THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT
OR THE CRISIS OF HUMANISM
The world is changing, no doubt. No doubt man is changing as well. His expectations about his living conditions, about other human beings, society and state – everything changes. Usually we call it development – or progress – and hold any development as good. Development is good for many reasons but in particular for the reason that it has pulled humankind out of darkness and barbarism and led it to the happiest possible situation – the situation where we ourselves, the goal and highlight of human development, live and act. We constitute the end of human development, man is almost complete both in physical and mental senses. At least the most progressive humanists of the most progressive nations are.
All that rests to clean us of the last remnants of animality and mediaeval cruelty is to abolish the last scraps of our bestial origins and barbaric past. We have to get rid of stupid, atavistic prejudices that create divisions between human beings such as those between men and women, Mexicans and Mongols, whites and blacks. With the same kind of harshness we should treat some still existing abuses like pecuniary inequality, lust for revenge or national pride. In the last act of the long play of anthropogenesis the Human Being must step on to the stage as a creature without sex, nationality or age; who speaks no concrete language and is totally free of any aggression. All his features are strictly individual and do not chain him to any group. He does not need society together with its humiliating duties. He has to be free because he is a Human Being.
This is roughly the general idea about man and his future dominating in the West today. This idea is a result of a long development and, as such, is as inevitable as all the other great inventions, starting with the skill of walking on two feet and concluding with morals. Considering this fact, any questioning of this idea should be useless. Or? As we know that every river has its counter-flow near the banks, perhaps this book represents such a counter-flow.
In this there is some inevitability, against which we can not do anything. For quite a long time – some decades – I have observed the practical effects of humanistic ideals both in my homeland and in the whole world. I have made notes about the evolution of ideas and everyday mentality, and have pondered about all of this both before and after sleep. The result, which may probably be called an essay, is in your hands.
To put it briefly it is an essay about being a human being. Until today or at least until yesterday evening, being a human being has been possible only through morals, culture, language, inter-sexual division of labour, even instincts and other stuff like this, which today’s heralds of humanism would love to throw away as a shameful hangover of the past. Even aggression has always accompanied the life of human beings and no historical moral system has tried to abolish it, but only to direct it. All this generates hesitation, if not distrust, towards modern humanism. Are we on a wrong track?
Are we or are we not? And will the developed West meet with a Great Triumph or with a Great Disappointment? This should become evident during the present century and perhaps even faster. And if the world has really decided to commit suicide, this book will not prevent this from happening. But maybe it will offer some joy of reflection in the company of the author. Or maybe it will irritate some reader, and in this case, the title would serve as a good target for his disapproval.
Who is Man?
No doubt most of us would agree that there is some pride in the words “human being”. Sure there is. We all are humans, why not to believe it. Even an ironically minded social critic, who drops the words “human being – it sounds proud” seemingly accidentally just at the moment when TV is showing some especially disgusting serial murderer or tramp digging in the dustbin, will not doubt, as a rule, that “human being” do sound proud indeed. Or at least should, if transnational corporations, world-wide conspiracy of freemasons and general deficit of tolerance would not perpetually humiliate and enslave him. Also a Christian, who has read much the Old Testament and believes all worldly being rooted in the devil himself, usually agrees that since God has given Man his face it means there is something divine in the man – aside all carnal and inferior – which rises him to an exceptional place amongst all other creative works of God.
But who is (hu)man? This question, asked for thousands of times in thousands of variations in the history of mankind, sounds almost banal. Is there something to ask? Of course me, you, he, she, we, you and they – all together. Well, sure. But for what reason? Is it intellect? Soul? Capability for abstract reflections? Ability to form concepts? Ability to laugh? Sense of morality? What is actually meant when someone laments: “Be human after all!”
There has been quite a lot of seemingly empty sophistry about the problem, for what reason(s) a man can be called a man (if he can), and some answers are rather witty. To find some path in the jungle of different answers it seems to be wise to ask one auxiliary question: how does a man start? Is he born as a human or becomes one? Is he human at the moment of his birth? Or even before?
At the first glance this question sounds useless or even rough. Of course he is born as a human, how else? Even the law says it and the whole history of mankind confirms it. We may or may not agree with those who call even the fertilised ovule or at least speak about its (his/her) rights but we have to admit that a new-born baby is every inch a human.
And still this question is worth of asking again and again. Actually people have done it and come to the conclusion that the realities are not as simple as it seemed one moment ago. To see the problem we have to remind of the well-known experiments, designed by the cruel accidence. I am talking about the numerous documented cases about children who for some reason got under the care of animals. These true stories about children brought up by the wolves or the monkeys gave Burroughs and Kipling inspiration to create Tarzan and Mowgli but in reality these children did not become Tarzans and Mowglies. They did not become humans at all. Or at least that is what common sense says. After being found and returned to the human society they bit, snarled, showed their teeth and never learned to talk and walk on two feet. At best they got used to the humans being near and did not try to bite them any more, as it sometimes happens with a beast brought from the wood to human environment. One of these children learned to smile after many years spent among humans but it was all.
So the answer to the question, when a man becomes a man, should drop somewhere between two extremes. One extreme says a man is man already as a new-born or even as an embryo. One especially extreme version of this says that together with the chromosomes everyone inherits from his parents also a nationality, being born not simply as a human but as an Englishman, Estonian, Russian etc. Less deterministic view says man is born as a human but not as a member of some nationality and Estonian, Russian etc, but noble knight or clever peasant as well – it is something he becomes through education and examples. And the other mentioned extreme holds that a baby will be born not as an Estonian, not an Englishman and not “simply” as a man at all – whom Thomas Aquinas and John Locke described as a blank sheet or tabula rasa – but as something even more clean and intact.
Probably the truth lies somewhere near the second extreme, although with some reservations. Creating Tarzan and Mowgli, Burroughs and Kipling described how the development of a child should have taken place if Locke’s and his successors theory about tabula rasa was correct. According to the idea child’s consciousness is composed of the abilities for association and pondering and of memory. These abilities he has to complement only with the experiences. Still the fate of the children brought up by wolves or monkeys proves that a new-born is not even a blank sheet, to be filled with the records of the experience. Not yet. This sheet itself has to come to existence first and above-mentioned cases show clearly that communication with other humans is inevitably needed for this. To be ultimately logical we should not even talk about communication with “other” humans; rather we should say: to become a human, child needs communication with the humans since his very birth, otherwise he/she will not become a human being. Kipling’s fantasy about Mowgli, becoming a man with the help of the teachings of the old bear Baloo, turned out to be utopial. Teachings are badly needed, indeed, but the teacher has to be a human being.
Still Francis Fukuyama comes to an opposite conclusion: the new-born is something more than a blank sheet. He holds an opinion that in addition of the inherited abilities for association and pondering and memory a new-born will have certain cognitive structures and capability for learning, which is changing along with ageing, or to put it in other words: human nature exists (Fukuyama 164-165). To the capability for learning Fukuyama pays special attention, declaring it the main attribute of human nature. He brings a comparison with language: man does not inherit any certain language but the ability to learn (any) language. Fukuyama states: “The fact that children at certain age by certain schedule learn certain things is determined by the nature; what they learn, will be determined by the culture.” (Fukuyama 169)
Fortunately, the question whether man inherits more or less than Locke’s tabula rasa can be overcome and this can be illustrated by another comparison. A new-born inherits not a blank sheet but a blank form with ready empty rubrics – i.e. more than tabula rasa – , but the rubrics, in addition of being empty, are not “activated”, they are not opened for filling – in this sense he gets less than a tabula rasa. So the question whether he/she gets more or less than a blank sheet appears rather a question of taste. Besides, to be exact some of these rubrics are not totally empty at the moment of birth, for the child has already got the first experiences (hearing mother’s voice etc.) Still these experiences are far from being sufficient for the child to continue filling these rubrics and open still closed ones of his mind independently. The care of a wolf, a monkey or whatever beast is not sufficient either; animal care can open only very limited number of closed fields. Briefly, as it has been told, a human being is needed. We may develop the quoted Fukuyama’s statement, saying: the nature determines the fact that children at certain age by certain schedule are able to learn certain things, but if they do it depends on their chances for communication, and what they learn will be determined by the culture. This wording is also in accordance with the latest discoveries in genetics which indicate that the genes give (or do not give) a child an ability for developing a whole bucket of specifically human instincts, if someone will open these instincts in him, i.e. if someone “teaches” these instincts to the child. (Ridley 1563).
Ability of Becoming a Human
Hence something like this could sound the answer to our rough auxiliary question of whether a new-born child is a human or not: he/she is born as a creature capable of becoming a human. Does he/she realize this basic human capability, depends on his/her possibilities of communication, i.e. whether he/she is surrounded by humans or not. If yes, he will become a human. Let us not talk about his capabilities in wider sense, because the realization of different talents depends on specific circumstances, among which the nearness of concrete persons is very important, although not the only important one. But nevertheless we are back in our starting point: who are the ones who have to be around? Who is human? For what he is human?
In addition, a purely logical problem arises: if becoming a human is a process which needs (another) human, how did the humankind and humanity start? How did the first human being came into being? Let us not take this question too seriously, because it is more or less as sophisticated as the problem about Chinese language: if Chinese is learnt from the Chinese, how did the first Chinese learn it? Still it does not mean automatically that this type of questions are not worth of asking in any case.
One can not imagine development of a personality without communication, that is without another person, consequently without society in somehow inexact meaning of this term. Aristotle starts his “Politics” with the statement that man is a social animal. Sometimes researchers have tried to split hairs asserting that with the word politikon Aristotle had in mind just political engagement and not sociality in general, but this argument is of no importance here. The fact is that Aristotle was right in any case. Man is an animal who differs from the other animals because of its sociality. Yes, we could talk about the beginnings of social relations and politics for example among the chimpanzees and other primates, we could talk even about the beginnings of culture, but the natural sociality of men belongs to another level. It is much, much more complicated.
Still – the exceptionality of men among other living beings is far from being as sharp as it has been thought for centuries. Observing the primates, the scientists have discovered phenomena which can not be called otherwise than culture. For example, one group of Japanese macaques were given some grain, mixed with sand. All monkeys started to pick the grains one by one from the sand – except one, who took a handful of this mixture and threw it into water. The sand drowned and the grain rested at the surface. It was easy to collect it now. This innovation deserved the attention of the other group members and they started to follow it. Hence one certain commune gained some specific knowledge and skill, which the other communes missed and the appearance of which was not a genetic inevitability as, let us say, an ability for uttering macaque sounds. A baby monkey, born in this commune, was going to gain a skill (through teaching) which differentiated him culturally from the members of the other communes of the same species.
We may be surprised about the complexity of the social behaviour of the primates or even admire it but we still shall not hurry to call them (semi)humans. It seems that there is no big difference between these inevitably social animals and us, yet there is. But this fact will not refute Aristotle’s thesis about the man as a social animal. On the contrary, it confirms this. What makes human a human is not his sociality as such, but his especially complicated sociality – as the giraffe is giraffe because of its especially long neck. And an especially complicated sociality is inseparable of especially complicated communication, that is the language.
But is it just bigger “amount” of complexity? Perhaps there are still some principal differences, another qualitative level? Is the language, when compared to the signal systems of the animals, something else or is it just one extraordinary complex system among the other, less complex ones? That is the question the specialists have much argued about. From one side, it seems to hurt our pride as humans if some primatologist would argue that even the most witty text of Wittgenstein in its deep essence is nothing else than means for sending a message and as such equal to the message from a chimpanzee, who shows his bottom to another chimpanzee as a sign of obedience. Even the fact that while Wittgenstein’s message is a written one, the animals do not read or write, does not constitute a difference, because the landmarks of wolves and dogs are also “written” ones. We can not discover this difference even asserting that humans use concepts, abstractions, and the animals do not, for the alarm signals of the animals are actually abstractions, too. One may affirm that these signals are not an expression of abstraction but instinct; still there is enough proof (first of all the experiments with young chimpanzee Washoe and gorilla Coco, who were taught some sign language of the deaf[?]) that at least primates possess elementary ability for abstract thinking.
Language a an Inescapable Precondition for Becoming a Human
Probably the question of whether the exceptionality of man is based on a qualitative or quantitative difference between them and the animals is not an essential one. At least in the context of our problem – what makes human a human? The fact is that one inescapable precondition for becoming a human is the possession on human language in the widest sense of the word. That means the ability of understanding the signals of other human, be those signals the words, gestures, signs like letters, finger-posts or uniforms. Small child learns much via direct examples, too, but even here we can talk about signs. Possibly the oldest and most primitive sign is the tone of parent’s (especially mother’s, of course) voice, which they use to influence the baby since the very moment of his/her birth if not before. Mother’s voice is a curious “binary” or “digital” language, which uses only two signs – yes/good and no/bad. The first is expressed by comparatively slow, low-tone voices of affection; the latter by higher, faster and more intensive voices. It is worth noticing that this language crosses the borders of man as species. The animals do not use this language while talking to each other, that is true, but they use to understand it (at least domestic animals) when the humans talk to them in this language.
Although the concept of language includes wide range of non-verbal signs and sign systems the verbal speech still is and will be the most important one. Besides, it is one of those rare features that is indeed specific only to men. We should not pay too much attention to this fact (for example, the communication between the deaf-and-dumb proves that in principle the main communication channel could have been something else), but for certain influential reasons it was the speech what occupied the dominating position. Once long ago the habit of using speech sounds became common and developed into a language. We do not know exactly why but aside the practical reasons it has something to do with the formation of specific gene or genes.
Verbal language is hard or rather impossible to separate from culture. Every language is first of all some certain language – Estonian, Zulu, English, Serbian etc. One and the same language may bear different cultures, that is true, but still not very different ones. (Another problem is whether we may use the word “bear”. Does the language “bear” a culture? Maybe. Or expresses? Or mediates it, being bare means of communication? Probably verbal language both bears, expresses, mediates and also creates a culture, although not all of it.) Speech is interwoven with the culture and it is impossible to teach a child “simply” to speak, not pulling him/her to some concrete cultural field. Most of the signs crossing the cultural borders we shall find in other “languages” like gestures and mimics. These intercultural signs are in effect so general that the few exceptions, e.g. Bulgarian shaking his head as a sign of affirmation, surprise even those who are aware of the cultural differences and expect them. But as usual even a Pygmy understands without any difficulties whether an Eskimo is mad of anger or ebulliently happy, but he still may have difficulties with understanding for what reason. In verbal speech there are many such signs as well, starting with personal pronouns, which exist in every language, and ending with some basic logic of syntax. All this has given ground for a theory that all languages originate from one and only primordial language and they all are based on one and the same heritable capability of men which physically is located on the so-called Broca area of human brain. The theory about one and only primordial language may be true but today the interconnection of different languages with different cultures is a fact one should not ignore.
Language and Culture
The differences between languages and their affiliation to cultures does not mean that it would be impossible to construct sentences fitting to any language. Indeed, in every language one could say that it is raining or that the bear is dead. So let us assume that there is some “freely convertible” part in any language, which can be translated to any other language without obstacles, caused by cultural differences. The assumption is pretty reasonable, for otherwise one could raise the question what it is after all that justifies our search for a human being as such. Indeed, it would be hard to believe that the uniting “something”, common to all the humans, is situated somewhere outside the verbal speech, being limited, figuratively speaking, with growling and waving.
Still it does not mean we could construct a theoretical or even real “pure” human being, not belonging to any culture, speaking all-human language. The problem lies in the fact that every human commune is a very complicated system which functioning needs much more than the ability of group-members to say that it is raining or that the bear is dead. In practical life such statements only start a chain of concrete questions what to do if it is raining for example. To these questions different cultures give different answers. Someone grabs a mackintosh, someone an umbrella, someone rests home and someone runs nude out of the door (if he has one). Concrete verbal language itself as a grammatical system may even not be too affiliated to the concrete culture (although it can not be totally independent of it) but the key problem lies in the contents of the speech. And there is no doubt – in Bambuti language one can not give a detailed description of an old, fresh, granular, crusty, loose etc. snow; in Eskimo language there are tens of special words for this. While snow is only an example; the differences are much deeper than the bare climatic specifics. Yes, the contents of the speech depend on the fields of activity and climatic environment of the collective, using certain language, but the most essential differences lie in the different value systems. An adult Pygmy, brought by an accident to Greenland, could easily learn the different kinds of snow and the corresponding words; but should not be sure about this easy learning when it comes to the Eskimo code of honour and ethics.
Perhaps we should ask which is the natural order of succession: whether a man is born into certain linguistic context and consequently acquires the corresponding culture, or is it vice versa – a man is born into certain culture and consequently acquires the corresponding language. With simple self-observation we can recall and detect both aspects in our development. Numerous times we have asked both questions: “What is this they are talking about?” and “How is it called?” A man is born and being trained into some culture and simultaneously into the languages bearing, connecting, reflecting etc. this culture, of which the verbal speech is the most important but still far from being the only one. While a new-born is just a baby, as a confirmee in the day of his initiation rite he is not “just a human” any more but a member of concrete culture which today is usually marked with the name of a nation. He has become an Estonian, Englishman or Hottentot, no matter whether he likes it or not.
Here we reach the area which has caused, causes and will cause much passionate arguments. There are whole bunch of ideologies which deny and negate the affiliation of any individual to concrete nation or culture and herald “all-human” values. In connection of this we should describe clearly, although briefly, the three important aspects of verbal speech which all indicate the actual differences between them. The first and the second one I already mentioned, these are the subject matter and the system of values. The third one deals with the way how it is spoken – how fast, how loud, with the help of how many gestures, which role is played by the body-talk as a whole and other secondary languages, which are the privacy norms in communication etc. If we return to the problem of a Pygmy, brought for his life to Greenland, then we might state that aside the normal contents and morals of any talk, spoken in Eskimo language and to the Eskimos, he has to learn correct speed, correct loudness, correct position etc. Yes, there is some exaggeration in this statement, I am well aware, but there is still a moment of truth in it. In every human communication we may point out these three aspects: the subject matter, the morals and the technics. Briefly – what about people use to speak, what for do they speak and how do they speak.
What about, What for and How
Let us fill this triple division with more concrete examples.
First – what is told about? For instance (and just for useless information to English reader) in Estonian it is told about summer and winter, field, forest, sea, rivers and lakes, potatoes, bread, spirits and milk. It is also told about Joosep Toots, prince Gabriel and Kalevipoeg. In Russian it is also told about summer and winter, bread, vodka, milk and other items mentioned in the first row. But in addition it is told about Ivan-Durachok, Jevgeni Onegin and Peter the Great. In Egyptian version of Arabic language it is told about field and river, but less about the lakes, only very rarely about forest and almost never about spirits. Instead of Kalevipoeg and Jevgeni Onegin we may hear about the Prophet Mohammed, Gamal Abdel Nasser and king Farouk. It is all the usual subject matter, everyday topics of small talk and prattle, which depends on the living conditions of people, on the geographical, climatic, seismological etc. specifics of their homeland, on their economics, neighbours and finally on their historical memories, historical experiences and corresponding self-myths. We may classify the sources of all these topics on the basis of their origin as geographically determined and culturally determined. It is a big simplification, mainly because of the fact that also the geographical factor reveals itself through culture and moulds itself finally as culture. For example, if an Englishman happens to travel a long road in the same compartment with an Estonian, the Englishman from Liverpool can talk – after mutual introduction, of course – about weather, especially rainy weather, which would express the possible geographical basis for the small talk, but when an Arab accompanies them, he may start talking – after mutual introduction, of course – about Arabian Lawrence, which would express the cultural aspect. Probably an average Estonian will now become silent.
It is clear that it is not the language in the linguistic sense that causes different topics. Nobody will doubt that also in Arabian one could speak about deep forests or endless rain and in Estonian about Arabian Lawrence or endless deserts. The example was brought only to stress the fact that in the Arabian language, spoken in the whole world yesterday, today, tomorrow and in all predictable future the forests and nasty rainy weather has not been, is not and will not be an usual topic for small talk; exactly the same counts for desert-stories, told in Estonian in the whole world yesterday, today and tomorrow. They will be exceptional even in the age of information, globalisation and communication. The simple truth is that in some language some themes are more common than in some other language. This is a fact nobody can deny. And from this fact it follows that if someone has to switch from one language to the other, usually it will not be enough simply to turn on some inner “translator” then and continue speaking. As a rule, another language also means a shift (if not a break) in the subject matter.
Second – why people talk? Supposedly first of all to get and deliver information. But exchange of information in only the means; the aim is to live and to have successors. This may sound plain but actually it is the only reason why humans live “socially”. Living socially, in its turn, is possible only with the help of certain rules, regulating common activities. These rules, taken together, are called the morals. Aside direct exchange of information à la “it is raining” and “the bear is dead” the aim of any talk is to keep such regulations alive and to re-create them. This is the question of existence of any human commune, not a moralizers’ amusement. But still in no language people talk much about abstract morality and comparatively seldom they talk even about codified rules of behaviour; rather it is talked about concrete cases, evaluating simultaneously (one could even say unintentionally) the concrete choices of concrete persons on the grounds of morals and rules of behaviour. It is just evaluative aspect, becoming apparent either through straight “sentence” or tone of voice, expression, choice of details etc., that shapes the society and gives a text much bigger role than a neutral bearer of information. It is worth mentioning that among different texts, the most pregnant with judgements (except legal decisions) is gossip, backbiting. Naturally one has to keep in mind also the other functions of this seemingly senseless backbiting, but the creation of mutual trust – which, as it has been said, is inseparable of morals – is without any doubt the most important one. If two collocutors reach the joint opinion, for example, that the way how Jack ran to Ellen and forsook Annie, who had his baby, was firstly a stupid and secondly a mean act, they have unnoticeably “(re)created the society” during their conversation. (See also Fukuyama 188 < J.L. Locke)
At this point we also see that the topic and the reason why it is dealt are inseparably connected. People talk about something usually for some reason. If an English father talks to his son how Francis Drake, seeing the Armada at the horizon, first finished his bowling match and only then hurried to the battle, he has in mind certain educational goal. The same counts for an Estonian mother who talks her daughter about poor orphan who ended as a bank director.
The differences between moral values in different cultures are not very evident at the first sight. Everywhere people condemn the swindlers, traitors, thieves and tyrants, everywhere people praise the fair, the friendly and the true. But still the differences exist. For example, in modern Western languages the name of Icarus is almost a synonym of a hero; for ancient Greeks it was a synonym of human fatuity. An Arab does not praise a drunker or an unfaithful spouse; an Estonian or a Russian is able to do this. Heroes differ: some people have wise heroes, some have strong, some noble ones etc. Every generally accepted evaluation has its specific and conclusive reasons which are no subjects to any further discussion and everybody who wants to enjoy small talk with a member of another nation (i.e. culture) has to accept them at least partly. Of course there are differences between individuals, members of the same nation. Even two Englishmen may not share opinion about this Jack, Annie and Ellen case; still usually people look for collocutors (friends, acquaintances) who would come to the same judgement. Anyway, the probability of reaching a joint moral opinion among two Estonians (Americans, Spaniards) is much more higher than among Estonian and Spaniard or among American and Pygmy. Small talk, filled with moral evaluations, is undoubtedly one of these areas where different humans, brought up in different cultural context, very often fail to find mutual understanding because they have acquired different rules. The reason why people talk (i.e. which truths they aim to spread) may differ a lot in different cultures.
As a third aspect of verbal language I mentioned the way of speaking. With this I do not mean the differences one can find between talking manners in the frames of the same culture. Indeed, there are both talented and untalented storytellers among all peoples. But still there is something that characterises every culture as a whole and differs it from the others. For example, the average loudness and intensity of talk. If a Scandinavian happens to be first time among the Georgians or the Arabs, he/she may get the impression that they all are very angry all the time. They speak loudly, quickly, intensively and use heated gestures – like a Scandinavian who is upset. During talking or standing in the queue they come too close; or, more precisely, that is how a Scandinavian or an Estonian feels. They talk loudly about the items some other cultures treat as private and not for the public. Tensions, arising on such type of grounds between people of different cultural background, are emotional, irrational – and totally unavoidable. The best one can do about them is to confess himself that they are there; to understand that every such kind of feeling is not yet racism or xenophobia, but at the same time avoid cultivating and spreading these feelings. The average loudness of speech is maybe the most common source of tiredness and stress for an alien. Those who deny the differences between nations (cultures) usually claim that it is not difficult at all to find quiet Caucasians or shy Arabs, to say nothing about quiet Americans. But there is one “but”: These people may talk quietly themselves but the loudness of the neighbours, friends and passers-by does not ruin their nerves, at least not as heavily as of a Swede or of an Estonian in the same environment. Or a contrary example, although a figurative one, because it does not touch upon strictly the speaking manners: there are much abstainers in the West; still seeing or hearing about drinking does not bother them as much as a devoted Moslem. I may be used to hear loud talk even if I myself do not speak loudly; I may be used to see people having their evening beer even if I myself do not ever have a drop.
Is it the Morals?
To summarise all previously said we might state that a man is born not as a human, but as a creature, capable for becoming a human, and realises his/her capability in the course of communication, becoming at the same time a member of some certain culture. But we still have not found the feature that determines a human being as such. Yes, there are some excluding criteria, for example inability to understand elementary causality. These people are dangerous to the others and to themselves; still usually we do not exclude them – even in our minds – from the humankind but call them lunatics or imbeciles. The problem is more complicated with the so-called living corpses – persons, whose brain has stopped functioning forever but whose heart continues to beat with the help of machines. Here the difficulty lies more in the question whether this is a dead or alive human, not in the question whether this is a human or not. Anyway, none of the mentioned is the “full member” of society.
With this statement we have returned to society. Man is a social animal and for being a man, one needs society. There is no way to manage without. But if we recall the fact that there is no society without morals – as we had to admit among other aspects in connection with language – then we reach almost unintentionally the judgement that there is no human being without morals.
Does morality make a human? This sounds sublime but a bit dangerous at the same time. Should it mean that an immoral person would be declared a non-human? Who will judge? To give someone or some group or even to the “broad masses of people” a right to decide who is a man and who is not – it would lead us in any case to some sort of totalitarianism and violence; we should recall about both communist and nazi mincing machines. Morality in its essence is as objective as our animal attributes (hunger, sexual instinct etc.) but takes so different forms in different societies and different times, while each of these forms is paradoxically very rigid and flexible at the same time, that after a little learning about other cultures and other epochs we simply can not regard morality as something objective any more; with the help of J.-P. Sartre we tend to think it’s arbitrary. Of course they are not and can not be arbitrary (or individual) but it is true that the frontier between moral and immoral is never and nowhere accepted totally unanimously, even in the most conservative societies; so if we declare morality to be the indicator of human nature we would still have grave difficulties with the practical use of this definition. If the borders of morality are a flexible, the borders of man should be, too; and our theoretical judge would rely more and more on his personal attitudes. But the problem whether someone is a human being or not should not be solved on the basis of personal affection or antipathy. Here I am not even talking about the intercultural differences. These are huge anyway and have repeatedly caused wars and violence. It is not surprising that people of different cultural background have different opinion in the question whether eating a swan is agreeable or not; rather it surprising that even unfounded killing is regarded differently (let us recall about Philippine head-hunters). These evidences have given ground to the theory of cultural relativity, the vulgarised and ideologised popular variant of which declares that there is no all-human morality. We shall return to this point later. But here the rub lies in the fact that even within the boundaries of one culture the limits of morality are not ultimately clear and therefore there will be always a danger of the watchmen of morality to sink into private business instead of defending public good.
But let’s halt for a moment. All that has been said in the last paragraph reflects modern Western way of thinking which rests on the pathos of individualism and human rights and also on the shocking experience of totalitarianism; which is characterised by panic fear of any teaching-forbidding-ordering “nursemaid”. General reluctance to listen to such social nursemaids and everspreading reluctance to follow any rules has led us to reluctance to punish the ones who break the rules. Maybe here lies the main (psychological and emotional) reason why it is so easy to show how dangerous it is to have an institution for moral judgements. If we have a look into history we shall see that for millennia mankind has harnessed the very principle we just described as a dangerous one: people have treated the ones who violate the borders of morals as dangerous to other people and have expelled them from the society temporally or forever. But this harshness was never justified with the concept of “man”. Neither the judge nor the hangman nor the mob, ready to enjoy the execution, did not puzzle their heads about the question whether the convicted has lost his “human visage”, “right to call himself a human being” or whatsoever. The criminal was sent to the scaffold while he endangered other people, the ruler, the order, established by some higher authority, etc. His ultimate fate rested in the hands of God anyway; people couldn’t deprive him of the human right of the time, which was the hope for the eternal life; they simply expelled him from this world and this life.
Things changed when 20. century invented the human rights which have to realise in this world, including the right to life. The right to live is contained in the form of prohibition to kill already in the ten commands. In the 20. century this prohibition has been deformed into the prohibition of capital punishment, departing from the highly arguable assertion that man’s right to life is absolute and inalienable. That means a human can not be executed and if someone so passionately wants to execute a criminal, the latter should be deprived of the name of a human (consequently of human rights) first and declared a non-human. Such a mechanism sounds absurd; what is more, with some fatal certainty it would lead us to atrocities unknown to the Middle Ages, practised by communism and nazism. Question whether someone is human or not can be asked in some circumstances; but in this case it is an academic question that can not be answered by a referendum or ostracism. Even less it is an ideological question, discussed by some political committee or religious synod.
Consequently people can not decide who is a human and who is not. Still people must have right to decide who is acting according to the morals and who is not. There is no contradiction between those two sentences. Man as such can not exist without society and no society exists without the morals, that is true. But it does not mean that every individual must be permanently a member of some society; nor must he permanently act morally while being a member of some society. If an individual leaves the society and chooses to live as an eremite he will remain a human – at least until there will be some society somewhere, maybe only in his mind; a society to which he will be connected at least theoretically and/or through his considerations. The same counts for an individual who continues to live amongst society but stops to act morally – he will remain a human until there is some morality at least somewhere which will preserve a morality as such and consequently the humankind. There is some analogy with physics here. For the very existence of matter motion is needed but it does not mean that every material object should move all the time. It is enough, if there is at least some movement somewhere.
Hence we have to assert regretfully that although morality is inescapable precondition for humankind it is not an inescapable attribute of a human being. To look for the human essence in man’s behaviour – maybe it is fruitless altogether? Maybe all species will get some purging genetic definitions one day and all the other definitions, based on the descriptions of exterior or behaviour will then seem to us as primitive as Bertillon system compared with dactyloscopy. For some reason or other I do not believe it. Or at least I do not believe this kind of definition would improve our chances to understand our position, task and sense in this World. To rest at the scale of morals sounds more probable, although with one reservation: man is a species which individuals are born as capable for moral behaviour and will preserve this capability during their lives, no matter if they act morally or immorally in concrete cases. Probably there is even some specific gene(s) for this capability. Anyway, a human being is a human being by virtue of his/her ability for moral judgement and accordingly for moral action. “Ability for moral judgement” – this is, in another words, an ability to use the concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil. These concepts are known and used even by the most hard-hearted criminal and that is why he in spite of all is a human being. A criminal not a beast.
At the Beginning there was…?
We all have been much influenced by the ideas of evolution and historical processes. No thinker or researcher can even imagine an examination of the functioning mechanisms of different human communes without examination “how everything started” first – how did the family, commune, society and finally the state come into being. Anything must have started somewhere somehow. There are many reasons for this presumption. Our present knowledge allows us to assert quite firmly that statehood really “begins” and we have more or less credible historical data about that. Still nobody has observed the birth of the commune – not of some certain one but the commune, as such. Yes, communes come into being and also dye probably every day, but the individuals participating in these processes have either personal experience or acquired knowledge (or both) about commune, as such, common rules, common living etc. Nevertheless we presume that commune has “begun”, too, as we know it about statehood. Even more strong is the role of retrospective extrapolation in all the many theories about the “beginning” of the family. One such theory was presented by an American cultural anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Morgan studied many native peoples (especially the Iroquois) and at the basis of their relationship systems formulated a standpoint, according to which initially there was “an unregulated sexual intercourse within the frames of a tribe, so that every woman belonged to every man and every man equally to every woman”, as it has been reported by Friedrich Engels. Probably Engels’ report (“The Origins of Family, Private Property and State”, 1884) would not be of any interest today unless it had not become, partly accidentally, one of the classical works of marxism-leninism. As such this work had quite an influence in the whole huge “socialist camp” and not only there.
