Hartmut Rosa is Professor of Sociology at Friedrich-SchillerUniversity Jena and Director of the Max Weber Centre in Erfurt. He is the author of Alienation and Acceleration: Towards a Critical Theory of Late-Modern Temporality and of Resonance. A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World.
“The common good is realised not when we are in control of our world, but when we are in resonance with it: in resonance with nature, in resonance with each other through political institutions, in resonance with history, and in resonance with ourselves.”
The Living Planet: there’s a reason WWF chose this title. It invokes a particular sense of connection to the world, or actually, between all things that make up our planet. Whether or not something is alive can be tested by touching it; being alive means being receptive to touch and responding to it in ways that cannot be predicted mechanically. Aliveness is a special form of relationship to one’s environment, and my claim is that we can gain a new, and globally viable, conception of the common good when we focus on this form of relationship. A common good for all cannot be expressed in frameworks such as religion, or political programmes. It has to be understood as a relationship.
Such a conception is of vital importance for our planet, for our societies, and for us as human beings, because our current planetary system is on an unhealthy path. Right now, our relationship towards the planet is not one of connection, but of aggression. Aggression towards nature, which we exploit and pollute; aggression towards fellow human beings whom we perceive as political opponents aggression towards our own bodies and psyche, which we seek to constantly improve and optimise.
Normally, it seems impossible to stop the economic motors which drive the wheels of growth, innovation and acceleration. Surprisingly, the emergence of COVID-19 managed to do what seemed to be impossible before: within a few weeks, the giant wheels came to a most significant slowdown, and in some areas even to a halt, as if some powerful brakes had been put on. Global society has reached something of a crossroads: we can either continue on the path of aggression, or we accomplish a paradigm change to a different mode of stabilisation.
I want to call that different mode a resonant mode. Resonance is the type of relationship which characterises us as living organisms. To be resonant with another is to be open and receptive to things that are touching, or voices that are calling us. It is being capable of answering and reaching out to the call or to touch, in a way that is characterised by the knowledge that we are capable of affecting other living beings, and that we affect them in turn. In fact, we are being transformed in this interplay of call/touch and answer, and we exert a transformative influence on the environment, too.
This process is open-ended and uncontrollable: resonance is not a stimulus-response or cause-effect form of relationship. It is a dynamic and creative interplay. This form of relationship can provide the yardstick for a better world beyond the mode of aggression. According to this vision, the common good is realised not when we are in control of our world, but when we are in resonance with it: in resonance with nature, in resonance with each other through political institutions, in resonance with history, and in resonance with ourselves. Responding to a living world does not mean to always agree with it – it requires disagreement and struggle, too – but it replaces the closure of aggression with the transformative openness of a responsive listener.