Convivialism: The Long Release
from the 19th and 20th Centuries
by Noemi Gal-Or, July 2022
How can the convivialist ethos, of a political philosophy of living together in conviviality, and defying hubris, materialise in practice? A comparative approach places convivialism within the larger stream of similar contemporary discourses (transhumanism and posthumanism) in order to contrast its particular contribution to praxis. The convivialist uniqueness lies in its holistic and inclusive approach to communication: the pluriversalist language. The paper describes three examples of pluriversalist beginnings. It stresses that the pluriversalist process of communication must be spread widely, not left to representative and activist bodies alone but engulf everyone everywhere in all matters of life.
Noemi Gal-Or is a board member of the International Convivialist Association. She is a professor emerita from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia, Canada, and a retired lawyer from the bar of British Columbia. She is a member of the Board of the Jewish Association of International Lawyers and Jurists (IJL) and the editorial board of its Justice magazine.
Apart from the declaratory statements on Convivialism – the First Convivialist Manifesto (FCM) and the Second Convivialist Manifesto (SCM) – much of the convivialist narrative, which has yet to reach its ten-year mark, exhibits a yearning for a new path for humanity. Not to be confounded with a longing for salvation, and certainly not for divine deliverance, the convivialist message, whilst intuitively grasped, has been struggling to formulate a simple, instinctively cognitively understood concept, and perhaps future norm, of “Convivialism.” In this brief piece, I am joining my political scientist and jurist, philosopher, and other academic and activist contributors to the two Convivialist Manifestos, in their attempt to broach the “applied” aspect of convivialism. How can the convivialist ethos, of a political philosophy of living together in conviviality, materialise in practice? By applying a comparative approach, placing convivialism within the larger stream of similar contemporary discourses, I hope to elucidate its particular contribution to praxis, namely its formulation of a holistic and inclusive approach to communication, the pluriversalist language.
Convivialism, Transhumanism, Posthumanism
Convivialism, as I comprehend it, is an exponentially multidimensional entreprise. It is an idea set to develop into a norm that will guide humanity in saving itself from itself. It is therefore an all human, and non-human (but not anti-human), life (and death) encompassing affair. Arguably, its very multidimensionality appears to render it too complex to grasp in its entirety, indeed defy the simplification requisite for norm building consensus. So one way of overarching this diversity, is to conceive of an ideational synthesis of humanism wherein “Liberalism, understood in the broadest sense, is indeed the matrix of all modern ideologies if we understand by liberalism, the principal opposition to all traditional dominations and hierarchies, an opposition that consequently recognizes the inevitability and legitimacy of conflict and division within the social order.” This, however, is helpful only as a point of departure, a springboard from where a road must be paved leading to a fresh construction of the new circumstances and challenges (at least of their form, if not, essence) that have emerged at the turn of the 20th century. In a similar vein, what Caillé identifies as the now exhausted spatial and temporal, and anthropologic, signature markers of the four ideological principles that have nourished democratic modernity, has indeed been recognised in the discourses of two, possibly but not necessarily, competing claims addressing the same impasse: Transhumanism and posthumanism.
Similar to convivialism, transhumanism appreciates humanism’s hegemony yet takes it a step further. It establishes a dialogue between humanism and science which it distinguishes as art versus science. Married together, both represent human’s infinite and cumulative facility to stretch its reach, re-invent and leverage itself even beyond the human and as a specie of nature. In this “humanist” sequence, the previously “terrestrial” Earth based humanism extends and incorporates the outer-Earth as an additional habitat for the human being (and of other non-human forms of being). Here technology is indispensable, reigning as the dominant expression of the human being (as understood since Erasmus’s humanism, but also before); moreover, it is perceived as positive for it assists and enhances the same old species. The Transhumanist Declaration offers an ideational inspiration according to which human beings embrace new technology as a means to “have a better chance of turning it [technology] to our advantage” (paragraph 3, emphasis added), focusing on the individual’s capacity and goal to “improve their control over their own lives” (paragraph 4, emphasis added) while also embracing “all sentience” (paragraph 7). The Transhumanist Manifesto embraces the human based conviction enunciated in the Transhuman Statement (Manifesto) of 1983: “I am the architect of my existence.”
