"Homo viator", man on the move

"This is the title of a book published in 1942 by the existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel, in whose writings the image of the path is omnipresent… His reflection follows the cadence of the walk, sometimes pauses, but never stops; it does not build a permanent shelter. For philosophy is a tireless quest, an adventure, a journey. Man is an itinerant being. Time is the form of his test." [1]

To explain himself to himself and to situate himself in the universe, the human being has invented the two dimensions in which his existence moves: the most immediate and most visible one is space; isn’t the baby’s first conquest around his first year his "first steps", often greeted by the joyful cheers of those around him? And we have just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of "one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind". The second dimension manifests itself much later: even if it stores them before even having left its mother’s womb, the child does not remember its first memories until after several years, in a kind of time lapse.

The changes that manifest themselves in his body as he grows are at the intersection of space and time: day by day, year by year, the physical and the spirit move together, even if sometimes they contradict each other. Thus, throughout our lives, whether we pay attention to it or not, we are all migrating in space and time, at different rates and in different proportions. So, why designate certain persons who have moved for various reasons under particular conditions by the qualifying adjective "migrant" and make a noun of it, thus essentialising these persons who have become "migrants", a specific category of humanity, a particular human group, which will also give them a particular, rarely positive treatment? It is the displacement in space that is thus privileged and emphasized, and the identity of this person is reduced to this displacement, without taking into account his history, his culture, his convictions, his beliefs, in a word, his personality.

Indeed, as Pope Francis often says, time is greater than space: space connotes the idea of discovery, conquest, geographical expansion and power, possession and property, immediacy; on the contrary, "time enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results"… "Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return".

The prodigious progress of geographical movements in less than a century has favoured space over time and even resulted in a true concertinaing of space and time: deadlines and distances are increasingly shortened, not to mention the information, which travels in real time, that is, through the abolition of both time and space. Immediacy and possession thus rule on the planet at the expense of thought and reflection, which require time.

By a deadly equation, Western civilization has reduced time to the modern symbol of possession, money: time became money. Both terms are used simultaneously with the same verbs: to have time/money, to gain, to waste, to save… The trading algorithm that decides in one billionth of a second where your interest, your profit, is, has become the dominant globalization paradigm that excludes those who fail to adapt to it. As Paul-André Rosental describes it, this is not a new phenomenon, though it has changed its name.

“Our age is based on a mythology of mobility, particularly the geographical mobility, which is supposed to ensure both the adaptation to a flexible labour market and the personal fulfilment of a permanent self-building. What is more, this mobility is potentially limitless, since the notion of globalization suggests the vision of a global circulation of migratory flows. History, however, reveals that migration is not the condition of "modern man", but that of the whole of humanity since it began its expansion. Simply put, its forms and logics change profoundly over time, each time creating stereotypes that, although contradictory, have become anchored in the imagination. From the image of the "perverted peasant", developed under the Old Regime, the idea remains of an association between migration and crime. The dark vision of the "uprooted", consecrated by Marx concerning the English peasant driven out of his land by the enclosure movement, leads either to a sensibility which dwells on the sordid aspects of life or to a concern for individuals "with neither hearth nor home", anomic, potential destabilizers of the social order. In contrast, for the last hundred years, the image of the transplanted person, bringing with him his roots by moving within the framework of his family or community networks, is sometimes disturbing, when migrant communities are perceived as indissoluble lumps in the host community, sometimes positive, when it is supposed to enrich the culture of the host environment. Finally, between emancipation and liberation, the same ambivalence about the representation of the migrant, and even more of the female migrant, freeing himself or herself, through mobility, from submission to his or her environment and ready to do anything to make his or her social ascension a success” [2]

Therefore, the migratory phenomenon could be beneficial for our societies stuck on reflexes of fear that are both possessive and exclusive, if they show themselves capable of welcoming those who, coming from elsewhere, bring us their differences and if we allow ourselves to be welcomed by them in perfect fraternal equality.

[1] Robert Paul in Arts et Lettres, October 2, 2011.

[2] Universalis: "Migrations", Paul-André Rosental.