25 de nov. de 2010

Crisis,culture and democracy

Since World War I, and especially since the end of World War II with the creation of the United Nations and other international organizations, within the framework of our new communications society it is obvious that our political perspective of the world is changing.
Crisis,culture and democracy

José Monleón

“Humanity is facing
dangers previously unknown
in history, which require
previously unknown global solutions.”

Amin Maalouf
Since World War I, and especially since the end of World War II with the creation of the United Nations and other international organizations, within the framework of our new communications society it is obvious that our political perspective of the world is changing. Today the immense majority knows that its society is linked to a superior reality, expressed in ambiguous terms, but visible through a series of every-day experiences, which for many citizens include periodically voting for representatives to the European Parliament, using the Euro, or the possibility of crossing certain borders without a passport.

For European citizens membership in the Union is also evident through benefits derived from the exercise of certain activities and, certainly, from specific news items broadcast by the communications media. As for “globalization”, here we have immigration in heretofore unseen numbers, as evidence of this social phenomenon, although the problems it generates and demonstrations of xenophobia reveal what is possibly the greatest problem: our era’s lack of conscience and failure to assume our global position.

Having arrived at this point, it is necessary to distinguish between a superficial knowledge of our political reality and an attempt to interpret the changes that have already taken place and those that will do so in the future. Perhaps, in order to clarify the concepts, we should speak of Political Experience and Political Thought, with the understanding that the former refers to a specific, immediate, professional framework linked to the exercise of Power, while the latter is a space divided in to several areas, in the sense that social order and relations among societies have been a topic for concern in many human expressions. Thought which, when taken as a whole and given the breadth of its sources, encompasses a vision open to many different societies and from multiple circumstances and areas of knowledge, and which implies bringing together all humanity. In fact, these would represent two different spaces. In one of them we would witness a struggle for power, with a tendency to disassociate interrelated matters or to address them in their terminal stages, without analyzing their origins or the overall scope of their evolution, in a practice in which the political class often tends to confuse their narrow personal visions with the incessant dynamics of humanity and history. The other space would be governed by Political Thought, based on the observation of social reality, expressed over the centuries in many different courses of action, which sought to advance toward achieving the answers we still require.

When I studied law during the Dictatorship, our course in economics was basically a study of the history of economic doctrines. This meant that we were taught how different social systems established their respective economic theories based on their dominant interests. I remember that years later, as visiting professor at a U.S. university, I was surprised to discover that there they studied only one economic theory, defined as “economics,” and any other system was simply not “economics.” Later I realized that this is an essential factor in the education of the average American for whom there are no alternatives between different economic systems in different societies, but rather only one, the natural one, “economics,” together with others considered rudimentary or perverse. From this perspective, overcoming a crisis implies correcting those elements that distort the variables in a given formula. Thus Political Thought is excluded and, with it, a fundamental element of the crisis, since different economic systems have different beneficiaries, and it is impossible to discuss the figures of a crisis without addressing its origins and its consequences in the social and political order. Thus the incoherence of so many discussions and debates on the world economic crisis, based solely on economic data and without explaining socio-political factors, obstacles of the same type that prevent solutions, and the ultimate consequences of change, that is, excluding Political Thought.

The exclusion of Political Thought explains why the majority of political disputes at the national level are usually limited to disparaging one’s adversary and to strange promises made to the electorate, claiming to have the formula for resolving all of their problems. This situation violates the very concept of democracy, which doesn’t imply merely voting periodically, but rather living in a society in which citizens share reasonable levels of Political Thought, to comprehend and judge the messages of their leaders and responsibly cast their votes. This obvious situation again poses the problem faced by the Greeks when, for example, in a speech at the beginning of the Peloponnesian Wars Pericles remarked that democracy in Athens was characterized by the fact that all citizens participated in public matters. Forgetting that fact explains the popular success of so many tyrants throughout the centuries, massive participation in so many fanatical causes or, in the end, the permanent crisis of democracies that are swamped with ideological currents opposed to the principles of peaceful coexistence and the common good. How can we achieve a society capable of participating in building democracy with individuals subject to four schematic principles instead of Political Thought?

