Of the things most amusing to Brussels is the diversity of its residents. In living here for about a year and a half, I have come to appreciate this city as a microcosmos of the European Union, if not the globe. What appeals to me the most is that one can live here as a cosmopolite and be free to interact with—or be immersed in—a variety of cultures, perceptions, ideas. As a critic and self-critic this openess can be regarded as emancipatory, for it provides the necessary space for consideration of one’s own perceptions; it offers the impetus for scrutinizing the very structure—the “I”—on which complexes of significations are concentrically fastened upon, in the incessant process of self-identification and self-realization—of the projection of the changing-while-remainig self in juxtaposition to its ego.
The other day I was sitting with a friend at a ‘brasserie’ in one of the town’s popular yet cozy squares, drinking Belgium’s fine beers and savoring those (in)famous ‘frites’ of theirs. We were speaking about politics. The discussion span over a range of overlapping themes, from democratic participation, to the classification and clarification of political ideologies, to European federalism and its present role in European integration and the European res publica, to the notion of responsibility.
At some point—I guess it was the third round of pints —a group of elderly people from Germany sat next to our table. Fascinated with speaking and learning as we all are, it was not long before they became part of our company. Without wasting much time on introductions and superficialities, we ventured to consider the prospects for European unification, against the backdrop of the economic crisis and the impact it has had on my generation: the youth. Eventually a rather banal statement was made: “you are the ones who will do it”. It was about the young people being the ones who bear the historical responsibility to realize the project of European integration.
As iconoclastic as I probably am, and given that I am not impressed by the humbuggery peculiar to party-political pronouncements and pontifications on the importance of “the youth” and on its valorization as the ultimate telos of political praxis, I had to provide my qualified rejection of that postulation. At first, there is nothing intrinsic to age that determines open-mindedness or that bestows upon one any kind of instituted reality. At second and a fortiriori, there is no deterministic element indissociably connected to age, which shall, somewhat talismanically, engender and facilitate progress. At third, the division of people by age is quantitative and rather arbitrary, for it blithely ignores the qualitative aspects each person has to offer regardless of their age. At fourth, the very concept of society encompasses individuals regardless of age or background and the society is made such by virtue of having all of its elements.
There are youth who are frivolous and other who, while raised in the same context, are pillars of credibility. There are young people who labor for democratic participation and others who spend their time cultivating sentiments of nationalism, xenophobia, racism and other misanthropic tendencies. The same applies for the elderly and indeed for everyone, since age is not inextricably bound up together with ideology.
Behaviors and expectations are a matter of primary and secondary rules that are established in the cultural-historical process of institution; and age may indeed be a factor for formulating roles. Such are the workings of the imaginary and the inherited social imaginary, but they are not consubstantial with age per se. This goes to say that, in my humble opinion, the long-standing presumptions related to age, most often are misleading decontextualizations that can horrendously violate certain tenets of thought that derive from the appraisal of the facts in a state of affairs.
I therefore propounded the idea that to achieve things collectively we need the participation of everyone and not delegate responsibilities—or the spectralization of duty—to a group or sub-group. For the sake of the story, we came to agree that this is indeed a sound approach, not a darling folly of some rebellious young punk.
Finally, while regaling and educating ourselves with these considerations, one man who was seated at the other end of the table, drew a sketch of myself with a pencil he had brought along with him. It was a drawing on a beer coaster. Yet for me it is more that just a delineation of a figure, since it captures the impression I have of all the afore-described: cosmopolitanism, the diversity of Brussels, political discussions, the role of citizens in a democracy, the future of European integration, the beer, the fried potatoes and the serendipity of coming back home with a piece of art in hand.