The main reproach one should address to Morgan’s theory is the follows: there has never been an “initial” situation. Each day in the existence of man as a species has been preceded by tens (or more likely hundreds) of thousands of years of the same situation. Both the anthropogenesis and the sociogenesis have worked unimaginably slowly; there has never been a moment when some of our distant predecessors would have felt himself as a tabula rasa fallen from the heavens, innocent Adam, the eyes wide with astonishment. Unregulated sexual intercourse is not the case even among the animals – why should it have been among humans? All right, there is one possible reason. Namely if we presume that man is created by God during a single day. After expulsion from Eden, Adam and Eve were really fallen from the heavens, indeed, and it is not difficult to imagine that initially they may have slipped into the habit of unregulated sexual intercourse. Maybe this vision had its effect on Morgan, although his main works were written after Darwin’s “Origins of Species”. It is weird, but even the praised opponent of religion Engels seems to have been influenced by this well-known allegorical story – which in other respects, as we shall see, is very substantial – and has created a stereotype that hobbles the minds of many scientists till today, not to speak about amateur philosophers. The mentioned stereotype concerns not only family but also numerous other institutions, and Engels is far from being the only culprit. Probably the main “guilt” should be put on Hegel who injected into educated heads a conviction that history has to be regarded as a process of change, i.e. as development. On the basis of this fact – for a fact it is – people have used to make a too light-minded deduction that everything must have a beginning somewhere in the past. Again, it is very believable that in the most general aspect it is true (let’s believe in the Great Blast) but not in any case and/or in connection with every concrete phenomenon. It is not a bare silly joke, if someone in answer to the question “How did marmalade get into the candy?” says: “Perhaps it was inside since the beginning.” There are many phenomena we can not consider without an image of more or less clear beginning (be it, for example, the life itself) but the foundations of man’s social order do not have to belong to these.
Hence it is not very wise to start a study of the formation of human society with words: “At the beginning there was (only)…” if these words are meant to express an idea that there was nothing else in the beginning. This is exactly what Fukuyama does, entitling one of his chapters as “at the beginning there was relationship”, and steps to a slippery road. At the beginning there was relationship, there was no other form of sociality. “At the beginning” – but when? When people, figuratively speaking, were still chipmunks? But then they were not (yet) humans… Even more dubious would be, following the same type of logic, to state without much consideration that at the beginning there was an individual, then he/she invented the family, then families united themselves into the commune, communes to the society and finally societies into the state. States, in their turn, by integrating first create the United Nations Organisation, then European Union and finally the global society, Humanity. This succession scheme is so appealing – so logical, so understandable – that I can not totally exclude the possibility that even in this book, some statements are influenced by the common idea.
On the other hand, if we abandon this dangerous idea – why dangerous, we shall see later – another question will arise at once: if there was no beginning, where shall we start? Taking into consideration all that has been said in the previous chapter, it seems to be reasonable to start with the formation of man, i.e. with the formation of a species called homo sapiens.
What did it Mean – a Mouthful of Apple?
Since the days when Darwinist principles were first presented, no scientist has seriously endangered the dogma, according to which man has not always existed but was formed during a long time. It is true that our knowledge about the question what we actually are in search for has much improved. As an example, since long ago we do not speak about “the missing link” between man and ape any more. Today it is clear that man is not a successor of the latter but they both have common ancestors. Also it is clear that if we use such figurative term as “link”, first we should talk about many links, and second, we should mention also the many “dead ends” – the many hominid succession-chains that ended with extinction; it means that on the Earth there have been walking also such hominids who are not our ancestors. In connection with present study these thrilling problems are still of secondary interest. What is of more interest is the fact that if the geologists have not cheated us the whole living nature has been forming during millions of years and there is no ground to suppose that man is the only exception here and has appeared from somewhere else in completed form. Sometimes such theories are proposed but none of them has been proved. Again and again new paleoanthropological discoveries elongate the history of anthropogenesis. It almost generates a temptation to raise a hypothesis that man has been there “since the beginning” like marmalade in the candy.
It is maybe of interest to mention that the Bible manages to unite these two visions. According to the Genesis God created the man but one regrettable day the latter still became a man and only then was expelled from the animal realm. One could even affirm that the Holy Script tends towards evolutionism in this respect. There is no need for supercilious attitude. This ancient Jewish parable deals with the very same problem that ponder about modern paleoanthropologists: why man became detached from the animals; what was the reason of this and how was it expressed. We do not have to agree with the explanation given by the Bible – after all, the authors of the biblical texts did not live much closer to this qualitative shift than we do (in temporal sense, of course) because compared with the many-million-year long anthropogenesis even ten thousand years are almost nothing – but we must admit that the way how problem is presented is quite elegant and probably hits the essence of it. And this they did without Hegel and Darwin.
Man as a species has forgotten its birthday and corresponding circumstances; just like we all as individuals have forgotten our birthday and all the feelings, connected with this remarkable event. Or, to put the main problem more clearly, what was the reason why we left the womb. Fortunately we do not have to model a human birth theoretically; we may observe and explore it practically. But we can not observe and explore the birth of mankind; we can not even model it theoretically, because there are too many unknown agents. Actually our possibilities are yet so narrow that if we want to be honest, we have to call any research on this field a speculation, no matter how complicated and specific terminology is used. Apropos, the role of speculation in the process of widening the frontiers of human cognition is usually underestimated. Big part (if not the biggest) of inventions, also in the fields of exact sciences, are not the result of merciless logical deduction but of some moment of inspiration; first there will be the answer, then it is checked experimentally and stated that it fits. And only then the chain of logical deduction will be constructed to show how the result would have been reached. By the way, we all use this retrospective “first-the-answer” method when we solve the crosswords.
So why human being came into being? If we maintain, as it has been said in the first chapter, that for being a human one has to be capable for morality, and if we take into consideration that the morals are needed for the existence of any commune and society, then we may suppose that the origins of humanity have something to do with the combining of the interests of the individual and the group. Our present knowledge allows us to state that in the long run, following the interests of the group is usually profitable also for the individual. Otherwise the human collectives would not stay together. It is more than hard to imagine a group of humans which interests are in permanent and irreconcilable contradiction with the personal interests of the individuals, forming the group. Very credibly sounds the specification, added by William Hamilton and made famous by Richard Dawkins in his best-seller “The Selfish Gene”, that the subject of this interest is the genes of the individual rather than the individual personally. It means that the goal of any human society is not only to supply its members with long and secure life, but to create better chances for the members of the society to have successors and carry on their genes. This fits to our knowledge about different societies, whereby the aspect of putting the problem of successors to the top of value hierarchy is especially eventual in the societies of hunting peoples and also by the primitive farmers and stock-breeders. But here we reach a great but. The genes of chipmunks, lions, rhinoceroses and bats are exactly as selfish as ours. In this case, what is this “this”, that is unique to man? Is there anything at all? Except the morals, of course.
Probably we would get an answer if we could explain exactly what is instinct and where lies the exact border between instinct and conscious action. According to the definition an instinct is an unlearned complex way of behaviour, determined by heritable neuromechanisms, which aim is to satisfy the primary biological needs and to secure the birth of successors. (The latter need includes the first one.) Hence – everything in favour of the selfish gene. The animals are led by instincts, some of which are really very complex (beavers building the dams, migratory birds finding their way over the continents etc.), men by the instincts and something else. Usually the conscious analysis serves the same goals as the instinct (although very indirectly) but still not always and/or not entirely. There is a theory assuming that all human activities are at least indirectly directed to the aim of satisfying the reproduction instinct. If we would agree with this we would have some difficulties. For example, how to explain why some people spend their life pondering about the problem whether the sentence “esse est percipi” is true or not? Both man and animal wish to carry on their genes but unlike the animal, man uses also his ability for thinking for this goal, and second, his considerations do not serve this goal only. Man has other aims, too, and other joys. Aside the joy of sex there are the joy of thinking and others.
Excursion: Does human existence have a goal?
There are some data confirming the supposition that beside the wish to reproduce themselves people have other aims, too. First of all we have to admit that man is far from being the most successful reproducer among species. There are more successful ones even among the mammals – the rats, for instance – not to speak about insects. At this point one may feel a temptation to start a proper teleological discussion. Do all species have the same causa finalis – reproduction? If so, rats are “wiser” than we are; and we are more probably a kind of defective monkeys. Or does every species have a causa finalis of its own? Or is it the aim of all other species except man; the latter’s one being something else, something more “sublime”, to which the urge towards reproduction is only subjected in the same manner as eating and drinking are serving, in their turn, the reproduction? Since we are looking for some mysterious something that is making difference between man and other living creatures, we could use this possible solution stating: yes, man is unique and his uniqueness lies in the fact that his existence, unlike the existence of all other species, serves more sublime goal than the primitive reproduction.
The other option would be to maintain that man, as such, does not have any different goal than the other creatures. But probably this goal does not consist in the number of reproduced sets of genes; maybe the goal is to keep one’s genes alive as long as possible. Indeed, in this case other aspects would be more important than the bare number of reproduced genes. It has been told that if a hare once scolded a lion because of lion’s habit to bear only one or two babies at a time, the latter answered: “But in return they are lions.” Still – if the main goal really is to live as long as possible (as a species), the humans are not at the top again. The hedgehogs, for example, beat us with great score.
It is very possible that the question about the final goal of the existence of different species, including man, will never be answered and therefore it will serve us as an evergreen source for the joy of thinking. In the context of present work the most important consequence is the conclusion that there is no road towards the origins and uniqueness of man, not through this gate. We may simply note that if the aim to save both the individual and the species (“live and reproduce”) does not cover the whole area of human activities, it still covers a remarkable part of it, no matter whether the aim to live and reproduce is subjected to something else or not. One may also believe that if it is possible at all to find and define “humanity”, then it can be found and defined on the basis of the data we have about the ways how man surmounts all the obstacles that disturb him to live and to reproduce himself. If we’d success in creating such definition we could hope to develop some more or less credible consideration about that qualitative leap that brought us out of the realm of animals. If it did.
A picture about man, painted by the works of numerous psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, sociologists etc. during centuries tells us first that in general Aristotle was right when he stated that man is a social animal. In other words, nobody has found anything better to describe a human being. All attempts to describe a human being without human relations would lead us to poetry at best, or to some amateur religion-building at worst. People act in the frames of different associations, while it improves their chances to achieve their goals: to live and carry on life, i.e. their “selfish genes”. But as it has been said previously, the holy task of carrying on the selfish genes governs over the activities of the individuals of other species, too. Very often these activities are collective and often very successful as well. But as soon as there is collective action, there will be contradictions between individual short-term interests and collective long-term interests; that means contradiction between an individual and his species. Or between an individual and his selfish gene. In these cases the vexed question will be solved in favour of the species (as a guarantor of gene); such is the instinct, formed in the long course of evolution. In specific circumstances, the same mechanism works on the individual, too. For example, motherly altruism is mostly an instinct – an instinct so strong that in the aeroplanes crew-members have to remind to the passengers with babies: in the case of emergency you have to put on your oxygen mask first and only then help the baby. Rational way of acting differs from the instinctive one, although they both aim the same: to save the baby. But anyway, if both humans and animals sacrifice their individuals in the sake of collective, if it helps to keep on reproducing the genes, where is the difference between humans and animals after all?
Probably the answer lies in the third kind of interest that is placed somewhere between the individual short-term interest and collective long-term interest. That is individual long-term interest. Unlike an animal man is usually able to suppress temporally his primary wishes, to fulfil them later more completely. Often this action logic is expressed by working. It was labour that created the man, Marx declared. More probably labour is still not the cause of humanity but only the expression of it. Man is capable to consider which order of acts would be more profitable. Shall I eat those seeds now or sow them and wait for the fruits – that is the question.
One of the essential hardships of being a human, a problem directly connected with the conflict between individual short-term and individual long-term interests, is the so-called prisoner’s dilemma. The classical description of this dilemma is given by Robert Axelrod and it is referred also by Fukuyama (Fukuyama 180 etc.). The situation, modelled by Axelrod, in its essence is simple. Two prisoners have to decide whether to seek for mutual or personal gain. In the first case they should risk, trusting each other, but the possible reward could be the most wishful one – a successful escape from the jail. Still there is another possible option: to betray and to get some smaller reward in the account of the other. But betraying is risky too, because if both betray, there will be no reward at all. Briefly: the most profitable would be co-operation, based on trust; a bit less profitable would be unilateral betrayal; and the less fruitful – actually fruitless – way of acting would be mutual betrayal. It is evident that solving this dilemma in favour of co-operation and trust has laid the foundations of any human association. It does not matter that the motives of the trust itself are not very “angelic”, not manifesting any inner craving for nobleness or something like this. Choice in favour of trust is only a logical deduction from the bitter experience, gathered during millennia with the try-and-error-method, which simply says that permanent mutual betrayal is useful to no involved person. Even for one useful betrayal, one has to act honestly for tens or hundreds of times. Loan-cheaters know it well. This knowledge has been collected so long ago and so gradually (one could even say: so unnoticeably) that an individual usually does not discover it himself, but learns it in childhood and youth from his/her tutors. Let us drop here historical and anthropological overview about different views on the question how big should be the part of this knowledge that, for the pedagogical reasons, has to be left for the human being to be discovered independently. The truth is that this part is very small anyway; and if somebody should have to solve the prisoner’s dilemma independently, it would be almost equal to the situation where a Australopithecus afarensis baby should develop independently to Homo sapiens. Every society tries to equip its future members with the principles, enabling individuals to co-operate, already in their childhood. These principles may be called also as morals or as a capability to manage with one’s short-term interests. The crucial point is whether the society is successful in this. If not, the society will collapse.
Maybe it is a bit surprising and unaccustomed to admit that morality was borne by the personal question how to act in the most useful way. Still it is true. And let us not be too sad about this embarrassing fact. Profit served by morality is something else than the profit striven for by a thief or a tax swindler. There is very clear reason why morality is called morality and not profitability: while the latter uses the oppositions “profitable – harmful”, morality has developed them into opposition of “right” and “wrong”. This opposition was later developed into the dualism of “good” and “evil” which meant the structural completion of ethics. Every culture fills these rubrics a bit differently but the rubrics, as such, are there. Every ethics is a teaching about right and wrong, about the good and the bad (or evil).
But let us return to the story about the apple. It talks about morality, actually, about the “invention” of it, doesn’t it? The sin (the original sin!) of Adam and Eve consisted in the fact that as a result of eating the forbidden fruit they acquired a capability to make difference between the good and the bad. This capability God had reserved exclusively to himself. Now this very dangerous pair of concepts fell into the hands of very imperfect creatures and probably that was the reason, why all the story made Him so angry. Humans have misused these concepts indeed, playing with them repeatedly like children with matches. But if we really want to know how men or man’s ancestors came to the terms of “good” and “evil”, we should not get entangled in the moralistic aspect of the Biblical version too much, staying with the question whether becoming human was a sin or not. Besides it is still unclear how not-yet-humans could sin at all :-).
If to maintain that man is born as a creature, capable for morality, the conclusion could be the following. Man, as species, came into being according to how the solving of prisoner’s dilemma in favour of trust spread among our ancestors; how individual long-term interest, for example, the respect of co-primates took its place between individual short-term interest and collective long-term interest (i.e. between an empty stomach and the selfish gene); and how instinct was accompanied or sometimes even replaced by the morals. One may ask whether this miraculous process will ever be described in a more or less credible way. Probably we have to be happy with general and partly unbelievable explanation that “long, long time ago” there lived and died creatures on the Earth who “produced” humanity during many millennia, generation after generation, being at least microscopically “more human” in the day of their death than as a young adult. Briefly, who “invented” through personal experience how to be human. Besides this explanation is very well compatible with Bible if we treat the story about creation of man as a parable.
The proposed explanation is complicated by the fact that together with becoming human in moral sense there were changes in the biological build-up of those who had chosen the way towards humanity. The reason, why I use the word “complicated”, consists in the fact that while we can observe morality among no other species it gives some ground to propose that capability for morality is somehow connected with the biological build-up of man. Here embarrassing questions arise. For example, is there some specific “area for morals” in human nervous system? Or where in this system the specific “antenna” for communication with God is located? These questions are not irrelevant at all.
Probably the biological development of humans is not finished and we all take part in this – you, me and George W. Bush. Indeed – why should we believe that the species were formed somewhere in the past, but are ready now. Another question is whether man is ready in moral sense and whether we should or should not expect some qualitative leap in the permanently ongoing work on the prisoner’s dilemma. Some totally new solution perhaps? Here we should be extremely cautious. It would not be wise to put on pink humanistic looking-glasses and see certain cultural phenomena, even the UN Declaration of Human Rights, as an expression of anthropogenesis and the birth of some New Human. The solving of prisoner’s dilemma has not stopped, that is true, it is being solved permanently, while the concrete answers differ in space and time. But today’s quests reflect cultural nuances and differences in socio-economic development, which we shall discuss later, not some big break – as it was the case in those very, very distant days when prisoner’s dilemma for the first time was solved in favour of trust and starting mankind with two steps walked over an abyss.
Societies and other Associations
Hence besides the pretentious stomach and selfish gene man serves also his individual long-term interests. This may seem very selfish until we do not remember that to serve this selfishness properly man has to be very collective and co-operative. People slave their private interests together, making concessions to each other’s private needs and wishes. To satisfy their selfish aspirations better they have created society, for there was no other way.
Here I use the word “society” as ad hoc term for any association of communes, i.e. complex of communes, communicating with each other some way. Ties between those communes may be very loose; the communication may lie in worshipping the same deities or in limited trade, which means always simultaneous exchange of information, however limited it were. Talking about hunting nations both in the past and today we may call a society an alliance of clans, which is tribe, and also an alliance of tribes; among modern civilised peoples the society, as usual, coincides with the concept of nation.
Commune is not yet a society. Human commune, just like apes’ group, can secure an individual with some “place under the sun” (i.e. function in the social hierarchy), it can organise co-operation for the sake of certain common goals and even for satisfying some individual long-term interests, but it is not enough elaborate to create and recreate the kind of moral framework which is inevitably needed for satisfying man’s different selfish gains in the way that it would not endanger the very existence of the species. As it has been previously said, the morals are needed for the existence of society, but one can say it also vise versa the society is needed for the existence of society. Society is nothing else than exchange of information. Sufficient information-flow supplies people with the rough material for permanent recreation of morality. Instead of “information-flow” we could possibly say “interesting topics about really happened events”. We have mentioned already that small talk creates the society.
It is easy to see that neither the society nor morality is needed for its own sake. Indeed, we could manage without society and without morality. Some false-prophets use to develop such kind of pseudophilosophy even today. Alas, they forget the fact that without society and morality it would be impossible to satisfy one’s individual long-term interests as well, including the ones, motivated by ambition or lust for beauty. In absence of society nobody can be famous, nor even Jaan Kaplinski.* [*An extraordinarily wise and talented Estonian poet and philosopher.] Nobody would be able to make any film or publish any book because publishing a book also requires specific human co-operation what is not aimed to fill stomachs or cradles, but something else. That means the instincts will not do here. The same counts for the wish to read Proust by candlelight, have fun in some waterworld or to shock the petty-bourgeois of a town called Paglesham. One can manage without society and morals, that is true, but not as a human being. One should return to bestial world and it is not sure whether we are able for this. Or do we really want, when the time to choose has come.
The need for society and morality has not extinguished man’s need for all other, “lower” and probably much older forms of association like family, commune, (secret) society etc. At the same time society is not the last and the “highest” level of co-operation; different societies are watching each other and in many cases communicate intensely.
As we noted in the beginning of the chapter, it would be quite hopeless to try to reconstruct the genesis of (nuclear) family. If I previously with some hesitation stated that probably it is possible to speak about the beginning of man (which lasted probably hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of years), the beginning of family is even more obscure. The development of central nervous system of this creature – the forming man – whose family we want to investigate was at the level which was superior to all other creatures and that is the reason why we should not get entangled in the image of some primitive herd as the first form of family. If the storks, for example, use to live in true pairs then it may have been the case with much more complicated creatures, the primeval men, too. The data we have about our ancestors indicates that for the safety reasons they used to live in the groups, but it does not mean automatically some group-family system. Nuclear family could easily exist inside the group as well. The may imagine the genesis of human (nuclear) family almost as we like, except as “unregulated sexual intercourse”. One can operate only with a fact, which is hard to refute, that the tightest ties exist between the mother and the baby; we know also that the strongest possible altruism is the motherly altruism. According to the demands of the “selfish gene” the altruism between relatives is in strict correspondence to the common share of genes: the altruism between parents and children and between brothers and sisters is the strongest, between nephews and nieces a bit weaker etc. The same we may observe among many species of animals. Consequently, parental altruism, brotherly love and nepotism are extremely old phenomena, being derived from those primordial days when “we were still animals”. There is no tie stronger than blood. If non-relatives try to create especially strong solidarity system they contract symbolical consanguinity (academic fathers and sons, brothers and sisters in God etc.). Any obligation for extraordinary altruism may fully be explained only through the terms of kinship.
To this not very surprising fact I’d like to make two remarks. Firstly – and this is mentioned also by Fukuyama –, this pre-anthropogenetic phenomenon is well alive in the modern Western equality-orientated societies and it is reflected even in the law. Of course law does not allow nepotism, but the term “relatives of the first circle” [or sth] is known everywhere. In the constitution of the Estonian Republic there stands a sentence: “Nobody can be forced to confess against himself or his close relatives.” In reality, one may observe the favouring of relatives everywhere in the world. It is more rare in Scandinavian societies and more often in Italy, let’s say, but no society is totally free of it. Here a question arises: to which extent the suppression of kinsmen’s altruism and solidarity is possible at all? It has been proved that abolition of Asian-type nepotism was possible and this has given to the Western societies some indisputable advantages, praised in many other parts of the world, although not everywhere. In the other hand, it is clear that no society can get rid of any kinship. Such “kinship-free” society would be impossible even in the most urban and alienated landscapes, nor would it be possible even in the atmosphere of the most Scandinavian obedience to the law – at least until man is a biological creature whose way of reproduction is laid down by the living nature and evolution. Half a century ago we could have said more simply – until a human is born by woman. Now we should say probably – until human embryo starts growing as a fertilised ovule. Anyway, it is hard to believe that something can change here, and in the real life the holy equality, declared by the law, will always be accompanied by the nuance that blood is thicker than water.
The second remark touches upon the fact that ties between parents, children and other relatives represent a mixture of instinct and sociality. If mother seizes her child more tightly in the moment of emergency, it will be instinct. If her husband finds a cosy job in the bank for his nephew, it will be a sort of sociality that has more or less distant biological background – even in the case this nephew is not his but his wife’s. The selfish gene demands sticking together also of relatives by marriage. Consequently sociality itself comes from the days when “we were still animals”, being derived from the instincts securing reproduction of genes. Sociality, as such, is not specifically human phenomenon and that is why we could possibly make difference between two levels of sociality – the first we may observe both with honey-bees and chimpanzees etc., the second is specifically human, serving not only genes but also the individuals’ other needs that we may call non-bestial ones. Still it is quite clear that the latter is rooted in the former and that both aspects of sociality are hopelessly merged in human society even today. Our everyday behaviour is an incredible pot-pourri of the behaviour of chipmunks, honey-bees, chimpanzees – and men.
The next association of relatives after (nuclear) family is clan, or family in the broader sense (corresponding Latin word is familia). The main feature of this is exogamy – husbands and wives have to be found from outside. Still sometimes clan crosses the borders of consanguinity and develops into some other kind of association, like this, for example: clan>mafia>gang. (Gang or “another family” we shall discuss later.) If two clans contract a habit to supply each other with spouses, they have formed a tribe. In the frames of the tribe, the two (or more) counterparts are seldom distinguished territorially. Usually clan is “physically” not visible, people belonging to the different familiae live confusedly and form communes which borders may coincide with the borders of the tribe, but not necessarily.
Indeed, commune is an institution with rather obscure theoretical and practical borders. As communes we may classify different in time and space human associations. Commune may consist of consanguine relatives or/and relatives by marriage or/and neighbours who are no relatives at all; the membership of the commune may be defined by regulations of different level of stiffness. If to take into account the data of cultural anthropology, we could possibly state that than more into the history we go, the more clear-cut appear the communes. In Mediaeval Europe, for example, the member of shoemakers’ guild could not simultaneously belong to the guild of tailors; the member of Heidelberg universitas could not be the member of Sorbonne universitas; the member of Winchcombe St. John’s parish not the member of Stanton St. Mary parish.
Excursion: The beast is alive, consequently active
Some extra attention should be paid to a detail, briefly noted in connection of tribe. I said that the selfish gene demands sticking together not only of consanguine relatives but also of the relatives by marriage. The final cause of the tribe, as an institution, is not to offer amusement to its members but to secure them and their successors the best possible chances to reproduce their genes. If this statement reflects the truth, and taking into account that in the animal realm there are no tribes, we have to admit that in the long process of becoming human man has complemented his instincts of reproduction not only with certain “human” aspirations and “human” egoism, but has also developed more perfect mechanisms to realise his “bestial” gains, i.e. to carry on his genes. It is truism that man, as man, is wiser than animal but it seems to appear that he is wiser than the beast also as an animal. At this point we could dig ourselves deep into speculations whether all those extra mechanisms for securing the reproduction of genes (including the mentioned tribe) could be simply an emergency measure to compensate the general defectiveness of man that is revealed in the low number of successors and the extreme slowness of their growth. Or, in other words, we could turn one popular myth upside down, stating that the growing intelligence was not the reason why the litters reduced and longer process of emancipation of the individuals, but on the contrary – small litters and helpless successors forced the humans to grow wiser and wiser, until they created a society so complicated that one can hardly stand it.
But let us drop this chance for radical and probably one-sided speculations. Moreover, the paleontologists would probably not agree, stating that just the development of man’s brain and cull formed the reason why the started to borne their children exceptionally early, consequently as exceptionally helpless. Some weeks or months later baby’s head would not have gone through the natural passes. Still the continuation of the development of man’s “bestial” aspects long after the process of becoming human had started is a phenomenon worth of being noticed. There is a confirming parallel among the development processes of culture: the Christianising of the heathen people of Europe did not mean that no heathen belief or custom was added to the old ones any more. But those could not be “pre-Christian”. That is why I have proposed, for discussing Estonian cultural history, the term “non-Christian”, to mark a custom, belief, ritual etc. which may have appeared after the Christianising but still following the patterns of pre-Christian folk-religion. Christianity did not replace all the former beliefs, but only a small part, stepping mainly not at the place of the old ways but beside them. This is not a discovery, of course, but too often even the anthropologists forget that in the transition period not only the New spreads young sprouts, but also the Old. Besides, this we may observe in the whole (transitional) Eastern and Central Europe.
This analogy is rather metaphorical than scientific, for nobody has scientifically proved that anthropogenesis and culturogenesis should follow the same pattern. But, on the other hand, there is nothing impossible in this analogy. There seems to be quite a lot of indirect proof. We can not deny there are many phenomena in man’s behaviour and his ways of acting (previously mentioned parental instincts, or also an instinct of self-preservation, for example) that we can not explain otherwise than referring to the “bestial” half of man. As far as we do not have any generally acknowledged measure, we do not even know whether this is a half. Perhaps two-thirds? Or three quarters? Or even nine tenths? If we recall about the immense duration of the process of evolution and compare it to the anthropogenesis which is no means short, but still much shorter, then the answer would probably be something about 99%. We are humans, no doubt, but maybe only externally. Probably we are just animals, covered with thin layer of humanity, whereas this layer may be wiped off by any extreme situation.* [*All this has been written before reading Matt Ridley’s famous “Genome”.]
On the background of all that has been previously said, the wish, expressed by numerous talented or not talented poets, namely that we should start to be the ones we “really” are, will sound weird. Does it indicate a wish to become beasts again? Or a praiseworthy aspiration to abandon “all that is false”? Psychological researches (Fukuyama 188<Nicholas Humphrey and Richard Alexander) have proved that the ability both for cunning (not to say lying) and for discovering it is an inseparable part of humanity. This suits to one former postulate about the ability for moral behaviour as the precondition for humanity. Surprisingly the ability for moral behaviour means simultaneously an ability for lying. Man is and will be the battlefield of the Angel and the Devil. We can not deprive him of one of those two, we may only wish success to the Angel. And if we try to deprive him of both, the rest will be an animal.
Family, clan and tribe – all are based on actual affinity, and consequently their origins can be explained through the demands of the selfish gene. Still affinity, although very strong and active force until our days, is not the only cement of human associations. So let us move to the associations of non-relatives. Before doing this we should recall one previously expressed idea: if we are looking for more than witty speculations, examination of whatever phenomenon is dangerous to start with the words “In the beginning there was…” Be it even kinship. Perhaps we would stand on firmer grounds if we started like this: “Before (this) there was…” Indeed – before European Union there was motherly altruism and consanguinity.
Hence I dare to affirm that before statehood and princely tax-collectors there was “esprit de corps” of males. There is a big deal of sex solidarity in this phenomenon, but still less than it seems to us at the first moment, because a typical institution, expressing this esprit (religious or non-religious order, some scientific society, gang of youngsters etc.), does not contrast with the females, but usually with other orders, societies etc. In my essay, published in 1993, “Europe – a life-boat or a sinking ship?” I called this kind of association another family. Still the term is not so crucial. Crucial is the fact that among many different native peoples (in North America, West Africa, Oceania), independently of each other there exists an institution that anthropologists call men’s league. This league gathers in the men’s house, that women may not enter, performs mysterious rituals and discusses various questions. Ties, connecting the members of this type of association, do not fully coincide with family or tribal ties.
As the versions of men’s league one may conceive both mediaeval orders and freemasons’ lodges, or student corporations and Rotary-clubs, whereby sexual exclusiveness, although dominating, is not a necessary attribute. Why people do unite in such kind of clubs, societies and leagues? First proposition for explanation could be that it is a distant reflection of ancient collective hunting. Primeval man simply couldn’t hunt big game alone, and even if he could, most of the meat would have gone bad. Together it was wiser in any sense. But if so, why didn’t the glacial hunting party disappear together with the mammoths? Or, if we suppose that the reason did not lie in the mammoths, but in any bigger joint enterprise, including the building of irrigation-systems etc., why didn’t this type of institution disappear with the birth of statehood, which secured people with much stronger and flexible organisation? In 1993 I wrote about this as follows: “No doubt the reason is mainly psychological, being expressed in the readiness to sacrifice a part of one’s independence to the feeling of security. […] Still the need for another family occurs also among the people who have his own family, who is a citizen of certain nation and a members of certain local community, who belongs to certain ethnical unity, trade union, parish, who has good colleges at work, whose economical stand is fine and who does not suffer of paranoid fantasies. […] A super-tolerant society creates (inevitably?) a wish to be intolerant, at least in some sphere. But intolerance is exactly what one can cultivate as a member of another family – like as a skinhead or Mafioso.” (Vahtre 38-39)
These considerations serve as a suitable background for the results of the researches of Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson. The named scientists have described a “civil war” amongst the chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania where two rivalling groups took shape, one in the northern and another in the southern part of the Park. During certain time, males of the northern group brutally and systematically slaughtered all the males and some females of the southern group, after what the escaped females did not have other choice than to unite with the victors. Fukuyama resumes: esprit de corps and violence of males has much deeper biological roots than we have expected, and those roots reach man’s ancestors. (Fukuyama 174)
Well? Another aspect that takes the origins of our seemingly human sociality to the times when, figuratively speaking, “we were still animals”? Of course, it is a bit startling to compare the members of some Apiculture Society of Paglesham, sitting around the tea table in an autumn evening, to a gang of chimpanzees, cheering over the dead body of a co-chimpanzee, but this comparison does have sense and we can see an analogy here. Things are considerably more complicated with the statement that the roots of esprit de corps reach man’s ancestors. Actually, if we mean by this “ancestor” an Heidelbergian man, for example, there is nothing wrong with the statement. He probably did not have any problems with the esprit de corps. But if we are talking about the mutual ancestors of men and chimpanzees who, according to the recent investigations, lived about 5 million years ago (i.e. about animals), then one may protest. What gives us the right, using only observations of modern chimpanzees, to judge about their and our mutual ancestors who lived 5 million years ago? The fact that both are/were animals? But who has proved the chimpanzees are fully and entirely animals and only animals? Five million years after the divergence of our and their forefathers one branch has developed into man – but maybe the other branch is on their way, too; only the speed is different? Maybe these wise apes perform something like a stiffen picture about a species who has reached its hand towards the forbidden fruit, not knowing it? And who, if we could avoid the destruction of biosphere, will really get this fruit after a couple of millions of years? If so, male esprit de corps could be a specific companion of the humanising process, a kind of a birth-mark or birth-trauma that follows our species just like a psychological shock, caused by birth, may follow an individual throughout his/her life. In this case esprit de corps does not reflect the bestial “age of innocence”, but the obscure and shameful 🙂 period after expulsion from Eden and before adoption of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Consequently another family and its source, esprit de corps, may have deep biological, pre-human roots – or may not have. And as regards the other common forms of another family like order, society, club etc., they are not caused by some single psychological or biological need but by the joint effect of different forces. Undoubtedly certain role must have the religiosity, for many “another families” are religious, whereby the members call each other as brothers and sisters which stresses the analogy with real family. Maybe common faith and/or common fear are necessary for the formation of another family. (Here I can not do without a reference to William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies” which tells how a barbaric children’s gang came into being; both the fear and primitive religion were important agents in this process.) That puts main emphasis on the psychological aspect – on the need for the feeling of safety that another family offers. But if I have already mentioned “The Lord of the Flies”, we should also admit that to the possible roots of another family may belong some specific “need for being intolerant”. Is it an all-human instinct? Do we all share it?
