The Slow Suicide of the West

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El lento suicidio de Occidente (Spanish)

The Slow Suicide of the West

Jorge Majfud

The West appears, suddenly, devoid of its greatest virtues, constructed century after century, preoccupied now only with reproducing its own defects and with copying the defects of others, such as authoritarianism and the preemptive persecution of innocents. Virtues like tolerance and self-criticism have never been a weakness, as some now pretend, but quite the opposite: it was because of them that progress, both ethical and material, were possible. Both the greatest hope and the greatest danger for the West can be found in its own heart. Those of us who hold neither “Rage” nor “Pride” for any race or culture feel nostalgia for times gone by, times that were never especially good, but were not so bad either.

Currently, some celebrities from back in the 20th century, demonstrating an irreversible decline into senility, have taken to propagating the famous ideology of the “clash of civilizations” – which was already plenty vulgar all by itself – basing their reasoning on their own conclusions, in the best style of classical theology. Such is the a priori and 19th century assertion that “Western culture is superior to all others.” And, if that were not enough, that it is a moral obligation to repeat it.

From this perspective of Western Superiority, the very famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci wrote, recently, brilliant observations such as the following: “If in some countries the women are so stupid as to accept the chador and even the veil, so much the worse for them. (…) And if their husbands are so idiotic as to not drink wine or beer, idem.” Wow, that is what I call intellectual rigor. “How disgusting!” – she continued writing, first in the Corriere della Sera and later in her best seller The Rage and the Pride (Rizzoli International, 2002), referring to the Africans who had urinated in a plaza in Italy – “They piss for a long time these sons of Allah! A race of hypocrites.” “Even if they were absolutely innocent, even if there were not one among them who wished to destroy the Tower of Pisa or the Tower of Giotto, nobody who wished to make me wear the chador, nobody who wished to burn me on the bonfires of a new Inquisition, their presence alarms me. It makes me uneasy.” Summing up: even if these blacks were completely innocent, their presence makes her uneasy anyway. For Fallaci, this is not racism; it is “cold, lucid, rational rage.” And, if that were not enough, she offers another ingenious observation with reference to immigrants in general: “And besides, there is something else I don’t understand. If they are really so poor, who gives them the money for the trip on the planes or boats that bring them to Italy? Might Osama bin Laden be paying their way, at least in part?” …Poor Galileo, poor Camus, poor Simone de Beauvoir, poor Michel Foucault.

Incidentally, we should remember that, even though the lady writes without understanding – she said it herself – these words ended up in a book that has sold a half million copies, a book with no shortage of reasoning and common sense, as when she asserts “I am an atheist, thank God.” Nor does it lack in historical curiosities like the following: “How does one accept polygamy and the principle that women should not allow photographs to be taken of them? Because this is also in the Q’uran,” which means that in the 7th century Arabs were extremely advanced in the area of optics. Nor is the book lacking in repeated doses of humor, as with these weighty arguments: “And, besides, let’s admit it: our cathedrals are more beautiful than the mosques and synagogues, yes or no? Protestant churches are also more beautiful.” As Atilio says, she has the Shine of Brigitte Bardot. As if what we really needed was to get wrapped up in a discussion of which is more beautiful, the Tower of Pisa or the Taj Mahal. And once again that European tolerance: “I am telling you that, precisely because it has been well defined for centuries, our cultural identity cannot support a wave of immigration composed of people who, in one form or another, want to change our way of life. Our values. I am telling you that among us there is no room for muezzins, for minarets, for false abstinence, for their screwed up medieval ways, for their damned chador. And if there were, I would not give it to them.” And finally, concluding with a warning to her editor: “I warn you: do not ask me for anything else ever again. Least of all that I participate in vain polemics. What I needed to say I have said. My rage and pride have demanded it of me.” Something which had already been clear to us from the beginning and, as it happens, denies us one of the basic elements of both democracy and tolerance, dating to ancient Greece: polemics and the right to respond – the competition of arguments instead of insults.

But I do not possess a name as famous as Fallaci – a fame well-deserved, we have no reason to doubt – and so I cannot settle for insults. Since I am native to an under-developed country and am not even as famous as Maradona, I have no other choice than to take recourse to the ancient custom of using arguments.

