Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Culture and Human Rights by Hatto Fischer (2001)


James Clifford, in his excellent analysis of the Predicament of Culture, cites the American poet William Carlos Williams who upon entering his kitchen and seeing the maid washing the dishes, foundered suddenly in his White Anglo-Saxon identity due to being confronted by that woman whose multi-cultural background appeared to give her a much more secure identity than what he would ever or could possible attain.

Certainty and security are not identical, but they reflect circumstances and conditions under which any person appears to fit into the world in the making. As recent census reveal, the American population has altered in composition. The number of people of multi-racial background has increased tremendously.

By contrast, it is well known that those with a single identity are perturbed when those ‘others’ move into their district and show that other networks, forms of interaction and expressions exist. What perturbs them most is that the others appear to move about faster than what they conceive to be possible.

Well known are the problems of single parent children. They grow up with but a single model. They cannot extrapolate so easily and if without trust in the world, they cannot link their world at home with that of the others; rather they live an either/or split which some believe is already a kind of schizophrenia. Quite different is the life of children who have not only one parent, but also many parents. They learn by running in and out of different households. They benefit from various models bringing them closer to the real world and thus are not frightening by new, even strange situations since they can adapt, learn and retain their identities all at once.

In other words, diversity comes into existence through many different categories and various other forms of living and working together. Real diversity exists where children experience people from all walks of life, e.g. chauffeur, wrestler, politician, artist, truck driver, engineer etc., and who all make up the complex and marvelous composition of social reality. Diversity and wonder of life interrelate dialectically and flourishes, culturally speaking, where the freedom to live and to experiment different models does exist in larger society.

No wonder then that tolerance and respect for such diverse differences can be found more readily in countries like Canada where the civil society is made up of different immigrant groups not forced to assume a single identity as the case of the melting pot in the United States. For when there is no need for just one common language, and everyone respecting the other no matter the race, religion, and color of skin, then life in diversity is possible.

Nikos Stravolakis describes in his book about Thessalonica in the early twenties that then such conditions prevailed. It was expressed through a cultural calendar noting when the others had their religious holidays, so as to know why they would not work on those days. Understanding the other in terms of own customs and ways of doing things is a prerequisite for any multi-cultural urban environment. With it goes the willingness to be challenged by the identities of the others.

On the basis of these observations about cultural identity and multi-cultural settings, the question about the relationship between Culture and Human Rights can be posed.

1. Culture and Human Rights – some reflections

Since First and Second World War, the flagrant abuse of power and violations of human rights has continued unabated whether in Algiers, Korea, Viet Nam or now most recently in Kosovo, Rwanda and Indonesia. Does culture help to understand why that could happen and can it show how such ‘crimes against humanity’ could be prevented in future?

One thesis is that abuse of power in cultural terms goes with forces attempting to put a single identity stamp upon a community, city or nation. It leaves innocent people scrambling for their lives if they do not fit nor wish to fit that stamp, in reality a kind of social stigma. Such danger arises once an one-sided identity is transformed into a political credo. What follows then is turmoil and outbursts of violence due to many confusing assumptions being postulated and rejected on how to regulate life, including distribution of the land. All this is so threatening, since then there exists no longer any institutional protection against violence. Danger to human lives lurks around every corner the moment ‘human rights’ no longer hold. Merely manipulative political forces can polarize people by offering only false alternatives as it is a matter of ‘either us or them’.

As Simon Mundy expresses in Making it Home, such a manipulative game has always been going on in the long history of Europe. The reactionary forces play upon the fear of not being able to survive within the scope of one’s own identity linked to the land. As a suggestive threat of extinction, such exploitation of fear has lead to countless ‘crimes against humanity’. It has made people all too ready to take up arms and produce ugly conflicts rather than seeking peaceful solutions on the basis of creating such communities to which everyone has an equal right of access to the community.

Why ‘xenophobic forces’ continue to persist, despite the violence they produce being so ‘pointless’ (something perhaps seen and realized only in the long run), equally extremely harmful to any normal way of living together, is an unresolved cultural paradox.

