THE SOCIAL EDGE INTERVIEW: AUTHOR ZYGMUNT BAUMAN
by Gerry McCarthy
Zygmunt Bauman is one of the foremost social thinkers of our time. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Leeds and the University of Warsaw. Some of his numerous books include: Liquid Modernity, The Individualized Society, Modernity and the Holocaust, In Search of Politics, and Liquid Love. His new book Liquid Fear was recently published by Polity. I reached him in Leeds, England.
Gerry McCarthy: In Liquid Fear you write that: "All in all, human relations are no longer sites of certainty, tranquility and spiritual comfort. They become instead a prolific source of anxiety. Instead of offering the coveted rest, they promise perpetual anxiety and a life on the alert. Distress signals will never stop flashing, tocsins will never stop sounding." In liquid modern life, does this mean we’re unwilling to form deep friendships and companionship? If so: What are the consequences?
Zygmunt Bauman: Just on the contrary. It is precisely because we are willing "to form deep friendships and companionship," and willing more strongly and indeed desperately than ever, that our relations are full of sound and fury –saturated with anxiety and states of perpetual alert. We are willing, since, in Ray Pahl’s felicitous phrase, friendship bonds are our "sole convoy through the turbulent waters" of the liquid-modern world. "Turbulent waters" are the unstable and frail work places filled with mutual suspicion and all too often torn by cut-throat competition, neighbourhoods under constant threat by developers, uncertain and poorly marked roads to decent life, signposts to success that come up and vanish with no warning, dangers to the safety of one’s body and possessions too vague to pinpoint let alone to fight back, constant pressures to show one’s mettle and "prove oneself" with little help in mustering the resources such a feat would require, succession of recommended life fashions that are too fast to catch up with and to stave off the threat of falling behind, or be pushed out of the track altogether –you name it. Helping hand of a reliable, loyal, faithful, "till-death-do-us-part" friend, a hand that will be always there when needed, is what an island is for the shipwrecks or oasis for the lost in a desert. We need that hand, and wish to have it –the more of them, the better.