Let’s see. The very expression “Western culture” is just as mistaken as the terms “Eastern culture” or “Islamic culture,” because each one of them is made up of a diverse and often contradictory collection of other “cultures.” One need only think of the fact that within “Western culture” one can fit not only countries as different as the United States and Cuba, but also irreconcilable historical periods within the same geographic region, such as tiny Europe and the even tinier Germany, where Goethe and Adolf Hitler, Bach and the skin-heads, have all walked the earth. On the other hand, let’s not forget also that Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan (in the name of Christ and the White Race), Stalin (in the name of Reason and atheism), Pinochet (in the name of Democracy and Liberty), and Mussolini (in his own name), were typical recent products and representatives of the self-proclaimed “Western culture.” What is more Western than democracy and concentration camps? What could be more Western that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the dictatorships in Spain and Latin America, bloody and degenerate beyond the imagination? What is more Western than Christianity, which cured, saved and assassinated thanks to the Holy Office? What is more Western than the modern military academies or the ancient monasteries where the art of torture was taught, with the most refined sadism, and by the initiative of Pope Innocent IV and based on Roman Law? Or did Marco Polo bring all of that back from the Middle East? What could be more Western than the atomic bomb and the millions of dead and disappeared under the fascist, communist and, even, “democratic” regimes? What more Western than the military invasions and suppression of entire peoples under the so-called “preemptive bombings”?

All of this is the dark side of the West and there is no guarantee that we have escaped any of it, simply because we haven’t been able to communicate with our neighbors, who have been there for more than 1400 years, with the only difference that now the world has been globalized (the West has globalized it) and the neighbors possess the main source of energy that moves the world’s economy – at least for the moment – in addition to the same hatred and the same rencor as Oriana Fallaci. Let’s not forget that the Spanish Inquisition, more of a state-run affair than the others, originated from a hostility to the moors and jews and did not end with the Progress and Salvation of Spain but with the burning of thousands of human beings.

Nevertheless, the West also represents Democracy, Freedom, Human Rights and the struggle for women’s rights. At least the effort to attain them, and the most that humanity has achieved so far. And what has always been the basis of those four pillars, if not tolerance?

Fallaci would have us believe that “Western culture” is a unique and pure product, without the Other’s participation. But if anything characterizes the West, it has been precisely the opposite: we are the result of countless cultures, beginning with the Hebrew culture (to say nothing of Amenophis IV) and continuing through almost all the rest: through the Caldeans, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Hindus, the southern Africans, the northern Africans and the rest of the cultures that today are uniformly described as “Islamic.” Until recently, it would not have been necessary to remember that, while in Europe – in all of Europe – the Christian Church, in the name of Love, was persecuting, torturing and burning alive those who disagreed with the ecclesiastical authorities or committed the sin of engaging in some kind of research (or simply because they were single women, which is to say, witches), in the Islamic world the arts and sciences were being promoted, and not only those of the Islamic region but of the Chinese, Hindus, Jews and Greeks. And nor does this mean that butterflies flew and violins played everywhere. Between Baghdad and Córdoba the geographical distance was, at the time, almost astronomical.

But Oriana Fallacia not only denies the diverse and contradictory composition of any of the cultures in conflict, but also, in fact, refuses to acknowledge the Eastern counterpart as a culture at all. “It bothers me even to speak of two cultures,” she writes. And then she dispatches the matter with an incredible display of historical ignorance: “Placing them on the same level, as if they were parallel realities, of equal weight and equal measure. Because behind our civilization are Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Phidias, among many others. There is ancient Greece with its Parthenon and its discovery of Democracy. There is ancient Rome with its grandeur, its laws and its conception of the Law. With its sculpture, its literature and its architecture. Its palaces and its amphitheaters, its aqueducts, its bridges and its roads.”

Is it really necessary to remind Fallaci that among all of that and all of us one finds the ancient Islamic Empire, without which everything would have burned – I am talking about the books and the people, not the Coliseum – thanks to centuries of ecclesiastical terrorism, quite European and quite Western? And with regard to the grandeur of Rome and “its conception of the Law” we will talk another day, because here there is indeed some black and white worth remembering. Let’s also set aside for the moment Islamic literature and architecture, which have nothing to envy in Fallaci’s Rome, as any half-way educated person knows.

Let’s see, and lastly? “Lastly – writes Fallaci – there is science. A science that has discovered many illnesses and cures them. I am alive today, for the time being, thanks to our science, not Mohammed’s. A science that has changed the face of this planet with electricity, the radio, the telephone, the television… Well then, let us ask now the fatal question: and behind the other culture, what is there?”

