What is the best way to live? What does a just society consist of? Rob Riemen (Netherlands, 1962) tries to answer these questions, referring to Socrates, with four studies that shape his latest book, The Art of Being Human (Taurus, Arcàdia in Catalan). Four essays in which he mixes his life and great scholarship to lay the foundations for a society that thinks for itself and gets out of the hole it finds itself in: “It is a hopeful book because we still have the ability to solve it, but it is time to act” .
This journey begins when Riemen receives a letter from Víctor García Salas, professor of Philosophy at the UNAM, in Mexico, and enters into correspondence with his students, talking to them about the need for a “spiritual education.” The best way to do this, he says, is to “reflect on your educators and trainers.” From here, she combines the memory of her mother's story, that during World War II she was a prisoner for three years in a Japanese concentration camp in Java, Indonesia, where she lived. The founder of the Nexus Institute of Thought – which encourages reflection between diverse disciplines – tenderly weaves this story with the problems that come with forgetting the past. “There is an organized amnesia, too many powers with great interest in keeping stupidity alive. Generally speaking, what politician would be elected if people were a little less stupid?”
Riemen also talks in his book about the role of intellectuals like Zola or Bulgakov in their time, and how “they had a sacred commitment to the truth,” in the face of the “current impoverishment of the quality of public discourse.” Before, the paradigm was politics, but once the Wall fell, during the nineties “it was replaced by the business model: today governing a country, a university or a newspaper is a business and everything is inputs, outputs, ratings, efficiency, productivity ...”.
“We live – he assures – in a world that is drowning in its own materialism, spiritually empty, and has become a mass democracy where politicians are demagogues and propaganda machines in a society governed by the instincts of fear, anxiety, desire and greed where no one accepts any responsibility.” On the other hand, for him “democracy is based on the cultivation of moral and spiritual values in a free society.”
“We have traded our soul for a selfie, but is it more important to be handsome and sexy or do we still believe in truth, goodness and justice?” Rhetorical question?
Catalan version, here