venerdì 7 febbraio 2014

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

By Zygmunt Bauman
(...) When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain replied, angrily, with another question: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The greatest ethical philosopher of our century, Emmanuel Levinas, commented: from that angry Cain’s question all immorality began. Of course I am my brother’s keeper ... Whether I admit it or not, I am my brother’s keeper because my brother’s well-being depends on what I do or refrain from doing. And I am a moral person because I recognize that dependence and accept the responsibility that follows. The moment I question that dependence and demand—like Cain did—to be given reasons why I should care, I renounce my responsibility and am no more a moral self. My brother’s dependence is what makes me an ethical being. Dependence and ethics stand together and together they fall. (...)

All this is bad news for the seekers of peace and tranquillity. Being one’s brother’s keeper is a life sentence of hard labour and moral anxiety, which no amount of trying would ever put to rest. But this is good news for the moral person: it is precisely in the situations social workers are daily in, in the situations of difficult choices, of choices without guarantee and without the authoritative reassurance of propriety, that the responsibility for the Other, that foundation of all morality, comes into its own.
The future of social work and, more generally, of the welfare state, does not depend on classifications, on procedures, nor on reducing the variety and complexity of human needs and problems. It depends, instead, on the ethical standards of the society we all inhabit. It is those ethical standards which, much more than the rationality and diligence of social workers, are today in crisis and under threat.

The future of the welfare state, one of the greatest gains of humanity and the foremost achievement of civilized society, lies on the frontline of an ethical crusade. That crusade might be lost—all wars involve the risk of defeat. Without it, however, no effort stands a chance of success. Rational arguments will not help; there is, let us be frank, no ‘good reason’ why we should be our brothers’ keeper, why we should care, why we should be moral—and in the utility-oriented society the function-less poor and indolent cannot count on rational proofs of their right to happiness. Yes, let us admit—there is nothing ‘reasonable’ about taking responsibility, about caring and being moral. Morality has only itself to support it: it is better to care than to wash one’s hands, better to be in solidarity with the unhappiness of the other than indifferent, and altogether better to be moral, even if this does not make people wealthier and the companies more profitable.

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