Posthumanism, the other call for a new hermeneutic, rejects humanism altogether on the charge of being obsolete. It rebuffs the humanist privileged status bestowed on the human species by its ideologists, rejects its centrality, and its dominance on life on Earth and beyond; it casts off the paradigmatic ontology of humanism wherein the human being is reified, held as a superior species. Accordingly, the Western modernist utopia, child of Enlightenment humanism, represents a “narrative […] stretched again and again to fit ever less convincingly over a changing world”. For posthumanism, the human being has exhausted its historic role, but unlike the transhumanist interpretation, this assertion encompasses also opposition to technological development. Consequently, there is no escape from forging ahead to the next phase of existence; a new chapter in human history lead by a new reasoning drawing new horizons and challenging humanism’s hegemony. In the posthumanist (“more” utopian?) purview, the human is embedded in its environment, an integral and equal part to all other being. The subject-object distinction has been discarded as a newly emerging (Copernican) consciousness wherein the notion of life is “de-centering”, being freed of its human species fixation, and in which existence is no longer mediated through the human subject.
Convivialism belongs within this all-embracing existentially (also existentialist?) driven discourse. Gradually and incrementally driven by profound human – individual and societal – incertitude and distress, convivialism, transhumanism and post humanism have provided a home for those in search of an elixir with which to tackle, manage, perhaps cure, and rescue, the existence of all species on Earth and the universe. The main difference distinguishing the three discourses one from the other pertains to their underlying assumptions regarding humanism; this will determine their respective pertinence to real life.
Nevertheless, there are important communalities that link convivialism, transhumanism, posthumanism, and chiefly among them, the recognition of human’s arrogance as being an underlying cause of the current epic crisis of humanity. Convivialism denounces the evils of hubris which it views as a fundamental distraction from the combined benefits of “the four doctrines of democratic modernity” (liberalism, communism, anarchism, socialism); transhumanism decries “[s]ocial science [for] suffer[ing] from humanism’s root pretension. It assumes that the mechanics of modern society are easily intelligible”; and posthumanism perceives its own essence as “one where we embrace our status as primates, not demi-gods.”
Also, all three ideas concur that communication is critical for the emergence of a transformed, adapting or new, human society capable of repelling the looming self-made destruction. Transhumanism emphasises the necessity to “create forums where people can rationally debate what needs to be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented”; and posthumanism draws on the nautical metaphor: “[O]ur collective efforts should be to ensure the integrity of our ship’s hull, that we are not taking on too much water, and that the crew is united and in good health.” But then, unlike the two, convivialism goes the extra step and spells out an approach: It offers the idea of pluriversalism as a successor to the now defunct message of universalism.
Pluriversalism – as yet short of a model – conceives of a structural framework, a procedural path, and a message of communication designed to tame hubris and facilitate togetherness in discord. Pluriversalism is the infinite language of all the Earth’s inhabitants (and possibly the Universe’s) wherein unity co-exists in maximal cultural diversity. “Convivialism stands no chance of helping to avert the disasters that threaten all the peoples of the earth unless it makes sense to all of them — indeed, has a universal scope”, possibly beyond our earthly realm. Thus, the task ahead for the convivialist movement is the immediate refining of the concept’s meaning, defining it as concretely as possible so as to make convivialism relatable to all.
So far, pluriversalism has been articulated (SCM) as an approach conscientious of the incommensurability of unique cultural or religious communal matrices with those of others. It recognises that each communal matrix is, in fact, plural and temporal and does not represent a
fixed homogeneous identity. Therefore, this intrinsic pluralism offers possibilities for plural and cross-communal dialogue. Consequently, “today’s pertinent challenge is to know which out of these possibilities each culture and religion must update to fit our times and prioritize to contribute to the moral and physical survival of humanity.” Convivialism has set out to detect these points of pluriversal contact to allow for a humanity “rescue” dialogue; it will charter the way by eliciting that which is ethically and politically a shared value rather than assume universality nor attempt to homogenise that which is different.
Undeniably, and because pluriversalism is key to convivialism, the latter cannot promise an overnight revolution. A convivialist way of life will not be achieved by a sudden, or short-lived, or violent revolutionary act. Pluriversalism, is indeed the magic wand balancing centrifugal and centripetal societal forces in an incremental, gradual, transformative, and versatile dialogue; it is the rudder navigating multiple parallel and overlapping dialogues whose participants are constantly joining in and exiting, changing their opinions and shifting their positions, and thereby weaving of a worldwide web of convivialist norms and acts (WWCNA). And, pluriversalism expands in ripples. The very dialogue must not lead to consensus, not even to persuasion. But it must prevent physical, psychological, and natural harms and destruction. The organisation established to promote this – the United Nations as well as many other public and private fora for dialogue and rule-making, have proven short handed. Pluriversalism must therefore be multiple and numerous in its form; and — to avoid repetition and to be effective, it must ascertain where the extant dialogues went wrong.