The fatal answer: behind our science one finds the Egyptians, the Caldeans, the Hindus, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Jews and the Africans. Or does Fallaci believe that everything arose through spontaneous generation in the last fifty years? She needs to be reminded that Pythagoras took his philosophy from Egypt and Caldea (Iraq) – including his famous mathematical formula, which we use not only in architecture but also in the proof of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity – as did that other wise man and mathematician Thales. Both of them traveled through the Middle East with their minds more open than Fallaci’s when she made the trip. The hypothetical-deductive method – the basis for scientific epistemology – originated among Egyptian priests (start with Klimovsky, please), zero and the extraction of square roots, as well as innumerable mathematical and astronomical discoveries, which we teach today in grade school, were born in India and Iraq; the alphabet was invented by the Phoenicians (ancient Lebanese), who were also responsible for the first form of globalization known to the world. The zero was not an invention of the Arabs, but of the Hindus, but it was the former who brought it to the West. By contrast, the advanced Roman Empire not only was unfamiliar with zero – without which it would be impossible to imagine modern mathematics and space travel – but in fact possessed an unwieldy system of counting and calculation that endured until the late Middle Ages. Through to the early Renaissance there were still businessmen who used the Roman system, refusing to exchange it for Arabic numerals, due to racial and religious prejudices, resulting in all kinds of mathematical errors and social disputes. Meanwhile, perhaps it is better to not even mention that the birth of the Modern Era began with European cultural contact – after long centuries of religious repression – first with Islamic culture and then with Greek culture. Or did anyone think that the rationalism of the Scholastics was a consequence of the practice of torture in the holy dungeons? In the early 12th century, the Englishman Adelard of Bath undertook an extensive voyage of study through the south of Europe, Syria and Palestine. Upon returning from his trip, Adelard introduced into under-developed England a paradigm that even today is upheld by famous scientists like Stephen Hawking: God had created Nature in such a way that it could be studied and explained without His intervention. (Behold the other pillar of the sciences, rejected historically by the Roman Church.) Indeed, Adelard reproached the thinkers of his time for having allowed themselves to be enthralled by the prestige of the authorities – beginning with Aristotle, clearly. Because of them he made use of the slogan “reason against authority,” and insisted he be called “modernus.” “I have learned from my Arab teachers to take reason as a guide – he wrote – but you only adhere to what authority says.” A compatriot of Fallaci, Gerardo de Cremona, introduced to Europe the writings of the “Iraqi” astronomer and mathematician Al-Jwarizmi, inventor of algebra, of algorithms, of Arabic and decimal calculus; translated Ptolemy from the Arabic – since even the astronomical theory of an official Greek like Ptolemy could not be found in Christian Europe – as well as dozens of medical treatises, like those of Ibn Sina and Irani al-Razi, author of the first scientific treatise on smallpox and measles, for which today he might have been the object of some kind of persecution.

We could continue listing examples such as these, which the Italian journalist ignores, but that would require an entire book and is not the most important thing at the moment.

What is at stake today is not only protecting the West against the terrorists, home-grown and foreign, but – and perhaps above all – protecting the West from itself. The reproduction of any one of its most monstrous events would be enough to lose everything that has been attained to date with respect to Human Rights. Beginning with respect for diversity. And it is highly probable that such a thing could occur in the next ten years, if we do not react in time.

The seed is there and it only requires a little water. I have heard dozens of times the following expression: “the only good thing that Hitler did was kill all those Jews.” Nothing more and nothing less. And I have not heard it from the mouth of any Muslim – perhaps because I live in a country where they practically do not exist – nor even from anyone of Arab descent. I have heard it from neutral creoles and from people of European descent. Each time I hear it I need only respond in the following manner in order to silence my interlocutor: “What is your last name? Gutiérrez, Pauletti, Wilson, Marceau… Then, sir, you are not German, much less a pure Aryan. Which means that long before Hitler would have finished off the Jews he would have started by killing your grandparents and everyone else with a profile and skin color like yours.” We run the same risk today: if we set about persecuting Arabs or Muslims we will not only be proving that we have learned nothing, but we will also wind up persecuting those like them: Bedouins, North Africans, Gypsies, Southern Spaniards, Spanish Jews, Latin American Jews, Central Americans, Southern Mexicans, Northern Mormons, Hawaiians, Chinese, Hindus, and so on.

Not long ago another Italian, Umberto Eco, summed up a sage piece of advice thusly: “We are a plural civilization because we permit mosques to be built in our countries, and we cannot renounce them simply because in Kabul they throw Christian propagandists in jail […] We believe that our culture is mature because it knows how to tolerate diversity, and members of our culture who don’t tolerate it are barbarians.”

As Freud and Jung used to say, that act which nobody would desire to commit is never the object of a prohibition; and as Boudrillard said, rights are established when they have been lost. The Islamic terrorists have achieved what they wanted, twice over. The West appears, suddenly, devoid of its greatest virtues, constructed century after century, preoccupied now only with reproducing its own defects and with copying the defects of others, such as authoritarianism and the preemptive persecution of innocents. So much time imposing its culture on the other regions of the planet, to allow itself now to impose a morality that in its better moments was not even its own. Virtues like tolerance and self-criticism never represented its weakness, as some would now have it, but quite the opposite: only because of them was any kind of progress possible, whether ethical or material. Democracy and Science never developed out of the narcissistic reverence for its own culture but from critical opposition within it. And in this enterprise were engaged, until recently, not only the “damned intellectuals” but many activist and social resistance groups, like the bourgeoisie in the 18th century, the unions in the 20th century, investigative journalism until a short time ago, now replaced by propaganda in these miserable times of ours. Even the rapid destruction of privacy is another symptom of that moral colonization. Only instead of religious control we will be controlled by Military Security. The Big Brother who hears all and sees all will end up forcing upon us masks similar to those we see in the East, with the sole objective of not being recognized when we walk down the street or when we make love.