About the Origins of Statehood
While the origins of family, clan, tribe and also the gang are covered with the veil of infinite past, their successor institutions are lightened by historical and archaeological data. But no matter how enlightening this data is, the scientists are not yet able to present any “formula for the formation of a state” that would satisfy all. How is the formation of a state expressed and what are the causes? How do the states come into being? Still some most important attributes of this process are acknowledged by the historians more or less unanimously: in the formation of statehood literacy, war and weapons play an important role. And naturally the society, giving birth to a state, must reach some minimal level of economic productivity. The word “production” means here not only material values but also free time, i.e. free of the obligation to produce these material values. To found a state, one has to have enough food and enough time.
No state can do without rulers and subjects; this means a step – not first, not last – in the long road of alienation has to be made. A member of a commune becomes (at the same time) a subject to a prince or a king, whose role in the common business lessens step by step. Further, no state can do without a special class of warriors that in the Western civilisation developed into the nobility. Consequently, describing the origins of statehood one has to notice a detail of certain pedagogical value: the rights to govern shifted to the hands of those who were most eager to take risks and who very often actually paid for these rights with their blood. In the afterwaves of Marxism and the New Left thinkers one may easily forget this fact and imagine the newly fledged nobility as an organised gang of some racketeers who, thanks to their greater physical strength and better weapons, succeeded in starting a large-scale blackmail among peaceful population, calling it tax-collecting. In reality these “blackmailers” were obliged to hurry to the battlefield or to the ramparts at once, whenever those peaceful farmers or tradesmen were endangered by the neighbouring “racketeers”, wandering barbarians or whoever. Above-mentioned pedagogical value consists in the simple fact that here we have an example of the balance of obligations and rights. The childhood of a typical state was the time when the right to be the first coincided with the obligation to be the first in the bloodshed – like Spartan king Leonidas.
As for the literacy, it is quite hard to prove theoretically its importance for the forming process of a state. But we do not have to. The experience of mankind shows clearly that the amount of information, needing for mediation, grows so big that people can not do any more without recording it. Or, more precisely, the problem lies not only in the amount of information, but also in the need to deliver it in space and time – (some)one had to secure its reaching to the subjects, living far away from the capital, and to the next generations in the form of economical report, list of royal succession etc.
Still we should not regard literacy as a reason for the birth of statehood, rather it is a phenomenon, accompanying the birth process of the state or even immediately caused by it. The real reasons of the beginning of states lie elsewhere, while in every concrete case the general and the specific features merge. A necessity for building irrigation systems is probably a specific need, as is the need to defend oneself against the rallies of nomadic peoples. But general is the feature that there is some common need after all that ties together a bunch of local communes, which in some (specific) reasons are close to each other in economical and/or cultural sense. For example the city of Rome was founded by a number of both spatially, economically and culturally close communes. I does not matter, that later Rome was based on conquests and not on the voluntary uniting. The author’s fatherland, Estonia, stood at the threshold of statehood in the end of the ancient fight for freedom (13th century) as well. Alas, the external enemy that could have worked as a catalyst, turned to be too strong and the history took an alternative path: Estonians’ defeat and the pre-natal death of their state.
It was the state of the conquerors that was founded instead. Besides, it was the usual case. The same happened with the Goths, Hungarians Vikings and Mongols, for example. Their statehood was born after a successful conquest. What is more important is the fact that at least for the Goths and Hungarians it was their first statehood. They did not import it – as did the Northern crusaders in Livonia – but invented during their conquest. Still they did not invent it from the beginning – they had a clear sense of unity before. This sense of unity was based, undoubtedly, on the tribal kinship. As a rule, the founding period was accompanied with aggressiveness and expansionism; later the developing of statehood and especially Christianising (or adoption of any other developed religion) brought about some pacification. The Hungarians serve as a good example for this. Later the dominating classes of this kind of states had to choose whether to merge with the natives (England, Hungary) or to go on “floating” over them (Livonia, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Arabian states at the Peninsula). The latter option, in its turn, could result with the cultural and/or physical extinction of the natives (like native Prussians), or in many cases led to the statehood of natives (like Estonians and Latvians) much, partly caused by common hostility towards the conquerors. This mechanism has worked also among the nations who were not conquered by some nomads or orders but by “completed” states. Long common political history and common foreign rulers have created Belgian identity, for example, although it would be problematic to speak about Belgian nation in ethnical sense. We face the same difficulties talking about numerous many-national African states: for the common action and creation of the state it was enough to have common foreign ruler as and common hatred, but for keeping the state people(s) need more. This problem we shall discuss on in the next chapter.
Finally we should notice that history knows much more nations who created their statehood neither as barbaric nomads nor as victims of those. They did it more or less on their own. Usually because of prince X chose to unite certain tribes in the year of Y; running their Z state during centuries they developed into the Z nation. Such was the case with the Lithuanians. We know that soon after formation, the Lithuanian principality started to conquer neighbouring Slavic regions and this was the period of expansionism and aggressiveness of the Lithuanians. Maybe the reason for this was the energy and resources, “woken up” for the founding work, and looking for new challenges after completing the first task. There is always some “remainder” of force, energy and creative mind.
Unfortunately, this remainder is not the subject of the present essay. More relevant would be to note that if the state has been founded “on their own”, it is done by uniting tribes or peoples who feel some affinity towards each other. What comes after, is clearly a conquest that does not concern the formation mechanisms. The counterparts of the first process will acquire common identity that the victims of the later conquest usually are not going to share. (It will be possible only at the expense of their former identity.)
To summarise, we have to admit that the “selfish gene”, being expressed as some tribe-rooted kinship-feeling, as an agent in the process of the birth of a statehood is not an exceptional one. Rather its participation is the rule. It is hard even theoretically to construct a founding process, whereby the actual formation of a state would precede the birth of a feeling of national or tribal unity. No, in all concrete cases we have to admit that such feeling existed before. But any pre-state feeling of affinity is based either on consanguinity or on the solidarity of “another family”.
Throughout the whole human history, the former has been much more usual case, of course. There was no “commune of non-relatives”. Sometimes communes kept alive memories about very distant common forefathers. Centuries after their real or mythical death such consanguinity was more or less fictional, but the feeling of consanguinity was real, and that was the only thing of any importance. And this does not disqualify the selfish gene from the original reasons for the birth of statehood.
But another family has played its role, too. Many states have been founded after the same pattern: the strongest prince (i.e. commune-leader with actual executive power) of the region subordinates other local leaders or princes to his power, and as a result the taxpayers of the latter will be regarded as the subjects to this strongest prince, too. Those taxpayers will not notice any “unification” until they’ll have to join the joint army (whereby it may occur that different united communes use different languages); those, who were actually unified – the leaders – are bound up by no feeling of cultural identity, but with an oath of loyalty to the sovereign. This tie reminds of the connections between members of “another family” rather than of those between any kind relatives. Here are the origins of mediaeval corporative society that was based on mutual horizontal solidarity and vertical loyalty. Any concrete nobility was an exclusive “gang”, just like religious-military orders. Some “gangs” succeeded even forming a state: the Order of Swordbrothers in Livonia, for example, but also the Knights Hospitalers first on Rhodos, later on Malta. Hence “another family” itself or at least centripetal forces, characterising it, stand firmly at the roots of statehood.
Still it does not refute the embarrassing fact that “beast” is following us even in the most “human” forms of co-operation – either via direct relationship ties (or their memory) or via the “biologically rooted esprit de corps” (i.e. another family). Well, why not. The one who was the first to stand up and walk on two legs long ago, was undoubtedly animal. But what if we regard the invention of statehood as a direct, although very distant, consequence of the invention of bipedalism? Something like this: “Whereas the apes decided to learn to walk on too feet once upon a time … (no we drop thousand steps) … the humans did not have any other choice than to found states five million years later.”
If so, we should revise our happy conviction that the way, how we “keep” or states today, how we organise and develop them, lies within the powers of our excellent judgement. Perhaps our choices are much poorer than we are used to think. But let’s discuss it in the chapter, devoted to the human rights.
What is the Cement of Human Associations?
Now it is important to ask what is the cement that keeps the states together. It is evident that the existence of a state requires another forces, ties and stimuli than the foundation of it. If I may bring a bit naughty – naughty, because anachronistic – comparison then we can see it in the restored states of Central and Eastern Europe, including Estonia. Estonians’ “Singing Revolution” (1988) required much courage, energy and enthusiasm, but for everyday constructive work, which has been not heroic at all, other qualities were needed like consistency and continuity. We may find a comparison also in the difference between falling in love and marriage. Or let us thing about bonfire: for setting it, one especially intense flash of heat is needed, for keeping the fire burning we need constant – not too intense and not too weak – flow of oxygen.
The same question we should ask about the family (both in strict and broad sense) and about “another family”.
It is clear that in the environment of human society the reasons for the existence of family, as such, are not limited with the immediate demands of the selfish gene (food and elementary security); there is a list of other reasons that are not directly “animal” any more, but only indirectly, and their concrete shape is specifically human. For example condemnation of unmarried mothers and extramarital children that’s aim is to minimise the birth of badly secured and totally helpless individuals. Or a habit to jeer at old maidens who from the standpoint of the selfish gene are wasted exemplars, able to realise only a very small part of their potential, helping the others. It is easy to see that the mechanisms, meant to keep the families together, vary very strongly between different cultures. Some societies allow polygamy, some polyandry; some societies are very harsh with adultery, some are more lenient; in some societies one spouse is subjected to the other, in some other they are equal or almost equal; in some societies the divorce is very simple, in others it is difficult or impossible. But one common feature is evident: all the societies, known until today, have strove after the maximum stability of nuclear families and for reaching this have created conditions to make abandoning of nuclear family by husband or wife very troublesome or practically impossible: escaped wife will be nobody, she will have no rights and nowhere to live; a single man without wife and children is an anomaly, who will be removed from the position of a farm master by the commune leaders etc. Leaving the nuclear family by youngsters is common but in this case they will remain the members of the family in broader sense (clan). Usually different societies try to secure that the official father of children would be also their biological one; among many reasons for this tendency we may mention the necessity to avoid incest. To this general rule most societies have made some silent exception that is rooted in the fact that women use to have comparatively higher demands towards their sexual partner than the men. The consequence of this phenomenon is the fact that if society leaves some very narrow gap for the adultery opened, the first ones who manage to press themselves through it, are the most “wanted” males. The number of the partners of those men is bigger than their own number of and overall result is profitable to the genofund of the commune. Such mechanism is obvious complaisance of man to the beast. It does not sound nice until we recall that efficient serving of beast’s interests is one of the most essential functions of man. And it is in the interest of the beast that “not wanted” males would have no successors.
Briefly, the families are kept together throughout millennia by the following chain of causes. Every human has to fulfil its obligation to carry on his/her genes. For this goal he/she has to secure him/herself and his/her partner with food and protection whereby the best way for both aims is to live as a family and within the frames of it to introduce division of labour. (In Estonian rural society, for example, field was left to the father and cattle to the mother.) This we may call the economic cause for the existence of family. Still it was not enough for the selfish gene. The demands of the latter form the reason, why no society, until the latest times, has regarded the reproduction as a private problem. No, until the 20th century West, it has regarded as an obligation to the commune and to all its members. Accordingly it was necessary to find mechanisms to force the individuals to get married and to have children; and also to keep families together. Indeed, all societies have invented many such mechanisms and introduced corresponding norms. Such norms form the cultural cause for the existence of family. It is evident that these mechanisms work only until their economical basis works, i.e. until marriage is economically inescapable or at least profitable, and secondly, until society through its orders and prohibitions or approval and scorn is capable to force, stimulate and motivate its members to get married and create family. When the economical and cultural compulsion weakens, also the families start to break up. But the weakening of compulsion is the same as the economical and cultural emancipation of an individual, or in other words – the progress of individualism. Less society means less family.
The disintegrating influence of individualism on family is expressed, inter alia, by one remarkable phenomenon that we may observe here and today. Children, being born in these days, may be considered the first generation in the Western Europe, whose family (in its strict sense), as a rule, does not include any grandmother or grandfather. Typical until the seventies, the three generation family has been reduced to two-generation one. The reason is very plain: if it is possible to live separately of mother-in-low, people use this possibility. But only 30 – 40 years ago only a few families could manage without grandparents. This change may seem just one in the long row of recent cultural changes, but actually it deserves special attention. We are witnessing the disappearance of an institution that has been born probably about a million years ago, in the days of our ancestor called homo erectus.
The anthropologists have discovered that about one and a half million years ago man’s average life-time quite suddenly lengthened remarkably and consequently for the first time in human history there were grannies and grandpas who were not mamas and papas at the same time. But the most shocking is the scientists’ guess that this lengthening of life-time was the reason why women’s menopause came into being. It seems that in the fight for carrying on one’s genes those female individuals who did not born any more in certain age, but looked only after their grandchildren, giving the mothers more time and opportunities, turned to be more successful than those who continued having babies. (McKie 115) If this hypothesis hits the truth, we must admit that modern grannies are losing their primordial role. Menopause is not necessary any more, children reject their parents’ help; theoretically the forces of evolution could start to lengthen the age of fertility again. Since they have not done it yet, seniors have to spend their time on other amusements.
The mechanisms, keeping together another families, are more complicated at the first sight, because another families themselves differ seriously in time and space; obviously much more different than families of different times and different cultures. Although we noticed that among the origins of another family one can easily detect the “beast” (still leaving uncertain whether it was involved when we were the beasts, or later, in the times of acquiring human “coat”), this aspect is not dominating at least in certain type of another families like clubs, where the unity and esprit de corps is created with the help of specifically human centripetal forces. As an example of the latter we may have previously mentioned small talk. A talented scandalmonger may function as an engine and centre of some chess club or needlework society, who’s leaving will cause the decay of the whole association. Another family may be brought together also by some other specifically human phenomenon like love for painting and this love can serve as the main cement of the association. Still we have to differentiate between the goals of another family (spreading of Christianity, developing of Finnish folk-culture, propaganda for natural suckling etc.) and its ways of functioning; just the same as we differentiate between where the runner is running and how he is doing it. And the truth is that the main differences lie in different goals, not in the way, how it is run. Yes, drunken sailor does not run exactly the same way as Sebastian Coe, but there is still essential identity. So another families, with their very varied goals, have one identical essential feature. It is the solidarity, higher level of altruism that the members of another family share. This binds and obliges them consciously. Usually this band of solidarity is confirmed with a special admission ritual of any new member, often preceded by some time of probation. Comrades by club, student corporation or order owe each other more time, more money and more attention than to all other members of the society (in broader sense) except the closest relatives – children, spouses, parents, brothers and sisters.
Any member of any another family may come to conflict of roles. That is the conflict between his/her obligations to another family and to his real family. Or, more probably, to the state. Loyalty to one’s state or sovereign often contradicts to the loyalty to one’s order, religious sect etc. Modern Western states forgive people affiliation to their closest ones; the laws admit consanguine ties and do not force, for example, any judge to sentence his own son, if he is guilty, to the prison. But if there stands a comrade by club, the judge may not be allowed to challenge himself. “Socially” these comrades and symbolic kinsmen have to treat each other impartially, just like the other members of the bigger society. This means that after the bigger society has reached statehood another families, although being necessary and even inevitable for keeping society together, sometimes shift to the opposition to the state. In some aspect, at least. Or offer an alternative to the state that may but does note have to oppose the state. If the conflict occurs, it may lead to violence but, again, does not have to do so. The Jesuit order, for example, has repeatedly and seriously acted against the official power, but hardly shall we hear the same about the Florist Club of Neukirchbrücke.
This explanation has brought us back to the prisoner’s dilemma. No matter what are the founding causes of another family (we discussed them briefly), it will survive only in the case if its members fulfil their mutual obligations and if there is enough trust between them. If we deal another family, as an institution, from such a viewpoint, a supposition will occur that another family (gang, band) and nothing else was this mysterious place where “an ape became a human”. It should have been something like a “workshop for humanising”, where the beasts learned not only to hunt, or to murder the beasts of the neighbouring gang together, but also solving prisoner’s dilemma in favour of trust. Perhaps this could explain why the institution of another family is so vital and necessary until today, and why the science fiction writers and filmmakers have decided long ago that if the statehood happens to disappear, there will be (motorcycle) gangs only. Looks like gang is the last frontier where man can stop, remaining human, in his retreat from sociality. One more step downstairs and he will be beast again. If we’d watch this “movie” backward (i.e. in the historical direction), we could well have an idea that gang was just the place where the beast was not successful any more as a beast. We have enough reason to believe that our ancestors learned to solve prisoner’s dilemma in very harsh conditions and the ones who solved it “wrongly” were disqualified without mercy; if so, we may suppose that the brutal sieve of another family sifted out some “sociality” gene(s). Only that one, who managed to suppress sufficiently his “devil” did survive.
But it is exactly the same we discovered in the first paragraph – capability for morality. There is some ground to believe this capability is hereditary. Consequently there is one or probably more than one specific genes for this capability; consequently they must have been sifted out once upon a time somewhere by the natural choice. Actually not somewhere, but in another family. Where else?
There are phenomena indicating that the inner morality of another family (including loyalty to the leader of the gang, the king for example) is the oldest morality at all. Let us recall one cultural feature of the Western civilisation. For centuries people have believed that the most important was the faithfulness itself, not the person whom it served. People did not compare the objects of their loyalty, they did not ask each other whose loyalty was justified and whose one was not. Today we shape our moral judgement about the fighting soldiers on the basis of our knowledge about whether these soldiers defend the freedom of their fatherland, or do they fight for booty and conquest. In the Middle Ages and even later such kind of circumstances were not regarded as essential. Alexandre Dumas Sr., for example, describes with the deepest compassion the adventures of the four musketeers and their loyalty to the Queen of France, admitting at the same time that she was an insignificant plotter, while the enemy of the musketeers Richelieu was actually a great statesman. (Besides, this attitude does not characterise the whole trilogy. Later Dumas criticises heavily the sovereigns and asks whether a noble person has to be true to an undignified ruler.) The different value of the objects of loyalty is a feature that characterises especially the European history. Maybe just because of this feature Europe does have history, after all.
As far as another family has survived until present days, we may propose one more deduction: another family (re)creates man even today. It means that man is not conclusively and irreversibly completed; it means there will be always a danger to fall back into the realm where he has came from. To avoid it, innumerable another families work days and nights like refining factories, teaching people how to be human. Some of those are criminal, like different Mafia, and I better shall not affirm that membership in a criminal gang will develop one’s human capabilities. But let me affirm this about one being a member of a college or students’ corps. Still there is one similar feature: the traitors are favoured neither in college, nor in Mafia. The punishment is different, that is the “only” difference. In one occasion it will be death, in another condemnation and reduction of opportunities to make success (consequently smaller chances to carry on one’s genes).
Probably it was also primordial another family where “socially necessary” repression, as such, was invented. Indeed, it would be very difficult to imagine the humanisation process without it. Since those days repression accompanies any human association that is aiming at co-operation. (See also: Fehr & Gächter 2002) To say that socially acknowledged repression, as such, is natural in its essence is not to say that any repression is just. No, not at all. But neither could we affirm that no repression is just, as it is sometimes declared by new-leftist activists. The latter use to stress that any bourgeois society is repressive and therefore must be swept away. But actually it is not any bourgeois society that is repressive, but just any society.
Those denying the repressive aspect of “bourgeois” society – or any society because of its repressive aspects – seem to propagate the ultimate morality. It may sound well to affirm that there is no difference between punishments, because any punishment is a repression and any repression is inhuman. In practical life it is abolition of morality and one more step would lead to abolition of humanity. Only if we maintain that some repression is justified and some is not we keep on being humans, doing their most important human job: thinking about what is right and what is wrong, looking for truth. Similar problems occur with lie and lying. If we declare any lie to be a mortal sin, the whole humankind should have to march into the purgatory at once. But we do not do it, and a radical logically deduces: since all sins are equal and all humans are sinners, I may sin, too. Further, this logic will give him an indulgence for any crime. On the other hand, a person who believes that lies are of different weight, whereas small lie is a small sin and big lie is a big sin, will never have such an indulgence. Consequently he sins less. It is up to us to decide whether this is important or not.
Another families are like smithies where our stubborn animal part is forged into more or less human face. If any of these smithies is going to cultivate norms that will contradict too much to the norms of commune or society or state, it will be destroyed by one of them. Another family looks after man and state looks after another family. Brigands’ gangs must be annihilated, good handicraft guilds must be favoured.
So as a conclusion we may state that (nuclear) family is kept together by instinct, necessity and tradition; another family by all those plus a bunch of specific regulations that might be called an elementary manual of morals.
The Corner-Stones of States
But who looks after the state? Nowadays it is done by the very society that has organised itself as a state. Having “tasted” statehood once, such society can not do without any more. Society starts to recreate statehood, subjecting its members to the obligation to keep it going. We have touched this point already: a concrete state may be created by a gang of enthusiasts or adventurers; still for its survival society is needed. Statehood is the expression of society’s will, at least in modern democratic West. Any state survives until its society survives.
Whether it is possible or not that some particular society – or even the whole Western civilisation – chooses just to expire (naturally together with the state), should be decided and seen in not very distant future. Probably the answer will come during 21st century. Fukuyama, at least, does not believe it, counting on the hereditary sociality of man. I have serious doubts about such scenarios, too.
And survival of statehood is not crucial, after all. As we have seen in this book, mankind may lose a couple of millions of years of development and return to quite barbaric situation without losing its essential humanity. There is enough space to go on being humans in the most cruel tyranny and even after disappearance of states and statehood. But would we like this situation? Situation, described in the movie “Waterworld”? Obviously not. There is enough space to go back, then turn around and start anew, but this would mean the collision of all our rights, principles, habits, values etc. anyway. This would mean something really horrible, at least for our gentle eyes. This is good enough reason why we should do anything possible to avoid such fallback.
But no matter whether our goal is to save the world, or is it simply curiosity, we have to ask one crucial question: what are the corner-stones of states? What are the foundations upon which a state stands firm?
As a society I mean any system of communicating communes or leagues of communes that follow more or less identical practical morality (i.e. that are speaking the same language both in strict and metaphorical sense) and feel at least some sense of common identity. Such were the Gaules before Caesar, the Lithuanians before Mindaugas, probably the Celts before Arthur. This feeling of common identity may be latent, not-conscious, and became conscious only after some external agent, like an invasion, has activated it. Such kind of societies are bound very loosely, they do not work consciously on the centripetal forces, pushing its parts together. Nobody cultivates and organises the ties that should keep a society as an integral whole.
The situation may not change even after formation of the state. For example, if the state is founded by a small circle of lords whether with the help of a deal or force (usually by both of them). This is how many early European states came into being.
One should not affirm that these early, culturally and linguistically heterogeneous states lacked any uniting idea and any uniting identity at all. Charlemagne’s empire, for example, was founded as a project for uniting the whole Christendom and restoration of Roman super-state. Still history proved the weakness of those uniting forces. Memories about ancient Roman unity did not “work”, Charlemagne’s empire fell into pieces, as well as the successor-states. Only in France semi-nominal power of the sovereign survived that enabled later to create a real society or at least foundations for it. Especially important was the role of Cardinal de Richelieu. He was the first to abandon openly the still-surviving ideals about restoration of a all-Christian unity, he abandoned even all-Christian solidarity, co-operating with the Turks against Christian states and declaring raison d’etat to be the highest value. Doing this, he laid down the boundaries of a society: one state, one society. The latter was identical to nation. In spite of various conventions, the Frenchmen are following these principles until today, maintaining that there are no problems with minorities in France, because there are no minorities, all are French. Another principle, followed by Richelieu (still not as consistently as the first one), was the idea that members of the same society should be of the same confession. For this reason he destroyed the last main fortress of the Huguenots, La Rochelle, still leaving the edict of Nantes untouched. This edict, guaranteeing personal religious freedom, was removed only by Louis XIV.
During the following centuries the idea of the nation-state (or briefly nation) became a rule. In another words the concept of “nation” means that statehood sprouts from the very society and, consequently, the question about the survival of the state is inseparably tied with integrity and functioning of the society. The state is res publica (public affairs) again, like in the best days of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome, even if it is a monarchy. Initially this ideology included uniconfessionalism which extreme versions were the English and the Swedish national churches. In the 19th century two big European countries, Germany and Italy, were united at last. Now it became evident that religious unity is not crucial, although important. United Germany included Catholic Bayer, Italy was united not under tiara, but under the sceptre of a lay king.
The history of France gives us an example how in the bosom of a state step by step a society was born; the unification of Germany and Italy may be regarded rather as an example how an (almost) existing society finally organised itself into one state. Vital roles were played by intellectuals, philosophers and ideologists as well as by certain extremely influential individuals like prince Bismarck and count Cavour. But the main part of the identity was born independently, without anyone’s special efforts. The reason of this phenomenon lies probably neither in the capitalist economy, as such, nor in the specific features brought about by capitalism like formation of proletariat or vanishing of patriarchal ties, but in the essential changes that took place in communication after Middle Ages. The means and possibilities for travelling improved remarkably in quite a short period; there was also much more reason to travel than before. Especially remarkable was the change brought about by railway in the 19th century.
At the same time we shouldn’t overestimate the role of railway. It was not the two rails and million sleepers that “made” some nations, but the fact that circulation of goods, people and news quickened a lot. Similar effect could have been caused by something else as well. The famous Roman highways, for example. Or excellent roads of the Incas that were used not for driving but running. Communicative qualities of a society do not depend on rails and sleepers but on the speed of the information-flow, and this fact is probably most dramatically proved by the true story about an Athenian who ran the whole way from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to herald the news about victory.
That is why it would not be completely justified to say, as it has been done, that modern nations are created by railway. This statement sounds nice, but is true only partly, and may easily be rejected, referring to German nationalism that was born before the railway – in the beginning of 19th century, during (and in the course of) the Napoleonic wars. At the same time this reference leaves untouched the essence of what was said, namely that for the birth of national identity one needs active communication, and that is exactly what any war, among other things, brings about. War brings people together both in spatial and metaphorical sense. The talks about nationalism as an invention of the 19th century grocers – or a mistake, that could have been avoided – does not stand any criticism. The reason why nations and national feelings, as we know them today, did not appear in the Middle Ages lies not in the bigger wisdom and tolerance of the mediaeval people, but in the fact that individuals, separated by parochial borders, did not meet each other enough frequently and not enough massively. The comparatively low level of economy (roads, means of transport, amount of free time) simply could not afford people sufficient communication, necessary for reaching the “critical mass”. But step by step all those circumstances improved (especially thanks to the so-called creative laziness that will be discussed in the next chapter), communication grew more and more dense, and due to this the birth of nations and national feelings was unavoidable.
And this was not only the roads, coaches and travellers foodstuffs that made the difference. There was something more. Communication is not limited to personal contacts. Communication means also an exchange of views via certain means of information. Here the break had taken place long before the invention of railways, in the period of reformation and religious wars (16 – 17th century), when propaganda posters were printed massively. It was possible thanks to the printing press, invented by Gutenberg already in the 15th century. But in the 18th and 19th century newspapers brought mediated communication to a new level. There are modern nations in Europe who use to start the story of their national awakening with reference to the birth of national press.
So we have come to the most important sine qua non of any society. It is coherence.
Coherence: The Underwaters of Communication
Hence any society has to have an integral circulation-system of information and opinions. Society is a coherent field of communication. If the coherence vanishes, so the society does. It is so evident that it may even seem unnecessary to stress this point. Let us remind of a brick wall, for example, the mortar and the stones and the house they form together – only thanks to the mortar – and everything is clear. But there is a difference. Mortar stands still, but information moves and changes permanently. When a house is completed, it will be completed once and for all, but the society must be created anew every day and every minute. In this sense society is very similar to a living organism that also needs permanent care by breathing, eating, metabolism etc.
There is nothing more evident than the fact that for the communication people need a common language. It is true that from the historical point of view, language has been formed in the course of communication, and on this basis one could assert there is no language-problem: people communicate only with those they have common language and they have common language only with those they communicate. But this is a trick. It is true that spoken language, as such, is once invented by our ancestors and then, depending on who talked to whom, the various languages have been formed. On the other hand in every concrete situation and for any concrete individual any language is completed, “ready for use”. So it is in modern Europe, too.
Mother tongue is inherited, not biologically, but socially. A child can not choose the language he/she will acquire as a native one. This language either enables to communicate with another person or not. At Viennese annual fair in the 19th century, a Bohemian peasant could manage with some German words, speaking to the buyers, but later to the tavern to discuss events and prices he went with his co-Czechs. This conversation was far more important than those few sentences, exchanged during selling the cow. And by no means did an average Bohemian, Estonian or Latvian peasant subscribe a German newspaper, while there were Czech, Estonian and Latvian ones available. Exactly for the same reason the German newspapers, mediating dreams about united Germany, spread among German-speaking population, being of no special interest to the Czechs, surrounded by German-speaking peoples. A discussion, held in German, involved German-speakers, not Czech- or Latvian-speakers. Of course, something reached them through the national intelligentsia, having command of German, but this was still an echo. An echo may give and usually indeed gives fruitful ideas, but it is something else than participation in the discussion itself. Similar phenomenon occurs in modern Belgium where the Flemish and the Walloon have different news of the day.
It is surprising that until we speak about language in general, all researchers and thinkers, including leftist ones, admit and agree that language is the most important mediator of culture, especially the spoken language. But as soon as this statement will be put to concrete historical context and someone tries to affirm, for example, that the main bearer of the Estonian culture is the Estonian language (that may need even positive discrimination in the case of danger), on the face of some intellectual an embarrassed smile will appear. Smells about nationalism, says this smile.
It is true that the role of language should not be overestimated. Shared mother tongue is only one necessary precondition for the formation of a society. While the Bavarians – after an evident moment of hesitation – still became Germans, the German-speaking Austrians – again after some hesitation – did not. People, having common native language, may form a number of different societies, but peoples with different native languages can not form a common society. Or, at least, such development needs very strong external causes. Like Belgium, for example, that is “compressed” by historical circumstances. Or Spain which unity was born in the common fight against the Arabs; besides, Spanish language-barriers are not unsurpassed (except those between the Basques and the rest of Spain – and, indeed, there are big problems with the integration of Basques). Switzerland has been born as a military alliance of self-defence and even today one may ask if we can call Switzerland an integral society, or does this definition count only for each canton separately.
Nowadays people use to speak much more foreign languages than in the 18th and 19th century, and proportionally to this the language-barriers are less fatal. Somehow people manage to understand each other in most of the cases. But this is not enough to keep a society together. For example, in Estonia much Russians speak and/or understand Estonian. But it does not make them watch Estonian TV-channels. There are many reasons for this, one of them convenience. Listening to another language is tiresome. But using another language during immediate communication is much more tiresome. All over the word people have quarrelled about the question, which part has to take trouble and switch to the language of the other. Unpleasant memories about arrogant words “Govori po-russkij!” (“Speak in Russian!”), dropped by a taxi-driver, post-office official, a passer-by etc. haunt a typical Estonian until today. Or is it still the reality in some districts of this small country.