How crucial culture is then for answering questions about ‘human rights’? Any answer might be judged on hand of pertinent questions illustrating the perseverance of unresolved paradoxes:

  1. How is just society conceived and what follows if people see and experience human injustice, but do not react as in the case of Germans witnessing the disappearance of Jews?
  2. Is the German philosopher Kant correct in assuming that ‘practical judgment’ and the wisdom that goes with it, cannot be taught, so where does this put our education system and any optimism in mankind as derived from learning out of experiences?
  3. Practical judgment would mean the ability to anticipate consequences of one’s own actions and hence the capacity to avoid such negative consequences as it would harm other people or oneself in the process of excluding them or oneself from any access to other people, but why then do people act against inner convictions and a better knowledge as if they wish to destroy others and themselves in the process?
  4. What are the chances of civil society to uphold human rights without letting these rights be misused politically, which would be the case if rather than guaranteeing tolerance and peaceful co-existence, ‘political consumption’ would rob the people of their human substance.
  5. How should European law be realized, if it is doubtful that even the best constitution cannot safeguard human rights?

By progressing through different stages of cultural adaptation in answering these and other questions, various layers of consciousness about differences in how violence – the key factor in abuse of human rights – can be avoided, are touched upon. If taken forward by culture, then it is an entire socialization process towards non-violence.

Out of such a perspective, culture is a way to guide people through these paradoxes very much like children stories contain already a series of problems and solutions. By looking more closely at these paradoxes, certain things come to mind.

First Paradox: Inactivity and Passivity reinforced by the judgment that "nothing can be done" even though at times this emerges out of a lack of 'ethics of seeing'

The question was, but how is just society conceived and what follows if people see and experience human injustice, but do not react as in the case of Germans witnessing the disappearance of Jews?

That the political excuse of ‘nothing could be done’ does not hold, this is in itself a paradox, for really the fear of consequences for one’s own life makes that person try to stay outside the realms of official power once police and the army intervene. It hands over the individual being mistreated completely to power. What adds to this fuel of misuse of power is the claim by state ideologies that they should have the monopoly of power. This goes even so far as no one is allowed to question how power is being used. Here it is not a semantic difference between legal and legitimate power, for human injustice is injustice and can never be justified.

Adults are often silent because they have not responded in many occasions to abuse of power against others. Most often they fear that if they get involved, then they too may loose their job. This inner insecurity makes them commit many compromises at the end of which they no longer believe in themselves.

The extreme case of conspiracy against the individual is that of skinheads forming a group around the person lying on the ground and being kicked by all.

Injustices are in such cases very difficult to challenge. The individual in that group has transferred his or her identity onto the group and only through the existence of the group does that identity have some strength. Any act against the will of the group would mean expulsion or even worse the same thing as the person lying on the ground. Fear is reproduced by not doing anything against gross violations of human rights.

Children are very sensitive to cases of injustices if enacted by a teacher. It spoils his or her reputation in the eyes of the children immediately, if the teacher favors one pupil over the others.

Neil Summerhill made, however, the observation that between concepts of justice, perception of an act that violates that and kind of punishment proposed for the offender varies with age. Younger children tend to punish more severely. This underlines the old truism; wisdom comes with age and experience.

In the end, feeling for justice and political courage combined with a freedom to respond in a spontaneous manner helps. Crucial is also the thesis by Klaus Heinrich based on his understanding ‘why it is so difficult to say ‘no’ to human rights abuses’, because it is so difficult to find the friend in the other appearing at that moment of destruction and self-destruction to be the worst enemy. It takes courage and soberness to perceive that potential friendship and work towards that despite almost impossible conditions.

Another thought has been articulated by Freud in correspondence with Einstein and others, namely that it is a basic paradox that people see, but do not react as if they do not trust their own feelings in terms of what it tells them to do in such a situation. Freud spoke about also cultural identity being destroyed in the process of ‘Verneinung’ or negation, that is until the products made have the label Made in Germany, but the persons producing these things left without any personal identity.

Second Paradox: practical judgment and collective wisdom

There is one crucial question: what does it take to uphold life? If practical judgment and collective wisdom is needed to do that, then life cannot be upheld solely by state mechanisms, and that includes formal education, but has to include informal ways of learning out of practical expriences.

he German philosopher Kant is not correct in assuming that ‘practical judgment’ and the wisdom that goes with it, cannot be taught, for where would that put our education system and any optimism in mankind as derived from learning out of experiences?

When trying to respond to this paradox, much depends upon perception of mankind. Although the ‘human being’ is not to be reduced to ‘human nature’, any assumption has to be still within the scope of knowing oneself and in realization of what is possible under certain circumstances.

There is a notion that man is not violent but made into such by other forces overpowering him or her when completely alienated and able to go even against own values.