The struggle is not – nor should it be – between Easterners and Westerners; the struggle is between tolerance and imposition, between diversity and homogenization, between respect for the other and scorn and his annihilation. Writings like Fallaci’s The Rage and the Pride are not a defense of Western culture but a cunning attack, an insulting broadside against the best of what Western culture has to offer. Proof of this is that it would be sufficient to swap the word Eastern for Western, and a geographical locale or two, in order to recognize the position of a Taliban fanatic. Those of us who have neither Rage nor Pride for any particular race or culture are nostalgic for times gone by, which were never especially good or especially bad.

A few years ago I was in the United States and I saw there a beautiful mural in the United Nations building in New York, if I remember correctly, where men and women from distinct races and religions were visually represented – I think the composition was based on a somewhat arbitrary pyramid, but that is neither here nor there. Below, with gilded letters, one could read a commandment taught by Confucius in China and repeated for millennia by men and women throughout the East, until it came to constitute a Western principle: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In English it sounds musical, and even those who do not know the language sense that it refers to a certain reciprocity between oneself and others. I do not understand why we should scratch that commandment from our walls – founding principle for any democracy and for the rule of law, founding principle for the best dreams of the West – simply because others have suddenly forgotten it. Or they have exchanged it for an ancient biblical principle that Christ took it upon himself to abolish: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Which at present translates as an inversion of the Confucian maxim, something like: do unto others everything that they have done to you – the well-known, endless story.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Jorge Majfud,

Originally publish in La República, Montevideo, January 8, 2003

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Rock Democracies, Paper Freedoms, Scissors Securities

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Democracias de piedra, Libertades de papel, seguridades de tijera

Rock Democracies, Paper Freedoms, Scissors Securities

Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

Ten years ago, contradicting the postmodernist wave, we developed in Crítica de la pasión pura (Critique of Pure Passion) the idea of morality as a form of collective conscience.  In the same way that a school of fish or a swarm of bees acts and develops as one body, in the same way that James Lovelock understood Gaia – Planet Earth – as one living body, we could also understand Humanity as one conscience in development, with some common and basic values that transcend cultural differences.

These values are based, overwhelmingly, on the renunciation of the individual in favor of the group, on the conscience that supercedes the more primitive precept of the survival of the fittest, as mere individuals in competition.  That is how the representation of the hero and of any other positive figure emerges throughout history.

The problem, the betrayal, is produced when these values become myths at the service of classes and sects in power.  The worst thing that can happen to freedom is for it to be turned into a statue.  The “conflicts of interests,” normally presented as natural, from a broader perspective would represent a pathology.  A culture that supports and legitimizes this betrayal of the conscience of the species should be seen – to use the same metaphor – as a self-destructive phobia of that species conscience.

Probably a form of radical democracy will be the next step humanity is ready to take.  How will we know when this step is being produced?  We need signs.

One strong sign will be when the administration of meaning ceases to lie in the hands of elites, especially of political elites.  Representative democracy represents what is reactionary about our times.  But direct democracy will not come about through any brusque revolution, led by individuals, since it is, by definition, a cultural process where the majority begins to claim and share social power.  When this occurs, the parliaments of the world will be what the royals of England are today: an onerous adornment from the past, an illusion of continuity.

Every time “public opinion” changes brusquely after an official speech, after an electoral campaign, after a bombardment of advertising – power that always flows from the money of a minority – we must understand that that next step remains far from being consolidated.  When publics become independent of the speeches, when the speeches and social narrations no longer depend on the powerful minorities, we will be able to think about certain advance toward direct democracy.

Let’s look briefly at this problematic of the struggle over meaning.

There are words with scarce social interest and others that are disputed treasure, territory claimed by different antagonistic groups.  In the first category we can recognize words like umbrella, glycemia, fame, hurricane, nice, anxiety, etc.  In the second category we find terms like freedom, democracy and justice (we will call these ideolexicons).  Reality and normal are also highly conflictive terms, but generally they are restricted to philosophical speculation.  Unless they are instruments – like the definition of normal – they are not direct objectives of social power.

The eternal struggle for social power creates a partisan culture made visible by the so-called political parties.  In general, it is these same parties that make possible the continuity of a particular social power by creating the illusion of a possible change.  Because of this culture, we tend to adopt a position with respect to each social problem instead of a dispassionate analysis of it.  Ideological loyalty or self love should not be involved in these cases, but we cannot deny that they are fundamental pieces of the dialectical dispute and they weigh on us all.