The question is so problematic because of the fact that knowing the other’s language (in the linguistic sense) is not the only aspect that counts. Switching to another language means (or should mean, if one wants to be understood adequately) the switching to an entirely another world where people use another choice of words, another intonation, body-language, metaphors, mimics. For example, even a small traffic accident can not be described with the same intonation in Estonian and in English. If the author of these lines should have to do it in English, he should reincarnate into some English-Vahtre, as opposed to the Estonian-Vahtre.
This kind of differences lead us to the aspect of language that I previously marked with the question “how people speak?” It is evident that if different languages are spoken differently, it will restrain knowing each other’s language and the wish to switch to another language during the conversation. Or will it produce unwillingness to listen to the strange language even passively.
On the basis of differences in the ways of speaking and for other reasons (ideological brainwash, natural opposition between newcomers and the ones present before, direct and indirect violence etc.) the linguistic antagonism may come into existence. This happened in Estonia under the Soviet regime, having one interesting side-effect. Namely, Estonians learned to guess the one’s nationality by appearance. Partly it was done with the help of elementary observation – differences in one’s appearance were especially sharp in the beginning of the occupation regime –, partly this ability was learned both consciously and subconsciously. All this was aimed, in the occasional conversation, to hear the words “govori po-russkij!” as rarely as possible.
But as it was mentioned about language in the first chapter, the questions about what and why people talk are also very important.
Even the easiest topics (i.e. about what is being talked) have first to be common ones. The workshop of history proved it in Estonia in the 1990ies when many (younger) people, having been borne and grown up abroad, returned to their fatherland. They had been shaped by the two societies – the one of their residence (Sweden, Canada, USA etc.), and the other of the Estonian refugees (at two levels – as a world-wide network and as a community in the land of their residence). It was the Swedish, Canadian, American etc. society, where these people went to school (if we drop Estonian elementary school in Stockholm as an exception) and to work, and it was the refugee-Estonian society where they attended Sunday school and took part in the scout movement. Undoubtedly there are common topics among Swedish and Canadian ones, among Spanish and Estonian ones etc., but anyway those returned Estonians felt that there were some fields where he did not understand very well the jokes of the Estonian, borne and grown up in Estonia. And some other fields where the latter did not understand him.
The problem did not lie necessarily in ethics, politics or ideology. It was just different “material” of experience, books, movies, events, modern heroes etc. Briefly, difficulties in communication may well arise even in the situation where there is absolutely no ideological and/or ethical contradiction. Hence, to preserve its coherence society has to be “together”, i.e. the majority of its members should live in the same conditions, acquire the same experiences, read the same books, see the same films. There is no need to say that it can be “the same” only approximately. Anyway, society is a society only until a sufficient part of the everyday experience of its members is more or less similar. Whether a society should or should not favour this tendency consciously is another question. Or, to be precise: this is not the question, because every living society is doing it. The question is to what extent it is normal and where the brainwash starts.
One may present an objection: the Jews do not live and suffer together. But, actually, they do not form a society either; at least in the classical sense. They have common faith and common historical heritage, but in addition to these they have rich folklore that compensates the lack of common nursery rhymes and makes it quite easy for a Canadian Jew and Russian Jew to find a topic for small talk. One good indicator of cultural closeness is the ability of the interlocutors to crack some jokes together, to make fun on somebody or something within the frames of civility. On one hand, joke is a superhuman phenomenon, on the other, it depends much on concrete cultural context, usually containing many semantic knots (metaphors, sayings, latest news etc.)
By the way, this indicator – let us call it “easy joke test” – can be used not only in the case of spatial differences, but also in the case of temporal differences. Spatial aspect is obvious – one may expect communication troubles between Englishman and genuine Pygmy. But probably there would be some communication troubles between Benjamin Disraeli and Margaret Thatcher, too. Here we meet the problem of families and generations. Generation is composed of the children of certain epoch, no matter which is each one’s character, faith and other features; family (here in metaphorical sense) unites the supporters of certain principles, ideologies etc. through different historical epochs. Sometimes the latter is also called school, or learning etc. Modern Conservative could hardly switch to easy joking with Disraeli, but probably could do it in private conversation with Fidel Castro. Generations form the horizontal stratification of mental (or cultural) history, “families” form the vertical one. We all belong both to some “family” and some generation.
People belonging to the same society are capable for conversation and common smiling. And if there is personal hatred that excludes this, in the communication with some other person they still smile at similar things. We can observe this, watching the films of Charlie Chaplin. The members of the same society use to laugh at more or less the same situations, no matter which are their personal relations to each other. Personal appeal, principles, beliefs and ideals are of no importance in the test of easy joke. It is evident that successful easy talking and easy joking does not prove that the interlocutors belong to the same society; rather it proves the obvious – that they belong to the same epoch. But the difficulties in having easy talk and making common joke indicate that they belong to different “worlds”, i.e. to the different societies. Let us recall the films of Chaplin again. When his comedies were shown to the Eskimos, not influenced by Western civilisation, the public watched the adventures of this unlucky fellow in deadly silence. These people did not consider those unhappy events funny; or if they did, they did not think it to be polite to laugh at other’s failures.
The dependence of the society’s coherence on the common “material” grows to an enormous problem in the era of the information deluge. As we saw, exchange of information, i.e. communication, is the main precondition for the birth of a society, and without communication a society would be absolutely impossible. In this sense every society is an info-society, because no other society could exist. Still the term “info-society” is used, indicating a society where the amount, accessibility and speed of moving of the information have been raised to a completely new level. The enthusiasts of the info-society dream of a world where all the knowledge and fallacies of mankind are within the reach of a mouse-click. We could be happy about this possible future, supposing that than more the information available, than better.
Still it is not the case. Man’s capability to receive, to process, save and acquire information is limited, and that is why info-deluge starts to tear the society into pieces. The info-deluge was forecasted in the 1960ies already, without knowing about laptops or the Internet. Now this deluge has come. Let’s have an everyday example. If ten colleagues watch ten different TV-channels in the evening, it will be practically impossible for them to prattle next morning about the theme “Did you watch TV yesterday?” Yes I did, but which channel? Let’s add the Internet. A football-fan surfs days and nights in the football news and studies the CV of Luis Figo in detail, a gambler fights against the Evil Blackbeetles, a fan of Asian music enjoys the sounds of India. They do not watch even the news. If they will meet occasionally in the local pub, there will be almost nothing to talk about. Consequently these people do not generate public opinion.
Info-deluge is endangering even the functional mechanisms of the democracy itself. Most generally, democracy can be defined as a political system aiming to realise the will of majority (or of the public) by the specially elected persons. Unfortunately, as we have just seen, in the conditions of indo-deluge it will be unclear what is the public opinion and the will of majority in some concrete question, for in many cases there is simply no public opinion. If the authorities set about involving this missing public opinion into the process of decision-making in this situation, the result may be not further development of democracy, but legalising the possibility of the so-called tendentious choice (or noisy minority) to usurp the name of public will.
Briefly, the members of info-society know a lot, but in different fields. And this is not the only trouble. Paradoxically, there is a possibility that info-society will vanish because of the lack of information. According to a widespread and still spreading opinion children shouldn’t learn “ready” truths in the schools but only the methods of finding the answers to their questions, i.e. how to obtain information. But a person, used to get information this way, may easily confuse his data. For example, 90˚ and 100˚ – which of them was the right angle and which was the boiling temperature of water? Without “ready” truths it is absolutely impossible to find it out, unless there is a “mouse to click”. And in the case if there is not, a person skilled only in obtaining of information may simply lack the necessary information at the crucial moment. Instead of acquiring some elementary knowledge about the surrounding world, as it was done some centuries ago in any ordinary village-school, the children of info-society waste their limited memory for an occasional choice of knowledge. They will know Guinness’ records, but they will miss some elementary knowledge necessary for everyday life. In a traditional society (like mediaeval rural environment) it was nearly impossible for a youngster to acquire notably different knowledge than his friend from the neighbouring farm; in the info-society it is very much possible. Unfortunately, in the course of communication the most important thing is not the total amount of one’s knowledge (except in the process of learning, of course), but the common share of knowledge between those who are communicating. If this common share equals to zero, the interlocutors will be total dummies for each other who know nothing. Instead of having two professors we will have two fools in social sense (i.e. in the eyes of the other). If we expand this example, we shall see that information is force – as people use to say – only at the extent to what it is generally spread. But this is exactly what we have the greatest difficulties with in the era of info-deluge. Moreover, the problems with the lack of information, caused by info-deluge, are crowned by the paradoxical situation where people don not know any more what they do not know. In some decades ago, for example, every educated person knew that the theorem of Fermat is still not solved. Consequently, everybody knew that he did not know the solution of this mathematical problem. Today, probably the great majority does not know whether the problem is solved or not. Consequently, we do not know whether we know the answer or not.
Naturally, all that has been said in the last paragraphs is a bit exaggerated. I only hinted to the situation where people, instead of calling each other a fool, start to learn from each other. And actually this is what they do in any society and every day. I was talking about accidental easy talk and/or the case of emergency where people do not have any time to learn, and where they have to act together and at once instead. The presence of this ability, or the deficit of this, is one of the most important and vital measures of the coherence of a society.
Info-society may even lead to the revolt of the uninformed or deluded (i.e. wrongly informed) masses. A significant part of the world press – including the most democratic countries – is engaged not in informing, but in programming its readers. In the dictatorships it is done by the order of the dictator and for the satisfaction of his needs, but why does brainwash flourish in the Western media? The answer is simple: there is no offer without demand. There is so much information that a remarkable part of any democratic society is trying not to understand socially important items any more, but to hide from the information. And some of these socially important items lie indeed beyond the limits of human understanding. The state budget of the USA, for example. The other part of society wants not to be informed, but misinformed. Reasons for this are mainly psychological. For example, to compensate their complex of inferiority, many people need permanent flow of shocking news about prominent members of society – about their corruptibility, perversity, mendacity and avidity – even if it is total libel. And naturally there are enough channels for such pseudo-information, offering their production for reasonable price.
Theoretically everything is fine and nobody should accuse these channels, for they are giving people what people need. Sometimes an “ordered lie” is, indeed, regarded as justified (at someone’s death-bed, for example). Still there is a difference. To a dying man people lie to give him piece; the slander-stories of the yellow press, the other way, do not calm people down, but irritate and make them angry. It is true that many people need their everyday anger as much as dying man needs peace, but anger is still an anger; it corrodes both the immediate user and all those who come to contact with him/her. In some sense the yellow press is sawing the bough it is sitting on, because when the outraged mob finally explodes, this explosion will hit all those “who wear glasses”. Including the ones who are spreading slander and hatred today.
In addition, there is a trend to doubt about the concept of “knowledge” at all. It is very natural that knowledge, as such, is an item of the philosophers’ considerations: “What is knowledge? How can I be sure I know something?” It is equally natural that there have always been thinkers who question the possibility of adequate knowledge as such. But if such philosophy becomes an ideology that outlaws any quest for truth and ridicules the very concept of knowledge, it will give the disintegration process of a society an extra impulse, although an indirect one. If the old paradigm had said: there are certain things that society must know and remember together, the new ideology is affirming: everything is relative and must be opened to debate. Alas, this teaching can not be followed collectively and for this reason it can not create a new social paradigm. It would be theoretically impossible. The only result an “ideology of no truth” may have is the growing helplessness of people, facing info-deluge.
To conclude this remark properly, I should consider the difference of information and knowledge, but it would go too far from our item. I just mention that even the ones who doubt in the possibility of knowledge and/or in the existence of truth usually do not question the division of information into an adequate and inadequate one; neither do they deny rational argument, as such, admitting that everyone’s opinion should be formulated on the basis of adequate information and with the help of rational argument. Unfortunately one needs an opinion already in the phase of gathering the information and evaluating its adequacy. And preliminary opinion is nothing else than prejudice that we usually call knowledge. The idea of the education is just supplying young persons with useful prejudices or knowledge. For example, the prejudice that drinking of hydrochloric acid results with death. If we tried to reduce the education only to delivering information – or even to teaching how to find information – it would start to generate persons, unfit to whatever society.
One might think that if there is enough material what to talk about and if talking is technically possible, it will be enough. Still there is something else than common topics (material) and possibilities for communication (coherence) that is needed for survival and regeneration of society. As I mentioned in the first chapter, beside direct exchange of information the main function of language is the permanent recreation of society, formulating and preserving moral norms. One could reach this idea with the help of pure logic, simply recollecting what people talk each other at the moments of leisure. But this idea has been proved experimentally, too. The cruel experiment has been carried out in a laboratory called Estonia by the Soviet regime.
In the Soviet era quite a few books, TV-broadcasts, films etc. were worth of public interest. Surprisingly, this aspect worked in favour of the coherence of the suppressed Estonian society. If there was something really worth of reading or watching, almost everybody did it, and this phenomenon often pushed people to the same “frequency”. Still every honest witness remembers that general coherence of the Estonian society declined. The reason was simple: great number of issues were forbidden, including the most important for any society – the issue of survival, i.e. the very existential questions of the nation. There was no chance to initiate a public discussion (that in addition to the polemics in media consists of private small talks) about the perspectives of the Estonians and Estonia, nor was it possible to discuss the morality of joining Communist Party, the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism, the events of 1940 in Estonia or of 1956 in Hungary. All those issues were political or ideological only outwardly. As a matter of fact they were moral issues, and the lack of any chance to argue in public about morals, the lack of permanent moral discussion was the reason why society felt suffocated. It was the “wadded society”. In the year of 1968 public opinion almost became animated and society came close to the liberty of opinion. This year is remembered with sentimentality even today and the activists of that time compare it to a blast of fresh air. The same kind of rapture accompanied the gradual restoration of the freedom of expression, starting in the year of 1987 and reaching its apogee in the summer of 1988, called by the Estonians “the Singing Revolution”. People were not afraid any more to talk to each other and to express their opinion. Indeed, they almost rushed to do so. Yes, about Jack, Ellen and Annie people had been gossiping even in the darkest periods of Soviet regime and, doing this, had kept alive the idea of morality; they had in the most trustworthy circles always discussed the “prohibited” items, too. Still, as the course of events proved later, it was not enough.
The course of events proved something else as well. It proved that the Estonian society had been seriously damaged in those 50 years of occupation. The lack of chance to evaluate in public whatever question, connected with politics, generated certain value-orientations that in the state of liberty could have had only covered existence. In the free society such (possible) orientations would have been openly condemned and their dissemination restrained. Now they started to flourish. As a result, quite remarkable number of people, including intellectuals, even today openly despise ideals like honesty or generosity or the aspiration for public, not personal, good. Or, in the better case, it is admitted that these principles are very nice, but also very naive, and people conclude with tragic statement “the world is dirty”. This slogan is very practical, after all, giving almost full indulgence to act however dirty, because the whole world is dirty.
This picture is a bit exaggerated, but hopefully gives an idea what happens if the boring moralists can not do their job for a long time. If people can not discuss freely and openly the choices and decisions of any member of the society, the disintegrating forces will start to dominate. These forces will find their expression in deformed values and moral relativity that justifies the ignoring of common interests and concentration onto private ones. Man’s tendency towards personal gains is natural and no society demands of its members to devote themselves fully to common interests. Still the social “neighbourhood watch” will civilise our individualist aspirations and secure the compatibility of those possibly contradicting forces. Here we find one more phenomenon that is very natural and very human: I use to demand of the other a bit more than of myself. Fortunately my neighbour, God bless him, will ask of me more than of himself. Briefly, I ask of him as much as he asks of me, and this is the point that guarantees the balance. We may call this mutual cheat petty or mean, but nevertheless it is one of the most important corner-stones of any society. If the neighbour watches too much, we will have a Stalinist communal apartment, but if the neighbour does not watch at all, the society will disintegrate and vanish. A Westerner might think that in the post-communist countries people use to – i.e. are used to – watch too much, but actually the problem is opposite. People have suffered much of excessive watching by the Big Brother and his smaller relatives, and now, as a natural reaction, treat the attempts to restore horizontal social networks with certain suspicion. Sometimes one may observe how these two contradicting ideas (“leave me in peace” and “you should act otherwise”) merge. For example, one of the most popular Estonian weeklies may condemn “the ones who watch after the diligence of their colleagues”. (EE, Jan. 17, 2002) And this is done under the title “What is über and what is unter”! In other words, this newspaper is carrying out exactly the same kind of watch it is condemning.
There is an opinion that society can not disintegrate irreversibly and forever, because sociality is the attribute of our very nature (i.e. the genes of sociality exist) and for this reason only temporal disorder is possible, after what man will in any case create a new order. This may be true or not, but for temporal creatures, as we are, even the perspective of temporal disorder should be terrifying. Besides, not any society will satisfy us. Let us remember about the tidy choirboys on a lonely island (in Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”), who fell back to barbarism. This barbarism took a form of a society (or a model of it) as well, with certain regulations and very strong neighbourhood watch. Does such perspective make us happy?
Coherence: Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces
Pure logic says that centrifugal forces alone can not dominate the society. There must be balancing centripetal forces, too. Otherwise society would contract momentarily to some inhuman lump. It would mean that all the individuals, for the sake of the collective, would desist from taking any care of themselves. All this would lead very quickly to collapse. Therefore it is not in the interests of any society to exterminate the centrifugal forces totally, but only to restrain them and to secure the optimal majority of centripetal ones. This optimal majority, in its turn, will not favour the abstract “society” but (almost) all of its individual members.
Centrifugal forces may appear as the individualist interests of the individuals or as group interests. The conciliation of those and the interests of the society as a whole is, by definition, the duty and task of the politicians. Conciliation may be carried out in various ways, depending on the general atmosphere of the era (i.e. on the international morals) and on the concrete circumstances and persons as well. The last centuries of the Western culture, for example, have marked the gradual reduction of direct force or legal violence.[?] Instead of this the rulers and the politicians have tried to find stimulating mechanisms, in other words – people look for win-win solutions, profitable for both sides. Or at least try to soften the “drop” of some individual or group, if it is absolutely necessary to sacrifice these interests to the needs of majority. Seeking for maximum gain for the biggest possible number of people is the core of modern democracy.
The task is complicated by the fact that today’s West is passing a transitional period between two phases of its evolution. From one side, every Western nation appears as an independent society, from the other, the Western nations, taken all together, form already some super-society. Hence the old contradiction between individual and society is being added with a new one: we versus super-we. “We” may mean France, for example, and “super-we” European Union. In connection of certain questions the whole world and the whole mankind will be engaged. The world-wars of the 20th century made it plain to the Westerners that the expression “national interests” that did not subject to any further discussion in the 19th century, is a sword with two edges. The Western societies, as independent cultural “organisms”, discovered the same truth that was discovered by our ancestors individually, solving the prisoner’s dilemma in favour of co-operation. Still, as individual interests will never disappear from the society, the national interests will (probably) never disappear from the European Union and the whole Western civilisation. And, as it was stated at the very beginning of this chapter, they shouldn’t.
So the precondition of the existence of any society is that its centripetal forces were stronger than its centrifugal ones. In reality they are stronger until no external force majeure will intervene, or until the prevalence of centripetal forces is bringing along a personal good for the majority, not only the obligations.
The collective understanding, conscious or subconscious, of the necessity of some self-sacrifice and self-denial for the sake of society – and even enjoying it – is the same that Francis Fukuyama calls “social capital”. In his treatise the social capital is basically made of the mutual trust of the members of society. This trust is distributed unevenly; it works via different networks that partly cover each other, it varies strongly personally. To this I’d like to add that any society is characterised by a specific “natural level of trust”. The latter is expressed most remarkably by the amount of solidarity – or the lack of it – that accompanies concrete situations. Visiting the West, people from the communist “camp” perceived very clearly the differences in this natural level of trust. In the West people were much more opened, they dared to look each other straight into the eyes and start a conversation, they used to smile each other and to ask strange questions like “Can I help you?”
The Soviet society, quite another way, was strictly hierarchical. It meant there was no need for horizontal trust-networks and, actually, the authorities both openly and indirectly undermined them. People learned to fear and avoid even addressing each other for the most innocent reason, because too many of them had had a lesson that’s message was simple: in Soviet society it is wise to live as unnoticed as possible. In certain situations nobody could avoid direct communication – buying a railway-ticket, asking for a loaf of bread in the shop, ordering a meal in the restaurant – and, indeed, in these cases anybody had to be ready for unpleasant experience; usually it was the hostility and rudeness of the one addressed. Let us add here the common awareness about the possibility of political repression, that made sincere conversation with an occasional partner on a park-bench almost impossible, and we’ll have an average “Soviet” who knew next to nothing about horizontal social networks. Well, this Soviet may have had his circle, or circles, of trustworthy persons, but those circles did not represent an integral part of the society. More probably they opposed it.
This kind of individual is non-social in its essence (if we use “sociality” in its broader sense, not keeping in mind co-operation at the level of family and “another family”). One of his main characteristics is the lack of interest about the doings of his neighbour; the other is sincere anger towards his neighbour, if the latter dares to be curious about his doings.
Non-sociality is not identical with individualism. These phenomena are close relatives, but still not one and the same. An individualist may be an active member of society, politician, the chairman of house-owners’ or cat-owners society, the one who collects signatures against the extension of a chemistry-plant; but antisocial person is simply not interested in public affairs. Or, to be more precise, he is interested in possible gains from the society, but he is not interested in the “making” of society, i.e. in the generation of centripetal forces. He consumes the trust society has created, adding nothing to it. Such is the brief portrait of many – fortunately not all – stylish first-generation upstarts of all transitional countries.
As a rule, an upstart is not used to the obligations, accompanying his position in the society. He is not aware of the non-codified rule that obliges the rich not only to pay more taxes but also to multiply the social capital, as much it lies within their capacities. For this, one does not have to organise a personal foundation or a school, but anyway he has to be socially more active than those, sleeping on the park-benches.
In the Western democracies the social activity of the rich is guaranteed with the help of traditions that root in the pre-democratic times. In the ancient times, too, even in the most hierarchical class societies it was generally admitted that the society can not do without some social capital (trust, solidarity). That is why the much-condemned arrogant Baltic barons joined their peasants company in St. Johns Eve and let them offer some beer and spirits; that is why a rich Arab slaughters a goat in the end of the holy month of Ramadan and delivers its meat to the poor. We may consider these traditions altruistic or cynically rational; probably they are both. Just like the human himself, whose sociality is a charmingdisgusting mixture of knight’s nobility and merchant’s account. The truth is, such measures represent centripetal forces, recreating mutual trust and solidarity. Rich, but non-social person does not bother himself with questions like these. Passing a bus stop with his expensive car, he will never get an idea to pick up somebody waiting for the bus.
But even if we regard the birth of mutual trust as the dawn of mankind and even if we see the gradual growth of this trust as an indicator of the social progress it does not mean that 1) the level of trust should increase infinitely, not that 2) it should increase permanently. Nothing excludes the possibility that in some circumstances the natural level of trust may (temporally) decline.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the case. The decrease of trust and consequently of solidarity in the post-communist societies is probably as inescapable as the sensation of cold after swimming. Rich upstart, emptying his ashtray right from his jeep window, undoubtedly makes an unpleasant sight. He has not yet realised his new position and behaves like a pickpocket, accidentally appointed to the president of Microsoft, who during his first official meeting picks his neighbours golden pen. Later on he either adapts to his new role or degenerates to a pickpocket again.
The term, made famous by Fukuyama, “social capital” is not the best possible. Or, more accurately, this term has also its weak points beside the strong ones. Strong point, for example, is the word “capital” that reminds the similarities of trust and capital: trust has to be recreated permanently, trust is easy to loose and hard to collect, creation of trust is a long and laborious process, trust may disappear with one single moment – all just like capital. The weak sides of this term became evident in the 11th of September 2001. The dust of the WTC had not yet completely sunk when the Americans’ initial shock was already replaced with extraordinary powerful feeling of solidarity and patriotism. General level of trust raised remarkably, all of a once the whole American society was much more coherent, synchronic, trustful, generous etc. All the indicators tell us that this something Americans got in those hours was the social capital. But to say “the attack of Osama bin Laden increased Americans’ social capital” would sound absurd. That is why I’d like to keep on using the old good “solidarity” or “sticking together”. To say “the attack of Osama made the Americans stick together” would not sound absurd.
If to return to the upstart and his ashtray, we may state that this way of behaviour not only reflects the low level of solidarity but, to stress the obvious, also decreases it. The reason is simple. Following a rule even in the situation where there is practically no danger of being punished in the case of breaking it – it is a question of habit, education and trust. It is quite an unusual situation – the elite of a society is consuming trust, not multiplying it. Pickpockets sitting in president’s chairs. Time will show, are the immanent centripetal forces of those sick societies strong enough to absorb and adapt such pseudo-elite or not.
Excursion: The Metaphysics of Distrust
In the beginning of the chapter I mentioned that for the survival of any society both centrifugal and centripetal forces have to work, while the latter ones have to be stronger than the former ones. So the sticking together is achieved. The basis for the sticking together is made of trust; this basis is guarded by culture and the thousand regulations that culture consist of. More accurately the sticking together stands not only on trust but on the optimal balance of trust and distrust. We need not regard distrust as something negative. It is approximately as useful as the force of friction. Having invented the wheel, the ball bearing and ski wax, people may easily get a wrong impression that the force of friction is something worth of condemnation. In reality we couldn’t make a single step without this force, and we couldn’t take anything in our hand, because everything would be absolutely slippery. Almost the same counts for distrust, and that is why the cultural regulations foresee not only trust but also a justified measure of distrust: “do not jump in the strange lake”, “do not believe anything you are told about” etc. Probably distrust is older than mankind. If to forget for a moment all the reproaches to the sentences like “at the beginning there was…”, we might say that at the beginning there was distrust. Distrust is the rule and trust is the exception, not vice versa, because the latter is genetically not possible: too trusting individual, no matter human or animal, has even less chances to survive and have children than too distrusting one. And the best chances will have the one who is reasonably trusting.
Once more, the beginning of humanity can be reduced to the birth of trust between the ancestors of man. Or, if not reduced, we may regard trust at least as one of the crucial agents that made human society possible. Trust is like butter on the slice of bread, making this slice all of a sudden a bread-and-butter. But nobody likes too much butter, and too much trust will not work as well. Unfortunately the “layer of butter” is different in different societies. This fact becomes evident in the areas where people of different cultural background live confusedly. In practical life it generates questions á la “Do I have to lock my bicycle or not?” Being once too trustful leads very easily to the habit of being too distrustful. Consequently, confused cultural background results in the lower level of (everyday) sticking together. Alas, this triviality is politically incorrect.
It is true that one can not put sticking together on a par with trust. These concepts are not identical. In any society one may find certain amount of sticking together that does not originate from the horizontal relations of trust (that characterise networks), but from the vertical relations of subjection (that characterise hierarchies). Fukuyama mentions that even the most democratic and trusting society can not do without any hierarchy, and he is right. From the other side, even the rudest dictatorship, based on the blind obedience, can not do without any horizontal trust. The history of the East Europe proves it sufficiently. Here, of course, I do not mean the false “comradeship”, propagated methodically in the Communist countries and in reality replaced by distrust, suspicion and denounce, but real human co-operation and mutual aid. It existed, but for any average democratic Westerner its amount was shockingly small.
To give a genuine example I refer to an episode described by my own father. It happened in the year of 1939 or 1940 when the Estonians were culturally still pure Westerners, but their homeland was already semi-occupied by the forces of the totalitarian Soviet Union. One of the main Soviet naval bases was built in a small town called Paldiski and its surroundings. It happened that fire broke up in one civilian house one day, and to put it out, Soviet military fire brigade came to help. Soviet firemen’s first task was to surround the burning house with an extended line, to prevent people stealing the furniture, clothes and other commodities, saved from the house. The inhabitants of Paldiski stood around astonished. They simply could not imagine that someone could steal the last property of the poor victims of the fire. Still this means must have made sense in the Soviet Union.
Later, on the front lines of the II World War it occurred that the Soviets were capable for pretty efficient co-operation, but the foundation of this originated more from the hierarchical unity (sticking together at the officer’s command) and less from the mutual trust. People, personally distrusting each other, went together to the death on Stalin’s order. Besides, this common play with death generated horizontal networks (i.e. mutual trust) anyway. After the war, Stalin had great problems with restoring the lunatic atmosphere of distrust and fear of the 1930’s, because his subjects had got an obscure idea of a totally different way of communication. We should not condemn the hierarchical social unity, as such, for as a component it plays its role in any society; still we should admit that a society, based mainly – or even only – on the fear and subjection is an abortive phenomenon, a pseudo-society.
Pyrrhic Victory over the Selfish Gene
Above I mentioned that individualism and non-sociality are not identical phenomena. An individualist may be more or less social, and a non-social person does not have to be individualist, obeying humbly the authorities and rules of his Mafia or his family, and ignoring the society not in favour of himself, but of his clan. Such person is simultaneously very social at one level and non-social – or even anti-social – at the other.
At first sight this kind of exclusive sociality that serves the interests of a group only is even more dangerous to the society than individualism. For this is an organised force that often takes criminal shape. The arrogance of Mafia-men fills regularly the media channels, it fascinates people and creates heroes like Al Capone. No doubt, the influence of such anti- or non-sociality (or group-sociality) is disintegrating. Nevertheless the real antithesis of sociality is individualism. An elderly single woman, unmarried and childless, who follows the rules of social life without any remarkable deviation and whom we usually regard as the cornerstone of society (“the neighbour who watches”), may in certain circumstances disintegrate the society more efficiently than a Mafioso like Soprano, who kisses his wife and mother and strokes his five children’s heads before going to commit another murder. These “certain circumstances” are present in the whole Western civilisation and they result in the drastic decline of birth rate. Not a single developed Western society is able in the purely biological sense to recreate itself. Even in the countries where natural increase is more than zero, it has been reached mainly with the help of lengthening the average life-time. It means ageing of the society and simply postponing today’s problems to tomorrow. The Westerners do not beget, borne and raise enough children. “Enough” – it means enough to carry on their genes in the concrete economical and cultural circumstances. Why?
In his “New World Order”[?] Fukyama gives a splendid overview of this change in the social behaviour and the main demographic trends, connected with this. Having referred to all more or less serious explanations of the phenomenon, he comes to the same conclusion numerous ardent moralists and street-corner prophets have reached long ago: “The world is corrupted!”. Well, Fukuyama expresses the idea with another words. Mercilessly he shows first the absurdity of the complaints about “hard” economic situation as the cause of the fall of the birth rate, and the naïveté of the hope to raise remarkably the number of births with the help of subsidies. Yes, the subsidies may help in certain limits, they are demanded by the public opinion and so is the permanent increasing of them, they should be regarded as one of the logical results of the development of the Western culture, but subsidies and other means of support do not heal the problem. They only soothe it. At this point Fukuyama finally admits explicitly that among other reasons the decline of birth rate is caused by cultural reasons, “difficult to measure”[?]. (Fukuyama 106) Here his book could become really thrilling to a moraliser. One might expect some kind of more or less purging list of the phenomena, caused by those mysterious cultural reasons that make the world corrupted. It is a great pity, but here Fukuyama hurries to another topic and leaves the more detailed investigation of the cultural reasons to someone else. Still the reader gets an impression that this obscure agent is a close relative of individualism if not identical with it.
Still Fukuyama has not lost his optimism of “The End of History” totally; its remnants help him to find consolation in the idea that the social essence of (Western) man will finally overcome the present fallback (having lasted approximately for half a century) as well. Perhaps, but it is equally possible that the future will follow the pattern described by a Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani. That is, the West will be overflowed by the Asian and African immigrants (Mahbubani 3 – 12) whose “cultural reasons” demand, on the contrary, huge number of sons and daughters, no matter whether there will be free lunches for them in the schools or not. All this reminds me, and not only me, very much of the collision of the Roman society. Unfortunately the moralists have used to threaten the sinners with the miserable fate of the Romans for centuries, so this comparison is regarded as a commonplace, and hearing the name of Spengler more sophisticated academic circles tend to wrinkle their noses. For this reason I desist from presenting the numerous and sometimes very evident parallels. Indeed, these may be at least partly misleading. Modern West is characterised by such an unprecedented abundance of material resources and free time that the old Romans could not have dreamt of. An average member of a welfare-society may serve his stomach, his curiosity, or his vanity with almost ridiculous devotion, wasting unprecedented amounts of energy for this. These are the dividends of properties and skills, accumulated during long and hard centuries. Today a Western senior may travel around the world and back, but let us not forget that for this the coal-miners of Sheffield and Ruhr had to work 14 hours a day two centuries ago. It is of certain importance that those hard-working coal-miners very probably comforted their tired souls with the visions about their successors’ much better and easier life.
