The Philosophical quest for an ethics of Mercy

‘There is a criminal negligence of reflection on Mercy’ says Cardinal Walter Kaspers . The year of Mercy is an apt occasion to close this vital gap in our theologizatin/ theorization. We can hear  the cry for mercy all around us. Humanity seems to have become heartless  and wicked and Philosophers like Deleuze  have begun talking of becoming animals to recover a lost humane  side of humanity.  The masters of suspicion like Freud, Marx and Nietzsche can offer us a way of understanding our pathetic condition. Hence, we shall try to journey with them and do an immanent analysis of the prevailing scenario and then take inspiration  from the philosophers of ‘the other’ like Martin Buber,  Emanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur.  Blasé Pascal has already said: ‘the heart has reasons which reason does not understand’.  Hence, we shall try to enter the realm of the analysis of desire and open some non-rational approaches of Jacques Lacan, Deleuze and Gauttari, and   Bracha Ettinger  to daw a map to further understand as well as seek apt responses to our complex  situation.

Our sense of triumphant progressive march on the wings of science, technology and anthropocentric theologies and philosophies  have been interrogated and contested by the masters of suspicion. Freud can help us to understand how we are responding to the condition of heartlessness that we are facing today.  His analysis of Oedipus complex assists us to understand how the rigour of the law that has often become a tool that snuffs out mercy in our praxis is an oedipalising tendency. Indeed, it does open us to the fact that we often choose silence of latency and allow the oppression, violence of caste, women exploitation, vigilantism of the Hindutva forces, corruption  etc. Perhaps, our silence is triggered by what Freud describes as castration anxiety, the fear of being orphaned by the powerful forces in  our country.  These and several other responses of the Christian and others are both unchristian and un-Indian and promote de-Indianizing of India as well as Christianity. Hence, we  might say the insular response or the silence of latency is  an indication of our enjoyment of death drive. Besides, the fort da analysis of Freud can open further doors to several substitutes that cope with the sense of unhoming that we experience as minorities, women, dalits and students  in our country.

Karl Marx’s critique of religion is very much known. He declared that religion is the opium of the masses. It seems that the above view is becoming reality in our country where religion, caste and politics are crossing each other day in and day out. Perhaps, his lesser known statements that say ‘religion is the heart of the heartless world ’, ‘religion is the sigh of the poor’ and ‘religion is the soul of the soulless condition’ has the power to bring us to the leap of consciousness that will enable us to understand how our religious, educational, administrative and even legal institutions have become heartless. Besides Marx,  the terrifyingly terrible declaration of the death of God by Fredrick Nietzsche can drive home how God  of the philosophers that steadily came to replace the living God of the Bible or of  human experience become irrelevant if emptied or divested of mercy.  Unfortunately, though Nietzsche banished a heartless God, he brought in the reign of a heartless overman/ superman driven by equally heartless will to power. Hence, the surrogate proposed by Nietzsche becomes the return of the heartless/ ruthless reign of man.    We must agree that  both these thinkers underline the  need of mercy in our religious as well as social life.

How can we give a heart to this ruthlessly heartless world? We can find several paths like the way of Jesus,  karuna of Buddha, or Ahimsa of the Jains , Mercy of Allah etc. We shall follow the thinkers of the other to curl out a response of mercy that we are looking for in this context.  Martin Buber’s ‘I-It’ approach can exemplify the de-humanising objectification that often the subalterns face in our country. We can even take a deeper leap with help of Julia Kristeva’s notions of abject and abjection. The condition of abject leading to expulsion or exorcism of the demonized other might help us to understand the plight of the untouchables in our society.  That is why Buberian ‘I-THOU’ approach is indeed a vital way of overcoming the de-peopling of our people. We can also draw inspiration from the work of Emanuel Levinas.  The ability/ inability of Facing the Face of the other can help us to evolve an ethics of responsibility for the other who cannot be totalized, erased and digested in our categories. The phenomenology of Face that reflects the divine can draw us to an ethics of care and compassion that is so much needed for our times.

Staying with the great thinkers of the other, we may be enabled to open ourselves to the narrative of self and its other within the narrative hermeneutics of Paul Ricouer.   As we dive into the narrative sources of the self, it can trigger in us an imperative to change/ deconstruct the narrative when our narrative’s are divisive and lead to violence and bloodshed.  Besides,  Ricoeur’s the distinction between the logic of equivalence that seeks justice and the logic super abundance/ excess that bestows forgiveness provides a profound insight that enables us to understand that the  ethical status of the  one who forgives becomes higher that one who receives forgiveness. Further, Ricoeur‘s call for an ethical responsibility to remember as well as forget memories that enable and disable our society respectively is profoundly relevant to bring about praxis of mercy in our society. Moreover, the hermeneutics of trust as well as suspicion are of great help in the bringing of  the praxis of mercy into actualisation.

Mercy and Wicked behaviour also belong to the realm of desire. We cannot fully understand wicked behaviour in the power of reason. Therefore, we need non-rational approaches. Psycho-analytic thinking has opened us the doors to the presence of non-rational / the unconscious that govern our behaviour. Besides, Freudian psychoanalysis, we have Jaques Lacan who illumines how the libidinal economy takes control over us and we are driven by a sense of loss and recovery that might also lead us find joy in several denials that we enforce on others. Lacan tells us that the unconscious does not reside deep in us but inhabits our inter-subjective space. He calls it the discourse of the other. The self  he say is profoundly marked by a relation of lack. Lack/ loss is mostly felt in the presence of the other. The sense of lack produces the desire to recover the lost object. Hence,  to recover the lost (object petit a) we chase a desire that can never be fulfilled . This may lead to s unbecoming chain of behaviour that may be deceptively thought to  substitute the lost object. Hence, often good people become captive to the sense of loss and chase a loss recovery dynamism that can bring out the worst in us humans.

Deleuze and Gauttari  advocate anti-opedipal response. They suggest the oedipal behaviour always upholds the law of the father. This schizolizes our society. it leads us to think in terms sameness and identities which Derrida had identified as logocentrism. Thinking in terms of privileged difference brings the anti-Oedipus  out of us. Things are always different and they cannot  be totalised into a sameness that we arrive by  subtracting otherness. Even our thinking, speaking and writing a language inscribes and pours out difference. Deleuze further do not hierarchize difference but offers the root type: rhizome as modelling the dynamic horizontal emergence of difference.  Rhizomatic though is non-hierarchical and all embracive without the erasure of the otherness. Hence, the embrace of all forms of  otherness/ difference becomes important way to bring the praxis mercy and expand the space of ethics of hospitality in our country.

Bracha Enttiger, an Artist and Psychoanalyst philosopher draws our attention to co-poiesis or the co-journeying of all. She points out that we  can come to the level of  co-presence that results in the co-emergence.  She gives us the example of mother and the child in the womb  or the painter and the paintings as indicative of co-poiesis.  The mother and the child are co-present to each other and co-emerge mutually as mother and the child .  Just as the mother carries the child, so too we carry psychic traces of each other. We do not just have genetic traces of our ancestors, we have the other in us. The psychic traces of the other that has come in touch us. It is this carrying of the other in each other that she locates the ethic of care and hospitality. In the very carrying of the other in us, we are enabled to reach out in care for the other.  The ethics of care is indeed an ethics of mercy.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao