zondag 14 november 2010


I recently read that in large parts of Africa and Asia the embarrassment to talk about defecation, sanitary facilities etcetera is big. It is a taboo, to the extent that construction of toilets is hardly debatable. The paradox is that dealing with defecation takes place in a much more overt way than is the case with us. Occasionally it is being done on the street, or along the side of the road. And one does not shake left hands.

As openly as that we would rather not have it in the West, actually it is taboo to us. But meanwhile we discussed the subject extensively, almost shamelessly: we thought and talked a lot about toilets, sewerage, hand washing and toilet paper. That’s why all these facilities could be created. And now we feel uncomfortable if somewhere they are missing and people just relieve themselves. But then, these people prefer not to talk about it. So, with whom the inhibitions are biggest?

Whoever plunges into the (brown) matter - so to speak – apparently is less dirty when he emerges than the one who thinks it’s too dirty.

Another paradox. To an extent not displayed by any other civilization the West engaged in the fight against various threats, from floods to disease, from hunger to poverty. All this aimed at the increase of the certainty of life, and successfully so.

Simultaneously the very West seems more and more in the grip of fear and uncertainty. But these do not look so much like fear of fysical threats or deficits. These uncertainties are mainly socio-cultural in nature. People experience a vague feeling of being lost, of loneliness, anonymity and crumbling communities. People fear a social decline. Whereas our lives’s quality is better than ever.

Whoever, for fear of the threats of the elements, counters them successfully and creates certainty, comes out more frightened than he was when he started off.

This paradox fits in in Levinas’ descriptions. The latter speaks about the il-y-a and by that he means the terrifying indifference of the universe that may beat us with physical disasters, want and disease. Levinas will, in response to that, see the struggle of man against such threats as a laudable effort to remain upright against the terrifying il-y-a.

At the same time - Levinas says - in the tamed, safe society the il-y-a will keep returning. But it returns in its veiled variation, which means: in the shape of loneliness, dull bureaucracy or feelings of senselessness. Against this background Levinas positions the encounter with the Other. This encounter is manifested there in its full strength and may, in his opinion, serve as a new source of meaning.