However, certain perceptions contradict that as indicated already by Fielding’s novel ‘Lord of the Flies’, that is what happens when boys no longer feel the social constraint and act only according to ‘human nature’ free of any categorical imperative or commands like ‘you shall not kill’?

Kant himself stated that ‘crooked wood cannot be bent straight’, hence he was pessimistic about ‘human nature’. Due to his perception, he introduced the categorical imperative to safeguard humanity against any individual acting against morality. The categorical imperative is an act of mistrust and extremely damaging to any ‘psyche’ wishing as in good poetry to reconcile society with nature free of any artificial constraint or law. Kant was himself so unsure about his identity, forcing his servant to wear always a uniform to enable a distinction between servant and master.

Kant’s position of mistrust in human nature was continued by Hegel who denied people from protesting against arbitrary use of power as they did in the French Revolution. These philosophical reactions continue to prevail even nowadays. It means that European history has been sidetracked by these highly suggestive philosophical principles leaving governance without trust of people. It means that the institutionalized nations of Europe have not learned out of the French Revolution. This is reflected in the fact that they have been unable to entrust their educational institutions with such lessons of history that practical wisdom could prevail. Naturally this would have to include resistance against abuse of power and may that be by the state itself. The just society is still a utopia with Europe making itself unnecessarily difficult to realize what it takes to allow questioning of power if its outcome is only injustice.

In this context, education and ideology intertwine with haphazard forms of thinking wrongly what can be done, what not. While nothing is enough, too little is done to ensure a humane life. Often such dangerous way of handling decisions for life explode if not in violence, then in forms gambling away chances of life. Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the unemployed sitting in a bar with the clock ticking away while the waiter appears to be a butcher of time precludes some of the expressionist painters’ outcry against all lies. Thus another look at educational forces will have to question what is being taught both formally and informally, if the outcome is a new kind of fanaticism based on further entanglements in a net of lies?

One starting point for cultural reflections in the light of history being reflected and distorted all the time is related to the question, as to why politicians utilize fear of others to rally people around some common cause? Dostoevsky spoke about hatred being able to unite people more readily than what love for others would require.

Taken that cue from the nineteenth century, what holds still today? Certainly a Christian love, while still ready to sacrifice life for the sake of such religious belief, is considered to be no longer feasible.

Still, beliefs bringing together the need for a certain identity with a specific kind of religious upbringings (a demonstration of how one wishes to uphold values in life), are articulated in areas of cultural conflicts in such dogmatic way that Brendan Kennelly, the Irish poet and author of the book Judas came to the conclusion that perhaps the most difficult thing to undo and unlearn is ‘learned hatred’. For in reality that are prejudices having been transformed by ideological and educational forces into such strong convictions that no arguments suffice to make them think twice. This includes the conviction that the IRA are justified in throwing bombs or the Basque correct in applying terror to get their absolute autonomy. Such education, in reality brain washing, is marked by the command to be absolutely loyal to the cause and every deviation will be punished because such a ‘betrayal’ that no more acceptance is conceivable. Brendan Kennelly points out that this is the reason why the voice of Judas is taught not to be listened to, for then no one needs to ask but how many dreams have been betrayed.

Third Paradox: Irrationality can be seen as another way of self-destruction brought about by alienation from society and no longer rooted in honesty (Simone Weil) - but also victims silenced by their traumas

Practical judgment is related to the ability to anticipate consequences of one’s own actions and hence the capacity to avoid such negative consequences as it would harm other people or oneself in the process. This is the case if one would exclude oneself through the actions undertaken from civil society. It would make it impossible to live in peace with the others. Irrationality begins with discontent, but does not end there. Things get worse, not better, when despite better knowledge, actions are undertaken that bring destruction upon oneself and others.

This is especially the case when hatred is allowed to unload, because not reflected upon as really self-hatred for having allowed oneself to be manipulated for so long into negative situations, that is with no productive or fruitful outcomes. It is also a fear of not being able to bridge anymore the cultural gap between being a human being with an up-righteous walk and just being a failure. For the latter the term disgrace and dismay apply as well. Much hatred being unloaded is due to this fear of becoming worse than a failure a completely defeated and humiliated person. False pride intensifies even further those wrong or artificial feelings. They get in the way of any other human communication and are easily provoked by all kinds of misunderstandings. Freud tried his best to show a way out of projections, which are at the base for these misunderstandings. Adorno added ‘intuition’ as a sign of trust in feelings to know what is going inside the other and if given a true interpretation allow the person to be unlocked, that is freed from what is in reality self-hatred.