The question is of particular concern in an era in which communications media have multiplied and education is one of the obligations of the State. Once again we are faced with an instrument, a formal element, limited by the poor quality of the content broadcasted. And it is not a case of saying that television, or radio, or newspapers, or schools, or the cinema, or theatrical or literary works are either good or bad, nor blaming the professionals in each of those areas, since there are bad and excellent ones, but rather expressing something that is self-evident: the joint expression of a series of end products that reflect in very small doses the mature critical and democratic thought that articulates a civil culture. In other words, that express a series of reflections, activities and behavior that lead us to assume social justice, respect for diversity, solidarity and all elements comprising what we today call a Culture of Peace. An important concept, of a global nature and a great project for the future, but which requires societies prepared to embrace it, with the internal conditions necessary for developing democratic principles and which, in short, understand that the inequalities in the world underscored by Amin Maalouf logically require a general adjustment on the part of all.

The fact that, in the case of Spain, demands as elemental as the “Memoria Histórica” law recognizing victims on both sides of the Civil War, or Education for Citizenship have been so strongly opposed demonstrates how far we are from achieving this civil culture, which is inseparable from Political Thought, understood as the forging of different paths (from the strictly political to art, philosophy or religion) to democratic humanism.

At this point a fundamental question arises: Can today’s world find its paths to the future in political experience? In his captivating book on global maladjustment, Amin Maalouf says it can’t. In the prologue he indicates that in its present stage of evolution, mankind is facing previously unknown dangers that require unprecedented global solutions. According to Maalouf, if no one finds these solutions in the immediate future, we will not be able to preserve those elements that constitute the value and beauty of our civilization. And to-date there is little to indicate that people are going to resolve their differences and seek creative solutions, to proceed to unite and mobilize to implement those remedies. Maalouf underscores that there are even symptoms that suggest that global maladjustment is already in an advanced stage and that it will be difficult to prevent this reverse.

Maalouf reviews a series of episodes of contemporary history and in each case the outcome leaves unanswered questions and, among others, revives past religious, cultural, territorial, ideological and social conflicts. It is logical that millions of human beings believe that if history has followed this path to date, merely changing the names of the conquerors and the vanquished, there is no reason to believe that anything will change in the future. But this premise is contradicted by a series of events that have altered the basis of reality. Expressed in simple terms: communication has established a new relationship vis-à-vis diversity. There are certainly still authorities who violate the legal system by refusing to record immigrants on the census, and prominent European leaders who appear to yearn for a Holocaust to put an end to immigration. It is true that no one takes responsibility for a political and economic system that prevents the development of entire continents, the original homeland of immigration. It is also true that for some people the 1,200 million human beings who suffer from hunger, with their daily quota of deaths, simply do not exist, while there are those who laugh at the idea of climate change. And arms deployment seems to have indeed become the norm… Unexpectedly, instead of rational and coherent answers, we have witnessed profound setbacks, tribal nostalgia, religious fanaticism, which occupy the place of the new political and economic discourse that mankind demands. What can be done? Posing the question seems to be tantamount to ignoring the immediate demands of our era. I believe this is just one more example of the poverty of our political experience.

Following Maalouf’s terminology, why is global maladjustment in an advanced stage and why will it be difficult to prevent a reverse? Within the diversity of different countries and systems, political practice is based on centuries of experience. And it is here that the obstacle revealed by Amin Maalouf probably lies. For which world is our political experience really adequate? Doesn’t a substantially different world require an equally different political approach? At the end of World War II when UNESCO was created, the necessity of changing the “minds of men” implied a series of democratic social and cultural changes. And it was explicitly stated that without those changes –and, ultimately, without a new civil culture– the minds of men would be the same and the situation that gave rise to World War II could be repeated. And, in effect, this is the case because traditional politics include a series of patterns that are equally incompatible with a Culture of Peace, which is a concept that we need to clarify in order to advance our thesis. As an example: in response to the extremely relevant “Spain-Africa” women’s conference organized by the socialist government in Valencia, a well-known representative of the opposition offered the reproach that the government should not concern itself with “global” questions, when there are so many pending local matters. This judgment reflects a world vision that excludes solidarity with Africa and gender equality, questions that are both obviously unknown in political tradition. This exactly typifies two historical projects: the status quo and a second project that reflects a different process directly associated with achieving a Culture of Peace.

