The third millennium ushered in a new world order, which some have described as a new world disorder. Geopolitical contexts that appeared stable are now falling apart: suffice it to mention the Arab Springs, Brexit or the secessionist demonstrations in Catalonia. On a larger scale, the traditional great powers are losing influence, and small, heavily armed states, as well as other non-state actors, threaten lives, personal freedom, and political borders.
Simultaneously, the technological revolution has transformed mass and personal communication and has shaped new informal and transnational networks that were unconceivable even in the early 2000s. Often seeking convenience above all, many of us have given up our freedom to the great digital empires; we have surrendered elements of our identity to various corporate and political actors that can use them to influence our most important decisions, including elections. The new order and big data resources are being used to bolster aspirations of domination and control of human behavior.
Some nations have reacted with isolationism and protectionist measures. Internally, some states have sought to amass power and control. Citizens are hardening their political views. They distrust existing institutions and seek change at all costs. The suspicion of others leads to the return of tribal dynamics. Tribes can take different shapes: communities in the digital world, defined circles within a society, transnational movements. Frequently, these groups bring together very diverse individuals, and often the only thing these individuals have in common is a fight against something. To further complicate the picture, the recent waves of migration have exacerbated Identitarian sentiments that comprise an explosive potential for conflict.
How to address these challenges and those yet to come? The starting point is the recognition of the basic and primary right of each individual to exist. And because we do share a space (both in the real and digital worlds), this right must be blended with the necessity to co-exist. To coexist, we must seek negotiation and agreement. Yet we are currently watching international protocols unravel. Partnerships – once trusted – are dissolving; agreements – once binding – are falling apart. The model of “reluctant tolerance” will not suffice. None of the current negotiation strategies appears adequate, as they are normally based on pragmatic considerations of interest and advantage, which can fast change in a fast changing world. Consequently, agreements based on these premises are not likely to last.
Although interaction in new digital space involves some dynamics present in the real world, digital space is more complex in that users can create multiple ‘’identities’’. Some of these identities can be very meaningful, but others may be fake or ambiguous, and still others are forgotten or lie dormant after registration in some social network. In other words, coexistence entails different dimensions, such as geography, sphere (real or digital), and identity (individual and collective). At each of these levels reside interests, aspirations, needs, traditions, ideologies, beliefs, values and creeds. The opportunities such space can present lie alongside great risks. We need a new culture of coexistence, one that is informed by the new social and geopolitical environment, new sensitivities and anxieties, and the unprecedented speed at which information and opinions can be transmitted and shared online. In the current landscape, while we search for a path toward coexistence, fully neutral or fully univocal approaches are doomed to fail. Rather, what is needed today is a “neoneutral” approach, based on two pillars: the values of humanism, and respect for each individual’s dynamic and multifaceted identities.
The first pillar has, at its core, the individual and his/her right to freedom and dignity. We in fact use the term humanism to underline the importance of the universal right of all humans to a decorous and dignified existence, alongside their individual identity traits (ethnic, social, religious, etc.). The second pillar is the ability to establish relations that are respectful of different identities and cognizant of the fact that these identities are not static. They change as our world continues to change. To ensure a peaceful, respectful, and decent coexistence for everyone, a humanism-based, dynamic approach to relations is in order.
Each of us is presented with the same challenge: enabling our individual multiple identities to exist while at the same time coexisting with other individuals’ identities. Institutions, for their part, must be able to guarantee this coexistence peacefully and harmoniously. In this way, the notion of coexistence as mere cohabitation develops into the concept of living in active and meaningful togetherness. We call it Convivencia, a term used by scholars to indicate how Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together peacefully and in mutual respect in the Iberian Peninsula between the 8th and the 15th centuries. In our case, however, we must expand the notion beyond religions.
A new culture of Convivencia must be based on the principles of dignity and reciprocity. This approach can be defined as holistic, as it brings together geopolitics, the social sciences, technology and education. At the center of this philosophical and cultural approach lies humanism.