Since 20th century at the latest, “better life” usually coincided with “less children”. No matter which rational arguments one may bring to explain the decline of birth rate – first of all the overcrowded urban apartments –, we still have to add some “cultural reason” to them. That cultural reason is nothing else than increased demands on the living conditions. The fathers exerted themselves to enable their children a better life – and the children did not disappoint them. One may even ask a question whether physical extinction is installed in the hard disc of the Western culture. To eat a pile of shrimps, to have holidays in Venice, to become a vice-president of the Hosiannah Investment Bank, to get sunburnt on Hawaii – and to die? Such an exemplary curriculum vitae may host not a single child. Someone who has read the books by Astrid Lindgren may ask as well whether this kind future was meant by Pippi Longstocking, Tommy and Annika, when they decided that being an adult is a rather silly activity and tried to secure themselves against growing up. To be a child forever – it means never to have children.
We may speak ironically both about the hedonistic egoist and the splenetic moralist, but we can not change them, because they both represent the archetypical sides of humanity, living probably as long as humankind itself. A stylish hedonistic egoist is indeed ridiculous, but actually he is not the most “guilty” of the decrease of the birth rate. The vast majority of non-born children must be put on the account of the average, industrious and fine members of society, who simply want to escape living in two-room apartment and desist of having second child in order to enable the first one proper education and Nike boots “as the others have”. A century or two ago living conditions like this would not have averted anybody from having children, but now they do. The reason is simple and is derived from the social essence of human nature: no normal human being enjoys of being abnormal, ridiculous or even detestable. But this is exactly what happens if you are not wearing Nike boots or having mobile-phone among those who wear and have. Sometimes such condemnation takes disgusting, inhuman forms, but in its essence it is very human (remember “another family”!) and there is not much sense in combating this kind of feelings, as such.
Actually there is not much sense in combating the decrease of the birth rate with moralistic arguments as well. The main argument of a moralist (that our living conditions, food etc. are much better than ever and we shouldn’t think too much about our comforts) falls on a stony soil, because it is in the nature of man to do what his neighbour does. If someone is guilty, then all of us, for we all are seeking for better life and bigger study. But to say “all” is to say “nobody”. The whole Western supersociety is exchanging children for comforts, it is not the specific problem of transition societies (although pro-communists often declare it).
And finally, there is not much sense in telling the moralists that their propaganda does not have much sense. No need for scolding. There have always been moralist in any society, there will always be. They belong to the society. They are critics, they have their role to play as a sort of a filter. This is a thankless task but a necessary one. Opposing any innovation they avoid accidental stupidities, letting through only the ones that have deeper reason and meaning. Society needs a moralist, no matter he is “right” or not.
Life standard, as we just mentioned, is composed not only of concrete material possibilities (food, dwelling) but also of satisfying other needs like curiosity (travelling, yellow press, adult training), ambition (or struggle for recognition, as Fukuyama puts it), a passion for sensation (cinema, extreme sports, hiking), lust for beauty etc. All these demand not only money but also time. Time, unlike money, is a limited resource for any concrete person. During millennia, men have gained more and more money, rationalising the ways of satisfying his primary biological needs, i.e. working more and more efficiently. Paradoxically, in the era of unprecedented efficiency of labour, in the 20th century, this did not appease people’s hunger for time any more and they started to gain it at the expense of children.
Here the Westerners could have made good use of an ancient institution called grandmother. As I have noted before, grandmothers and grandfathers have helped to carry on the selfish gene not during millennia but during millions of years, producing time for the most vital part of their community or society, i.e. for mothers and fathers. In the 20th century the West abandoned grannies and grandpas, and millions of children together with them. Only because it was boring to meet one’s mother in law in the kitchen on Sunday morning … Consequently one of the most probable scenarios for the future will foresee a dying, but hedonistic society. Its literary portrait is given by H. R. Haggard in his “The Ring of the Queen of Shaba”[?]. If this amusing story is not good enough as an argument, one could analyse the archaeological data about the last Vikings in the 15th century Greenland. This data tell us another thrilling story about people who were physically degenerating, whose number was decreasing, but who loved more and more fun and whose clothes and shoes became more and more elaborate.
This is the set of reasons, like a curse, that does not let any Western political party to carry out some more or less clear and efficient family politics. If someone tries to do it, the outcome will be half-declarative, and this time the reason does not lie in the hypocrisy of the politicians, but in the contradictions in people’s own value orientations. In words, anyone agrees that “families must be strong”, not admitting or not mentioning that the majority of our old aspirations – social care, equality of men and women, privacy of private life, old-aged asylums etc. – work against family.
Maybe it is not even correct to say that individualism disintegrates society, but it is true that individualism disintegrates family. Perhaps man’s social nature could overcome this trend, creating some new type of family, and go on free and happy. (Still this would bring along a long and depressive transition period, and that’s why I used the word “perhaps”.) But unfortunately there is one obstacle: as we see, individualism will result in negative birth rate, and this means that society will lessen, if not disintegrate. Decrease of a society will bring it under the minimum level, necessary for functioning as a full society, after what it will die literally like the Vikings of Greenland or – which is more common – will fall into ruins in cultural sense and will be drowned in some other (surrounding) society. In any case, the end of whatever society will be painful. Drowning will be accompanied by open violence from “above” – from the creators of the new paradigm – or at least by cultural interregnum when old rules do not function any more and the new ones not yet. Such situation will produce violence from “below”.
Revolt against the selfish gene will fail anyway. This point could make us a bit nervous, unless we do not presume that this quite sweet failure – dying of fun and excitement – is the final goal of mankind. Or, if not a goal, a fatal “mistake”, hidden on the hard disc of every society; like a time-fuse, securing that no society would last forever. Here one could discover stunningly wonderful chances to see the corruption of the world either as a sin or as a punishment, or as a sin and a punishment simultaneously – an interwove of the divine providence and human sinning. Men will be punished for corruption with corruption.
Coherence: Cultural Plume on Society’s Hat
The institution of moral neighbourhood watch is rooted inside the people, in their human nature, and in this sense this institution, as such, is a voluntary creation of the members of society at the grass-root level. At the same time the object of this watch – the morals – is not (completely) their own output. In other words, the moral norms are created not (only) in the course of horizontal communication, but are cultivated and codified by more influential and/or powerful persons. Not all, given from “above”, must originate in some concrete moral norms. Such are, for example, units of measure. At the same time it would be erroneous to take them for totally neutral phenomena. The creation of decimal system and adoption of right-hand driving in Continental Europe about two hundred years ago were clearly ideological decisions, made in the context of great opposition – partly ideological as well – of England and France. It is highly probable that lots of people have been sent to the gallows pole or under the guillotine for the sin of, figuratively speaking, having sold 10 meters of textile instead of 10 cubits, or vice versa.
This circumstance is highly remarkable. An outsider could argue that if one society uses meters and another cubits, it must be the question of agreement only and none of the two is essentially better than the other. The two systems are equally good, if only they are not used confusedly. Unfortunately our historical experience shows that very rarely people have managed to keep such neutral position. As a rule, to justify agreements that have clearly neutral essence, different leaders and high priests have presented moral arguments to prove that on of the two or three possible is more in accordance to the principles of morality than the others. That meter is more moral than cubit or yard, for example. And not only for those who choose meter, but generally and essentially.
The same kind of tendency can be observed in connection with the other great system of measure, calendar. In its core it is neutral as well, and its origins lie in the need to harmonise the works and activities of any community with seasonally changing conditions of weather and nature. As the society gets mote complicated, so the calendar does. For example, people acquire a need to know when it is time to pay taxes, or when it is time to prepare for the annual fair. Original direct dependence on the seasonal changes becomes indirect, original goal – to synchronise human activities with the rhythms of nature – recedes and instead of this to the first place steps the need to synchronise human activities with other human activities. Even this kind of time-reckoning could be regarded as neutral – if men could always be calm, neutral and emotionless. In reality they never can, and only few of us are able to remain neutral even in the question whether the week starts with Sunday or Monday, to say nothing about really hard issues like Holocaust day, or any victory-day that commemorates someone’s victory and someone’s defeat.
These aspects illustrate the fact that calendar is not a bare means for time-reckoning. It is purely practical from one side, and purely ideological from the other. This has been the case since the beginning of man. To any more or less complex calendar belongs specific set of “legends”, explaining and justifying essentially neutral time-units with moral arguments. But there is more. Maybe a bit surprisingly calendar itself is able to mediate independent moralistic messages as well. In first case ideology “produces” time-units, in the second time-reckoning “produces” morals. Still with the help of man’s ideas, of course. These two aspects are interconnected.
For example, the origins of the ancient 7-day week lie probably in the fact that Moon’s cycle of visibility is easy to divide in four 7-day units. But it was already at the times of Mesopotamian civilisation (if not before) when the days of the week were connected to certain heavenly bodies, i.e. the week was “explained” ideologically. This heavenly connection, by the way, is still alive in all main European languages. In the frames of Christianity the explanation changed and was reduced to the analogy of the creation of the world by God, but the principle remained the same: ideology cemented a time-unit, in order to let nobody to question it. In the other hand, some time-units, like seasons, are simply “there”, anyone may see and feel it, and the ends and beginnings of these units can not avoid of becoming the feasts that bring people together both mentally and physically. This function is especially evident in the Northern Europe during the two feasts, (originally) devoted to the summer and winter solstices – St. John’s day and Christmas.
This is a very old and very important aspect of time-reckoning: if the time is reckoned together and systematically then it will be called calendar, and the calendar starts to unite people. But uniting people – this is the very aim of the morals, too. The feasts like St. John’s, Christmas, Easter etc. recall people the annual cycles of nature – whatever is the official explanation –, and by doing this, these feasts recall people their original unity with nature. Paradoxically, the latter recalls people their original and everlasting unity with each other.
So it seems we have to admit that even such seemingly neutral activities like counting meters or days can not get rid of morals. Whatever people do together, it will have something to do with ethics. But still it is clear that if some phenomena simply can not help acquiring moralistic value (like solstice-feasts), some others have this value by the grace of human beings – leaders, rulers, priests, prophets. This I’d like to call “pure” morality. The most famous example of pure morality is undoubtedly the 10 commitments, given personally by Yahweh to Moses. The commitments were not much explained metaphysically or historically, they were quite simple and sincere, announcing briefly how it was right and how it was wrong. Crucial detail: most of the commitments are devoted not to the relations of the God and the man, but to the relations of man and the other man. These rules, although theoretically commitments to the God, are purely “social”.
Such laconic system of moral regulations could satisfy a person who had seen God with his own eyes, like Moses, but perhaps not the non-perfect majority. Indeed this majority, as we know from the Bible, tended to deny those rules and was found again and again dancing around the golden statue of Bal; by the way, this tendency is vital until today. For this reason much explanations have been given to the 10 commitments during millennia; among those probably the most famous is the short catechism of Martin Luther.
Excursion: Can a Mistake be so Useful?
As we just saw, the moral norms are meant to regulate mainly the human relations, being based on both human and divine arguments. Why this merging of terrestrial and heavenly factors? One seemingly rational way to explain this is the follows.
Probably in some early societies an attempt was made to lay the foundations of morals on rational arguments about mutual profit. Unfortunately, these societies turned out to be not strong enough and vanished. Other societies used another way: moral regulations, although essentially purely human, were anchored to the flap of God’s coat. This created an extra argument in addition to the practical and rational explanations; an argument that could not be subjected to any further discussion: Because this is the will of God. These societies turned out to be successful.
Nobody could forbid anybody to see the dualism of human and divine arguments just like this. But let us hope that nobody could forbid anybody to see the things quite differently as well. The core of this different point of view is here.
Theoretically one may explain the foundations of morals either with the help of God’s will or without it. And the society itself may function either believing in God’s participation in earthly processes or not. But, as we mentioned, without this belief any society starts to disintegrate. This has happened in history, and this is happening today. God – or faith in Him – seems to work like some supercement, cementing the cement (i.e. morals) and making the salt salty. And now let’s ask whether such supercement can be a bare trick of the priests, a fallacy, a humbug? Is it possible that some fallacy works during millennia, not being replaced by anything else – not even by some other, more sophisticated fallacy?
Maybe it is possible. But there is some point in disbelieving such a miracle. Anyway, if we admit that (one) criterion of truth is practice, practice tends to witness that God exists. He “works”, keeping societies together. An atheist can affirm it is not God but the faith in God that works. He may even admit that God is not exactly a fallacy, but an output of the chemical processes of our nerve cells: God does not exist in “reality”, but only in human brains (where he is, indeed, looked for by a discipline called neurotheology). This kind of explanation satisfies nobody. Isn’t an atheist a normal human being? Why his nerve cells do not synthesise God? Or are all the faithful abnormal? Both possible solutions are unbelievable, i.e. they both would lead us to a too complicated and therefore incredible theories about the interrelations of society, man and God. Reducing the birth and survival of human society to some kind of deviation – it would not be logical.
By the way, all this was said on the basis of an assumption that any godless society will vanish. An atheist needs only to negate this assumption and he may forget about the problem. At least until the moment when someone asks a boring question: well, but why all the genuine societies we know have asked for the help of God?
As we saw, the pure ethics, e. g. as we find it in the 10 commitments, is quite a ponderous material. It may constitute a core of a culture but it does not constitute the whole culture. Here I am not talking about culture in a broader sense (as the sum of all organised human activities of a society), but in more stricter one, as it is used in terms like cultural heritage or Ministry of Culture. It is “Perpetuum Mobile” by Pärt, it is the final concert of Eurovision song contest, it is “The Thinker” by Rodin etc. It is highly probable that the origins of this section of culture lie in morals and religion as well, i.e. primitive art served the aim of integrating the arising society, praising and honouring of God or gods and the cornerstones of society – the laws, given from above. So Antonin Artaud points out the possibility that not only the theatre but the literature as well may originate in ritual, i.e. in religion. But even if it is true, it does not mean we have to deny any art “simply for the sake of beauty”. Standing in front of and under the stunning paintings of Altamira, Lascaux etc., we shall probably never know the exact answer.
Still something we know for sure and namely the fact that since the beginning of modern times at latest in the West much art and much culture is done simply for the sake of beauty, and such art and culture bears no clear moral or religious message. Even more – if we admit the possibility of such non-moralistic and non-religious art today, we should admit the possibility that its origins are as old as the moralistic and religious art. But still we can not totally get rid of morals. Consuming of beauty may be – indeed, it usually is – a collective activity, and for this reason such art, volens-nolens, takes part in keeping and strengthening the coherence of society. We do not know whether the Cro-Magnon used to go together to admire the beauty of the snowy peaks or not, but we may suppose that they enjoyed the sounds of primitive music instruments at least. The close relationship of music to religion, ritual and moral message needs no proof, but so does the fact that music, especially the symphonic music, can shake our souls without mediating any programme, message, manifesto or story. It is worth of mentioning that many philosophers, as well as numerous non-philosophers, have labelled this kind of deepest musical sensation as “divine”. So music may seemingly lack any message, but still have an uniting and elevating effect on us. A polonaise by Chopin or fugue by Bach tell “the same”, but somehow directly.
It is not surprising that art is (always?) testing its limits. The artist have experimented with different kinds of “pure art”, including an art that nobody will see except the artist himself. And it seems that the borders of art coincide with the borders of culture, while the latter coincide quite naturally with the borders of society. Anything that exits the society and looses any touch with it, will not be culture, and it would be hard to imagine an art that were no culture. To be more precise – there is beauty outside culture, no doubt, but we do not call it art but just beauty. Art is a prisoner of society and will be. If a revolting artist succeeds to broaden the limits of art it may be done only broadening the limits of society.
Still there is one more problematic kind of quest – works of art that attack deliberately the society’s integrating forces and truths. Artists try all that is shocking, starting with excrements in glass pots and ending with indecencies, written on a national flag. Sometimes it is attempted to say “the same” in an opposite way – i.e. to show people the way to the holy through the dirty –, but sometimes the negation is essential. In both cases the issue lies within the borders of society and consequently belongs to culture, although with minus value. But in one case this minus is essential (ethical), in another it is formal (esthetical). Unfortunately or not, but usually the public does not make difference between the message and the courier and compares both the idea of a piece of art and its shape (the latter perhaps first!) to his ideas about morals. The most famous example about this is undoubtedly the fate of the first works of impressionism that the public of the time considered not only ugly but immoral as well. There is no sense to accuse the public of being petty-bourgeoisie or narrow-minded, for this negation reflected the normal cultural inertia that is one of the main components for any society’s survival – except in the case when inertia becomes a mortal stillness, of course. The complaints of the artists who deliberately shock the public about not being received with jubilation – of not being “understood” – are ridiculous. One should never accuse the society in a sin like this. Society is always cautious and it is up to the innovators themselves whether their innovation will get through or not.
So the cultural plume on society’s hat consists of unified measures of space and time, unified measures for morality and the creative works of artists, originating in the morality. That is the way in all societies. Now a question arises, what is the difference between societies. Is it something essential? Some are green, some are blue and some are yellow – is it just an accidental outcome of accidental succession of events? Or?
The Snake Included in “Us”
We do not know when our ancestors assumed the concept “we”. The specialists on anthropogenesis are convinced that the early understanding of “us” was one of the aspects that started to distinguish the ancestor of man, making him essentially different in comparison with other animals. As a proof of a more developed ability for empathy may serve those fossil skeletons that witness about physically invalid individuals who still had lived for long years; this could have happened only with the help of the group-mates. This help was given to the individuals so feeble that they probably couldn’t compensate it in any remarkable way. Such behaviour we usually call human and there is nothing wrong with this in this case as well, except the fact that the ones acting human were the Neanderthals (McKie 157). We must decide that Neanderthal men – if not much earlier hominids – were capable for morality. It is very hard to explain the long nursing of a fellow man with direct profit or some “primordial rationality”.
If so, our understanding of “us” must be as old as humans and humanity. But like there is no light without shadow there is no “us” without “them”. How did the concept of “them” come into being? At first sight it would sound natural to say that it was created by “us” – just as shadow is created by light. Unfortunately here is one difficulty. Namely, it is not clear at all which of them plays the role of the cause here and which of the effect. As a rule, man’s knowledge about the surrounding world starts from close areas and moves on to more distant ones, and that is the reason why we have temptation to regard “us” as primary and “them” as its derivation. But is it really so? Do the animals have any idea about “us”? And if they do, is there something that may have caused such an idea?
The chimpanzees who carried on their “civil war” against each other in the Gombe National Park certainly knew and used the concept “we”. Still, as we have noted before, it is not clear at all at what extent we may use the chimpanzees as an example for animals and animal behaviour. But how should we call the behaviour of the dogs’ pack, attacking a wolf? Probably as instinctive and/or reflex. What should we think about the gang of lions, enjoying co-ordinated hunting? Do they have any idea about themselves as some unit? And what feelings may arise amongst a wolf’s family, meeting another wolf’s family? The famous specialist on wolves Farley Mowat tells us – not able to believe it fully himself – that wolves use to visit their relatives “just for fun” sometimes (Mowat 135); this may indicate not only on the understanding of “us” but on the hierarchy of different “we”-s.
But even if we suppose that man’s ancestors inherited some animal, instinctive “we” from the pre-human times, it would be still hard to imagine that this “we” did not have any counterpart in the form of some animal and instinctive “them”. They both were probably non-conscious, in difference of the conscious “we”-s of a man as a social animal. Maybe even today the “we” of human nuclear family has so strong animal roots that it can do without any conscious opposition, but nuclear families do not create a society. The society is created and kept together by quite another common feelings – gang’s identity, national identity, sexual identity, age identity etc. And none of these can do without “them”.
Consequently it seems to be reasonable to make difference between at least two types of “we”-s, animal and social. The first was formed during the evolution, becoming the womb that gave the birth first to animal and then to human sociality; the latter is the fruit of anthropogenesis. (Or should we say vice versa – the birth of man is the fruit of the opposition of “us” and “them”?) The first “we” is instinctive and non-conscious, the second is culturally determined and conscious.
We do not know how the first conscious “we” was born, but common sense suggests that it happened in the similar way as all those culturally determined “we”-s, the birth and death of whose we see every day around us.
Everyday experience tells us that a conscious “we” comes into being in the moment when two or more individuals look into each other’s eyes in direct or indirect sense of these words, and unite their forces. To unite their forces there must be some reason, some problem to solve together. Perhaps to kill a mammoth, or to drag a log to the bonfire. But were the undisturbed draggers of a log “we” already? Or does the conscious “we” need something more to be borne – certain individual(s), force(s) and/or circumstance(s), trying to hinder them? In the case of a mammoth there will be no question – a mammoth is quite a hindering individual, force and circumstance all together. Anyway, if people unite their forces (hands, hearts etc.) – will it be necessarily against something or someone?
Probably this is the general case, although those who use to sing the songs about uniting our hands in music (peace, love, friendship etc.) may not like this statement. “We” is the effect, and the cause lies outside “us”. One may argue that it is not necessary to be against, because for the birth of a human union it is enough to do something another way. But let’s model a situation like this. If two persons find that punk-music is cool, it will not create a “we” until someone who thinks punk-music is not cool appears. The very idea of doing something another way hides the idea of opposition and consequently an idea of “them”.
It is another question whether “they” have to be humans. Most likely they do not. The ideas about the world of many native peoples very often do not draw a clear line between men and nature. It is very common that different tribes regard some animal or bird as their common ancestor. The professor of psychology of the Tartu University Peeter Tulviste has mentioned even a tribe whose members declare that they themselves are the parrots. We could easily imagine an isolated people somewhere in Amazonia whose concept of “us” is mainly based on the comparison with, let’s say, crocodiles. But at the same time we should not underestimate the self-awareness of any man. No matter how primitive, even a “savage” is no semi-animal, but a human, capable for morality. For this reason all the comparisons with animals can be only figurative and half-mocking.
But this is not of first importance anyway. What is important, is the fact that the vast majority of human “we”-s proves to be secondary, caused by something or someone. Well, by what or whom? Grammatically the opposite of “we” it is “you”, but it is evident that “you” can not be the cause for “us”. On the contrary, “you” is the reflection of “us”. As a matter of fact, the original and primordial opposite of “us” is “they” (or “he/she”), as it was stated in the beginning of the chapter without further explanation. The explanation is here: to form a concept “you” people have to communicate over the border of “us”; to form a concept “they” they do not have to do it. About “them” we talk amongst ourselves. The formation of “we” and “them” is a classical example of the possibility of the simultaneity of cause and effect. “They” is the cause and “we” is the effect, but they appear/appeared precisely at the same moment. Historically at the moment when one of our distant ancestors managed to transmit a message to another ancestor of ours: “Hear, they are coming, we have to defend us!” Terrified animals disperse; terrified men, if they do not run away, gather together.
Since this day a myriad of mammoths have made horrible noise in the bushes, producing the same number of “we”-s. We all have seen with our own eyes how common danger, as well as common hatred, unite people quickly and with ease. This regularity has been, and is, well known to all the populist politicians, dictators and tyrants of the history of mankind. There have always been also the ones who have opposed the blind hatred and appealed to the reason, but generally the ancient mechanism works until today: there is no us without them and no them without us. This may be called a constituting opposition of any human association.
It may seem that if we now leave all theoretical hominid gangs and return to the reality and modern mankind, we could simply keep this basic fact in our minds and go on transforming the “atavistic”, destructive hatred to something less dangerous. Unfortunately the mentioned constituting opposition hosts a specific phenomenon which may be called an included snake of sticking together.
The included snake is fed by the fact that no “we-they” opposition can be totally neutral and/or purely tolerant. It is true that such an opposition does not have to take the form of crazy hatred, but neither it is possible to clear whatever “we-they” opposition totally of any evaluation, suggesting directly or indirectly that, anyway, “we are better than they are”. What we can do is only to promote moderate attitudes (“they are strange people, of course, but let them be”) and oppose the destroying ones (“those barbarians, hunting foxes with guns, have to be extinguished”), and even this is a play with fire and riding a tiger. Actually, any kind of social life is a big play with fire.
The power of the included snake depends on its location in regard to the selfish gene. Near the selfish gene, the snake is weak; the more distant it is, the stronger it is. In other words, if the “we” of a nuclear family – especially the relationship between parents and children – almost does not need “them”, being a part of our non-social (i.e. animal) side, the “we” of a gang or a society (like any modern nation) is a child of some clear opposition and therefore it needs “them” for its own survival. Thus, the possibility for the birth of some kind of devastating hatred is bigger.
During the last half-century an ideology that denies any intolerance, any disdaining of another person or persons, any hatred, individual or collective, has steadily gained strength in the West. The main reason for this is the horrible memory of Nazism and the two World Wars (whereby the horrors of Communism practically did not reach the Westerners). This ideology has something in common with an anti-dogma, mentioned previously, affirming that there is no final truth and that even looking for such a truth is hiding an authoritarian ambition. The ideology – let us call it “an anti-dualistic dream” – has produced much good, making everyday life more “human” and capturing irrational xenophobic tendencies. Considering the modern means for communication, transport and destruction, those tendencies are much more dangerous than only some centuries ago.
At the same time the anti-dualistic dream has some immanent defects. First and foremost, it is based on hate and opposition as well. The most famous Estonian anti-dualist, an excellent poet Jaan Kaplinski has said: “One has to tolerate anything except intolerance.” The paradox is amazing, but if someone starts to use it as a model in practical life, it will transform into practical hypocrisy, not much different of the sectarian fanaticism that sends people to the stake in the name of love. One could observe something very close to this after Jörg Heider’s party was included to the Austrian ruling coalition: it was not clear any more whether the so-called simple man should fear more that populist Heider, or the ones who, screaming, burned his guy. It seems, both sides are equally dangerous and potentially violent. Than less there is any explanation why one side is usurping the right to agitate for tolerance.
Second, in its logically completed form anti-dualism, due to the very nature of the constituting opposition, is anti-social. Every concept of “us” is accompanied by a concept of “them”; every pair of “us” and “them” has an included snake in it, which means certain sentiment of disdain towards “them”, however minimal, covered or unconscious. Thus, any “we” inescapably brings about at least some disdain towards the others. If we somehow manage to extinguish such a “bad” sentiment, we’ll extinguish any advantage of this concrete “us” and consequently any emotional reason to belong to “us”. But this will mean the end of sticking together and finally of the society. If a violent gang of youngsters is extinguished, it will have positive impact on society, but if anti-dualism corrodes some critical amount of the integrating ties of the society, the result will be the golden era of violent gangs, not the end of them. Similar result we get if we prohibit by law, on ideological and/or humanistic grounds, certain ways of expressing one’s intolerance that formerly have been legal. For example, in many European countries, especially in Germany, there have been violent actions against the immigrants during the last decades. One of the reasons of this may be the fact that today, the Germans can not praise and love their being German as freely as they could before. It seems that both nationalism and the forcible lack of it (may) lead to frustration and violence. In my opinion, the only conclusion we may draw from this is the follows. It is not possible to prohibit or to “root out” the human need to feel some disdain towards “them” – as a result, this “unused” disdain will burst out in an unpredictable place at unpredictable time – , it is only possible to sublimate this need and to canalise it. No doubt the best and most famous means for this is football. In the frames of football old enemies like Germany and France may fight a proper battle or even a war, without leaving the soldiers’ mothers weeping. This is riding a tiger, too – let us recall about the English football-hooligans –, but incomparably safer than the real war.
Society and “they”
In the previous chapter I asserted that the opposition of “us” and “them” together with its included snake characterises all human associations, having some specific variations only in the closest neighbourhood of the selfish gene. The existence and necessity of this opposition does not raise any question when we are talking about clan (familia) or gang (order, club). We all know the Wars of the Roses, we all know “West Side Story”. But why do the societies, e.g. any democratic European nation need this opposition? Why different peoples need “them”? Do they, after all?
First, some more words about society, as such. In this book I understand society as a social and cultural microcosm, securing an individual with all the challenges and possibilities, necessary for living, reproduction of life and satisfying one’s ambitions. Within the frames of any full society it should be possible to become a dictator, a scientist, a writer, a taxi-driver, a politician, a lawyer etc. Maybe not an astronaut, but this is an exception. As a principle, an average individual should not need any other society in addition to his own; he may spend his whole life in his home-society and this will not make him somehow inferior or invalid for being a full member of the society. This standard of a microcosm is represented by all developed Western nations, for example. But all this does not mean that a society has no spatial borders, known to all of its members. It has, and over the border there is something “else”. If this “else” includes any creatures, we will have “them”. “They” may appear as mythological monsters or even speaking stones, as well as in the form of more or less weird, but anyway “different” people. At least this was the case in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Mediterranean “world” and Europe in ancient times and Middle Ages.
“Society” was a graduated concept in those early times already. The city-state of Athens was a society without doubt, the “they” of this were the Spartans, the Thebeans etc. But a society was also the whole Greece, including the numerous Greek colonies at Mediterranean and the Black Sea, opposed by non-Greek states and peoples, e.g. the Etruscans. Society was even wider, including the whole civilised world, i.e. the non-Greek states as well, when opposed by non-civilised, barbarian world. Which kind of “us” was in use, it depended on “them”. In the course on the Peloponnesian Wars the Athenian “we”, during the invasions of Dareios and Xerxes the Greek “we”, buying a barbarian slave from an Armenian slave-trader the “we” of the Civilised. Doubtless the Armenian was not fully one of “ours”, but standing next to the barbarian slave, he still was. Similar could have been the attitude of a Roman of the Empirical age towards Partia and Partians. These were enemies, these were “different” and strange, but far from being as strange as the hairy and permanently drunk Germans, described by Tacitus.
It seems to be reasonable to suppose that this kind of graduated identity has been formed step by step, starting from some local “us”. One reason for such an argument is the fact, that in many languages there is no specific name for the corresponding people. Usually this is called simply as “men” or “people”. Modern names for different peoples are, as a rule, given by the neighbours or some other outsider, including “Estonian”. Such is also “Eskimo”, for example, being finally protested by the Eskimos themselves, who asked the world henceforth to call them “Inuits” (men, people). It is also worth of mentioning that for all strangers there have been general names that made and make no difference which kind of stranger was involved. For example, there is a Russian word “nemets” that means “German” today, bur originally it was meant for all who did not speak “our” language, being “mute” (“nemoi” in modern Russian). And finally it is the usual case that the word “strange” covers also the concept of “weird”. So is it in English, so is it in Estonian.
All this proves that the original borders of the cultural and social microcosm, i.e. society, coincide with the borders of language. Today the national and linguistic borders do not have to coincide (there are Jews, speaking different languages; and there are the Germans and the Austrians, speaking the same language), but the nations have been formed on the basis of common language anyway. And not only formed. Even today, they stand on the foundations of the common language and operate through it. The formation of a nation like the Swiss is possible, too, but this may happen under the simultaneous influence of very specific historical and geographical vectors only. It is not of a crucial importance whether the society gave birth to the common language or did the language create society; important is the fact that they are inseparable. It is quite possible that in certain times one may have been the “engine” and in other era the other one. The linguistic factor, for example, may have an influence on the formation of an early feudal statehood (the tribes, knowing each other’s language, were voluntarily or forcibly united); later on the existence of statehood started to influence the language.
It is nearly astonishing how stubbornly a certain kind of politicians and anti-dualistic intellectuals, in pursuit of their ideological goals, deny the importance of language and consequently the whole concept of a nation (in ethnical sense). The latter is declared to be an “invention” of the 19th century, moreover, a useless one. There have been numerous odd cases, connected with this “invention”. For example, Albert Einstein repeatedly spoke against war and nationalism during the I World War. Was it the rationalism of a scientist? Probably no. Probably the French-German quarrel simply did not move him emotionally. As soon as the Nazis took power, endangering the very existence of Einstein’s own kin, he found it necessary to support war and even the atomic bomb; later Einstein became an active Zionist.