As a matter of fact, perhaps because of the malaise sensed globally and by many — including governments — pluriversalism may already have sprouted, baby steps already under way, only its emergence yet to be acknowledged. In the following, I will point at three examples of nascent and possibly evolving pluriversal dialogues: The information technology (IT) and Covid-19 crises, and Russia’s Ukraine war.
Possibly Evolving Pluriversal Dialogues
The SCM identifies neo-liberalism, and raw capitalism and profiteering, as one of the current chief threats to humanity. Among its consequences (intended or unintended) is the phenomenal development of IT, of which one devastating by-product, as well as objective, has been the rapidly diminishing privacy of the individual person and groups, including formal institutions (e.g. state governments). It has unleashed a profound sense of insecurity and augmented fear to levels long unheard of; and it has elicited a well of conspiracy theories. Owners like users of IT have been reaching into the pockets of individual persons, groups, organisations, and states, and along the way deepening societal and political inequality, all the while biting away larger chunks of human agency and freedom. (Shoshana Zuboff has coined the evocative term “surveillance capitalism” to describe expansive e-surveillance – whether in the city, village or internment camps in China, online propaganda, and the deep and dark webs; and exploitation of personal data by the private sector and intelligence gathering of personal data via the Internet are commonplace in developed countries and developing countries, etc.).
But as this shady new world has been evolving, some have taken notice; they, mostly civil society voices, have engaged in frustrating the IT forces that disrupts their lives, advocating to channel it to more tolerable paths, sort of returning the genie into the bottle. Consequently, pressured to react, governments have been made to recognise the destructiveness of IT’s conglomeration and expansion, and the political, social, economic and cultural harm already inflicted. Some governments have been reacting, undertaking corrective legal measures to stem IT’s harmful progression, even turn the dial back, as well as embarking on a proactive course. The European Union (EU) is the spearhead in these endeavours featuring EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which has been in effect since May 25, 2018. It represents the first initiative ever in the endeavour to outflank especially large IT conglomerates, and although various countries have some elements to tackle some of the aspects of this European law, the latter is the toughest privacy and security law in the world. The regulation recognises e-data-pertaining rights of the targeted subject and imposes obligations, and commensurate sanctions for their breach, on organisations worldwide that target or collect data related to individuals in the EU.
The Digital Markets Act (DMA) is EU’s latest digital sector legislation designed to make the sector fairer and contestable. It stipulates narrowly defined criteria that must be met by any large online platforming order to be qualified as a “gatekeeper” and comply with DMA’s terms.
Politically agreed on in March 2022 by the European Parliament and the Council, the adoption of the legal text is expected in September or October 2022.
Obviously, the above process (distinguished from substance) doesn’t offer any novelty; it is, in essence, one of the conventional ways of reacting to challenges, namely through legislation. However, (a) the very fact that in spite of deep and enduring cynicism, a series of actions has been taken to break one of the chief bulwarks of distractive neo-liberalism, (b) with similar laws adopted by the United Kingdom post-Brexit, and (c) most likely to become a model, at least impetus, for civil society advocacy subsequently resulting in legislation by individual states, it suggests a mode of pluriversalist communication albeit at a rudimentary level.
Also, this precedential legislation may lead to the negotiation of an international treaty; or spur public and private, and civil society international discussion and sharing of experiences on approaches to IT regulation; or inspire the development of a web of relevant legislations, regulations, voluntary practices, and corporate self-restraint. To be sure, pluriversalism doesn’t require a unified approach. On the contrary, pluriversalism tolerates diversity and fragmentation. “No homogenous, hierarchical meta-system is realistically available”, to use the terminology of the 2006 report of the International Law Commission on fragmentation of international law (p. 249) [allowing] different approaches to data protection to develop naturally, with international cooperation producing interfaces that allow them to gradually grow closer together over time.”
