|16 Jul 2006 @ 18:38, by Roger Eaton|
The Lovers of Democracy have a thoughtful website, well worth a look for those interested in the deeper meanings of dialog. Among the articles there I particularly recommend one from 2001 entitled "DIALOGUE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS: WHAT FOR?" by Hernán López-Garay, a professor at the Centro de Investigaciones en Sistemologia Interpretativa, Universidad de Los Andes, Meridia, Venezuela.
Professor López-Garay reminds us that dialog is meant to shed light on the ground of our shared moral universe so we may understand how to transcend our situation. He sees the West as "driven by the ideal of the creation of a global community embracing the notion of a world constituted by equal and free men." But the West, with the other civilizations in tow via globalization, has lost its roots and is no longer grounded in a shared meta-narrative, so dialog has become debased.
In a key critique of the rootless West, Professor López-Garay writes: "Thus, moral relativism has taken hold of modern man.... The result is a society made up of individuals who have nothing transcendental (i.e. a common history, a common life project, a meta-narrative) to share except an interest in exploiting each other in the most effective and efficient way possible."
All too true. The project of the Enlightenment to ground Progress on a rational morality does seem to have failed. On the other hand, the still grounded "fragments" of Western civilization, such as the right wing Christian fundamentalists, espouse authoritarian and militaristic views and attack the positive gains of the Enlightenment. The meta-narratives of the past that have grounded the civilizations, and which still are powerful even in the West, are compounds of religious feeling and rigidifying systems of belief. Western Progress has shrugged off these systems of belief, seeing them with some justification as irrational pillars of domination. The resulting Void, though, does not protect against exploitation, either, and we lose both the great comfort of living in a system that makes some kind of sense and the key notion that we can better ourselves. After all, how can we better ourselves if we have no context?
Professor López-Garay, if I read him rightly, suggests that we can still talk about how the ground of civilization has been eroded, and indeed that this fact becomes the sole remaining topic for dialog. He is hopeful that such a discussion between civilizations may build a common ground based on a common understanding of how we have reached our current predicament. Alas, this seems a thin gruel to sustain a world civilization!
The voice of humanity in dialog with the nations and religions offers a welcome alternative, a feast on which both humanity and the earth will thrive. Here we have a new kind of meta-narrative, which still fulfills the old function of providing context, but as a living, suspenseful, bottom-up process, does not fall prey to being a subtext for authoritarian control. Rather, the voice of humanity will give the individual a lot of room, encouraging diversity as the fount of intelligence. Humanity and the individual are natural allies against the horrendous excesses of the nations and other collectivities.
Please see previous articles, A New Heaven and Tricking the Nations into Peace.