The concept of a Culture of Peace is important because it specifically defines a new horizon, the “solution” that Maalouf demands. It is a solution that is both cultural and political, because the latter alone will not suffice, being limited to well-known historical precedents in the organization of societies. Briefly explained, while different societies have traditionally based their cultures on confrontation –and confrontation has been the defining element of their identities–, the concept of a Culture of Peace implies a harmonization of cultural diversity that eliminates this confrontation. If mankind has traditionally been organized based on confrontation and the power of the strongest, idealizing war in many societies, it is logical that world peace will require eliminating these ideals without implying any loss of identity. Implementing the contents and system, liberty, and defense of this great Culture of Diversity understood as a Culture of Peace, is precisely the objective that appears in the great dilemma that Maalouf describes in the epilogue to his book, which is entitled “A prehistory that has lasted too long”.

The relationships among the Three Religions of the Book have fed much of the violence in the Mediterranean for centuries, and there are still today currents and conflicts that, through specific actions or pressures on their societies, seek to maintain this tension. A tension fostered by certain political interpretations or readings of religions. Faced with this evidence, it is necessary to emphasize the existence of other interpretations of the Three Religions that promote harmony and that are actively integrated in the creation of a Culture of Peace for all human beings. Salem Mekki and Pablo Beneito’s lectures in Sarajevo are good examples that summarize and update many of the ideas of the mystics in eras past. In fact, the doctrinal links between the Three Religions should have been significant factors in the pacification of many of the aggressive positions adopted by religious hierarchies throughout history, generally in collusion with those in power.

Among the innumerable contradictions of contemporary reality is the armament issue. President Obama is the only one who periodically speaks of limiting weapons or of nuclear disarmament, based on U.S. commitments or multilateral treaties such as the negotiations initiated with the Russian Federation. At the same, and on the sly, there are multimillion-dollar investments in designing more destructive and sophisticated weapons. Economic crisis, hunger, summit meetings of people who seem concerned for the first time, and investments in armament that directly affect the political and economic order. These are just some of the faces of the maladjustment to which Maalouf refers. We spend to finance the Apocalypse while praying the Lord’s Prayer. The trick may lie in the term “security”. Weapons manufacturing, preventive war, the arms business, the resulting military power, the obstacle that the foregoing pose for peace processes, latent terror, all of these are called “security” in “democratic” terms.

But where are we going to find the roots of a new Political Thought if we agree that the experiences of history are fundamentally tainted by centuries of power struggles? And it is at this point that I believe it is essential to reclaim the concept of Political Thought. Because if political practice is limited by circumstances created by the powers in each period, it is logical that Political Thought has been a marginal current within this practice, or that it has been fueled by poetry, theater, religion, art or philosophy, using imagination as an instrument of revelation, managing the project together with reality, outlining this unveiled but desired history, contrary to the punishment imposed by the myths and injustice of power. And perhaps likewise as an observer of what the official chronicles omit, beholding the lives of the alienated and ignored. Men have, in effect, thought politically when faced with injustice, and if their thoughts have often not been reflected in laws, speeches and in solemn registers of events, they can possibly be found hidden in many different places. In our case, as with the IITM, it is logical that we wish to recognize the great contribution that theater has made to political thought. And I am clearly not referring to a given ideological theater that clearly seeks to rally spectators to support a specific political cause. I am referring to the other theater, which through the most diverse narratives has been capable of insinuating democratic values, or protesting against the submission of women to patriarchal laws, or reflecting solidarity with the victims of any form of tyranny or exploitation. It is impossible not to recall that Greece simultaneously offered to the world democracy, philosophy, dialogue and theater, open concepts that are the foundation of Western Civilization and that are so closely linked as expressions of the same culture.

This is precisely what we wished to discuss in Sarajevo: the mutilation that results from considering each one of these as separate paths. Perhaps that is exactly the problem that Maalouf wishes to express: the fact that we have sought to establish democracy without dialogue, or that philosophy has been reduced to a catalogue of schools, while theater has destroyed the notion of conflict by submitting itself to ideologies. Who better than Aeschylus in “The Eumenides” explained the difference between justice and vengeance, or why justice can never be entrusted to the victim. It is obvious that contemporary international politics are far from reaching this objective, and that there are plenty of reasons to suspect that many judges do not live up to their roles when proceedings concern political interests. This is not the moment to delve into the subject, but Greek theater poses questions concerning the course of history, demanding a new era that we have been incapable of creating. All of this is part of political thought and it is obvious that in a society capable of assuming these reflections, many of the present conflicts and cruelties would cease to exist. This is the matter that poses a dilemma as to whether we are liquidating a prehistory or entering into one of its darkest stages.

