Love, the Other and the City: Critical Analysis of the Ethics of Alterity in a Capitalist Society

Juan Luis Cabrera, University of Texas at El Paso


Loving for Levinas is a desubjectivation. The one who loves is the one who does not resist the call of the Other. He who loves, according to Levinas, recognizes in the face of the migrant, the orphan, the widow, and the poor, as an inescapable responsibility. However, is this desubjectivation a possibility in capitalist cities? Capitalism is the consequence of a philosophical heritage founded in the totality of the same. Philosophy understood as “love of wisdom” places man in a position of control towards everything that surrounds him, the Other included. Everything belongs to the subject that knows the reality and the Other is reduced to the simplistic definition of “another-I”, diminishing its difference and infinitude; since everything can be known, which is the same of assumed [based on a Cartesian metaphysics of ‘possession’ of the material world, the res extensa], there is no mystery within the Other since, in that metaphysics, we only ‘have’ the possibility of revealing the sameness of the reflected subject. My argument deals with the way that our American society—and what I mean by society is American cities—were built on these unconscious presuppositions where the “I” is the emperor of an alienated reality; ethical reasons are always confused by prioritizing economic issues, and consequently responsibility for the other is displaced by the drive for economic ‘freedom’ or acquisition of capital. Capitalist cities, specifically, the border community El Paso-Ciudad Juarez was built on the gear of an industrialized lifestyle, where mass production shapes the rhythm of the daily life of local citizens. This is ‘obvious’ in how every factory at this border metropolis works through a capital production design, where each of its parts exists for that purpose; in this system, any defective part—or human as a ‘part’ of ‘human capital’¬–– must be repaired or discarded. The fleeting rhythm that capitalism proposes to societies pushes a culture in which only a very selective group benefits from this system. In such societies, competition creates a spirit of self-affirmation against the Other. He who dares to love, that is, he who stops racing on behalf of the other gets defeated in this game of capital. It appears that in such a capitalist city, the "I" must constantly assert himself so as to not lose. The one who loves the Other becomes an anti-hero of the values of a capitalist city, the “idiot” of Dostoevsky. The radical alterity that Levinas proposes requires more than attitudes and ideals, it demands true sacrifice and genuine exile from social expectations. This work proposes a critical analysis of the socio-economic factors of a capitalist city from a framework that adopts the Levinasian philosophy to better perceive the rationale behind the lack of “Ethics of Alterity” and the possibility of developing such theory in a capitalist system.

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Recommended Citation

Cabrera, Juan Luis, "Love, the Other and the City: Critical Analysis of the Ethics of Alterity in a Capitalist Society" (2020). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI28152505.