All conflict is established in a present time but recurs obsessively to a prestigious, consolidated past.  Recurring to that same history, each antagonistic group, whether in Mexico or in the United States, will seek to conquer the semantic field with different narrations, each one of which will have as a requirement the unity and continuity of that narrative thread.  Rarely do the groups in dispute prove something; generally they narrate.  Like in a traditional novel, the narration does not depend so much on facts external to the story as on the internal coherence and verisimilitude possessed by that narration.  For that reason, when one of the actors in the dispute – a congressional representative, a president – recognizes an error, this becomes a greater crack in the story than if reality contradicted him every day.  Why?  Because the imagination is stronger than reality and the latter, generally speaking, cannot be observed except through a discourse, a narration.

The difference lies in which interests are moved by each narration.  A slave receiving lashes of the whip and giving thanks for the favor received is not the same as another version of the facts which questions that concept of justice.  Perhaps objectivity does not exist, but the presumption of reality and, therefore, of a possible truth will always exist.

One of the more common methods used to administer or dispute the meaning of each term, of each concept, is semantic association.  It is the same resource that allows advertising to freely associate a shaving cream with economic success or an automotive lubricant with sexual success.

When the value of racial integration found itself in dispute in the social discourse of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, various groups of southern whites marched through the streets carrying placards that declared: Race mixing is communism (Time, August 24, 1959).  The same placard in Poland would have been a declaration in favor of racial integration, but in the times of McCarthy it meant quite the contrary: the word communism had been consolidated as a negative ideolect.  The meaning was not disputed.  Anything that might be associated with that demon was condemned to death or at least to failure.

Recent history tells us that that association failed, at least in the collective narration about the value of “racial integration.”  So much so that today the banner of diversity is used as an inarguable axiom.  Which is why the new racists must integrate to their own purposes narratives of diversity as a positive value in order to develop a new narration against immigrants.

In other cases the mechanism is similar.  Recently, a U.S. legislator, criticized for calling Miami “third world,” declared that he is in favor of diversity as long as a single language and a single culture is imposed on the entire country, (World Net Daily, December 13) and there are no “extensive ethnic neighborhoods where English is not spoken and that are controlled by foreign cultures.” (Diario de las Américas, November 11)

All hegemonic power needs a moral legitimation and this is achieved by constructing a narration that integrates those ideolexicons that are not in dispute.  When Hernán Cortés or Pizarro cut off hands and heads they did it in the name of divine justice and by order of God.  Incipiently the idea of liberation began to emerge.  The messianic powers of the moment understood that by imposing their own religion and their own culture, almost always by force, they were liberating the primitive Americans from idolatry.

Today the ideolexicon democracy has been imposed in such a way that it is even used to name authoritarian and theocratic systems. Minority groups that decide every day the difference between life and death for thousands of people, if indeed in private they don’t devalue the old argument of salvation and divine justice, tend to prefer in public the less problematic banner of democracy and freedom.  Both ideolexicon are so positive that their imposition is justified even if it is intravenously.

Because they imposed a culture by force the Spanish conquistadors are remembered as barbaric.  Those who do the same today are motivated, this time for sure, by good reasons: democracy, freedom – our values, which are always the best.  But jast as the heroes of yesterday are today’s barbarians, the heroes of today will be the barbarians of tomorrow.

If morality and its most basic extracts represent the collective conscience of the species, it is probable that direct democracy will come to signify a form of collective thought.  Paradoxically, collective thinking is incompatible with uniform thinking.  This for reasons noted previously: uniform thinking can be the result of a sectarian interest, a class interest, a national interest.  In contrast, collective thinking is perfected in the diversity of all possibilities, acting in benefit of Humanity and not on behalf of minorities in conflict.

In a similar scenario, it is not difficult to imagine a new era with fewer sectarian conflicts and absurd wars that only benefit seven powerful riders, while entire nations die, fanatically or unwilling, in the name of order, freedom and justice.

February 2007

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Humanism, the West’s Last Great Utopia

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El humanismo, la última gran utopía de Occidente (Spanish)

Humanism, the West’s Last Great Utopia

Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia

One of the characteristics of conservative thought throughout modern history has been to see the world as a collection of more or less independent, isolated, and incompatible compartments.   In its discourse, this is simplified in a unique dividing line: God and the devil, us and them, the true men and the barbaric ones.  In its practice, the old obsession with borders of every kind is repeated: political, geographic, social, class, gender, etc.  These thick walls are raised with the successive accumulation of two parts fear and one part safety.

Translated into a postmodern language, this need for borders and shields is recycled and sold as micropolitics, which is to say, a fragmented thinking (propaganda) and a localist affirmation of  social problems in opposition to a more global and structural vision of the Modern Era gone by.

These regions are mental, cultural, religious, economic and political, which is why they find themselves in conflict with humanistic principles that prescribe the recognition of diversity at the same time as an implicit equality on the deepest and most valuable level of the present chaos. On the basis of this implicit principle arose the aspiration to sovereignty of the states some centuries ago: even between two kings, there could be no submissive relationship; between two sovereigns there could only be agreements, not obedience.  The wisdom of this principle was extended to the nations, taking written form in the first constitution of the United States.  Recognizing common men and women as subjects of law (“We the people…”) was the response to personal and class-based absolutisms, summed up in the outburst of Luis XIV, “l’Etat c’est Moi.”  Later, the humanist idealism of the first draft of that constitution was relativized, excluding the progressive utopia of abolishing slavery.