Another example for a sector where pluriversalism would prove a resourceful global means of communication is emerging on the heels of the medical industry’s calamity to fairly and equitably respond to the global and indiscriminatory onslaught of the SARS-CoV-2 (Covid) pandemic. Given the enormous lethality of the disease, the World Health Organisation has, for what had proven to be as an extremely long time, pleaded for an equitable distribution of the vaccinations developed by less than a handful pharmaceutical conglomerates that enjoyed rich states’ research and development subsidies. Old patent law designs – long overdue in the 21st century, as well as political factors, could have been, yet weren’t, adjusted to this global health emergency. Now, finally, a conversation has started within governments, between them, and among the public, private, and 3rd sectors.
Lastly, the Russian Ukraine War has created another global crisis resulting in multifaceted security and safety emergencies (nuclear stability, food supply, etc.). In fact, representing an antithesis to the spirit of convivialism and, on it face, a rejection of pluriversalism, oddly enough, it has sown the seed of a convivial moment. The liberal (or Western) world, but not exclusively, has been thrust out of its indifference, dormant state. Since February 24, 2022, as the underlying presumptions of a post mid-20th century, surely a post Cold War, world order had been shattered, a language of cooperation, albeit not uniform and not globally exhaustive, has been expanding the realm of interlocutors. This is happening in government and international organisations’ offices, in regional and municipal meetings, among business and civil society, on the street and within families. A global threat to an already wobbling geopolitical structure, endangered natural environment, and exploitative trade, following immediately on the heals of the still lingering Covid pandemic, has rattled the global human community. Not only did European states found a common language leading to action (at least temporarily and yet to improve) but many others, including the United States in the lead, have partaken in this conversation and resorted to material engagement. In the face of a looming food shortage, the circle of discussants in necessarily widening.
A Brief Convivialist Outlook
so long as these forms of communication in search of a solution — from protest demonstrations, social media campaigns, displays of solidarity, acrimonious debates — adhere to norms of civility; and all the while demonstrate incremental progress in effecting remedies without inflicting harm, there is a prospect that the wings of hubris be clipped and pluriversalism will win the day. The work ahead for the convivialist movement is to call on everyone everywhere to encourage and engage in all peaceful forms of conversations, among all inhabitants of Earth. The pluriversalist process of communication must not be left to representative and activist bodies; it must spread widely and involve everyone whether in political, social, cultural or any other dialogues.
 Alain Caillé, “Convivialism as a Political Philosophy” (2014).
 https://www.humanityplus.org/the-transhumanist-declaration, 1998 (herafter: Transhumanism); Humanism, Transhumanism, and Posthumanism, the Yirmiyahu Yovel Memorial Spinoza Lectures, Monday, April 11, 2022, https://www.vanleer.org.il/en/events/on-campus-online-humanism-transhumanism-and-posthumanism/(hereafter: Yovel Lectures).
 https://www.humanityplus.org/the-transhumanist-manifesto, 2020, most recent version.
 Is this hubris? Strong in practice but weak in theory, is it an oxymoronically a Nietzscheanist religion? An interview with Dr. Carmel Weissman, “Is It Possible to “Rectify” Humanism without Changing the Human Being?” Yovel Lectures, June 6, 2022.
 Charlie Smith, “Confronting Modernity Means Overcoming Humanism”, Paladium, November 23, 2020, https://Palladiummag.Com/2020/11/23/Confronting-Modernity-Means-Overcoming-Humanism/.
 According to Dr. Weissman (fn 4), the posthumanist argument has yet to offer a praxis by which to cure the human species.
 Caillé (fn 1).
 Palladium (fn 5).
 The Transhumanist Declaration, par. 6 (fn 2) and the World Transhumanist Association. The e-publication of the declaration has been removed from the site I first read and is currently available at https://hpluspedia.org/wiki/Transhumanist_Declaration.
 Palladium (fn 5).
 SCM, emphasis added.
 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, 2019.
 Digital Markets Act (DMA), https://ec.europa.eu/competition-policy/sectors/ict/dma_en.
 Makena Kelly, “Lawmakers Approve Big Tech Antitrust Overhaul, But with Strings Attached
and the Tech Industry Isn’t Happy”, The Verge, Jan 20, 2022, https://www.theverge.com/2022/1/20/22893641/antitrust-big-tech-reform-amazon-google-apple-klobuchar-grassley
 Kriangsak Kittichaisaree and Christopher Kuner, “The Growing Importance of Data Protection in Public International Law”, EJIL:Talk, October 14, 2015, https://www.ejiltalk.org/the-growing-importance-of-data-protection-in-public-international-law/.
 Pluriversalism did not develop in the “less urgent” case of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. These went ahead regardless of the extensive and most severe human rights government practices in China.