disadvantages as well, for someone, somewhere.
We are threatened by an ethical and communicative burn-out syndrome. Brotherly love is becoming more global, but it is also becoming increasingly blinded. We are surrounded by so many “friends” that we fail to see our neighbor and his or her needs. Maintaining contact with people over the internet feels real, yet it is only a series of moments that can be induced or terminated with the click of a mouse button. In an increasingly interconnected world, more people than ever lead solitary existences. It does not surprise me that some people have begun to cancel their online profiles very consciously. Communication technology is not the solution to human solitude.
Lives on the run
Thus, the virtual world perpetuates what real-life mobility had already started. The invention of the train or the car promised more time by cutting down on idle, unproductive activities such as travel. Yet the result has rather been the opposite: subjectively, we have less time than ever before. The same is true for the communication age. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are saving time and expanding our lives through virtual connections while feeling increasingly pressed for time and being – paradoxically – overwhelmed by a flood of information and a lack of genuine human contact at the same time.
We need to find a sustained argument for the cultivation of human relationships. At stake is the quality of human freedom. The struggle for quantity – more clicks, more reach, more profits, more “friends” – must be countered by a struggle for quality and by the ultimate question: “For what purpose?” Has anyone in a position of power asked that question of himself, and taken responsibility for his actions? Can we not observe, at the dawn of economic recovery, the same atheistic materialism that helped to bring about the last financial crisis?
What we thus need is an ethics for the future. It must compel us to turn away from the pagan worship of numbers and instead revalue ideas such as intelligence, justice, bravery and restraint in our daily lives.
Faith, hope, love
Such an ethics can bring out one of the most fascinating aspects of human freedom: the will to restrain oneself and forsake some of the riches offered to us. Rewarded must not be the man who works excessively but the man who does not do everything he could. Faith, hope, and love can guide us on that path. We need a happy “Yes We Can’t!”. Freedom is realized in our renunciation. If we want to foster a culture of freedom and happiness, we need to cultivate our asceticism. It will lead to more reflective actions: if we decide not to have or do everything, we need to consider more intimately the things we want and cherish. And, finally, it will lead to more genuine human interactions. When we can embrace each other in the spirit of brotherly love without having to fear that we will be taken advantage of – that is true interaction and a true sign of human freedom.