Well, but still – why a society, as a unit, needs “them”? One answer is rooted in the very definition: if the society is a self-aware human association, it must form an “we”, and, as such, can not exist without “them”. Perhaps we could ask whether a society really needs “them”. Looking from outside, it may occur that, as a principle, it could be possible to do without them. People could sow and harvest wheat, observe the movements of the moon and sun, make difference between the good and the bad without “them”, as opposed to the society as a whole. Unfortunately “they” simply exist. People, living close to the borders of the society, have seen them with their own eyes, have told to the others about them, too, and wondered together with the others, how strange they were. If there were no “them”, the society would not know it was a society. Moreover, in some sense it would not be a society indeed – if there is no “them”, there will be no “us”. By the way, this is likely to be the phase of development, when the languages were born; at this phase people called themselves just as “people” or “men”. It was the time of actual intercourse and co-operation, but without understanding that all those mutually related individuals could form some kind of “us”. “We” is a concept that refuses to have any meaning, unless there are borders, where “we” ends and “they” begins. Hence it is quite senseless to ask why a society needs “them”, because it is a society, as a self-aware association of men, only through “them”. Rather it would make sense to ask why man needs society. The truth is that he needs it, as we may deduce from the fact that he founds them everywhere and any time. I have already proposed a preliminary explanation for this: he needs societies and states, because he started to walk on two feet long ago. The rest is question, why he did so…
We may suppose, of course, that men do not have to create society and it always simply happens like this, because always there happens to be some “they” over the borders of the would-be nation. And we may suppose that if there would be no “them”, this society would never come into existence. It is a nice hypothesis, but quite useless. Probably as useless as the assertion of the physicists that if we had a glass of totally, absolutely pure water – i.e. without a single “strange” element in it –, this water would not freeze, no matter how low would be the temperature. Perhaps this is true, but nobody has seen such a situation and nobody ever will. A hope to live as a totally isolated commune, in total ignorance of the other humans, is nonsense. Wherever one man comes, another will come.
Consequently, the best we can do with “them” is to tolerate the existence of the concept as calmly as possible. This is not a defect, this belongs to us. If “they” have already entered the collective conscious of some association of men, “they” never leave it. And maybe there is no need for this. For example, maybe there is something good in the fact that we can not assert for sure that there is no life in the Universe except us. The small green men may exist or may not exist but anyway they have done their job: caused or catalysed the birth of the all-human “us”. This “us” is now there and it would not disappear even in the case somebody could prove somehow that, yes, in the whole Universe, we are totally and absolutely alone.
Such an information would probably make us feel very lonely. Having learned about “them”, we got used to their existence and started even to need it emotionally. Not necessarily to love them, but just to have them. The sci-fi movies and novels prove it. There is “The Close Encounter of the Third Kind” and the famous smile of an alien, but there is also “The Independence Day” and mortal combat.
Similarly the cultural microcosms or societies need each other – as friends, allies and enemies. Here I’m not talking about the purely pragmatic reasons (usually military and economical, but also cultural) that sometimes push societies closer to each other, sometimes tear them apart. I am talking about the evident fact that for their existence, amongst other conditions the societies need their reflection, and for this, they use each other as a mirror. The Estonians use mainly the Russians and the Finns to have some idea of themselves as a nation, the Finns mainly the Swedes, the Swedes compare themselves with the Danes and the Norwegians etc. And there is something more. Any society, no matter how arrogant, need to know that someone uses him as a mirror. It means – someone thinks about and compares himself with us, because we enough important. Even if they laugh at us. Hence, the society needs “them” not only as a catalyst for the formation process and assuming some initial self-awareness, but also later and permanently. A society, like an individual, has to recreate itself permanently and for this, among many other things it needs other societies or simply “them” – green, blue, strange and funny.
So, in a sense, societies function like individuals. Unfortunately, it does not give us enough ground to deduce happily that the societies, as “individuals”, have already learned to solve the prisoner’s dilemma, or will do it in the nearest future. Our ancestors did it, but it took a very long time. Nor shall we ever know how many lives it took or how many heavy setbacks occurred. Still we may hope the societies learn faster, because aside the try-and-error method and natural selection, based on it, there is a powerful and conscious historical experience, allied with logical reasoning, that allows the societies to prognosticate the consequences of their possible actions much better than our primitive forefathers.
Nevertheless it is only a hope. Societies are able to act like children and we do not know whether they can learn at all, or if yes, then how quickly. The main problematic point is the following. Until the mid-20th century – that is, quite recently – societies lacked the knowledge that mutual hatred, conflicts, betrayal etc. are finally harmful to all ones concerned. Only the real explosions of atomic bombs produced the idea that there will be no winners in the nuclear war. But, as I mentioned, this knowledge is very recent and very superficial. During millennia societies have fearlessly cheated, attacked and robbed each other, if only the circumstances were supposed to be favourable. And we must admit, with great success. Huge empires have been founded, the Lebensraum-s have been widened, enormous fortunes have been piled together. And if a lost war took this all, it was not seen as a tragedy “for all the peoples of the world”, but simply as a defeat, meant to hurt only the ones defeated.
Probably war and destruction have specific sense and function (we will discuss it later), or at least they have had it during the history. One could even assert that Western countries could practice New-Guinean type of micro-wars – which bring about more glory than tears – up to this day, if they only had not invented and built so many powerful arms. In this context anyone who loves life has been lucky to have the atomic bomb used already in the end of WWII. If it was not, mankind would probably have had to suffer WWIII, starting with the explosion of A-bombs.
It is true that people work much in the West on spreading these new attitudes. The danger of a world-wide nuclear disaster seems to have reached the collective conscious of most societies, at least at the leadership level, although the 11.09 still put a terrifying question-mark above this point. The danger has been perceived, but then? This alone does not defend us. Even bigger problem is that we do not know whether the work being done is done in the most reasonable way or not. The societies’ natural tendency to mock each other, if not to hate, seems so awful to some ideologists in the nuclear age, that they go to the other extreme and try to force different groups and different societies not only to tolerate but to love each other, using civilised violence for this aim – laws and brainwash. But violence is violence and causes tensions. And this is, in its turn, dangerous. These laws and this brainwash narrow the legal possibilities of the members of modern Western societies to disgust or dislike someone. Unfortunately, at some extent these feelings are natural and normal. The included snake needs to eat.
Even less fortunately, all that has been said was said only about the West, and West forms only one part of the world and world’s societies; a part whose lead and domination is constantly melting. It is a sad truth that civilised manners belong to the kind of phenomena that are not able to absorb phenomena much bigger than itself – just as a grass-snake can not swallow an elephant. (In difference of a single “bad boy” who is capable to teach to smoke the whole grade.) It is pretty possible that the future of mankind will be decided not in Brussels nor in Washington, not to speak about the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, but in the so-called Rest.
SOCIETY AS A CULTURAL DOMAIN
When I previously claimed that society is a social and cultural microcosm, I wished to emphasize the almost sovereign nature of society. One has to emphasize that any society needs other societies (or undifferentiated ‘them’) only to an extent that they are necessary for self-reflection and for the renewal of one’s self-portrait.
‘Cultural domain’ is a term that describes the best the cultural system and its cohesion. The introduction of the term ‘domain’ can be explained and justified by the fact that each society is based on some moral system, which in turn is based on the notions of good and evil. These notions form the cultural polarity of any society. One can claim that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ create a framework, road map, discourse paradigm, or the Möbius strip, but the most metaphorical way of expression would be to say that they create a domain. Everything that happens on the cultural scene, that is, everything that any random member of the society does or does not do relates somehow to the cultural poles. It does not mean whatsoever that everything man-made or natural can be strictly divided into the manifestations of darkness and light, or that all the items, thoughts, deeds, words, and people either come from God or Satan. Even if we do believe in them, it does not mean that our world picture should be black and white. The development of information technology has long proved that two primordial elements can form an endless variety of colours and half and quarter shades. Thus, nothing is only from God or Satan but from both of them to different degrees. And, on the contrary, the biggest diversity of colours can be a reflection of the binary code system.
It could be this way but does not have to be so. Every element has to be zero or one in the mathematical binary system while definitely some morally neutral elementary particles are flying around in the cultural domain. For example, one might assume that certain aspects of the sense of humour or beauty are so weakly linked to the poles of good and evil hat they can be considered to be practically neutral. On the other hand, one must consider the possibility that the proportion of such innocent elements is much smaller than the general public, who has grown up in the spirit of the 1960s, has used to believe. The viewpoint that culture is closely and inseparably related to morality is old-fashioned and unpopular in contemporary western society. At least among the anti-dualistic opinion leaders who with an infantile obstinacy interpret each reference to morality as a reprimand if not the prophecy of a witch trial.
There is no need to speak about the cultural domain in the everyday language because the term coincides with the notion of national culture. When discussing national culture or the culture of one or another nation, one is actually talking about the cultural domain. In addition, it seems impossible to distinguish between a nation and its national culture. A nation without a common communicational cultural domain would be a senseless and constructed phenomenon. For example, one can present Carl Gustaf Bernadotte as a Frenchman and Arnold Schwarzenegger as an Austrian if necessary, but the fact is that one is a Swede and the other is an American. There is a saying that blood is thicker than water. It is true, but only if a person is aware of his different blood. Madeleine Albright described how she immediately started to feel slightly different when she found out that she had some Jewish blood. Nevertheless, she did not become a Jew but remained an American who finds American jokes funny, follows American news, and knows all the American − but not Hebrew − nursery rhymes. The people who live, act, create, and consume in a common cultural domain constitute a nation. Each nation has its own national news, catchwords, jokes, ancient figures, and heroes. There are many things that co-nationals do not have to explain when they interact (e.g. Estonians do not have to explain to each other where Estonia is located or what is snow; two Monegasques understand immediately which Rainier is meant).
Members of a family or inhabitants of a village also share such common property, but the nation constitutes the smallest sovereign system. The possibility to satisfy all the basic cultural needs within a national culture is what makes a national culture out of the culture of a nation, and ascribes to it a higher status than to a family, club, or a local subculture. A village society offers an opportunity to become a professor (if the village happens to be Harvard), a field marshal (if the village happens to be Pentagon), or a film star (if the village is Hollywood), but in order to have the choice between the three, one has to be an American. Thus, it raises the age-old question: which people can be considered a nation? The answer would be that a nation is the kind of people that has a more or less complete social pyramid and that differs quantitatively from large nations similarly to the way a Miniature Poodle differs from a Saint Bernard. A national space programme is probably not a must to be called a nation, but a nation should have its own national media and university.
So, the only sensible way to define a nation such as the Polish nation, for example, is to claim that a Pole is a person who shares the Polish cultural domain. He thinks in terms of specific Polish images, compares the world against Poland, and quotes Sienkiewicz.
On the other hand, many people belong to several cultural domains, e.g. large numbers of immigrants across the world. Who are they? Who are the Turks in Germany or the Ukrainians in Canada? Are they Turks or Germans, or Ukrainians or Canadians? In addition, the educated Westerners constitute a type of their own, which is rather populous. The members of the group regularly visit the other cultural domains by reading books in foreign languages, for example. Such people are often interested in a specific culture, and they are cultural enthusiasts. In addition to numerous Francophiles, Germanophiles, and Anglophiles, one can find even some Lettophiles and Estophiles.
As for immigrants, they may have a dual nationality. There are all kinds of immigrants, ranging from the ones who completely withdraw in their own world (one can see it in all the bigger Chinatowns in the West) to the ones who are fully trans-cultured (they have forgotten their mother tongue and show no interest in their country of origin).
Those who try to be active in both cultural domains are somewhere in the middle. However, only few people are capable of having truly double cultural nationalities. One can notice it particularly clearly in the case of “visitors”. The other culture remains only a hobby for them. Most people belonging to several cultural domains feel most at home in one of the domains. That is why it is necessary to introduce the term ‘home domain’ (cf. ‘home port’) for defining the culture, which is the dearest and the one that a person knows the best and where he stays mentally for most of the time. The terms ‘nation’ and ‘cultural domain’ could be linked in the following way: Estonians (Poles and French) are people whose home domain is the Estonian, (Polish, French) cultural domain. On the other hand, Estonians (Poles, French) survive as long as there is the Estonian (Polish, French) cultural domain. It should be noted that as for the cultural domain, the terms ‘Estonian’, ‘Polish’, or ‘French’ do not define languages in the linguistic sense; rather, they are conventional names for the cultural domains. There is only a single Estonian-speaking cultural domain, and thus the name of the language and domain coincide. At least two cultural domains use the French language; one of them is the French and the other is the Quebec cultural domain. The number of English-speaking cultural domains is even bigger, but which of them should be called a separate domain and which a province of another domain is an issue in its own right.
Basically, any cultural domain could be charted. A cultural domain cannot be divided into counties and parishes, but it can be divided into the following fields: news, jokes, role models, dilemmas, etc., which contain a specific content at every given moment. The content of some fields changes rapidly (e.g. news) while other fields change slowly (e.g. historical conscience and main moral principles), and the rest of the fields are somewhere in-between in regard to change. The in-between part consists of the following categories: a) fairy-tales and school books b) other books, c) film and TV shows d) local events that have caught popular attention and have served as a subject of discussions for a long time e) theatre, music, and art, f) jokes, g) songs, etc.
Memory has a vital role in keeping together and preserving the cultural domain. Every person has to have his or her individual memory, and the group forming a cultural domain has to have its own memory and hand down certain memories to the next generation. The significance of memory is not surprising, but what can be surprising is that beside memory, oblivion helps to hold together and preserve the cultural domain. It is a purely psychological necessity. An individual forgets the names of his kindergarten mates, and the English people forget the jokes of Shakespeare’s time. Forgetting is a natural and unnoticeable process in the case of a cultural domain at the so-called innocent stage, which does not have a self-conscience. The process could be called cultural money laundering – the cultural heritage is passed on, but its origin is forgotten. The issue of remembering is more painful for a cultural domain that is highly aware of itself; the cultures of most small nations could serve as examples here. What is allowed to be forgotten and what is not? There is no chance that such questions could be solved in a way that satisfies everybody. It is unclear whether high self-awareness and the fear to lose one’s self-awareness are characteristic of small nations and cultures only. Maybe it is a phenomenon that haunts the West on the whole, including the small and the large nations, and signifies a certain developmental phase? Architectural monuments are not only protected in Old Europe but also in the United States and in other places.
It is also difficult to name the cultural units that complement and fill the fields. For example, a poem is a poem and a saying is a saying while Ulysses is a whole book, which nobody fully knows. Not to mention such vague phenomena as the concept of one’s national history or the characteristics of some other nations. One could speak of such notions as ‘texts’, ‘signs’, ‘memes’ or ‘(information) units’. On the one hand, one is indeed dealing with units; on the other hand, it is clear that culture forms an entity, and dividing it into units is artificial. Fortunately, it is not a vital issue in the framework of the given subject. There are several disciplines that analyse culture and its structure (cultural anthropology, semiotics, cybernetics, etc), but what is important here is the definition of a nation through culture.
Without doubt no person who is familiar with his cultural domain can be familiar with all the nooks and corners of his home domain. Thus, it is impossible to declare somebody a true Englishman only if he knows by heart the names of all the wives of Henry VIII, the address of the prime minister’s residence, the current English champion in cricket, the previous week’s news from London City, and the distance between Birmingham and Liverpool. It can well be that a person does not know some of the above facts, but he still qualifies as an Englishman. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine a mentally healthy Englishman, that is, a person belonging to the English cultural domain, who does not know any of the above facts. It is inevitable that an Englishman should know at least some of the facts while an average Russian or Italian probably is not familiar with any of them. Thus, to be an Englishman does not mean a hundred per cent obligation to know by heart all the above facts beside all the names of the Lake Poets, but it means that there is a strong probability that one knows such things compared to the knowledge of the people belonging to other cultural domains. There are of course true Italians who almost personally know Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, and there are also true Englishmen who mistake King Arthur for William the Conqueror, but it is more likely that the Englishman happens to know the Lake Poets while the Italian has not heard of King Arthur or William the Conqueror.
When talking about genuine Englishmen, Estonians, or Italians, then there is the question if the false ones also exist. Yes, there are some. They are people who for some reason (usually because of their heritage) consider themselves to be members of a certain nationality without being familiar with the respective cultural domain. One could find even true-born Englishmen, Estonians, or Italians; however, blood, that is genes, do not counterbalance cultural nationality if it places an individual in another cultural domain. For example, it is doubtful whether it makes sense to promote Kalev Mark Kostabi as an Estonian because he lives and creates in another country. To which extent was Marie Curie a Pole or Freddie Mercury a Pars? Not to a great extent probably. If you treat the concept of nation from the cultural point of view, then you cannot introduce the argument of blood because of the emotions.
The janissaries probably provide the most drastic historic evidence of this kind. They were boys kidnapped from Christian countries who were raised as fanatic Muslims − the elite of the Turkish army − and blood was not an obstacle in this case. The issue becomes more complex if the genes bear specific racial characteristics such as a distinct skin colour, or a distinct shape of the eyes or the nose, which differ from the appearance of most other members of the cultural domain. In that case the outcome is a black Finn who is a Finn in every respect, except that people passing by think of him as a tourist. However, people have become aware of such co-nationals as black Finns, Swedes, or Norwegians over the last years with the help of the ideological pressure of the state, but at first they feel uneasy and awkward about it.
It would be unnatural to include genius loci, that is, the spirit of a place, in the notion of cultural nationality. The French are eager to do it by claiming that everybody who lives in France is French, behaving like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. There is no rational explanation why one should call some Arab living in southern France who does not understand a single word of French and do not want to know anything about France a Frenchman. My grandfather lived in Brazil from 1928 to 1939 without learning a single word of Portuguese, not to mention any samba steps. Was he a Brazilian? Most probably not. The German-speaking and pro-German barons who ruled Estonia and Latvia for centuries were not Estonians or Latvians, but they were Baltic Germans.
A geographically constructed conception of the world would make some easy concepts unnecessarily difficult. It is too obvious that the place alone does not unite people unless they have something else in common. The cultural domains are locally established (the means of communication of the time required it), but they reproduce their unity today by various other tools besides direct interaction with the neighbours, once the domains have been developed. A common home domain allows people to be part of the same cultural domain, but it does not guarantee it. Compatriots can (at least today) live past each other.
The units filling the cultural domain are rarely fully unique. The same applies to all the national cultures, including the largest and the most famous such as English, French, or German cultures. If one looks at a random fashion, type of a building, or a tool, one has to agree that it originates from another place, and that it has somehow and for some reason found its way to the respective cultural domain. I remember the performance by Polish university students for the Estonian students in Tallinn in 1976. Among other things “an ancient Polish national instrument, which was unknown to the other nations”, was introduced, and it turned out to be the jew’s harp. I can also remember a true story about a Finn who had a visitor from Turkey. The host cooked a pot of cabbage rolls because he wanted to serve a Finnish-style dinner to her guest. The cabbage rolls moved the Turkish guest to tears because he was offered a Turkish national dish in a faraway Nordic country. One could present an endless number of similar examples. Most words in the English language have been borrowed from French. Other things borrowed include fashion, institutions, technical skills, food, songs, proverbs, etc. – basically everything.
Nevertheless, national cultures are not unoriginal. Similarly to books: each culture is unique as a whole although each character taken separately is ‘international’. That’s because the characters are linked in a unique way, and the same applies to cultures. Single elements are rarely unique while the whole is always unique. The unoriginality of the single elements has a relative character. For example, one can say that Leo Tolstoy modelled Anna Karenina on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, but the book is still unique both as a work of art and a meme. Cabbage rolls also have a peculiar taste in each country.
Nowadays the issue of originality and unoriginality of various cultures has become an ideological issue. At present it is fashionable to claim that all the cultures are equal, whatever it should mean, and that in principle there is no difference between them, which is a logical fallacy. There is no difference at least between the cultures that are part of a larger meta-culture, such as the Western culture; each nation has its own epics, heroes, Falstaffs, Hamlets, and Prometheuses (which is usually claimed when an average European starts to discuss, for example, the fundamental differences between the cultures of Iran, Turkey, and Syria – no fundamental differences at all, sure).
All right, maybe there is really no fundamental difference between them, but it concerns only an observer who stands above the cultures such as God. A flesh-and-blood human being lives and functions in a certain cultural domain and the non-fundamental difference matters for him or is even vital. It is not all the same to a person who speaks only Latvian or Russian whether someone addresses him or her in Latvian or Russian, although there is no fundamental difference between the languages – they both use the subject, the predicative, and the object are used in the syntax; verbs are conjugated, nouns are declined, there is a distinction between the singular and the plural; stress, the semicolon, and the coma are used. But still one will be understood, the other will be not. There is no fundamental difference between classes 9a and 9b, but student Johnnie Smith becomes upset when the headmaster wants to relocate him from 9b to 9a because he is used to his friends and the vogue words, and what is most unoriginal, he has a girlfriend in 9b. It is nonsense to declare that different national cultures share fundamental commonalities. And it is even a bigger nonsense is to persuade somebody to give up his or her partner by claiming that there is no fundamental difference between the members of the opposite sex. It is a bigger nonsense because a person can do without the opposite sex in exceptional cases, but nobody can do without one’s own cultural domain as such. Each person, with the exception of the foster children of apes and the wolves as non-humans, lives in some cultural domain. It is possible to uproot a person voluntarily or by force and to transplant him or her into another domain, and sometimes the person takes root there, but he or she cannot do without his or her home cultural domain and be unbiased. There are people who want to pose and impress others by believing that they are capable of such things, but they are only fooling themselves and the others.
It is even more impossible to be a person without a cultural home domain than a ship without a home port. One could picture a ship without a home port, if necessary, but a person without a cultural home domain is unimaginable. A person who can speak but does not speak any specific language? Nonsense. A citizen of any cultural domain is tied to his nationality, nation, language and tradition by thousands of threads that go not just through his or her intellect but through their heart as well for a person is an amalgamation of heart and mind.
Subjectively speaking, one’s own language and culture are the best to everybody, even if all the cultural domains can be equal when looking down at them from the clouds. Thus, there is no need to be apologetic when praising one’s own culture and language as some eastern European literati tend to do because they try to be good nationals and leftist theorists simultaneously. It is natural to praise one’s own language and culture and secretly even consider them to be better than the other languages and cultures. Making fun of people who boast about their people and culture is not a reflection of mental refinement but stupidity. Teasing such people would be as inappropriate as to make fun of a father who is proud as Lucifer because his son has just won a high-jump competition. The feeling of ‘us’ brings out to some extent the “viper in bosom” in people, and there is nothing one can do about it.
Thus, cultures are wonderful mixtures of something that has already been experienced before or in another place and something that is breathtaking and unique. But this outlook describes only the elements of culture which are rooted in some basic cultural domain like trees in rich topsoil. The domain itself calls for analysis. As noted at the beginning of the chapter, it forms a moral foundation, and that is why everything that is happening or included in the culture relates more or less to the notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, which in everyday life occur as good and bad.
The bases of different cultures are similar in that sense or maybe even identical. All the cultures know good and bad and their variations, such as above and under, life and death, crime and punishment, and truth and lies. Good and evil are generally experienced in the way Claude Lévi-Strauss described them. The binary oppositions include some notions where the moral aspect seems to be arbitrary (e.g. left and right or up and down), but it does exist. The left hand is associated with Satan and it points to the hell while the right-hand is associated with God and it points to heaven.
The comparison of the cultural domain with soil and the memes with trees growing in soil does not mean that the moral foundation comes first, and then comes the culture (everyday life, literature, etc.) as in the case of the development of a forest, that is, the soil comes first and then the trees. There are many empty fields of soil in the world while pure morality does not exist as the moral aspects are merely filtered out from real phenomena. The moral foundation of a developing cultural domain originates from the everyday reality of people who occupy the common cultural domain, not vice versa. The soil starts to grow under the trees to influence the growth of new trees.
DIGRESSION: I’M THE KING OF THE CASTLE…
The opposite notions of ‘up’ and ‘down’ call for a comment. The pair of opposites can be explained by gravity, and other explanations are not needed. It is gravity that creates special balance, and that is why ‘up’ and ‘down’ exist. Gravity operates in the same way with regard to all the inhabitants of the World and their associations. It is difficult to imagine something more common to all men than gravity (may be only time). Gravity holds in place not only humans but also the whole atmosphere, and we should be grateful to gravity but people take no notice of it. People are ungrateful to friction, which is useful for them, by saying ‘smoothly’ in the meaning of ‘well’ just like they are ungrateful to gravity by saying ‘heavy’ in the meaning of ‘difficult’. Everything that is located below is worse in all cultures than everything that is located above. The Gods look down on people from above, and people only dream about flying, levitation, or climbing high mountains. The one who is higher has more power (also in the purely physical sense as the potential energy of the body is greater). It is even physically easier to fight, kick, or even call names from high above than form below. When the introduction of gunpowder and defensive walls partly invalidated the age-old truth, some old knights in their suits of armour sank into depression and sank to the level of road bandits. The wish to be spatially higher seems to be characteristic of all humans. The one who does not want to go up wants to be raised nonetheless. If being high is associated with power, does it mean that it is in human nature to seek power?
On the surface, cultural domains seem chaotic, but it should be stressed that all the cultural domains are very systematic. The moral foundation guarantees that many memes, mainly customs, which on the surface seem to be innocent and insignificant are that not at all. That aspect is the most back-breaking when one is getting to know a foreign culture, especially when it is done through trial and error. The Apocrypha of cultural history describe how an American businessman lost all respect in the eyes of his Japanese partners (and probably also some important agreements) only by carelessly shooing his sleeping cat away from the armchair when offering the guests a seat in his home. No European would even have raised his eyebrows.
The specific requirements for clothing, exposing one’s body, and addressing somebody differ sharply in different cultures. In addition to the previously discussed ones, there are other fields that are loosely regulated and where no harm can be done when deciding for oneself. However, it is difficult to distinguish between the two types without knowing the structure of the culture. What should warn a European with a Christian background that the scarf is not important when enters a mosque (it does not matter whether one is wearing it or not) while the footwear is important (it has to be removed)? The answer is nothing. A European may guess that a hat might be important, but the Muslim cultural norm is the opposite of the European norm − the hat has to be put on not taken away. What should warn a Bambuti pygmy that it is inappropriate to wear a colourful floral calico blouse to an Estonian funeral? To make things even more confusing, it must be noted that the level of importance of significant requirements also differs. The violation of some of the norms is a deadly sin while the violation of some other norms means rudeness, and a third set of norms is meant to be broken although it is not nice. For example, it is not nice to cross the road with a red light, even if no cars are coming.
All the significant requirements are important only within a specific cultural domain, for concrete cultural reasons, and to a specific extent. The mechanical transfer of the requirements to another cultural domain is as impossible as if one screwed a Moskvich carburettor and an Opel gearbox to a Mercedes. This is what should be kept in mind in regard to incompetent outcry about culture with which some young and angry men or women again and again try to throw overboard some relics. For example, such people try to throw overboard old-fashioned European rules of decency by justifying themselves with sex scenes carved on the wall of a tantric temple, which have a pornographic effect on Westerners. “You see,” says the angry man or woman “pornography does not exist, but our degenerate point of view sees pornography in what could be seen as religion or at least beauty. Down with senseless taboos!”
Unfortunately, the same person ignores that even the society that created the seemingly liberal bas-reliefs was rich in taboos that a Westerner cannot even imagine. The depiction of a sex act was allowed while it was unimaginable that young people could choose their partners or that people worked during religious festive days. What is allowed and what is not allowed is in balance and linked to each other in a stable society. A society where everything is allowed is as unimaginable as a society where nothing is allowed. In a figurative sense one can say that one can sleep at night and work during the day or sleep during the day and work at night, but it is not possible only to sleep or work all the time.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN – BECAME EXTINCT?
The term ‘cultural domain’ as a synonym for national culture and a sine qua non of a nation is a suitable term for the analysis of the issue of extinction. It is true that nations sometimes become extinct. It has happened in the past, and it will happen in the future. Unfortunately, we will be as helpless as when defining a true Englishman through blood or the spirit of a place if we tried to describe extinction through something else than the cultural domain. We could conclude that the ancient Prussians have not died out (which is nonsense) or that the Irish became extinct long time ago (which is also nonsense). One could not make a reasonable estimation if the ancient Romans became extinct or not. And what should one think about the Incas, Mayas, or Aztecs? What should one think about the destiny of the ancient Egyptians, considering the Copts?
Most nations that disappeared are physically not more dead than the nations that survived. The 13th-century Livs became extinct similarly to the 13th-century French or Chinese. The genes of the then Livs or Chinese were passed on and reached the present day. The ethnic cleansing of a nation is an exception (e.g. the Indians of the Antilles or the Beothuk tribe on Newfoundland); the blood of the extinct nations is represented today as much as the blood of the ancient generations of the living nations. Why do we say that the Livs, ancient Prussians, Etruscans, Sumerians, Mayas, and other nations have become extinct?
The answer is simple − their cultural domain disappeared. It becomes clear that the physical survival of the members of a certain nation does not guarantee the preservation of their cultural domain and thus the survival of the nation. People can survive but the nation can become extinct. It is not a novel discovery, and numerous examples of the process can be presented even today. Several Finno-Ugric (and not only Finno-Ugric) peoples in Russia are losing their nation before our very eyes, and the same applies to many small nations in all other continents. Usually we say that such nations mingled or blended into other nations; for example, the Livs blended into the Latvians. In such cases the rule is that the blending nations also lose their language.
But a cultural domain can disappear also in a way that the language survives. This was the destiny of the Central American Mayas and the Incas of Peru (the Quechuas). The Mayas speak the same language that the ancient stonecutters half a millennium ago, but nobody can read their complicated hieroglyphs today, not even the Mayas themselves. The Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula cannot read pre-Islamic inscriptions either although the Arabs are the same as the pre-Mohammed Arabs in respect to their blood, language, and residence. It can also happen that the language changes, but the cultural domain does not disappear. The Irish are the most famous example here. The change of language naturally means modification of the cultural domain, but the cultural domains constantly undergo modification over time without losing their continuity and identity, that is, they do not stop being themselves. The example of the Irish proves that such a powerful modification as the change of language fits in the framework of gradual change in certain conditions as it is sometimes possible to pull a tablecloth from the table without touching a glass filled with water on it, so that the glass remains more or less in place. On the other hand, history shows that such a trick works only in rare cases.
Nations become extinct in several ways (e.g. preserving or losing their language), and the reasons for that are also different. The reasons are not always violent or manifest themselves in a war or wars. A nation can gradually swallow another nation, and in that case it is called assimilation. It is true that assimilation is usually accompanied by some violent aspects such as the establishment of military bases in a foreign country, which is followed by a stream of colonists (e.g. the occupation of Siberia by the Russians or the occupation of America by the European immigrants).
However, in general one can observe purposeful extinction rather than murder. The cultural domain of the nation that is being assimilated is usually not destroyed by a single extermination, but it is either deliberately or half-accidentally disintegrated. The blow given to the foundation of the way of life of the Prairie Indians by killing the buffaloes for meat and leather is an example of the latter. The conquistadores applied more brutal methods when exterminating the cultural nations of Central America. They quickly and thoroughly destroyed the cultural domains of the Aztecs, Incas, etc. The nobility were killed, the literature (the so-called hard disc of the culture) was burnt, and the holy places were destroyed. Thus, the structure of the society disappeared while only crowds forced into slavery were left behind, and they were unable to reproduce the cultural domain.
There is another means of extinction beside the disintegration and destruction of the cultural domain − the collapse of the cultural domain. The phenomenon can be explained by herrings and elephants. The population of the Norwegian herring in the Nordic Sea collapsed some decades ago due to decades of overfishing. It did not decrease gradually but namely collapsed; the population then suddenly practically vanished when the number of herrings had sunk below the level which was needed for the population to reproduce itself. Similarly, a herd of elephants ceases to be a herd when the number of the herd falls below five or six. An elephant cannot function normally within such an association, and thus it is not a normal elephant anymore.
Something similar can also threaten cultural domains. A cultural domain needs a certain measurable amount of real, physically existing human beings to survive. The amount is different for each era and largely depends on the level of the material sphere of the society, including the communication tools and the requirements that Zeitgeist sets to the individuals, on the basis of which the individuals in turn formulate their requirements for the society and the cultural domain. European history has witnessed times when the cultural domain did not necessarily have to include, for example, the university. Now it is unimaginable that a cultural domain that functions properly and reproduces itself does not have its own university; other requirements include native literature, music, art, politics and politicians, army, scientists, Olympic medallists, and preferably also one’s own Noble Prize laureate. It is not obligatory (yet) to have a national Oscar laureate or astronaut. The tasks that need to be met are numerous and labour-consuming even without the Oscar laureates and astronauts. We need not only artists to paint pictures but also stokers to heat the rooms of the artists, farmers to cultivate land, industrialists to produce something that brings in money for the state, officials and politicians to keep the whole machinery in order, and many others. As noted, a certain amount of people is needed to exceed the critical mass. A single professor does not constitute a university, and nor do two or three, but from a certain amount upward one can already speak of a university. How big is this amount? What is the smallest number that can constitute a nation with its own cultural domain?