Conservative thought, on the other hand, traditionally has proceeded in an inverse form: if the regions are all different, then there are some that are better than others.  This last observation would be acceptable for humanism if it did not contain explicitly  one of the basic principles of conservative thought: our island, our bastion is always the best.  Moreover: our region is the region chosen by God and, therefore, it should prevail at any price.  We know it because our leaders receive in their dreams the divine word.  Others, when they dream, are delirious.

Thus, the world is a permanent competition that translates into mutual threats and, finally, into war.  The only option for the survival of the best, of the strongest, of the island chosen by God is to vanquish, annihilate the other.  There is nothing strange in the fact that conservatives throughout the world define themselves as religious individuals and, at the same time, they are the principal defenders of weaponry, whether personal or governmental.  It is, precisely, the only they tolerate about the State: the power to organize a great army in which to place all of the honor of a nation.  Health and education, in contrast, must be “personal responsibilities” and not a tax burden on the wealthiest.  According to this logic, we owe our lives to the soldiers, not to the doctors, just like the workers owe their daily bread to the rich

At the same time that the conservatives hate Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, they are radical partisans of the law of the survival of the fittest, not applied to all species but to men and women, to countries and societies of all kinds.  What is more Darwinian than the roots of corporations and capitalism?

For the suspiciously celebrated professor of Harvard, Samuel Huntington, “imperialism is the logic and necessary consequence of universalism.”  For us humanists, no: imperialism is just the arrogance of one region that imposes itself by force on the rest, it is the annihilation of that universality, it is the imposition of uniformity in the name of universality.

Humanist universality is something else: it is the progressive maturation of a consciousness of liberation from physical, moral and intellectual slavery, of both the opressed and the oppressor in the final instant.  And there can be no full consciousness if it is not global: one region is not liberated by oppressing the others, woman is not liberated by oppressing man, and so on.  With a certain lucidity but without moral reaction, Huntington himself reminds us: “The West did not conquer the world through the superiority of its ideas, values or religion, but through its superiority in applying organized violence.  Westerners tend to forget this fact, non-Westerners never forget it.”

Conservative thought also differs from progressive thought because of its conception of history: if for the one history is inevitably degraded (as in the ancient religious conception or in the conception of the five metals of Hesiod) for the other it is a process of advancement or of evolution.  If for one we live in the best of all possible worlds, although always threatened by changes, for the other the world is far from being the image of paradise and justice, for which reason individual happiness is not possible in the midst of others’ pain.

For progressive humanism there are no healthy individuals in a sick society, just as there is no healthy society that includes sick individuals.  A healthy man is no possible with a grave problem of the liver or in the heart, like a healthy heart is not possible in a depressed or schizophrenic man.  Although a rich man is defined by his difference from the poor, nobody is truly rich when surrounded by poverty.

Humanism, as we conceive of it here, is the integrating evolution of human consciousness that transcends cultural differences.  The clash of civilizations, the wars stimulated by sectarian, tribal and nationalist interests can only be viewed as the defects of that geopsychology.

Now, we should recognize that the magnificent paradox of humanism is double: 1) it consisted of a movement that in great measure arose from the Catholic religious orders of the 14th century and later discovered a secular dimension of the human creature, and in addition 2) was a movement which in principle revalorized the dimension of man as an individual in order to achieve, in the 20th century, the discovery of society in its fullest sense.

I refer, on this point, to the conception of the individual as opposed to individuality, to the alienation of man and woman in society.  If the mystics of the 14th century focused on their self as a form of liberation, the liberation movements of the 20th century, although apparently failed, discovered that that attitude of the monastery was not moral from the moment it became selfish: one cannot be fully happy in a world filled with pain.  Unless it is the happiness of the indifferent.  But it is not due to some type of indifference toward another’s pain that morality of any kind is defined in any part of the world.  Even monasteries and the most closed communities, traditionally have been given the luxury of separation from the sinful world thanks to subsidies and quotas that originated from the sweat of the brow of sinners.  The Amish in the United States, for example, who today use horses so as not to contaminate themselves with the automotive industry, are surrounded by materials that have come to them, in one form or another, through a long mechanical process and often from the exploitation of their fellow man.  We ourselves, who are scandalized by the exploitation of children in the textile mills of India or on plantations in Africa and Latin America, consume, in one form or another, those products.  Orthopraxia would not eliminate the injustices of the world – according to our humanist vision – but we cannot renounce or distort that conscience in order to wash away our regrets.  If we no longer expect that a redemptive revolution will change reality so that the latter then changes consciences, we must still try, nonetheless, not to lose collective and global conscience in order to sustain a progressive change, authored by nations and not by a small number of enlightened people.

