The Mexican Millennial Putting Philosophy Into Action
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he makes Heidegger sound hip.
By Devon Van Houten Maldonado
At 25, Luciano Concheiro is a ready-made national hero. A philosopher prodigy with a master’s in sociology from Cambridge University, by the age of 24 he had been named professor of the history of 20th-century thought at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), attracting the type of press and ardent fans you’d expect to see trailing a pop culture darling, not a heady academic. Only don’t call Concheiro that, or a philosopher. No matter how quickly those labels spring to mind after reading his first book, Contra el Tiempo: Filosofía Práctica del Instante (Against Time: Practical Philosophy of the Instant), an uncompromising critique of what Concheiro deems society’s governing feature — acceleration — and a call to resist, relent and focus on the fleeting moment.
Because Concheiro’s writing is accessible and designed to reach his millennial peers, he has achieved the near impossible: bridging the gap between academia and the Real World by pointing up the challenges and opportunities inherent in daily life. Influenced as a teenager by Friedrich Nietzsche and by Martin Heidegger’s concept of Dasein — German for “being there” or “presence” — Concheiro argues for “tangential resistance” to the ever-quickening pace, anxiety and sensationalism of modern life.
“The place of tangential resistance is the everyday,” he writes in Contra el Tiempo. “Great expectations are to be disdained. There is no concern for impressing one’s neighbors, nor posterity.”
And yet, as he works to complete a fellowship at Harvard en route to wrapping up a Ph.D. in history at UNAM, the young star could be a poster child for the very acceleration he laments in the world around him. So too does he, the only child from a privileged family in Mexico City, embody the uncomfortable contradiction between an elite upbringing and the resistance movements to which he subscribes.
Concheiro developed a taste for resistance and activism as a child at the family dinner table. His father, a well-known Mexican academic, and his mother, an activist working to protect Mexico’s native crops against GMOs, constantly debated the socio-political issues playing out in their country, he told OZY.
We discuss Heidegger as if the outside world didn’t exist.
Concheiro’s privileged background and academic roots paved the way for him to study in elite places far from the suffering in Mexico. So while he argues for activism and opposition to the status quo, with its frenzied push for progress and profit, the status quo provided the ladder he climbed to reach his lofty perch. Which might suggest that his arguments, which have found a receptive audience of university academics, might fall on deaf ears at home, says Jose Angel Gómez, head of sales for Herder Publishing, a company in Mexico City specializing in philosophy.
The week I interviewed Concheiro in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while he shuffled to and from seminars about Heidegger’s Being and Time, I’d ask questions and he would immediately fire one back, insisting on a dialog because he “detests the idea of a monologue interview.”
Similarly, when considering the projects Concheiro undertakes, from the academic to the artistic, what emerges is the multitude of influences he draws on, as if there too he prefers to create a dialog. His process is interdisciplinary or, in his words, “non-disciplinary.” The antithesis of the siloed academic, Concheiro finds power in pulling people together from various networks, artist Juan Caloca tells OZY from his light-filled studio in Mexico City. Concheiro and Caloca met through mutual interests and friends on Facebook and later collaborated on a project for the Cráter Invertido publication collective.
“I think Luciano is a frustrated artist,” Caloca says, laughing. And it’s true that Concheiro often looks to artists for inspiration. The crowd he runs with shares a creative and radical bent. He met artist Abraham Cruzvillegas in a taxi while leaving a music festival; their friendship grew as Concheiro studied how Cruzvillegas grapples with social issues like poverty and regulation in Mexico City through sculpture made from discarded pieces of improvised homes in the urban slums.
“Harvard, for good and for bad, is an absolute bubble of privilege,” Concheiro told me, untouched by the ideological conflicts between Mexico and the United States. “We discuss Heidegger as if the outside world didn’t exist.” In response, this self-proclaimed anti-capitalist says he tries to maintain a balance. When we met, he was preparing to speak at a conference of revolutionary Zapatistas in the Mexican state of Chiapas, part of his activism to address the troubling situation at home. Mexico’s economy has been destabilized by a weak currency, while the country tries to find its footing amid the uncertainty of a Trump administration — not to mention fighting persistent corruption, drug trafficking, high fuel prices and weak social security. “For me, the moment Mexico is living is terrible, catastrophic,” said Concheiro. But in chaos he sees opportunity, and the tough times obligate him and his peers in Mexico to speak out through words, art and advocacy. The urgency of the situation necessitates risk, he insisted.
But for now, Concheiro talks about risk from the gilded halls of Harvard. When he returns to Mexico next year, he plans to write a book about the alarming and uncertain circumstances at home. “There aren’t big thinkers in Mexico,” he once told El Financiero, in an article featuring the pale, chubby-cheeked philosopher with a mop of shaggy hair glancing at the camera, unimpressed. For all his anti-sensationalist rhetoric, Concheiro isn’t one to shy from inflammatory remarks. And, as he obsessively devours Heidegger, Giorgio Agamben and Immanuel Kant, studying “new temporalities” and engaging in dialogs with his Harvard peers and professors, the question is what his new work will offer his countrypeople. This time, he provides an answer: “We’ll see if [the book] works out.”
- Devon Van Houten Maldonado, OZY Author Contact Devon Van Houten Maldonado