The coercive logic based on either/or has been mentioned. The moral accusation of being a betrayer of a cause goes always with such manipulative attempts. Their aim is to prevent the realization that betrayal of humanity is greater but also weaker since less tangible, when compared with the centrifugal forces of both alienation and loyal bondage (allegiance) to a cause.

There are many ill-fated cases in history to illustrate the effectiveness of such coercions. For instance, unfortunately the Social Democrats in Germany were driven into the wrong political decision to grant parliamentary permission to take up war credits and hence in effect to start First World War. They grew simply afraid of being labeled by their political opponents as ‘betrayers of the fatherland’ and hence to loose any footing in their homeland. Strange and equally odd is the fact that the mixture of absolute loyalty and patriotism as based on national pride is being alluded to in Germany again, that is after re-unification. It makes one wonder where have all the lessons since 1945 gone.

The key problem since 1945 appears to be the xenophobic forces that make people believe that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is the solution. Adorno and Horkheimer spoke already about this in their book called Dialectic of Enlightenment, for they wrote 1944 that ‘even once Fascism has been defeated, there are still the xenophobic forces’. We have in Austria the Haider phenomena as much as in the upcoming Italian elections the Berlusconi impact. They try to reinforce their own slanders of political opponents by entering a coalition of hate against all foreigners. They follow the general political orientation of the right and extreme right. It means zero tolerance for other opinions. Due to the way they have gone through life, they have grown weak in everything. They are in desperate need to replace their weakness with some pseudo strength. Deep down they feel the crisis of no longer being convincing to anyone, except those who like themselves desperate for some true recognition, but which they cannot attain since they have squandered all human relationships.

Juergen Habermas made it into a philosophical theme that the posing of either/or alternatives are always the false ones. He meant that most likely in reference to a concept of a truth which is based on solutions for all human beings, and not, as often the case, only for the ones committing the crime by thinking of themselves as being the better ones compared to all others and hence deserving a real power to survive. They cannot do so at the moment. Self deception has lead them into crisis and into panic. Freud defined panic as outcome of the ‘libido’ having been torn and, therefore, being without emotions as connecting element to other people. That emotional emptiness cannot be replaced by some ideological slogan, in order to rally around one cause. It is absurd to think of those incited gatherings where all shout with coarse voices the same slogans in an illusion of finally belonging to some magic group that supersedes loneliness and emptiness. The extreme Right fails to realize that those foreigners they have debased by their actions and therefore are the victims are a part of humanity and if cut out of their considerations shall be unable to give them the recognition they seek. Indeed, all foreigners, including that otherness within them do count really as human beings to give recognition. But by denying them, they make these victims serve only one purpose, namely to uphold their superiority. through artificial delineation between them and us.

Fourth Paradox: the perpetrator playing the role of victim to hide in open secrecy acts of victimization of others

What makes it so tremendously difficult to identify and to stop abuse of human beings is the fact that law and lawfulness is often confused with power having the Right to determine the action. Once 'human rights' can be abused by believing power is on one's side, then nothing stops the perpetrators of debasing their victims. They do so by being considered not worthy of the respect of the law. Victims themselves tend to agree by inclination in seizing up very quickly the situation. Since the perpetrators have all the power, they give in completely as if this is the only way to save themselves. The victims fall subsequently silent out of a tacit agreement with their torturers not to talk later about what took place. Shame and other motives drive them towards that position. Women know once raped the community will look down at them with disdain. Not the perpetrators are blamed but often the question is asked with a tone of reprimand, but how could you let that happen to yourself. There is protest in such a reprimand since everyone knows vital for everybody is the ability to protect him- or herself. Thus the tacit agreement brings about a conspiracy against truth. It is a kind of silence which leaves much wanted to talk about but due to knowing the difficulties of raising the issues at all in public, people prefer to stay silent rather than get the victims to talk. That would mean definitely accusing the perpetrators of having abused not only the victims but in having violated human rights, they stepped outside the bounds of society. As this would take the public debate based on dialogue and disagreement way outside the communication platform of a particular society, the perpetrators have an easy time to influence public opinion as to what needs to be done in the aftermath. Since power is not to be questioned, any inquiry can get that far as to establish on the basis of human rights an abuse of power. There are preconditions set to the power of inquiry and to what could be a claim of truth. Witnesses are not around in most of the cases and the victims will tell only their own subjective version. Over and again the victim can even become his or her own worst enemy when making a mistake or not recognizing this man who supposed to have committed that rape. If it is recalled much took place in darkness and the room filled with fear, who would have full awareness to recognize afterwards the perpetrators again? It takes some nerves to keep eyes wide open as this would endanger any victim even more. The perpetrators know right from the beginning they must erase if possible all traces of their actions. This is underlined by lawyers accompanying soldiers when fixing their targets as part of the precautionary move to fend off any challenge later on that innocent civilians were killed. Again that points to a legal fixture as answer to everything.