According to our vision, which we identify with the latest stage of humanism, the individual of conscience cannot avoid social commitment: to change society so that the latter may give birth, at each step, to a new, morally superior individual.  The latest humanism evolves in this new utopian dimension and radicalizes some of the principles of the Modern Era gone by, such as the rebellion of the masses.  For which reason we can formulate the dilemma: it is not a matter of left or right but of forward or backward.  It is not a matter of choosing between religion or secularism.  It is a matter of a tension between humanism and tribalism, between a diverse and unitary conception of humanity and another, opposed one: the fragmented and hierarchical vision whose purpose is to prevail, to impose the values of one tribe on the others and at the same time to deny any kind of evolution.

This is the root of the modern and postmodern conflict.  Both The End of History and The Clash of Civilizations attempt to cover up what we understand to be the true problem: there is no dichotomy between East and West, between us and them, only between the radicalization of humanism (in its historical sense) and the conservative reaction that still holds world power, although in retreat – and thus its violence.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Ten Lashes Against Humanism

Erasmus in 1523, by Hans Holbein

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Diez azotes contra el humanismo (Spanish)

Ten Lashes Against Humanism

 

Jorge Majfud

A minor tradition in conservative thought is the definition of the dialectical adversary as mentally deficient and lacking in morality. As this never constitutes an argument, the outburst is covered up with some fragmented and repetitious reasoning, proper to the postmodern thought of political propaganda. It is no accident that in Latin America other writers repeat the US experience, with books like Manual del perfecto idiota latinoamericano (Manual for the Perfect Latin American Idiot, 1996) or making up lists about Los diez estúpidos más estúpidos de América Latina (The Top Ten Stupid People in Latin America). A list that is usually headed up, with elegant indifference, by our friend, the phoenix Eduardo Galeano. They have killed him off so many times he has grown accustomed to being reborn.

As a general rule, the lists of the ten stupidest people in the United States tend to be headed up by intellectuals. The reason for this particularity was offered some time ago by a military officer of the last Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) who complained to the television cameras about the protesters marching through the streets of Buenos Aires: “I am not so suspicious of the workers, because they are always busy with work; I am suspicious of the students because with too much free time they spend it thinking. And you know, Mr. Journalist, that too much thinking is dangerous.” Which was consistent with the previous project of General Onganía (1966-1970) of expelling all the intellectuals in order to fix Argentina’s problems.

Not long ago, Doug Hagin, in the image of the famous television program Dave’s Top Ten, concocted his own list of The Top Ten List of Stupid Leftist Ideals. If we attempt to de-simplify the problem by removing the political label, we will see that each accusation against the so-called US leftists is, in reality, an assault on various humanist principles.

10: Environmentalism. According to the author, leftists do not stop at a reasonable point of conservation.

Obviously the definition of what is reasonable or not, depends on the economic interests of the moment. Like any conservative, he holds fast to the idea that the theory of Global Warming is only a theory, like the theory of evolution: there are no proofs that God did not create the skeletons of dinosaurs and other species and strew them about, simply in order to confuse the scientists and thereby test their faith. The conservative mentality, heroically inalterable, could never imagine that the oceans might behave progressively, beyond a reasonable level.

9: It takes a village to raise a child. The author denies it: the problem is that leftists have always thought collectively. Since they don’t believe in individualism they trust that children’s education must be carried out in society.

 

In contrast, reactionary thought trusts more in islands, in social autism, than in suspect humanity. According to this reasoning of a medieval aristocrat, a rich man can be rich surrounded by misery, a child can become a moral man and ascend to heaven without contaminating himself with the sin of his society. Society, the masses, only serves to allow the moral man to demonstrate his compassion by donating to the needy what he has left over – and discounting it from his taxes.

8: Children are incapable of handling stress. For which reason they cannot be corrected by their teachers with red ink or cannot confront the cruel parts of history.

The author is correct in observing that seeing what is disagreeable as an infant prepares children for a world that is not pleasant. Nonetheless, some compassionate conservatives exaggerate a little by dressing their children in military uniforms and giving them toys that, even though they only shoot laser lights, look very much like weapons with laser lights that fire something else at similar targets (and at black people).

7: Competition is bad. For the author, no: the fact that some win means that others lose, but this dynamic leads us to greatness.

He does not explain whether there exists here the “reasonable limit” of which he spoke before or whether he is referring to the hated theory of evolution which establishes the survival of the strongest in the savage world. Nor does he clarify to which greatness he refers, whether it is that of the slave on the prosperous cotton plantation or the size of the plantation. He does not take into account, of course, any kind of society based on solidarity and liberated from the neurosis of competition.

6: Health is a civil right. Not for the author: health is part of personal responsibility.

