“The Civilizing of Cultures”

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9th International Conference on Systems Research Informatics and Cybernetics | Int. Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems and Research University of Winsor/Canada – UNESCO

After leftist careerists and rightist profiteers had proclaimed the end of socialism they looked for a new legitimation to recommend themselves worldwide as saviours to people at a loss seeking ideological advice. It is noteworthy that leftists and rightists agreed upon the ideology of multi-culture as the new blessing of mankind.

Even a generous interpretation of the available publications on multi-culture reveals that no ideas or concepts exist that demonstrate how a multi-cultural society ought to function. Everything presented as the solution of how multi-cultural communities with their different ethnic, linguistic cultural, ecomomic, and social forms of life could peacefully co-exist is at best a description of the problem but not its solution.

The political right understands multi-culture as securing the homogeneous cultures according to the motto that every community should have its own territory and autonomy but preferably at a certain distance. - The political left believes in the fantasy of cultural identity of minorities whose characteristics should be maintained and emphasized in public.

With reference to the specific cultural identities of linguistic, religious and social communities new and armed conflicts spread all over the world in order to force others to accept one's own particular cultural identity: this is the case among the peoples in Caucasia, Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Burundi, and forty other regions of the world.

These excessive fights for cultural and ethnic autonomy seem incomprehensible to many peaceful - and slightly naive - Europeans. Pretending that Europe did not experience similar historical situations they shake their heads, they are shocked and suggest humanitarian help by the Uno and other well-believing caritative initiatives. However, one can easily find historical analogies to today's situation, for instance in the 17th century.

During the first half of the seventeenth century - the Thirty Years' War - Germany experienced the loss of one half of its population as the consequence of a cultural and religious war between Protestants and Catholics. - Poland experienced the Swedish invasion and its horrific destruction. The Poles found only one consolation: The miracle of Tschenstochau and the birth of the Polish Baroque on the ruins of destroyed towns. - In 1649 the English beheaded their king and had to pay for this act of supposed liberation with ten years of fundamentalistic terror by Cromwell, father and son. - Richelieu and Louis XIV desperately tried to tame the French dukes' arbitrary regional ruling with an enormous overstrain that nearly ruined the country. - In 1683, near Vienna the heroes of Christian cultures waged war against the heroes of the Islamic mission ...

In the 18th century - as a consequence of these catastrophes and fights for regional, cultural, religious, and political autonomy - the French Englightenment, the English theoreticians of civilization, and the German humanists came to exemplary political and philosophical conclusions. They all dealt with the civilization of the barbarians of culture.

Up to today Diderot's Encyclopedia, the English landscape garden, and the German reform movements and societies of the 18th century may be regarded as the most elaborate concepts of civilization; they were theoretically and practically founded on Kant's philosophy, on the American constitution, and on the human rights declaration of the French Revolution with its postulation of freedom, equality and brotherhood in 1789. Unfortunately the effects of the revolution were first ruined by Napoleon himself and later by his concepts of a new European order.

The concept of a universal, republican, social-revolutionary civilization and its realization as a state of administration was countered by the concept of national states on the basis of homogeneous ethnic and cultural identities.

Ever since 1806 German poets, artists, philosophers, art-critics and scholars attempted resistance against Napoleon's armies; their sad but successful attempt to concoct a German cultural identity did not even refrain from historical falsifications - medieval Gothic architecture was presented as a genuine expression of German culture.

This fiction, or rather this counterfactual statement of a centuries-old German culture, fuelled the longing for a national state which was finally realized in 1871. Heine, Fontane or Nietzsche, contemporaries of this development, clearly foresaw where this unholy alliance of cultural nation and national state would lead to. Even Bismarck was sceptical if one could practise power politics by referring to the rights of a cultural nation. When he tried to set limits to this fatal nationalism it was too late.

Emperor William II. politicized the cultural nation to an aggressive power the 'hereditary' enmity between Germany and France and proclaimed a 'holy war' of German cultural identity against the universal, social-revolutionary civilization represented by France.

Also, the German / Jewish, German / Polish, and German / Russian antagonism was radicalized because of the obligation to defend the German culture against its supposed enemies - more so, they were to accept Germany's claim of leadership.

The consequences are known - even the systematic extermination of the Jews can be considered a result of this conception of culture. Though obviously the Holocaust has been a unique form of cultural barbarism so far, we should not be too sure that something similar could not repeat itself.

Cultures tend to develop barbaric forms of self-determination as soon as they have the possibility to radicalize; i.e. by sanction of the maintenance of autonomy people are given totalitarian rights to decide legal, religious, and social matters. Therefore civilized political life with binding state laws and social rules is not possible in multi-cultural societies; a secular legal and social state can concede cultural autonomy to different cultures only as long as they do not claim to take any influence on law, social order, and civil education.

Modern civilization has to be understood as an attempt to repress the various cultural identities, religious confessions and racial / ethnical strivings for domination as far as possible; this is what secularization really meant since the enlightenment in science and art, state and society of the eighteenth century.

In a civilized state cultural agitation can only be admitted as folklore and in museums. The invention of the museum is an attempt of civilization to handle the various cultures. All cultures are basically equal because they achieve the same for their members, i.e. an understanding of the world, a cosmology that answers the questions about God, about death and immortality, about the relation of nature and culture, of spirit and matter, of soul and body. This homogenity of cultures guarantees their survival and they are successful as long as they stand up against other cultures; this produces a great problem: relations among different cultures are fought out more or less bloodily until they agree upon rules that are binding for everyone.

The development of international diplomacy, the universalization of science and commercial relations and other forms of communication gave birth to the idea of inter-cultural relations through the civilization of cultures. Today the globe is dominated by the same technologies of communication, the same scientific strategies of production and development. The various cultures experience this universalization as a threat to their regional autonomies and it shows that the level of civilization is still very low.

Cultural identity has always been a counterfactual statement, but the many fighters for cultural autonomy are not at all disturbed by the obvious absurdities in their self-understanding. Religious fundamentalists of all orientations supposedly fight against the devilishness of universal technologies and use those very technologies to distribute tapes and video-cassettes in order to incite the users against these technical devilries. Cultural minorities refer to universal human rights in order to claim their autonomy; within their specific cultures, however, they could not care less about freedom and equality.

Civilized, secular states can only take care of these dangerous absurdities by exhibiting cultures in museums. Never before could the various cultures be studied as thoroughly as in modern museums where they are stored and presented to the public by experts. The intellectual wealth of past and present cultures can best be exhibited and seen in museums. No single culture ever presented the cultural achievements of the world as civilization does today.

The supposed threat to individual cultures by a universal civilization is an aggressive slogan and not a constatation of facts. Artists, scientists, politicians, and businessmen must therefore insist on strengthening basic civil standards against the fighters for cultural autonomies.

If men still have something in common to guarantee survival in the future it certainly is not common religious convictions, or confessions of political parties, or uniforms of culture - they lead right into cultural battles. Requested is solidarity to confront the problems that no culture can solve alone, as for instance the global ecological problems.

Civilization means to deal with problems that are insolvable by one single culture. Instead of making strangers and foreigners who do not share our own cultural convictions and behaviour responsible for these problems, international cooperation is required. However, the bloodier the fights for regional cultural autonomy become - with their ethnic killings and fundamentalistic rules and orders - the more the conviction will grow that a universal civilization alone can tame the barbarism of cultures.