Silence blocs the mind and leaves victims isolated, all alone in their pain. They cry inside. In silence. They are the ones whose dreams about a happy life have been shattered. They stop believing human decency is self-understood especially in love. For them trust and conviction in human beings is shattered, if not altogether gone. Although they can hardly exist alone since cut off from society, they are too ashamed to admit their weaknesses and thus to do problematize constructively their dependencies. They strive paradoxically always to attain independence. This is the more the case when women are dragged into prostitution and end up victimizing others simply because they have internalised a kind of absolute deterministic behavior. They have no longer any positive image of themselves and seem constrained not to act differently for otherwise they fear even worse punishment. Such coercive behavior resulting out of a negative image gives them few possibilities to break out of such a pattern. The psychoanalytical term of 'trauma' can explain partially why they do this onto others insofar as they wish to hide what they do upon themselves. They hide in what could be termed 'open secrecy'. As sick persons they develop a special charm by which they manage to fool others about their actions being not at all harmless.

The chances of civil society to uphold human rights are slim once gripped by terror, that is when there is no longer any human truth being upheld and everything subject to arbitrary rule.

In a society where violation of human rights prevails, the usual scapegoat theory abounds. It is especially the case when own failures need to be covered up and someone else to be blamed for. It is, however, one thing to speak negatively about the others as being corrupt, of taking only state money but not doing any work, but quite another matter if this leads to such political movements that make believe everyone will be better off when separating the own people from the others. The terrible acts of crime against humanity that follow once the belief in ‘ethnic cleansing’ becomes an institutional force whether in Kosovo or in Indonesia, that leaves in its wake many dreams betrayed and shattered and many more people deeply wounded due to loss of human dignity, their basic rights flagrantly ignored and broken.

There is also the danger of letting the issue of ‘human rights’ be misused, politically speaking. This would be the case if rather than addressing the real issue in order to guarantee tolerance and peaceful co-existence; the rhetoric’s of human rights advocates could take over for purpose of ‘political consumption’. It would rob the people of their human substance and reinforce merely their negative doubts, namely that they cannot do anything about it.

Yet civil society begins from own practice and conviction in the others as human beings. There is enjoyment to live in freedom and trust as expressed throughout life by clarity of mind when seeing and cherishing out of love for people how they live.

FifthParadox: legal frameworks not identical with European Charta of Basic Rights

How should European law be realized, if it is doubtful that even the best constitution cannot safeguard human rights? For the linkage between culture and human rights is anything but self-understood. It cannot be easily articulated and thus it is the weakest of all legal rights. Next to cultural rights, human rights state within the modern context how governance shall be shaped in future. Crucial is to strengthen the artistic contributions to an authentic culture so that things and people do not go astray.

It can also to be said that even the best constitution cannot safeguard people in a complete manner, for the manipulators are always a few steps ahead and those who could speak out against them by articulating some elements of truth, they remain silent. This allows for a continual victimization of life.

2. Resolving the paradoxes

Where then to start out on in an effort to discover the places in which those victimized people hover in silence before any kind of protest covers up these places of silence? This was the main question of Michel Foucault and rightly so he linked that matter of silence to a life in insanity, that is a life beyond reason and normality.

It appears that a cultural answer would mean to discover differences and different experiences in order to become practical towards such a silence – a true human being hovering alone in darkness. Bringing light into such dark corners of life has to be done by the ancient culture of Antiquity. Its ancient poets spoke correctly about the need to know the true measures for things to come, in order to be able to mediate between what is being aimed for and what can be done in practice, right now, in the present.

Taking the cue from James Clifford, there are cultural predicaments, if a world appears to look everywhere the same. Thus if the need for culture is to become real in order to off-set this trend, then there has to be realized that we cannot live consciously as human beings, if without the experience of the ‘othernessto and in ourselves. If that would be missing, there would be no coming back to oneself.