We met to discuss these ideas in Sarajevo, a city of all cultures, wounded by intolerance. Our Foundation has held twelve fora, discussing the same theme, which is none other than to underscore that it makes less and less sense to speak of public and economic order without considering all mankind. Each corner certainly has its own characteristics and often requires separate treatment. But we can no longer speak of Peace or Justice in a given corner if we ignore the rest of the world’s corners. Let us do away with corners, because they were all invented by individual interests and placed under the care of gods, kings and flags. For that reason voices from anywhere that seek to tear down barriers are valid. In Sarajevo, invited to its Winter Festival and personified in our long-time partner and colleague Ibrahim Spahic, the voices of Morocco, Spain and Italy joined with those of a group of professors from the Balkans. As always, we gather together Moslems, Christians and those who are non-confessional, or perhaps there was another religion represented, but there was no need to ask. Because what was truly obvious is that we all travel the same path, and all of us know that diversity must be read and understood as a part of Justice and Peace for all human beings. In this issue, the Both Shores Festival, an encounter with the Moroccan people; world theater with Grotowski, Brecht and Arthur Miller as our three reference points; and an overview of Peruvian theater represent our desire to understand and to reach as far as our strength will permit us.

Unfortunately, today what we have termed Political Thought lacks a social environment in which to grow and mature, and it is here, at this point where it is most essential to demand the construction of this all-encompassing humanism, which is the base of the future and at the same time an underlying part of the best and the worst history of human thought. We have learned this lesson from those who in centuries passed dared to ask the questions to which we still seek answers, when what was actually a piece of a continent was thought to be the planet, and when man lacked contemporary perspective with which to understand the world. We have spoken of the theater, but we could have cited other literary genres of the great Moslem and Christian mystics, of writers such as Cervantes, who after having been a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire judged the Moslem world with an open mind unknown to Spanish nationalism. If, for example, we review the speeches of Bush and Obama, the latter’s address delivered in El Cairo, justly associating conflicts between Islam and the U.S. with a series of false readings in urgent need of correction seems to be from another world in which the new President is aware that the solution requires dismantling cultural manipulations. Isn’t the rise of religious and political fundamentalism in any place and at any time rooted in distorted and dogmatic interpretations designed for the less educated? How many millions of human beings believe that they are thinking and acting sincerely, when they are actually responding to a few strategically-placed slogans? Why do those who have provoked the desperate immigration of half the world’s hungry forget the role they have played in this tragedy? What should we think of leaders who speak to party members in categorical and visionary terms, ignoring new paths toward the common good?

It is necessary to include a brief reflection on the concepts of Education and Culture, which are often manipulated with so much ambiguity. Whether stated expressly or not, Education has always sought to transmit a world vision, with its behavior system, considered as satisfactory. It is just as well that democratization has freed us of models that were not worthy of that name. And it is here that we find one of the great responsibilities of the democratic governments of our time. Because if each corner is subject to specific circumstances –with its lights and its shadows–, whose treatment will be affected by a corresponding political circumstance, it is no less certain that this should in no way obscure the objectives of a Political Thought that strengthens the individual’s sense of belonging to mankind as a whole, making that individual an active participant in building a Culture of Peace. Federico Mayor Zaragoza often speaks of the historical presence of millions of people transformed from silent subjects into theoretical citizens. Perhaps much of the confusion experienced by these new citizens, born of technological transformations in a global society, is precisely because they are often subjected to old ideas in situations that require a new direction in history.

We must end by returning to Maalouf and by attempting to respond to his question. If from established political practice –in which many leaders speak of the European Union or the United Nations simply as institutions in which they can “take a cut”– it is unlikely that mankind will resolve its future, we must rationally offer a solution. And this necessarily requires granting human society as a whole a role in history. The path has been outlined in everything that man has thought and written from all areas of life concerning this great objective, prefigured by a thousand very different approximations, emotions and ideas summarized in the common construction of a culture without inferno, for a just and diverse world in peace, whose political and economic order will have to be created. In the distant future? Impossible? That is the response of reason and the common good to the perplexity of Maalouf. For centuries the solution has been drowning in myths and in the interests of the most powerful. Given the risks to the planet, perhaps it will now have the survival instinct in its favor.

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