The City of Montreal is supposed to modify a municipal by-law which would allow people whose “personal hygiene may inconvenience others” not to be able to enter municipal libraries. Although such a clause remains eminently vague and doomed to arbitrary interpretations, the real problem lies in the very existence of such a regulation, in Quebec, in 2023. It may well be modified to be more “socially acceptable”.
What is problematic is the existence of such a municipal by-law, even before its modification. It is social exclusion that we are talking about here, nothing less. But let’s take a step back to better understand the issues of dehumanization which are at the heart of all social exclusion.
Social exclusion is sometimes explicit: it does not give rise to confusion, regardless of the attempts at self-justification which serve as screens for stereotypes well anchored in a person’s mind. There is then a clear and clear desire to exclude someone from a group they belong to, from the community, or more broadly from public space in general. We are then faced with a case of conscious and determined marginalization.
Many groups of people who have been pushed to the margins of society have suffered, with varying intensity, such social exclusion. Going back a hundred years is more than enough: homosexuals, itinerants, disabled people, women and people of color (and any combination of these five group characteristics) have suffered this explicit exclusion. The most incredible thing is that a society founded on respect for inalienable human rights has not succeeded in eliminating all forms of marginalization.
However, marginalization is the first gateway to the attack on fundamental rights. When the marginalization of a group of people becomes crystallized by stereotypes still active in the minds of the people who practice the marginalization, then it gradually progresses towards its extreme manifestation. In this case, dehumanization is not just about marginalization and the erosion of the rights of marginalized people. It is also the expression of a dehumanizing attitude, reinforced by a desire, more or less admitted, that marginalized people do not exist, at least, “in their eyes”.
Dehumanization reaches its limit when this non-existence of the marginalized is not only a wish hidden in the lair of a bourgeois consciousness which characterizes human beings as if they were pure objects, but above all a desire to take away from them concretely the right to exist as a social being, by gradually eating away all their possibilities of existing in the public space.
Extreme dehumanization is possible as much in totalitarian societies as in hyperindividualist societies. In hyperindividualist societies, people who do not hold power and who think differently from the indefinite and malleable mass of individuals who practice marginalization quickly become beings that these individuals do not even want to meet.
Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope for the marginalized who live in hyperindividualist societies, unlike those who try to survive in a totalitarian regime. Some people go to the defense of the marginalized. We can easily feel the deep humanity that animates them. But the critical mass of people who practice marginalization continue to resist, either to preserve their personal interests, or through indifference to the suffering of others, or by imprisoning their minds in stereotypes that maintain marginalization and social exclusion. . Their capacity for altruism and compassion is only reserved for people who reassure them, in their well-nurtured stereotypes. Marginalization reaches its limit when someone is made to feel that they do not exist, or that they do not have the right to exist in public space.
Changing mentalities always takes a long time to accomplish. The critical mass of hyperindividualist people who resist the most strongly and for the longest time to allowing all the people who suffer their practices of marginalization to exist in the public space is not yet at its last breath. The more people who raise their voices in the face of dehumanizing phenomena, the more the change in mentalities will make headway, at the very heart of a society that is still dedicated to hyperindividualism.
This is the paradox of a hyperindividualist society: it can give rise to the most marvelous impulses of humanity through which the individual forgets himself, for the well-being of others.
It is fortunate that voices are being heard to prevent access to Montreal’s municipal libraries from being prohibited for reasons of “inconvenient personal hygiene”. Because a person’s actions reflect the kind of societies in which they would like to live. This is also true for a group, a community, or a social institution. This was the conviction of Jean-Paul Sartre (in his book Existentialism is humanism).
To dream of a better world to live in, we must act accordingly, when we see social exclusion manifesting itself. If we do not loudly denounce all forms of social exclusion, including those around us, then it is because we are completely comfortable living in a society which multiplies forms of marginalization and exclusion. social. This was the philosopher Cicero who said it, more than two thousand years ago.