Indeed, we stand to be enriched by having experienced ourselves outside our own comfortable lives, in the world. Thus what shall happen if that dimension is gone?

How can then man’s self-understanding be developed further? Umberto Ecco describes in his trip through the United States that museums there try to reinvoke that different world, but it is a virtual one. Once the traveler arrives in California, the only question remaining is ‘how real is reality?’

It should be recalled that this lack of experience makes us become superficial, indeed indifferent to our potential self’s and in not caring even at risk to destroy much in ourselves as in others. What shall happen, therefore, to our diverse cultural identities in such a uniform world? Politics enters immediately with that question. Already too many negative reactions have set in throughout Europe from the Basque terror to ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. They are reactions to threats to cultural identities, but reactions that are even greater threats to humanity.

Reformulating the paradoxes: why assertiveness as response to denial of cultural truths?

Already at the Fifth Seminar, “Cultural Actions for Europe” held here in Athens 1994 during the then Greek presidency of Europe, Prof. Baeck from the University of Leuven said, that the most peculiar phenomena to hit Europe was ‘ethnic assertiveness’: the belief that by establishing a single cultural identity at state level, things could be resolved. It was what the Academy of Science in former Yugoslavia made everyone believe. Bad ideas can also come from those wishing to hold onto some elitist concept while deep down they are afraid for only their own sake. Their mistake is to think theory, that is knowledge, exists only where money is given to do the research in order to say that what gives to those in power the belief that they can do things they would otherwise have doubts in implementing. Crucial is what Klaus Mann in his Mephisto showed on hand of the figure Gruendgens, namely an actor showing on stage to the politician what he can do and still get away with. Once this correspondence between knowledge and money is missing, a panic stricken, very opportunistic academic will do anything to redeem itself with the new power. Of interest is that this identification of the academics as a very reactionary elite, if used by the party in power in a very opportune way, was already something Rosa Luxembourg had warned Lenin about

Ethnic assertiveness’ as a highly suggestive solution means not only exclusion, but also clear violation of human rights. Rather than integrating the other, it denies the other of any linkage between cultural and basic rights. It has robbed all of us of our sleep and made the life of many more people into a nightmare.

Unfortunately the response to this has been a misconceived military, therefore not very successful intervention and due to lack of cultural tools in reality a propagation of further misunderstanding of the issue at hand. The press is not picking up that theme of human rights in a profound way, but responds only by documenting at superficial level the sensational part. Subsequently media coverage focuses on illegal immigrants being captured as they try to come ashore or else make it through the channel tunnel to England. At the same time, politicians with racist undertones play on the fear of these immigrants taking away jobs and over alienating city districts that used to be workers’ enclaves. The media does not show the people trying to work out solutions in their communities having been torn apart by strife. Yet actions like those by the Cultural Network of Cities with Max Aufischer from Graz taking the lead to honor the life at the bridge Stari Most as connecting element for two communities have underlined something very important: ‘criminal energies can be replaced once artistic outlets are given and once people feel that the world has not forgotten them’. It means not everything is allowed; or rather the constraints put in place guide those wishing to rediscover their humane way of relating to life of others.

That Europe can be dominated by fear of the other is a huge paradox given its diverse composition, but the European Union is being misused to legitimize just that: extreme nationalism at regional and even local level, the Basque terror but one example of this gross misunderstanding what cultural identity is all about. But that cannot be a cultural identity if asserted at the expense of the other(s) to the point of their extinction. That does not make the own cultural identity either stronger or better or truer. So why assert oneself by denying the possibilities of living together in one and the same place?

There are many examples of this antagonism based on the denial of others to work out their own identities independent from history and previous societal formations. The ‘continuity of identity’ is only then progressive, if admitting like Adorno and Ernst Bloch did, that the human voice has never been raised nor the full human self-understanding attained. What we see, hear and believe is only a partial truth and in our societal reality we are far from being complete in our construction. It is as if Kafka knew it all along: the most humane city is the one that has never been built, that is completed. Life as an ongoing process, as experiment, as trial and error, as something precious and precarious is not the in-between the one or the other option. Life is rather an expression of the manifoldedness of humanity that Kant tried to unify in vain and which does come together only under own, free conditions.

One example could be taken from the history of Berlin when still a divided city, that is before well before re-unification in 1989 and the supposing outbreak of anti-foreigner resentments attributed mainly to former East Germany. For already in 1981 the slogan “when does Kreuzberg belong again to us” by Germans responding to the influx of Turkish immigrant workers settling in that district helped Richard von Weizsaecker win in West Berlin the municipal elections. He advanced also the notion that no one should have a diverse identity, but only one: either German or else gets out. It reminds what Jean Amery recalled 1933 when reading suddenly one day in the Newspaper that he was no longer a German, but a Jew.

