Sociologist Frank Furedi, “We don’t trust other people anymore”

Sociologist Frank Furedi, “We don’t trust other people anymore”

Nearly thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, calls for new borders are sounding louder and louder in Europe. “Can people live without borders?”, sociologist and contrarian thinker Frank Furedi asks his audience on the Day of Philosophy in Tilburg. Univers spoke with him after his talk.The hope for a future without borders was alive and kicking in the nineties. The Berlin Wall had come down, we celebrated our multicultural society and the ads for United Colours of Benetton reminded us that we were all part of one whole.

Not much remains of that sense of optimism. The refugee crisis and the economic meltdown have brought on a desire for new borders. Some voices call for a closing of the European external border and closed borders within it. Multiculturalism is no longer a term that only connotes positive feelings, far from it.

“We see now that multiculturalism was a myth”

It makes Furedi’s question, if people are even capable of living without borders, even more relevant. Frank Furedi (Budapest, 1947) is a professor of Sociology at the University of Kent. He wrote an impressive number of books about subjects such as fear and imperialism, of which Culture of Fear (1997) is best known. Furedi was keynote speaker on the Day of Philosophy, on Saturday 16 April in NWE Vorst.

It appears borders are making a comeback of some kind. Where does this need stem from?
“For a long time, multiculturalism was practically synonymous with indifference. During the eighties and nineties, the expectation was that things would simply turn out well when different groups of people mixed. But, what element connects these different groups when they are forced to live together? That question wasn’t asked. That was a big mistake. People no longer knew who they were and where they came from. This is where great cultural insecurities stem from. We see now that multiculturalism was a myth. Diversity on its own, is nothing. You need a common language.”

So, the quest for identity goes hand in hand with the call for new borders?
“Western societies are in a state of fragmentation. Take the Netherlands, for example. How many university staff would feel comfortable with a dockworker from Rotterdam? How many of the Amsterdam elite is actually in touch with people from an underprivileged area such as the Bijlmer? If you don’t know how to be around people with the same language, how do you connect with people who are from other countries and speak a different language? By reinforcing our borders, people want to strengthen the connection they feel among themselves.”

“Europa is an open continent. You can’t change that”

Right-wing populist parties play a role in the call for strengthening our connective tissue. At the same time, that view is closely associated with calls for exclusion. Doesn’t that carry a great new risk?
“Right-wing populism addresses the right question, but its solution is extremely negative. It also is extremely unrealistic. Lots is said about borders that need to be closed, walls that need to be put up. But those words are not backed up with reality. The European border is porous. People can enter easily; there isn’t a door you can close in any sense of the word. By talking about closing borders, a narrative is created that has no bearing on reality. The only thing that is accomplished, is an intensifying of fear and distrust. Europe is an open continent. You can’t change that. The question that needs to be answered is how we shape this open continent, not; how do we bar other people from coming in?”

While demands for borders increase, other boundaries actually fade away. You are critical about the fading boundary between the public and private sphere.
“Private matters now often tend to become public issues. Politicians are increasingly judged on their private affairs, rather than their work. I am not on board with that development. If we want our democracy to work properly, the public and private sphere need to be separated.

Why is this boundary disappearing?
“The call for transparency stems from fear and distrust. We no longer trust other people, so we have a continuous desire to peek into their private lives. This destroys the space that is essential to our human existence. People need spaces to retreat to and find peace. If you take away that space, people can no longer be themselves. Not just politicians, but also ordinary citizens.”

Will privacy become subject to scarcity in the future?
“I fear it will, if no action is taken. Privacy needs defending. The key are the feelings of fear that dominate us now. Whether it concerns the call for a closed-off Europe or for more transparency, fear is the driving force.”


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