Nobody has calculated that figure precisely, but when looking around in Europe one could estimate that about a million socially networked people are needed to establish a cultural domain. It is true that smaller nations do exist, Icelanders being the most marginal of them, but there are some ifs and buts. For example, Iceland has a peculiar location, the option not to invest in defence, and the cost-free energy that comes from the earth. These aspects make it possible for the Icelanders to manage with fewer people. The Basques are on the borderline to gain independence (e.g. they have their own university); the number of cohesive Spanish Basques is about a million. There are less than a million (ca 800, 000) Montenegrins who have had their own state, but who gave it up; the number of people who support independence has been equal to the number of people who oppose it among the Montenegrins.
The Estonians form the smallest nation state after the Icelanders in Europe, not taking into account such dwarf states as Andorra or Monaco because in their case one cannot speak about an independent cultural domain. The Estonians and Latvians do not have any hot water geysers or the option not to have its own army. It means that Estonians and Latvians will reach their lowest critical mass soon, and people who complain that there are not enough (good) people are right. If the present demographic trends continue in Europe, then the French or the British will simply lose some millions of people (still the question: are they able to do without them?) while the threat to collapse similarly to the Norwegian herring is a reality in the case of the Estonians. Which methods should be used to prevent or postpone the collapse is an issue that remains beyond the scope of this book. But the question why it is worth preventing such a scenario or, more precisely, why one should try to prevent it is relevant.
It should be remembered that each cultural domain is unique and unrecoverable. The disappearance of each cultural domain is an irreparable loss. The history of humankind has witnessed the disappearance of hundreds of cultural domains, and in this respect such cases are nothing extraordinary or unnatural. Similarly, the death of an individual is a common and natural phenomenon, but it does not mean that people are willing to die. On the contrary, people are reluctant to die, and life can be seen as an endless struggle to postpone death. Similarly to people, each cultural domain (nation in the common language) fights for its survival and counteracts both internal and external disintegration.
The struggle for survival of cultural domains is both overt and subliminal. On the one hand, cultures knowingly promote their own language, religion, history, and culture; various congresses are organized on the viability of the Estonian, Finnish, French, or Hottentot nations, language acts are drafted, and mother tongue days are held. On the other hand there is an instinctive tendency to protect and to prefer one’s „own”, a wish to live and to work in habitual linguistic environment, power of habits.
Each person needs communication, and naturally he or she prefers those communication partners to whom he or she does not have to explain everything from the beginning. What was the name of Leif Ericsson’s father; what is the taste of cheesecake, or is it appropriate to belch at dinner table? Constant self-protection of this kind shows that each individual needs a domestic cultural domain probably more than he or she is (generally) aware of, and thus the disappearance or giving up of one’s cultural domain is accompanied by real and specific dangers or at least inconveniences. Everybody who has spent long periods abroad alone, that is, without any communication partners among compatriots, has experienced such inconveniences. However, there is at least a theoretical possibility to return to one’s own people. What should be done in cases when a nation falls apart and its cultural domain disappears? In that case an individual probably has to become somebody else, but it is not easy at all, and many people are incapable of it, or they do not want to do it. Thus, the collapse of a cultural domain would first have serious consequences to its members who find themselves abroad without home. In a figurative sense one can say that they wake up amongst foreign people in a foreign land on a sad morning. If the collapse is not that sudden, then it probably is fast enough to make people stressed and depressed. An answer why the collapse of a cultural domain is bad can be borrowed from Oru Pearu, a character in the Estonian classical novel Truth and Justice by Anton Hansen Tammsaare. When his son asked Pearu: “Why does Vargamäe need our kin so badly?”, he replied: “We ourselves need our kin to live in Vargamäe.” The cultural domain is first and foremost needed for its inhabitants.
But it is not needed only for them. Elaborating on the above metaphor, one can say that the last Mohicans of the disintegrating cultural domain do not wake up in a foreign land among foreign people but in a land where it is not known who are their own people and who are strangers, is driving on the left or on the right, and if foxes are hunted on horseback or with iron traps. It is inconvenient not only for the last Mohicans but for everybody who has to live side by side and put up with each others’ strange habits, language, and behaviour. The fact that all stakeholders have learned basically the same moral principles when they were children is not enough to constitute a society. Society is based on communication and should some banal aspect such as not knowing the language the other person speaks hinder it, the heartbreaking appeals to join one’s hands and open one’s hearts are useless. The collapse of a cultural domain also means a cultural interregnum, not to say chaos. Today’s world does not tolerate empty spaces, and the habitats of the dying nation will be filled with strangers. Even if the newcomers are culturally homogenous (which is usually not the case nowadays), they will at least partly lose their identity in this conditions, and the result is a situation where the old does not exist anymore and the new has not emerged as yet. That is the worst possible situation. Another metaphorical comparison: driving can be on the right or left, and a community or symbiosis where driving is on the right in one town and on the left in another is also imaginable. But what cannot be imagined that some drive on the left and others on the right in the same street and in both directions. It would not be a society because the people would not share a common cultural domain. It would highly cynical to call such a situation approvingly multiculturalism or pluralism, or it would be at least extremely short-sighted.
One could probably speak about multiculturalism if the traffic differed by city or district, and the units had a home domain as in Switzerland, which is a rare exception. Metropolises such as New York are distant analogues because they have their ethnic neighbourhoods, above which is the vague New Yorkism. On the other hand, metropolises are bad role models. The ethnic neighbourhoods provide some protection from the cultural mishmash. Nevertheless, there is enough confusion and rootlessness, which brings about crime.
In the conditions of a cultural interregnum, the preservation of one’s cultural and moral norms is difficult for both the old-timers and newcomers. First, the cultural norms start to crumble, which in turn begins to undermine morality. For example, the mixture of two different types of politeness creates overall impoliteness, and from there it is easy to become rude and violent. In case it is not clear if driving is on the right or left, people start to solve the problem by brutal force. That would mean return to the pre-societal conditions. It is true that the human drive towards society is so strong that a new ‘order’ will be established in a short time. However, this new order can be barbaric, and somebody could press the nuclear button or give an order to carry out a massacre such as in Rwanda even during this short period. The Rwandan example should also be a warning that people who have lost their moral values can besides hurting each other also damage the environment. A drastic example of the same phenomenon can be seen in northern Siberia where neither the Komi nor the Russian cultural norms apply, and that is why brutal robber mentality is the norm. The taiga, tundra, rivers, and animal species have been destroyed as a result. Thus, any cultural domain is needed as an ordering-force that creates stability and does not allow people to harm each other or nature.
CULTURE AS A WAVE
When watching the sea waves one could remember something from the physics lesson at school. When the surface of a fluid undulates, only the wave moves forward, not the substance. The particles of water move up and down once and remain in place. Thus, it seems that nothing is moving, but something is still moving because one can see with one’s own eyes the wave coming across the sea, and one can feel its power, which can destroy rocks. Well, more precisely, the wave caused by the wind also carries along some matter, but what is important is that a wave is a wave because of the impulse that is transferred not the transferred matter. The molecules of matter literally pass on an imaginary ball to each other, which exists only as long as it moves. When the ball stops, it will disappear.
Thus, a wave is something that is present only as long as it moves. The wave itself is a transferred movement. Maybe culture is also a wave by its nature? Is it then not a specific movement that is passed on? Culture is not meant here in the sense of a culture house or a ministry of culture, but it is used in a broad sense, which includes everything created by man.
It does not mean that when speaking about culture in the broad sense one definitely has to consider human activity as a whole throughout the eras. Culture can be cut into pieces and not by force as is the case when poetry is separated from agriculture but in a much more natural way. The world culture can be divided both vertically (i.e. into cultural domains or national cultures, which originate from the former local unity) and horizontally (i.e. into inter-national layers that are analogues or echoes of the former cultural ties based on social ranking).
DIGRESSION: TOWARDS A NEW STRATIFICATION?
The horizontal division retreated with the development of national cultures, an important component of which was a common national language. It can well be that the retreat was temporary because the present and future communication and the increasing detachment from nature and the local natural conditions work against the vertical boundaries. Maybe communities of Ally McBeal, Home and Away, and Delfi (an Internet community) will take shape in future. A neighbour will have nothing to talk to his neighbour anymore because one watches the Simpsons and the other Married with Children. However, both of them have so-called ‘compatriots’ in Cape Town and in Greenland, with whom they have lively and open discussions. Their own fashion, language, and morals will emerge. The more actively the producers of the serial involve their own people in making the serial the faster it will have its own history. The same phenomenon is even much more apparent in the case of Internet portals.
The previous statements are semi-ironic. Nevertheless, it is probable that the cultural units or domains will be first and foremost divided vertically in the future, that is, a geographical map is still needed to describe them while the horizontal division is only an aspect that unites the various cultural domains.
The cultural domains corresponding to societies are passed on first and foremost in space, that is, they continue to exist in the same place. Spatial transfers or transplantations have occurred, too, such as the Migration Period or the conquest of America by the Europeans, but one also notices that they were usually accompanied by the re-shaping of culture. In other words, the transplantation of a culture was a new beginning for of that culture. American culture does not consider as its starting point King Arthur or William the Conqueror but Mayflower. William the Conqueror was himself a transplanted Frenchman, whose forefathers had been transplanted Vikings. Maybe one can conclude that spatial transplantation is a contraindication to cultural continuity? It means that maybe a national culture cannot be transported afar in large amounts unless one is dealing with Gypsies or Jews. Members of a nation can spill over the border and occupy neighbouring areas, but they cannot establish a faraway enclave because it will either become a separate unit in time (the case of the English in America) or melt away (the case of the Normans in Normandy). It is an important aspect. A spatially transplanted cultural domain will transform rapidly while single transplanted cultural elements cease to be part of their impulse centre and become part of the cultural domain of the destination country.
Thus, it is characteristic of the cultural domain to remain in the same location but change constantly little by little. Two kinds of forces are involved in any transformation processes − inner and outer forces. The division that looks simple at first glance is actually not that simple at all. One has to understand the final goal and the function formula of a system to grasp the inner forces of the system. For example, what is the causa finalis of Hungarian culture? In fact, the author of this book does not know it. What was the inner drive that made the forefathers of the Hungarians to mount their war horses and later dismount them? What made the Hungarians play the violin the way they play it at present?
Moreover, one also needs to know the final goal and the function formula to explain the external influences. Why did a loan word replace an existing and common word? Why did people borrow that type of a building and not another one, which is in fact as good? Why is the Swedish herring sweet and the Estonian one salty?
Nevertheless, the changes that have occurred due to the internal or the external influences have not disrupted the continuity of the Hungarian, Swedish, or Estonian cultural domain. One can see an unbroken chain irrespective of how far back in time we are able to go. One might assume that if Stephen the Saint dropped by, a contemporary Hungarian would not be able to understand him without an interpreter. However, the contemporary Hungarian would definitely understand Petöfi, who would understand Tinód, who in turn would understand king Stephen.
However, it already starts to resemble the beginning of the discussion about the particles of water that pass on an impulse, which one can see as a continuous undulating wave although completely different particles are involved at moment A and at moment B. Culture can be easily compared with a wave if one imagines people as the particles that pass on the wave. It is certainly nothing new, and it does not cause any misunderstanding that all the people who served as carriers of Hungarian culture in the year 1,000 are now dead and are not alive in the year 2,007. A generation passed on the torch – the language, customs, dreams, and values − and then passed away. Unfortunately, such comparison creates an illusion that everything that was handed down from one generation to the next remained unchanged. Actually, the torch bearers are not the same anymore, but the torch itself has changed, too. The day before it was a pine splinter; yesterday it was a torch; today it is a battery-operated torch; tomorrow it could be a match while the day after tomorrow it could be a flag or something else.
Such transforming transfer can probably be associated with Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea that a message becomes creative only when the person at the other end of the channel decodes it differently from its encoder. Should the observation about the communication between two persons also apply to intergenerational communication, then the undulating movement of the culture has a certain analogy with the children’s game Chinese whispers. The engine of progress behind that game is the fact that one thing is uttered but something else is heard. However, the distortions in the message forwarded in culture (traditions, items, skills, beliefs, etc.) cannot be merely explained by misinterpretation. Rather, one can see that a determined effort towards achieving some goal is predominant; for example, axes have become increasingly sharper and efficient throughout the millennia, and houses have become better insulated and comfortable. The life experience of any middle-aged person includes the knowledge that young people translate at least part of the heritage of their forefathers into their own sign system or their own language. The aging generation usually does not interpret it as re-coding but as giving up the past and as going to the dogs. The issue whether the old people are wrong or there is a grain of truth in what they say will be left open here. The question is that in case one admits that progress is necessary because people have never enough of everything, does one then also have to admit that the moral core of the memes is modified over time? So, maybe the young people have indeed gone to the dogs and abandoned part of their parents’ ideals and moral values. One has to keep repeating that the young people not only give up the formal shape of the old people’s values (e.g. certain restrictions), which is a betrayal that requires some tolerance from the old people, but they partly also give up the values themselves, which is an even more painful issue. Does it represent needless panicking of a moralist or a real future scenario? One cannot deny that the Roman Empire finally collapsed, or what?
Thus, one can make the comparison more abstract and imagine that the equivalents to the particles passing on the wave are not generations but memes, such as things, customs, and values. An impulse is passed from one phenomenon to the next; the scythe replaces the sickle and is replaced by the reaping machine, the Corsican monster as a topic of discussion is replaced by the Ethiopian Negus, who in turn is replaced by Princess Diana, the Bible consultations give way to theatre visits or television, Coca-Cola is drunk instead of milk, being in turn replaced by bottled water. One can even neglect the human being and imagine culture itself unfolding in time and taking new shape with regard to material and intellectual culture. The discarding of the human being is both unfair and justified. It is unfair in the sense that pure culture that not depending on the human being does not exist anywhere in any form. The approach is justified in the sense that the human being is left behind in the history together with outdated years and specific memes (e.g. thatched roof, knee breeches, or the Newcomen steam engine) while the cultural wave passes on similarly to any other type of wave.
Some things may remain the same in form in the framework of the overall transformation, but it is an illusion. One can say that Westminster Abbey has been the same since 15th century, but the surrounding buildings and the place of the church in the cultural domain have changed in the literal and figurative senses, and thus the church itself cannot be the same either. No meme can be what it is by itself, because it is the interaction with the other memes that creates its essence. It also applies to such a stable phenomenon as the Midsummer Eve bonfire, not to mention such a strange phenomenon as Druidism. The ancient folk religion cannot be restored as a religion because it is a lifestyle, which cannot be re-introduced. One could live in isolation somewhere in the hills in Wales and not use the common goods of the civilization that have a dubious value, but it would not be authentic because the ancient Brits did not live alone in the mountains but formed a society. They waged wars, had discussions, and sometimes crossed the sea in great numbers together. That cannot be restored, and thus one cannot restore the religion of the time either.
Only humans or, more precisely, their spirit, can configure the memes. If the surroundings of Westminster Abbey were the same as in the 15th century and no stones had been replaced in the wall of the church, even then it would not be the same church because the people would see it in a different way than in the 15th century. George Berkeley’s maxim esse est percipi, that is, to be is to be perceived applies to the memes without any doubt. With a sigh of relief one can cast aside the question whether the maxim applies to any kind of being or not in this context and just claim that it applies at least to the memes. In addition, it is inevitable that the memes are not only perceived, but they also are perceived in some way. Thus, the identity of any meme depends on how it is perceived. It would be natural to conclude that the transferred wave is intellectual by nature, and any typology of pots, tools, or houses, which have changed in years, is a material reflection of the intellectual wave. Moreover, the identity of the memes does not depend on how a specific individual perceives them (here it means understand) but how the society perceives them on the average, that is, what does the public opinion say. The assumption that the impulse, which is passed on as a wave, is mental is unoriginally Hegelian, but what can you do. There is no discovery. One would be dealing with a discovery if somebody could formulate the wave formula. Even if one involved the notion of the Absolute Spirit, such questions as why does the spirit develop, what was its original impulse and essence, and how did the impulse materialize would still remain unanswered. There is even less hope to find answers to the questions than to find out why the word ‘kookaburra’ in the game Chinese whispers had become ‘hamburger’ after it had been passed down for ten times. Even that was an intellectual process because the change in words occurred in the heads of the children and not in the sound waves.
The general rule of the transfer of the cultural wave will probably remain a mystery forever similarly to the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life. One has to limit the scope by dealing with the sub-formulae of sub-formulae describing one or another limited sector such as the French poetry of the last quarter of the 17th century or the Estonian 20th century architecture. These sub-formulae appear as fundamental and thorough studies, and they represent the human limitations. The cultural wave unfolds from the past to the future through the human spirit, but one is able to reflect only a fraction of it. It raises the issue whether such a striking difference is purposeful. When approaching the same issue more rationally, one could ask if the ineptness to reflect is inevitable because of the human nature or some defence mechanism. A comparison with the ants is appropriate here. Does an ant know that it is building an anthill? If it does not know it, is it then possible for an ant to grasp it without losing its ant nature? Maybe if an ant observed itself it would not want to be an ant anymore, and it would cease to exist? Maybe humans are not allowed to observe themselves because it would destroy the last remains of their innocence (or sincerity), which serves as the basis of human existence?
Should asking such difficult questions be not allowed or in case they are pointless, then easier questions should still be allowed. Is the temporal change in the memes a prerequisite for the survival of the cultural domain or not? Is the constant change in the memes that fill the cultural domain necessary for the preservation of the domain? Will the cultural domain start to disintegrate if the people lose their will, interest, and tendency to change something?
If culture, as one knows it, is indeed a wave, does it have to undulate, that is, does it exist only while in motion and disappear when it stops? If the answer is yes, then why is it so? Asking the question is as important as the question whether the horseshoe has to be shaped like a horseshoe, and if yes then why?
CULTURE AS DEVELOPMENT
We could once again imagine the sea, a yacht sailing there, and its spinnaker filled with wind. The wind causes the spinnaker to move forward, and as long as it moves, it is filled with air. For a person who knows nothing about the wind and the sails it seems that the spinnaker exists as long as it is filled with air, and it ceases to exist when the wind abates. Members of the Western cultural domain have thought for several centuries that stopping means the death of a culture while advancement means life. ‘I must be gone and live, or stay and die,’ mumbles Romeo in the arms of Juliet. The words sound contemporary although they were written in the 16th century. An absurd elaboration of the same idea can be found in the world behind the mirror created by Lewis Carroll where the Red Queen reports: ‘You have to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place!’
In our world picture development, advancement, and progress with their derivatives progressive, developed, advanced, etc. have become so closely associated with the concept good that we have stopped noticing it long ago. What is developed is good and what is underdeveloped is bad. Such intertwinement of development and good is partly human and comes from all that was discussed in the first part of the book. A human child is not born as a person but as a human (i.e. potentially moral) creature that has to develop his or her potential by learning. Thus, development is required for the emergence of new members of society, and it is therefore only natural that development has acquired a positive connotation. Even each animal observes the development of its offspring with great pleasure; thus, it is not surprising that humans do so.
Surprisingly, we have to admit that a different attitude towards the development of society prevailed from time immemorial until as late as the 18th century when the French encyclopaedist A. N. de Condorcet introduced the notion of progress. The development of an individual as a child and adolescent was natural and desirable, but society was not to be changed. (Incidentally, like an adult. An adult and society had to be completed.) Moreover, as far as we know, all ancient and medieval societies were active inhibitors of progress by regulating people’s earnings and consumption, their clothing, social status, etc. From time to time it sent upstarts, the greedy, innovators, protesters, and rowdies to the gallows or the stake. The social system was not subject to questioning; attempts at changing it meant challenging an order prescribed from above, and they had to be suppressed ruthlessly.
Nevertheless, no society, even the most fossilized ones, remained the same. Some changes and some development occurred in the Sumerian city states, in the vast state of China, and medieval European towns that had become stuck by the guild system. This fact cannot be questioned; otherwise we would not be where we are now. Each proposal for change, such as the adoption of a new working technique or tool had to be screened by society, which first and foremost meant the evaluation of two aspects – first, whether the potential innovation is moral and second, whether it is intelligent. For example, for a long time Livonian peasants were unwilling to cut grain by scythe because in this way more grains were lost, which was both stupid and immoral (waste of the “grain of God”). For the same reason for a long time people refused to have chimneys (“who on earth has seen that the warm smoke is just allowed to go up?”). We do not know what kind of comments people made about the first wheel. Or the first stone axe of the kind where the handle hole was not in the middle but shifted towards one end. One might assume that it occurred without great enthusiasm, but we know for sure that all the above-mentioned and many other innovations were adopted after some inconveniences involved. One cannot think of a society where it did not happen like this. And once we recall that the development of a human being, as far as we know, is nothing but a sequence of amendments and innovations, then it should not come as a surprise. In fact, a human being itself is nothing but a great amendment. Does it imply that cultural development is intrinsic to the human being, is it in his or her ‘blood’?
When analysing the development history of the human race and society that goes back to several million years, one wishes to exclaim without much thinking, “Yes, it must have been like that. We must have some innovation gene that the reactionaries of the entire human history have not been able to destroy.” Perhaps that is the way it was although such kind of explanation seems too simple. A gene and that explains it?
It could well be like this. Or not, and development arises from the deviations accompanying biological reproduction, resulting in people who should not be described as being capable of innovations but as the ones who are not able to stick to the existing due to their defects.
In both cases the source of innovation, the drive for change, lies in the genes. Let us assume that it is the case. However, it fails to answer the question whether culture has to develop. For one thing, humans – presumably – have an inheritable faculty (or fault) to come up with changes and innovations, but culture is a different matter. There is no doubt that in the era of stone axes humans had culture. People made tools, went hunting together, painted images on cave walls, danced by the fire, and probably told stories. Had the shamans and priests of those times been able to stop the development of culture – for example, by resorting to a highly intelligent explanation that “it has always been like this and we don’t need anything else” – could we possibly still be sitting by the fire and eating bison meat? Would there be anything wrong with it?
It is likely that we would not be unhappier than we are now. Nowadays we have hundreds of problems and unfulfilled wishes, probable there were some in those days, too. However, perhaps it could serve as an answer – development is in some ways pointless (it does not make us happier), but it is also inevitable (because a human always needs something – more of something, something that is bigger, better, or faster). And if that is the case, then it is not caused by the innovation gene but by some other gene that entails and passes on our eternal discontent – and only this discontent brings about innovation. Because innovation is manifested subjectively as a sense of necessity, but necessity is the mother of invention. Make a human live in hardship and he or she will become gifted.
Thus, we made a diversion into a topic that will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter that will focus on the engines of progress. However, in the framework of the problem – does culture have to develop? – what was said above enables us to put forward the following hypothesis: development is a product of discontent, but discontent has resulted also in culture as such, which means that culture does not need development, but culture, in fact, is, development. It would turn our problem upside down or the other way round, from downside up, and why not. At this one should point out that not any kind of development is culture. The development of dinosaurs was definitely development but certainly not culture. Culture is not passed on by genes but lessons; it is not inherited but is acquired. However, having postulated that culture is development, one cannot content with oneself any more with the generalization that culture is passed on by learning because learning does not necessarily mean development. It is so in case each new generation acquires exactly the same skills and knowledge that the previous generation had, not forgetting anything or adding anything new. Thus, we are dealing with development only in case the knowledge of the new generation differs in some way from that of the previous generation. Culture is then further development of what was learned – a son learns from his father what is right, but he will then learn some more on his own, and in the final analysis he will do something (slightly) differently from the way he was taught. Rethinking or denial is an extreme form of additional learning. One way or another, one recalls the previously discussed view of Mikhail Bakhtin to the effect that a message acquires a ‘creative’ character only if the recipient of the message encodes it differently from the sender. It is likely that in principle a similar regularity operates in the case of those messages that are passed from one generation to the next.
However, now it is time for an important comment – the claim that culture is created and survives only if the son rebels against his father is a gross exaggeration. Or/and simplification. The development where culture is manifested can be unbelievably slow. It is definitely as slow that no development can be perceived, and our imagination conjures up a vision that culture is not a development but a body of knowledge, judgements, and prejudices. Not every son has to rebel against his father. For example, if you went back a million years, we would live in an era when almost nothing happened over tens of thousands of years – the same kind of stone axes and the same game animals, the same cave and the same campfire. One could claim the same about much more recent eras until as late as a few centuries ago. From the objective perspective, mankind has developed both biologically and culturally all the time; however, from the subjective perspective almost nothing has changed. History was stagnant; generation after generation were born, matured, and passed away without any essential changes. In the same way we cannot perceive cold glass as a liquid – however, it is a liquid that flows.
For this reason it is hopeless to overcome the temptation to claim that ‘culture develops’ although considering what was said and the previously proposed hypothesis, one should say that ‘culture exists’ because once it exists it means automatically that it develops. One might wonder whether it makes sense to resist such a deeply entrenched usage. Let us keep saying that culture develops and remember at the same time that culture cannot exist without development; otherwise it would cease to exist. However, as noted, this development can be even slower than the flow of glass, and it was so until recently. It even seems that until recently stagnation served as the ideal of culture, and even now it applies to many local cultures including various primitive tribes but why not also Iran or Cuba. Culture develops, but it is unwilling to develop. Does it mean that in an ideal case culture stops and ceases to exist? Back to innocence, back to one’s father’s house, and finally back to one’s mother’s womb? I do not know it but I would like to.
But culture developed nevertheless. No one noticed the progress or praised it, no one glorified the brave innovators, discoverers or ‘taboo breakers’, no one suggested that a middle-aged person might admire ‘youthfulness’, no one demanded ‘rebelling’ from the young people – but it developed and did not stop or vanish. The handle hole was shifted to one end of the stone axe; people invented the bow, the harp, and the zither. Grilled meat became fashionable; somebody invented the bone needle and someone else the eye of the needle. One can conclude that culture does not need our conscious assistance for its existence. From the point of view of the preservation (i.e. development) of culture there is no desperate need to demand rebelling from young artists and the breaking of conventions. One might well demand that they should blindly follow the conventions and learn how to create ‘genuine’ art, etc. – it can not stop the development. The overwhelming destructive power of innovation is so powerful that it does not need our conscious and unrequested assistance. Rather, each innovation needs a worthy opponent – inertia, conservatism, conventionality, tradition, etc. – so that one could test one’s strength and thus establish oneself. I have been amazed by some artists and critics who at first grandly report having broken another set of conventions and shocking (i.e. insulting) the public and then start to whine why the very same public does not sing praises to the work of the young genius. In my opinion, a young genius should choose whether he or she would like to rebel and to shock or to win praise from the masses. One cannot have both.
Also, humanists with a background in the humanities have a role in the glorification of rebellion. For example, Jüri Talvet, Professor at the University of Tartu, has written that “On various occasions I have thought about what is the best part in the spirit of a people and reached the conclusion that it is rebellion against the herd instinct that stands for the real spirit. In history freethinkers and dissenters have been the best shapers of the popular spirit.” One can find truckloads of similar statements in contemporary Western literature and thinking.
Such glorification of progress and deliberate break with conventions – that we can witness in the entire Western world today – is unprecedented in history. One has reached an absurd paradox – mandatory nonconformity. It means that a break with the convention has become a norm. The one who does not rebel is not a genuine creator. (Fortunately, so far the experiment has been limited to fields of art.) Here a difficult question arises – which one is nowadays the genuine rebel, is it the dutiful ‘breaker with conventions’ or the one who leaves them intact? Which course of action requires more courage in contemporary painting – is it larger and clearer genitals or a good conventional portrait entitled “A Lady Wearing a Hat”? As far as fiction is concerned, the unimaginative petty bourgeois stated tiredly long ago that young writers ‘are rambling’. Being tired in the same way, they glance briefly at another statement of the so-called young artists declaring that “what is needed is scandal and not scandalous dullness”. At the same time nobody has explained what makes boring – deadly boring – scandal better than the above-mentioned scandalous dullness or traditionalism. The constant wish to shock the viewer on the part of artists and the praise of critics in case someone – purportedly – is successful in it have made most of the audience yawn for a long time already.
At the same time the constant approval of denial, breaking, shocking, and smashing causes uneasiness. Culture is not a fast sailing ship but a slow-moving barge. Or if it is a sailing ship, then it is the one with a sea anchor. A sea anchor – that is inertia and conventionality. The sea anchor does not fully stop the sailing ship but ensures its security. The sailing ship does not turn itself into the sea abeam or capsize but points its bow ahead and moves on slowly like a donkey. Accelerated denial and breaking would mean cutting through the sea anchor. What will happen to us then?
Fortunately, uneasiness is reduced by the hope that if progressiveness does not need our conscious assistance, then conservatism may not need it either. Perhaps all this ‘mandatory nonconformity’ is only a ripple with primordial guiding mechanisms still operating underneath. Who knows it, though…
ENGINES OF PROGRESS
In case culture really happens to be a wave, then we are faced with the problem of the force that set it in motion and keeps it moving. Previously, the hypothetical innovation gene and the no less hypothetical discontent gene were discussed. However, once you abandon the simplistic explanation that discontent is an inheritable deviation, you have to ask a banal question why the human being is constantly dissatisfied. Why and what are the things that make the human being dissatisfied? What is an engine of progress or what are engines of progress?
Fortunately, it is a type of question where everybody is an expert. It has been suggested that the fuel that humans need for eternal inner burning is constipation or boredom and everything else that comes in between. Nevertheless, some theories are better grounded, they enjoy more popularity, and – judging by all signs – they are closer to the truth than the others. For example, class struggle.
The Marxist (more appropriately pre-Marxist) understanding that social progress is based on the development of production forces is undoubtedly a serious claim that could be discarded simply because the Marxist attempts to shape the future witnessed a dismal failure. The idea that the development of production forces is an engine of progress for society is definitely true. What is problematic is whether it is the whole truth. The development of production forces means, in fact, rather specific inventions (e.g. the steam engine), which are backed first by necessity that people had realized, and, second, by their thinking. Thus, one cannot claim that production forces could develop somehow by themselves and dragged the spirit behind them. Occasionally an invention could well appear by accident without thinking and understood necessity, but it would be unbelievable if somebody wished to explain the entire progress of humankind in this way. Even if we admit that the realized needs of people or (subjective) necessity did not develop in some kind of non-material vacuum but was constantly driven by the existing circumstances, tools, living conditions, etc. It resembles the game of table tennis between matter and spirit where matter represents the passive side and spirit represents the active side. Spirit hits the ball against the wall of matter, the wall causes the ball to bounce back, and spirit strikes again. At this all the stakeholders keep changing with each bounce. The striker is slightly different each time because he or she has changed in the meanwhile. A human painted a picture, he then looked at it – and was now not the same person who had painted the picture. And the new person wished to paint a new picture already.
The discussion of the previous chapter but one reached more or less the same conclusion. Should we conclude that what develops is mind (may it be even the Absolute Spirit together with its departments), we are still faced with the problems – why does it develop? What makes him return the table-tennis ball and discontented with the state after the previous strike? Who or what set him or her in motion, and what makes him or her going?
Here it would be appropriate to study a little those driving forces of the humans that lay claim to being engines of progress. Because there are a several of them. Some of them are more or less trivial, others perhaps not.
At first one should point out that not all of the driving forces bring about cultural progress, or at least we have no reason to claim that their relation to progress is inevitable or essential. They include all the biological causes, such as the need to eat, drink, and reproduce oneself. Together with heredity they could, in fact, be responsible for biological evolution, but it is not the same as the development of culture. However, it does not imply that the biological causes are not ‘wrapped from head to toe’ into the development of human culture. They are, and much more so. A remarkable proportion of human culture focuses only on food and sex. It seems as if someone or something knowingly uses them in order to haul the culture wagon on and on. A horse would not haul the wagon either if a human did not make it haul it. We might think that the wagon is hauled by the horse, but actually there is a human behind it. Apparently, the same is true of the culture wagon, where a mysterious unknown force has hitched up our most powerful drives. Once again we are dealing this mysterious unknown figure. Who or what is it?