Richard von Weizsaecker’s efforts to Germanize West Berlin is all the more surprising since the German identity was at that time and still is a most problematic one. After 1945 it is definitely not one that cannot be trusted for once people have gone against life, become irrational, there is clearly a need of subsequent generations to get out of that ban of negative identity if they are to avoid in future such mistakes. That is why Heidegger’s Time and Being is not at all acceptable, for in that book he states that great leaders have the right to make mistakes all in the name of some vague notion of advancing the cause of the people. But who are these people if they exclude others or even reduce the definition of the human being to but the one who fights, hence those that do not fight, they do not deserve to live – a reasoning shown effectively in the film Shoah with German soldiers watching Jews digging their own graves.

In light of these experiences, the paradoxes continue to exist if it is not realized that culture cannot be based on dogmatically defended truth. Instead any living culture has to articulate itself with a sense of self-reflective doubt, in order to be open and therefore innovative. Doubt is used here in the sense Kant meant it, that is, if one is unable to explain to the other one’s own concept of life, then with certainty one has not understood as of yet this concept oneself.

3. Secularization of Culture

If these and other examples are taken a bit further, then a common denominator of many of these ‘political mistakes’, in reality ‘crimes against humanity’ can be observed since a hindrance for culture to unfold in such a way, that life becomes more humane instead of violent and ugly. Liana Sakelliou-Schultz at that Athens Fifth Seminar as the ‘dialectic of secularization’ has described the phenomenon, but this time not applied to the state – religion relationship, but rather to the state – culture dynamic. Liana Sakelliou-Schultz puts it into one effective thesis: the state feels terrorized if culture begins to emancipate itself from the state, for it is like tearing off the mask of humanity from the state to reveal the naked power mechanisms behind all facades. Indeed, violation of human rights goes hand in hand with terrorist acts which are even more so an ‘abuse of power’, if enacted by the state itself.

It appears that the loss of dialectic of secularization between religion and state will always damage this understanding of culture as being a multitude of identities, languages, ideas about life and human experiences.

Human Self-Consciousness and Freedom – how people speak to one another is as important as how they treat each other

Indeed people become knowledgeable through culture in how to use the resources made available by society in order to survive. A lot depends on how they learn to face difficulties while seeking solutions for conflicts affecting them more than what they manage to understand often at that time. This has to do with how and the extent to which kind of recognition is given by society to people. Recognition means knowledge as to what they can give and contribute towards making society a better place for all to live and to work together.

All this requires not only consciousness, but also ‘human self-consciousness’. Marx recognized that this needs a language that brings together all categories of the human being related to their capacities to be both productive in an organized way and creative like an artist reaching out to the sky while marveling at the existence of this world.

If a person is not addressed in a humane way, but in a one-sided manner such as commands tend to do, it does not let the person unfold, that is attain a happy life. As a matter of fact, abuse of human rights begin with distorting the person’s own self-understanding as a human being. Once negative definition are used against a person, then little can be done to prevent a regress to only that negative image. Once perceived, for example, as ‘animal’, that can justify already mistreatment. Only if other voices add to the self-understanding, does the person realize there are many more human potentialities that can exist once no longer subjugated to but a distorted perception of things.

Culture is, therefore, crucial on how man’s self-understanding is shaped over time. The very absence of culture would mean a person’s identity and self-understanding would be subject to a kind of propaganda and ideology known during the Cold War and which continues to exist nowadays in other, more subtle forms.

Political and human answers to violence and violations of human rights

Juergen Habermas maintains that ‘where there is no ‘theory’, then there is violence’. Of interest is that in a lecture he gave here in Athens about ‘Human Rights’, that he added one critical thought to the discussion about ‘Human Rights’. For it is one thing to identify areas in society where human rights such as equality between men and women are not realized, quite another if the methods applied to resolve this problems lead to new forms of inequalities.

Thus culture has to do with knowing what one is doing and this has to be free of contradictions, or rather the correspondence between means and ends has to make possible human forms of communication by which actions and words correspond. There is always a need for theoretical reflection of what one is doing in practice. Truthful moments are indicated by visions becoming concrete perspectives. They allow people to act in accordance with their beliefs and more important values. Naturally there are conflicts linked to people having not always the same values and common shared beliefs, but that makes life interesting.

