There is something very peculiar about our generation. While most of us embrace the core set of values inherited and developed since the Enlightenment –democracy, human rights, freedom of conscience, institutional fairness, equality before the law and rationality—we have become increasingly estranged from the vast philosophical project that grounds those values, a project I can sum up as a constant intellectual effort to grasp the true nature of reality. Nihilists view this estrangement as a clear and infallible proof that Nietzsche was right, that all that there is out there is will to power and that the Descartes, Lockes and Kants of the world have been unmasked by a crop of smarter Übermensch1.
While this is a plausible argument, I believe it is not the one that explains what has happened to us. Our generation might seem more Nietzschean to a knowledgeable observer, but we have not become so thanks to our thorough acquaintance with the ideas of the German philosopher. What has transformed this generation into unfertile ground for the philosophical project of the Enlightenment is the advent of the digital era, not the Nihilists’ utopia of a growing consciousness of Nietzsche’s ideas. As I have argued elsewhere, our current existential conditions have suffered a dramatic transformation over the last twenty-five years. The overexposure to a digitally-interconnected society has completed a mutation that puts us at odds with the philosophical project of the West, whose ultimate goal –from the Greeks to the moderns— was to grasp the true nature of reality. It is not that we are a smarter generation that finally completed the deconstruction of all metaphysical systems; we are just a generation in which talking about metaphysical and foundational projects is abnormal, it does not rhyme with our current multidimensional, center-less and fluid reality.
There are many who fear that when the generational transition is completed and the values of the west fall into our hazardous postmodern hands, these values will perish. How can they survive in the hands of a generation that has lost the great Enlightenment goal, the holy grail of truth-seeking? How can a generation that distrusts discourses of truth avoid total relativistic chaos? Both points are legitimate questions and concerns, but the task of our generation is precisely to prove the skeptics wrong. We will be the generation that asserts man’s pragmatic ability to enhance its collective human experience just for the sake of it, with no need to write it in eternal golden letters, without recourse to foundational grounds, just with our eyes fixed in a better future.
The task of our generation is to sweep the foundational rug from underneath our shared values and insert these values into an ever-going conversation on how to enhance our collective experience. In other words, the task of our generation is to drop the pretense that our shared values are the reflection of an accurate representation of what reality really is and replace it with pragmatic justifications in a fully open conversation about why these values are better than alternative proposals if what we are aiming at is at a better human being.
The only way for our generation to succeed in this endeavor is to ensure that the conversation channels remain open. While the Enlightenment’s fight was to replace an outdated world-view with a more accurate one, our fight is to make sure that the conversation remains open and accessible to all. Our fight is political, not epistemological. No matter how successful a certain belief is proving to be at a current stage, it should always remain accountable to alternative candidates and should constantly show its credentials as to why it is the one that better helps us to cope with our current environment. If something is certain in life, it is that we will always be faced with new challenges, and the real value of our western inheritance is not that it got reality right, is that it has proved itself to be better in the ongoing human struggle to cope with new demands.
We do not want to be the generation that uncovers the true nature of reality; in the words of Richard Rorty, we want to be the generation that replaces certainty with hope. Hope that if we keep widening the channels of communication we will one day be able to defeat fundamentalism, enhance cooperation and create a new type of human being more aware and responsive to the vast plurality of ways in which our race can carry on with its existence. We hope that if we are successful in achieving this, the truth will take care of itself.