This argument is repeated by those who deny the need for a universal health system and, at the same time, do not propose privatizing the police, and much less the army. Nobody pays the police after calling 911, which is reasonable. If an attacker shoots us in the head, we will not pay anything for his capture, but if we are poor we will end up in bankruptcy so that a team of doctors can save our life. One deduces that, according to this logic, a thief who robs a house represents a social illness, but an epidemic is nothing more than a bunch of irresponsible individuals who do not affect the rest of society. What is never taken into account is that collective solidarity is one of the highest forms of individual responsibility.

5: Wealth is bad. According to the author, leftists want to penalize the success of the wealthy with taxes in order to give their wealth to the federal government so that it can be spent irresponsibly helping out those who are not so successful.

That is to say, workers owe their daily bread to the rich. Earning a living with the sweat of one’s brow is a punishment handed down by those successful people who have no need to work. There is a reason why physical beauty has been historically associated with the changing but always leisurely habits of the aristocracy. There is a reason why in the happy world of Walt Disney there are no workers; happiness is buried in some treasure filled with gold coins. For the same reason, it is necessary to not squander tax monies on education and on health. The millions spent on armies around the world are not a concern, because they are part of the investment that States responsibly make in order to maintain the success of the wealthy and the dream of glory for the poor.

4: There is an unbridled racism that will only be resolved with tolerance. No: leftists see race relations through the prism of pessimism. But race is not important for most of us, just for them.

That is to say, like in the fiction of global warming, if a conservative does not think about something or someone, that something or someone does not exist. De las Casas, Lincoln and Martin Luther King fought against racism ignorantly. If the humanists would stop thinking about the world, we would be happier because others’ suffering would not exist, and there would be no heartless thieves who steal from the compassionate rich.

3: Abortion. In order to avoid personal responsibility, leftists support the idea of murdering the unborn.

The mass murder of the already born is also part of individual responsibility, according to televised right-wing thought, even though sometimes it is called heroism and patriotism. Only when it benefits our island. If we make a mistake when suppressing a people we avoid responsibility by talking about abortion. A double moral transaction based on a double standard morality.

2: Guns are bad. Leftists hate guns and hate those who want to defend themselves. Leftists, in contrast, think that this defense should be done by the State. Once again they do not want to take responsibility for themselves.

That is to say, attackers, underage gang members, students who shoot up high schools, drug traffickers and other members of the syndicate exercise their right to defend their own interests as individuals and as corporations. Nobody distrusts the State and trusts in their own responsibility more than they do. It goes without saying that armies, according to this kind of reasoning, are the main part of that responsible defense carried out by the irresponsible State.

1: Placating evil ensures Peace. Leftists throughout history have wanted to appease the Nazis, dictators and terrorists.

The wisdom of the author does not extend to considering that many leftists have been consciously in favor of violence, and as an example it would be sufficient to remember Ernesto Che Guevara. Even though it might represent the violence of the slave, not the violence of the master. It is true, conservatives have not appeased dictators: at least in Latin America, they have nurtured them. In the end, the latter also have always been members of the Gun Club, and in fact were subject to very good deals in the name of security. Nazis, dictators and terrorists of every kind, with that tendency toward ideological simplification, would also agree with the final bit of reasoning on the list: “leftists do not undertand that sometimes violence is the only solution. Evil exists and should be erradicated.” And, finally: “We will kill it [the Evil], or it will kill us, it is that simple. We will kill Evil, or Evil will kill us; the only thing simpler than this is left-wing thought.”

Word of Power.

 

Vargas Llosa augura un futuro “casi clandestino” para el libro de papel

Jorge Luis Borges, escritor argentino

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El premio Nobel de Literatura Mario Vargas Llosa vaticinó que el libro de papel no llegará a desaparecer por el interés de un público reducido y “casi clandestino”, durante una charla con estudiantes en la ciudad mexicana de Monterrey (norte).

“El libro de papel no va a desaparecer enteramente, como dijo Bill Gates”, dijo el escritor peruano a jóvenes de varias universidades. “Siempre habrá un sector minoritario, casi clandestino, que va a mantener el libro de papel”.

De esta forma cada obra literaria “será más rigurosa y más profunda y atraerá vocaciones más intensas. Así que habrá una suerte de compensación” frente al libro digital, consideró el autor de ‘Conversación en la catedral’.

El novelista teme que la “decadencia y el empobrecimiento de creatividad llegue con los libros digitales tal como pasó con la televisión”.

Vargas Llosa, de 74 años, recibirá el jueves en Monterrey el premio Alfonso Reyes, otorgado por autoridades mexicanas y que en el pasado obtuvieron otros gigantes de las letras como Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz o Alejo Carpentier.

La semana pasada Vargas Llosa fue galardonado por el presidente Felipe Calderón y actuó en dos representaciones de su adaptación teatral de “Las mil y una noches” en el emblemático Palacio de Bellas Artes de la capital mexicana.

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