As Adorno would put it, the only thing self-understood in reality is that nothing is self-understood. Life is work and learning in progress, and as experiences are made, culture becomes richer as everyone is capable of articulating the pertinent questions in an even better way. Formulation of the problem is really the prerequisite for finding a solution. This has to be done under certain conditions.

Understanding the pains of others as a way to social and political judgment – the makings of practical wisdom

After all culture, as outcome of mankind’s creativity and productivity is not brought about under any condition, but only under certain constraints. Sartre named perhaps the main one, namely real human pain that links everyone to humanity, that is an universal understanding of the others and what they have to go through in order to make a living while faced with almost impossible political and economic conditions. Keynes expressed a similar thought insofar as he said even if economic solutions have been found at home, that does not mean we can stop thinking economically, for there are many others who have still to cope with scarce resources and little means to make a living.

Unfortunately too many people and not only them, but also entire groups and societies are too alienated in this present world. They cannot realize anymore the loss of humanity affecting the way they speak to one another and how they end up treating one another.

As one friend from amnesty international would put it, if one travels a lot and works at many different places, there is no time to really listen to the stories people have to tell. Above all they will not tell such stories that express their deeper pains. It has the consequence, he wrote at that time that his own pains are not touched upon and subsequently he cannot judge differentiated enough a society like India. His perception would be too superficial. For instance, he would not be able to distinguish between a real beggar and an organized beggar, the difference being someone really suffering while the other uses an appearance to obtain just money by playing on the pity and compassion people have for the poor.

As life can be very cruel at times, and it is not comforting to see many people starve to death, the point is what kind of measures have governments and international institutions at their disposal to act in such a manner that the critical situation never arises.

In practical terms, political perception presupposes such cultural differentiation that recognition means the eyes trust what they see and name as such.

Crucial is how problems are named to be faced in humane terms while realizing that success is not readily achieved, but only after consistency and persistence. Only after having worked through the problems and conflicts are solutions in sight. This process of learning to define the problems is a way to adapt to social and political requirements for good solutions. That is crucial for society that these solutions are within such measures accepted by everyone. At all times such measures have to be governed by human values.


Of interest is that the European Commission became increasingly worried by the fact that many cultural identities in Europe are being destroyed by over commercialization. Subsequently the Commission initiated Article 10 to launch a program in the cultural field, in order to promote ‘innovative actions’. Out of 32 projects that were co-financed, there emerged also CIED standing for Cultural Innovation and Economic Development. Part of the reflections expressed here shall refer to the experiences made within that project.

Relevant to this kind of reflection are also experiences made within the European Parliament when working as advisor for the GREENS to the Committee on Culture, Youth, Media, Education and Sports. Some of the topics dealt with are of relevance to our topic of Human Rights, the most pertinent one has been ‘Child Sex Tourism’ and linked to that the main topic of the Women’s Rights Committee of the European Parliament, namely the issue of women trafficking.

The political level of the European Union is not as articulated as many think nor is information about what is going on inside these institutions as accessible as it should be. The post-Nice debate alongside with attempts to draw up a Charta of Basic Rights has started, but what about both Cultural and Human Rights?

Nevertheless one thing can be said at the outset, and many politicians ascribe to this. If Europe is to be a living democracy of the future, then there is a need to unite Europe in respect of its diverse cultures. If so the case, then cultural diversity as constituting element will endorse the institutional sustainability of all basic rights, including human rights. It shall form the basis for sustaining life on this earth.

Unfortunately this kind of political sustainability is not at all self-understood. There has been this most traumatic experience with Yugoslavia and the Kosovo crisis. The official side of NATO called the bombardment of Kosovo a humanitarian act in light of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Other called it a pretext to ensure the military has a say over diplomatic solutions. Whatever the justification, the outcome is disastrous in terms of new waves of migrants while those remaining in shattered communities are no longer living in multi-cultural societies. To many the destruction of Sarajevo even before the Kosovo crisis is just that: a sniper killing a love couple with him being Serbian Orthodox and she an Albanian Muslim.

Like in Belfast, it appears that violence and hatred leading to violent conflicts stem from the fact that when cultural and religious borders become identical, things become absolute and are defended as such even by killing others. This violation of Human Rights stands in contradiction to what cultural understanding of the other ought to be. That then is no longer a cultural paradox, but a criminal act.

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