The first on the list of candidates is ambition. It is so for two reasons. First, we encounter vanity already during the episode of the apple-eating; second, ambition includes everything that Fukuyama describes as struggle for recognition.
There is no good reason to claim in this book that the apple-eating episode is remarkable because these are words of God. Whether or not it is so is another story. However, what is true is that these words belong to someone, and this somebody was a highly intelligent person, indeed. To cut the long story short, Genesis is important anyway because even it is not the final truth it includes at least several interesting theories. And one of them concerns the motives for becoming a person or falling into sin: the wish to become wise, the wish to know good and evil, and the wish to become similar to God. This kind of presentation points to ambition.
Ambition is a complex and heterogeneous phenomenon with a mixture of at least two main components – vanity and lust for power – supplemented depending on the person and situation by curiosity, self-sacrifice, sense of duty, etc. For example, in the case of Adam and Eve one can definitely add curiosity. Interestingly, in the Western world both vanity and the lust for power, not mentioning curiosity, have for centuries been listed as undesirable properties, but now one can notice change. In Western societies, especially in North America, success has been turned into one of the major moral principles, accompanied by vanity and the lust for power – in case they help somebody to be successful. Nevertheless, one can not agree with the claim of people desiring patriarchal socialism that in the name of success the West allows trampling on any kind of humaneness and solidarity. It is true that nowadays one can see in the West medieval saint’s tales having been replaced by a myriad of success stories, but they are counterbalanced by warnings as Great Gatsby, Citizen Kane and many others. Still the prevailing success ideology, even if one takes into account its defence mechanisms, has little in common with the medieval ideology of obedience, which required that a human being should put up with one’s role and position in one’s worldly life. Fukuyama, too, glorifies the struggle for recognition in his highly successful book The End of History and the Last Man and views it as an engine that led humankind to the sunny expanses of the best conceivable social order, democracy. In brief, his discussion focuses on the claim that the need for recognition is the main need of man as a social being and democratic social order meets this need in the best way; therefore one cannot foresee the invention of any other social order. History as a process of seeking a better model of society has come to an end, and it has been found. Now it remains to wait for the slow ones to catch up and to help them in it. There could also be some backlashes, but they will not change the general course of progress.
In his next major work The Great Disruption Fukuyama is much more sceptical with regard to the advent of total democracy, and this should make us cautious: perhaps the need for recognition is neither the only nor the most important engine of progress. Naturally, one can well start doubting without following Fukuyama’s rethinking.
It goes without saying that ambition is really a powerful force that has set in motion armies and nations and has laid the foundation of several major religious movements, if not all of them, which have shaped the world. Ambition combined with a pushy wife made John Galsworthy pursue a literary career. Ambition (plus something else?) made George W. Bush take up presidency. Ambition spurs both scientists and artists, engineers and bus drivers, not mentioning athletes and soldiers. It is true that not every kind of ambition is always related to the lust for power. There are many good gardeners and bus drivers who have no wish to become a chief gardener or chief of a fleet of buses but only expect others to recognize their professional excellence. Some kind of power ambition (the wish to serve as an example) could be there of course, but it is indirect and is not manifested in the wish to make a career. In such case we are dealing with the need for recognition in a strict sense of the word.
Unfortunately, the implementation of ambitions in a way that is acceptable for everybody is, to put it mildly, somewhat complicated. Everything is fine if a good gardener contents himself or herself with the idea of being a good gardener among many others and is happy with the recognition that (s)he receives from a bus driver, tailor, and athlete. Unfortunately or not, but most people are not so modest and wish to set an example – especially among their colleagues. Manifestations of this desire include sports competitions, barbecue contests etc. Competitors are people who wish to be better than others; it sounds nice unless we recall that it also means the wish to defeat the others. One may make fun of competitions, competitive spirit, and athletic fervour, but such an attitude is not witty at all. It lacks logic. What should one think of the following way of thinking: “You wish another person to be inferior to you, and I despise you for this barbaric wish and regard you inferior to me”. That’s absurd. Who is inferior and who is superior?
One can be sure: everybody’s lust for power can not be satisfied simultaneously. The number of thrones is always smaller than the number of claimants to it, and if there were enough thrones, they would not have any value. It would be so even if a throne would be accompanied by some number of voluntary subjects. What kind of joy could a power-thirsty person feel over power if he knew that nobody but he desires it? Here the win-win ideology is not valid; the same is true of sport. What make the throne as the highest step of a pedestal really desirable are the defeated opponents and competitors. A human enjoys pushing the others aside, and this simple fact serves as a sufficient reason why total happiness will never come. The situation where everybody is awarded a diploma and the first prize, and all are happy about it, is perhaps conceivable at a kindergarten or a mental hospital.
The feature, which causes mixed feelings, could be called the need to subordinate, and it is as intrinsic to man as the need for communication. One can find some people who totally lack this feature, but they cannot be regarded as normal; nor are they able to form a society. It does not mean of course that the need to subordinate is the same and of the same degree of strength in all people. No way, by this feature people are as different as by their sense of humour. The need to subordinate has also an opposite, which is the need to be subordinated, whereas they are usually not inversely proportional in the psyche of a single person, as one might think, but they are proportional. (Picture a tyrannical small boss who toadies to his superiors, and then it is not surprising at all. In the case of such a small boss we could speak of hypertrophied sociality.) Apparently, such ambivalence is necessary for social cohesion because even a most democratic society cannot function without any hierarchization. The need for subordination paired with the need to be subordinated makes a society possible.
An individual does not encounter any considerable problems in satisfying his or her need to be subordinated in any society; however, the normal position of his or her indicator of the need to subordinate is ‘unsatisfied’, implying that this engine of progress is in operation and culture is developing. On might argue whether instead of ambition it would be more appropriate to call this engine unsatisfied ambition, but we can avoid this problem by claiming that ambition is always unsatisfied. At the moment of satisfaction it ceases to exist for a while, but after a while it returns as hungry as before. However, perhaps the terminology is not as important as the understanding that the subjective faultiness of society, that is, dissatisfaction of an individual with his or her situation and the resulting discontent with society is a prerequisite for the existence of society. It sounds even somewhat frightening and gives rise to the question whether the work and efforts of the entire humankind has any sense at all if discontent never disappears. The Preacher agrees that it is so. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. However, if the Preacher with his wisdom could criticize his own actions and change it, then it is impossible in the case of humankind or individual societies. What importance do toil and moil make – the question is pointless because people will toil and moil anyway. Discontent is a mode of existence for humankind.
However, it does not mean that any specific form of discontent is useful and necessary for society. There is no need to glorify discontent. It is possible to choose another angle and see that as discontent reflects a low intellectual level (cf. the Buddhist conception of achieving the state of peace), then imperfection serves as the basis of development, and the entire development is an embarrassing notion.
Laziness, to be more precise, creative laziness is another major engine of progress. A dozen years ago I described this phenomenon as follows, “One can find very early examples of diligent laziness, for example, when the forbears of humans realized that it is wiser to carry a whole armful of firewood to the fire and not every branch separately […] From here humans gradually started to make use of animals and later machines. Nowadays people drill for oil and make lubricant oil from it, excavate coal and transform it into electrical energy, melt ore and roll metal sheets from it. He then assembles them and gets, for example, a food processor or a washing machine, does the dishes and laundry, and lies down on a sofa to read the newspaper. If he did not wish to lie down and read the newspaper, then he would not drill for oil or excavate coal. If he were not in a way lazy, he would not do any work either.” (Vahtre 22.) Today I would change this statement only by replacing the word ‘diligent’ with ‘creative’ in order to emphasize an aspect that becomes apparent in the quoted passage – progress is not upheld by drudgery but by creativity that serves laziness. A creatively lazy person is the one who thinks and acts for the sake of optimizing the process of meeting one’s needs (i.e. he is constantly looking for a solution how to work ‘faster and with less effort’), inventing and constructing, for example, the sowing machine or the combine harvester to this end. It could well be that he is so occupied with all this that he will have no time left for idling. The second type is simply a lazybones, who begins to idle whenever there is a chance without putting in any special efforts. He will create nothing.
Comparison of creative laziness and ambition shows that the link between creative laziness and progress seems to be more direct than that with ambition. It is fully possible to think of the kind of ambition that does not pull or push any particular type of development. For example, one might think of coups in some West African countries that are overcome with poverty and superstition (see also “The Coming Anarchy” by Robert D. Kaplan). Another ‘great man’ overthrows the previous ‘great man’ during a bloody rebellion in order to meet a similar fate a dozen years later. And so long and so forth. Considering their relation to progress, countless knightly wars of medieval Europe belonged to the same category. These wars were not intended to achieve any notable result; rather, they were about honour and glory or about satisfying one’s need for recognition. These wars did not yield any new ideas or contraptions. Yes, even then there was some development of culture, but it was exceptionally slow and because of other factors. The satisfaction of one’s need for recognition in the form of small-scale knightly wars was only a vanishing ripple.
On the other hand, creative laziness is inseparable from ideas and contraptions. The wheel was invented in Sumer; the watermill was invented in Asia Minor; Robert Fulton constructs the steamship and Richard Trevithick the locomotive. Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction; in fact, he did not intend to push progress forward but noted hopefully that his discovery might allow the construction of new and interesting toys. However, there was another person who constructed both the generator and the electric motor on the basis of the discovery by Faraday, and the progress received a thrust that we have not fully absorbed to this day.
The basic idea of creative laziness is to save time and effort. As for effort, then in this respect the West has witnessed some definite success. A comparison of the work done by a West European in joules between the 21st century and the 19th century shows a huge difference. Much less sweat is poured today. However, people have started to ask how much this victory is worth. Instead of back-breaking work people now complain about lack of exercise; they frequent gyms and swimming pools. It makes one uneasy to think how many devices people have constructed in order to save physical effort – and then, to crown it all, they have invented also the weight machine. It is pointless to resist this line of development because the creative laziness of humans cannot be stopped. Even when training his muscles, the human is thinking hard how to build a two-storey car park for the gym to save legwork, walking from the locker room to the car. And soon another device will be needed in the weight room, namely, a treadmill where one could jog at least a few miles…
The story of gain in time reveals an even more interesting paradox. The more efficiently a society creates various values, first and foremost material ones, the less time members of the society have at their disposal. On the one hand, they are seeking for possibilities to have more leisure time by inventing dishwashers, superfast planes, and e-governments. On the other hand, all of their time is spent on gaining more time. It is far from clear who has/had more leisure time at his disposal, a white-collar worker in some Western metropolis today or a peasant from the days of Catholicism. A white-collar worker does not have to thresh his grain at night; that’s a clear difference, but, on the other hand, he has definitely no time to celebrate Christmas for a fortnight. A medieval peasant had no need whatsoever to know and make use of such a unit of time as the minute, but it would be impossible to imagine a white-collar worker having a watch with only an hour hand. It could well be that a white-collar worker could have somewhat (or in a sense) more time than a peasant, but it is a fact that the contemporary white-collar worker is in a constant hurry while the medieval peasant had ample time. This paradoxical notion indicates unambiguously that over millennia the human has been motivated not only by the wish to save effort and gain time but something else, too.
Fortunately, this ‘something’ is nothing mystical or mysterious either. The difference between the life of a white-collar worker and that of a medieval peasant is clear and simple – it is more convenient. An average European or American of today – not only a white-collar worker – will not get so often dirty or wet as the peasant; he does not suffer from deficiency of carbohydrates and vitamins; his dwelling rooms are larger, warmer, and better ventilated. Modern conveniences constitute an aspect where the denial of progress is pointless. It is another matter whether these conveniences have made someone happier. Discontent is there to remain; otherwise there would be no good reason to discuss the present topic – why is man discontented – at all. Also, discontent with the above-mentioned conveniences is there to remain; it is true that they are numerous in comparison with the caveman, but in our own opinion they are still few. The question what sense does it make to pursue conveniences if it does not make us any happier could be parried by the analogy – what is the sense of eating if you will soon be hungry anyway? This analogy reveals a grain of truth. Pursuit of conveniences is similar to vanity or laziness – man tends to think that what is important is a rocking chair and a microwave oven, but what is actually important is the process of their obtainment. It is important for the individual that this process should never stop completely; otherwise man will ‘wither away’. A person who makes no effort whatsoever to make his life more convenient can only be regarded as completely asocial. To be precise, it is even impossible to imagine such a person.
And there is another triviality – it is almost impossible to give up the already adopted conveniences. Some individuals could succeed in it, but until now not a single society has been able to voluntarily return to ‘innocence’. In extreme cases some community (but not society), e.g. the Amish, is able to preserve its daily life at some level, and even then it requires huge efforts. Giving up DDT or aerosol package is not a return but avoidance, and in actual fact the needs schedule of the Europeans, the Americans, and all the people engulfed by the currents of the Western world is picking up speed. From time to time people find themselves in a dead-end street with their demands as was the case with quadraphonic sound, which turned out to be senseless. However, these wanderings do not change the main substance of development – daily life has to become better, more convenient, cleaner, and more colourful.
It would be wrong to assume that the only way to alleviate one’s discontent is to meet its demands (make a career, invent new time-savers, install a more water-resistant roof for the house, construct a new type of suspension for the car, etc.). There is also another method – seeking oblivion through lifting one’s spirit. The manifestations of this method include (at least partly) music and playing music, but also the cinema and bungee jumping. Even mountaineers and polar explorers could be regarded – once again at least partly – as seekers of spirit-lifting. It is ironic that the seekers of spirit-lifting take their discontent to oblivion. For example, music lovers need increasingly better music centres, and cinephiles need increasingly perfect illusion (the current peak being “Lord of the Rings”); even polar explorers and mountaineers need tents with enhanced insulation and increasingly water-resistant boots. If they do not get them, they will complain, or they will alternatively invent them, like Nansen who by way of introduction to his achievements invented the Nansen cooker first.
Also, spirit-lifting is more and more in demand. In this connection Herbert Tichy, the famous Austrian traveller and mountaineer, wrote the following: “Sometimes – during long conversations with Himalayan priests and recluses – I have experienced the great happiness of the absence of wishes, the kind of absolute silence that combines all music and the world’s beauty. Then, however, big black birds arrived with their shadows. And I did not know whether I should not love these bringers of great discontent.” And in another place: “In fact, I knew from my earlier experience and encounters in these very mountains that one could get closer to the sky and everything that it stood for when you closed your eyes, forgot about the mountain ridges that seemed to reach the sky, and contented with yourself and took care of the tiny piece of sky that is in each of us.” (Tichy 132 and 73.) However, despite this knowledge he put himself with apparent joy at the mercy of ‘the black birds’, and when descending from Cho Oyu, he rather avoided the priests and recluses who had blessed and advised him before. It is true that his mountain-peak experience has something religious in it, and so he states that “I have experienced in another way the same that you have – the paths of final recognition are different.” (Tichy 132.) Naturally, one cannot regard religious experience or striving for it as oblivion although many an enemy of faith could approve such point of view. Therefore, one has to make the following reservation: “oblivion by means of spirit-lifting” is a state with fuzzy boundaries, which could, on the one hand, develop into adrenalin and drug dependence, and, on the other, into a religious experience of reuniting with the Absolute. These things are definitely not identical – rather being opposites – but they are interrelated in some fatal manner, similarly to good and evil. By the way, use of substances with a weak narcotic effect is characteristic of many religious rituals.
As can be seen, both illusion (cinema and television) and satisfying one’s curiosity can offer awareness-enhancing oblivion, which must have motivated, for example, Nansen and Tichy. Here the search for oblivion develops into science. Incidentally, one of the definitions of science sounds: “Science is satisfying one’s curiosity with state funding.” Similarly to religion, one has to make a reservation and note that the passion for science and oblivion are not identical, but they share some common ground.
Curiosity is definitely not a marginal phenomenon among the engines of progress. Recalling once again the apple-eating episode, one can see that curiosity figures right at the (allegorical) sources of humankind. The Bible does not call it this way and only tells us about the wish of Adam and Eve to resemble God, but it is difficult to imagine that curiosity did not play any role in the Fall. Thus, from the biblical perspective curiosity is not desirable at all, as is the case with any other kind of desire, and there is also a proverb warning us that curiosity will make you old soon. As far as I know, this proverb does not come from the Bible; rather, both of them are based on the same principle of conservatism that challenges any change and development. However, the principle of conservatism can only curb curiosity but not make it inexistent. Curiosity keeps cracking the shell of conservatism, as inevitably as Tichy’s ‘black bird’, in different guises, if necessary (e.g. ‘to find a shorter route from Europe to India’). Innumerable people have fallen victim to curiosity, especially teenaged boys, who, figuratively speaking, with a candle in their hand, stooped to look whether there was any petrol in the barrel. For this reason, people will never fully forget the dangers of curiosity. But they may forget it partly. Today, we are witnessing some glorification and even worship of curiosity. Well, it often occurs in different guises – for example, as a thirst for knowledge or discovery drive.
One can probably distinguish between many more engines of progress, such as greed, fear, egoism, altruism, etc. However, there is no need to describe them because everybody knows and understands them. The unavoidable conclusion concerns something else; namely, there are many engines of progress, and the one and the only one that can move mountains and peoples does not exist. Yes, all of them are manifested in one and the same – discontent; however, if we thought of it as the only driving force of progress, it would be correct, but it would not make us any wiser. As noted, discontent is rather a manifestation of any kind of progressive force. The second conclusion is that each driving force of progress has its counterforce that inhibits and pulls it back. Fear curbs curiosity, shyness vanity; the need to be subordinated is balanced by the need to subordinate, and creative laziness has its opposite in ordinary laziness. From the psychological perspective, the above claim is another triviality; however, if you apply it to the mechanisms of social development, then one will end up with an understanding that could also be trivial but has sunk into oblivion in the contemporary Western world – development is characterized not only by the action of forward-driving forces but also that of backward-pulling forces. It is not so that some are responsible for progress and the others regress – which is the case in physics – but the combination of both of them constitutes development, if one means culture under development. It is a paradox. Culture needs both Giordano Bruno and the ones who burned him.
It is as if culture created itself against its own will and constantly tried to extinguish itself. Or at least it seems so to us who grew up in the spirit of glorifying inventors, impressionists, polar explorers and all kinds of rebels. Ancient Greeks, by contrast, used to tell their children an instructive story about the arrogant Icarus who flew too close to the sun and therefore perished in a stupid manner.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Nevertheless, the sea anchor of culture means not only individual psychological defensive mechanisms as laziness, shyness, or fear but first and foremost social institutions as fashion, custom, good practice, etc., which in some way relate to morality. Morality, in turn, has for millennia been based, so to say, on something higher than man or, to put it simply, on the supposed will of God. The intrinsic discontent of people and the resulting culture have unfortunately led the contemporary Western man so far that God’s will is not a valid argument for him anymore. The process of abandonment of God has been a long one, but despite some backlashes it has been constant, and on this path man himself has been raised to the level of ultimate value.
One could well call this process as the emancipation of an individual as well. In the case of the term ‘abandonment of God’ one is dealing with the individual aspect of the process; in the second case (‘emancipation’) one is dealing with the social aspect of the same process (disintegration of patriarchal society, for example, the medieval town; revolt against the community). Naturally, not any kind of denial of God implies the abandonment of moral standards and good manners just like not every revolt against conventions implies revolt against God. But anyway one can observe the strengthening of ‘me’, which results in the abandonment or marginalization of God because it is not absolutely necessary for the newly independent ‘me’. The human may have it or not have it. And in this situation God does not exist anymore in the social sense, as a common ultimate value. Since man has in addition to his or her egoistic drives also a social nature, such a common ultimate value is necessary. As noted, this place was taken by man. It is not John Smith or Ivan Ivanov but Man as a principle, Man as an abstraction.
Today and possibly also in future, this principle and abstraction guard the destiny of each individual, at least in the West. However, as man is man only through society, then it is apparent that the principle under discussion helps an individual as far as he or she can be accommodated into the framework of society. To put it simply, human rights cannot begin to disintegrate human society as such because then in the final analysis they would not serve the individual either, and there would be no reason to call them human rights. More precisely, human rights ‘themselves’ do not disintegrate or build anything because only flesh-and-blood humans can do it. As noted repeatedly, humans have both creating and disintegrating drives, and the problem is whether the ideologists of today and tomorrow will release more creative or disintegrating drives.
The notion of ‘human rights’ did not appear out of nowhere. The English Magna Charta Libertatum (1215) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1678), the American Declaration of Independence (1776), and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) had all paved way to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. In broader terms the human rights represent a logical result of the general development of Western civilization. All the previously mentioned documents deal increasingly thoroughly with the protection of the individual from the violence of rulers. It is true that in some sense already the well-known collection of laws by king Hammurabi dealt with the same problem. In fact, Hammurabi lists various misdemeanours and the corresponding (rather severe) penalties, but the codification of even the severest penalty is a primitive measure against violence or the full right to force. Naturally, Magna Charta and the other listed acts are on a much higher development stage, and one does not have to look for the rights of the individual between the lines there because they have been written into law in an increasingly explicit manner. At this it is difficult to overrate the significance of the Declaration of Independence of the United States in the development of the notion of human rights. Its author Thomas Jefferson, developing the ideas of John Locke, put in writing the following high-flown ideas: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” However, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, which was conceived during the French Revolution, mentions for the first time already in its title the unalienable rights of man, which covered liberty, property, security, and the right to stand up against oppression.
On the initiative of Mrs Roosevelt the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 raised the human rights to a new level and gave them a new impulse. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 was not limited to the ‘natural rights’ of man stemming from his or her social essence and mode of existence in the case of which John Locke noted that according to the fundamental law of nature nobody should “harm others in their life, health, liberty, or property”. We can see that Locke, Jefferson, as well as the French put the emphasis really on the rights of man, which must make one’s self-realization possible (cf. Jefferson’s ‘right to pursuit of happiness’). The Universal Declaration, in its turn, begins to list also the conditions of self-realization. In addition to the right to life, liberty, equal treatment, protection of law, etc., the 1948 text, for example, provides everybody’s right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family”. Also, according to the declaration everybody has the “right to work […], to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment”. And of course, everybody’s right to education is on the list as well.
Alas, there is a problem. Locke’s and Jefferson’s natural rights can simply be granted to man in a specific historical context by some superior power and that’s it. The Universal Declaration, however, added such kind of rights that could be called social; they have to be secured not (only) by means of decrees but also material resources of a given society. This circumstance sets much more prosaic and laborious assignments for countries and peoples.
In 1950 the Universal Declaration of the UN was followed by a fundamental document of the Council of Europe “Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, which by now has shaped the face and mentality of Europe for over fifty years. The convention repeats the principles of the Universal Declaration (the right to liberty, equal treatment, also presumption of innocence, freedom of thought, religion, and speech, etc.); additionally, it provided the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights, where any citizen of a member country may sue his or her country if one finds that the latter has violated his or her human rights. It is noteworthy that the convention does not mention at all the right to material security, ‘favourable’ working conditions or anything else like that. One has to remember that in reality the Universal Declaration is much less binding than that of the European Convention – what stands in the Convention is taken much more seriously and is followed somewhat more carefully.
No social rights have been added to the Convention later because there is a separate document called the European Social Charter, which was originally adopted in 1961 and in supplemented form in 1996. Still the text of the Convention and also the European reality witnessed one significant change during the previous half-century, and it concerns the death penalty. The original text signed in Rome in 1950 clearly states that “No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law”, which means that the death penalty existed at the time and it was not in conflict with everybody’s right to life. However, Protocol No. 6 to the Convention, which was adopted in Strasbourg in 1983, states the following: “The death penalty shall be abolished. No-one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed.” (§ 1) Nevertheless Article 2 adds that a state may legalize the death penalty “in respect of acts committed in time of war or of imminent threat of war” – that is, for war crimes.
Protocol No. 6 took effect in 1985; by then five member countries of the Council of Europe had ratified it. Since then accession to the Convention means also accession to Protocol No. 6. For several European societies Protocol No. 6 was a difficult issue, which is proved by the relatively slow ratification process. For example, it took Belgium fifteen years from the signing to the ratification (1998); Germany needed six years, Estonia, France, and Italy needed five years for it. The United Kingdom ratified the protocol soon after signing it, but the signing itself took place as late as in 1999, that is, sixteen years after adopting the protocol in the enthusiastic atmosphere of Strasbourg. However, on the initiative of the opponents of the death penalty the Council of Europe went even further. On July 1, 2003 Protocol 13 took effect, which abolishes altogether the death penalty. With its 2002 decision the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe threatened even to strip the United States of its observer status unless it abolished the death penalty. Considering the historical experience, mentality, and the position of the United States in the world, such a development is unfortunately unlikely. It is especially unlikely that Americans might give in to the demands of somebody, especially to the Council of Europe in such matters. Nor could one expect Europe to follow the precedent of the American unionists, who started a war for the sake of the abolishment of slavery, and to go to war with the United States in order to abolish the death penalty. Apart from other circumstances, such a ‘war against death’ would sound absurd (and it would be an absurdity).
So to say ‘in the air’ is Protocol No. 12 to the Convention, adopted in 2000, which abolished any discrimination on the ground of sex, race, language, religion, etc. In order to become effective, this protocol has to be ratified by ten countries, which is a matter of near feature. At least by far more than ten countries have signed the protocol but have not ratified it as yet. Once Protocol No. 12 comes into force, it will step up fight for gender equality. One could also believe that the ban to discriminate someone ‘on the basis of language’ – which actually means that everybody’s rights cannot depend on their mother tongue – will be used for many demagogic ends throughout the world against any official or state language. There may be a number of ‘language wars’.
NOBLE HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE IMPERFECT WORLD
So, what is the significance of abandoning God and the unprecedented independence of the individual for human society as such? What are the contemporary fruits of the process that began centuries ago – during the Renaissance, if not at the time when the ancestor of Man became erect –, and what has the future for us in store? Where are the manifestations of today and those predicted for tomorrow positioned in the context of Man’s previous experience?
The human rights have constantly expanded – both in theory and practice. During the past decades one can notice that theory has increasingly preceded practice. This fact makes us feel uneasy. In the case of human rights we are clearly dealing with an ideology, which probably justifies the use of the ad hoc term ‘human-rightism’ in the present book. If an ideology loses touch with reality, then it may bring about unpredictable consequences. It is often the case if somebody begins to bring reality in line with ideology by energetic, not to say brutal, methods as was the case with the collectivization campaign in the Soviet Union in 1929 and later. In the field of the human rights nobody will organize mass deportations or artificially induced famines, but at times the requirements of ideologies can be as far from real life as those of builders of communism, and extremist human rights activists, too, have their own stick. It takes the form of economic means of exerting pressure applied by more prosperous countries to the less prosperous ones, which need not be manifested in such extreme measures as embargo or economic blockade. Nowadays serious economic damage can be inflicted by global stigmatization, damaging the country’s image, which will scare away investors and tourists. One has to emphasize that many oppressed peoples have greatly benefited from it because it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the entire so-called socialist camp. However, here the discussion is not about the employment of means of exerting pressure but their abuse for the sake of demands that are remote from reality. The goodwill of the leaders of one or another backward country is not sufficient to implement such demands, but their implementation is hindered by other circumstances. The latter are usually summed up with the words ‘illiteracy and poverty’. A more detailed discussion will follow.
The ‘holy cow’ of the human rights extremists – abolishment of the death penalty – could serve as an example of remoteness from reality. Leaving aside the specific pros and cons, one has to point out at first that the societies and their members who have abolished the death penalty form a small minority of the world’s societies and inhabitants. The champions of human rights think that it is caused by the regrettable and ‘stupid’ inertia, illiteracy and poverty. They see the above-mentioned minority as the pathfinder and the torch-bearer; the rest of the humankind has somewhat lagged behind, but it will follow suit sooner or later. Sooner is better. The best is right now.
Perhaps such hope is valid with regard to Japan or even the United States, but in the case of the Arab world or Africa it would be difficult to find a rational basis for this hope or even conviction. One cannot see any signs that the idea to abolish the death penalty is gaining popularity in these societies. As before, there are hundreds of millions if not billions of people who respect human life to the same extent as a thousand or ten thousand years ago. Actually there is no scientific basis to claim that development has taken namely this direction, that is, in the direction of abolishing the death penalty. One could also claim that Protocol No. 13 is only an experiment the results of which are unknown because they will be apparent only after a few generations, probably even later. Thus, it is also possible that the experiment might be regarded as a failure some day. Actually, the United States has made such a step backward.
However, even if the abolishers of the death penalty were right and it turned out that Europe is simply ‘ahead’, it would be sensible to wait for the others to catch up. But no. Instead they tighten up; today they are demanding equal representation of women both in parliaments and the boards of state enterprises, tomorrow they will demand that all immigrants should be granted citizenship, and the day after tomorrow that Sunday and Christmas should be banned because they offend non-Christians and atheists. And it happens in the world where the vast majority does not know anything even about elementary democracy not to speak about the human rights! While social inequality and the wide gap between the rich and the poor are denounced on every possible occasion, then people turn a blind eye to the cultural and ideological rift between the Nordic countries, which establish gender quotas, and Rwanda or Sudan that are devastated by bloodshed. Instead of admitting the rift, the people in Strasbourg pretend that the whole world is holding their breath while following the invention and implementation of new human rights and that the whole world is burning with desire to share with Europe its ‘values and principles’. A person who claims that the immigrants arriving in Europe do not care so much about ‘values and principles’ as about the higher living standard – to put it bluntly, better food and windproof shelter – is regarded as a racist and xenophobe who cannot appreciate the nobleness of the human rights and is insulting non-Europeans.
The conflict between the high priests of Strasbourg and real life arises first and foremost from the fact that the Council of Europe understands less and less that the human rights depend on time and circumstances. One might say that the leaders of the Council are deliberately unwilling to understand this dependence, following the dogma that human rights are universal, absolute, and inalienable. Let us browse one relevant manual:
“Any human right has to meet three criteria. First, it must be universal, belonging to everyone throughout time. There can be no special rights attributable to only some. Second, it must be absolute. It cannot be legitimately limited by calls of public interest. Only when human rights come into conflict with each other can those rights be limited. For example, a terrorist, who kills others and thus denies them their right to life, may be denied his right to life through capital punishment or (as I would prefer) his freedom by time in prison. Third, it is inalienable. It is not possible to surrender that right, for example it is not possible to sell yourself into slavery” (Ashford 42–43).
One might point out that in the question whether a terrorist can be denied his right to life Nigel Ashford, lecturer at the University of Staffordshire, will certainly represent a minority at a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The fact that in such a crucial point, where one expects a crystal clear and unambiguous understanding but the positions are diametrically opposite, does not contribute to belief in the universality and absoluteness of human rights. Be that as it may. But then there is no doubt that at least the claim “not possible to sell yourself into slavery” would be met with enthusiastic approval in Strasbourg despite the fact that people have been sold into slavery both voluntarily and by force throughout history, and it happens also today. Accordingly, the noble words “not possible” are nothing else than pulling the wool over someone’s eyes. This position could have some substance only if the whole world were subjected to a government that would deny the possibility of surrendering the human rights and would ban people to sell themselves into slavery by force. Unfortunately, it is not the case, and we have to admit that in reality thousands of people worldwide surrender both today and tomorrow various rights that we in the West regard as inalienable. We could regard them as inalienable as we like, but it will not change the situation, attitude to life, or worldview of these people.
It would be a different story if we take some concrete and efficient steps in the name of propagating these principles. In that case the human rights would have at least some practical value that my people, Estonians, have experienced and what the democratic forces are experiencing today in countries governed by dictatorships. However, even in that case one has to admit that, first, the human rights are alienable, and, second, they are apparently neither universal nor absolute because it simply does not correspond to reality. In fact, we could act in the name of making them universal and absolute, but mere declarations get us nowhere. One might argue which is true – are human rights universal and their absence in some places is only because they are violated, or they are not universal and our responsibility is to make them so – this discussion is pointless. In reality the second variant rules. Slum dwellers of a West African big city, who are fighting poverty, violence, and diseases, are not interested in the rights that big white men and women invent somewhere in air-conditioned palaces. They face with other concerns, and when they flee to America or Western Europe from them, they do not do it because of some abstract human rights.
As if it weren’t enough. An optimistic human rights activist might think that once a slum dweller has settled in his new home, then he will at least learn to honour and appreciate these rights, but even this opinion is self-deception. For a person who grew up in a society where nobody knew about human rights and where human life had a low cost, the acquisition of the notion of human rights would mean a more or less complete switch of culture. In fact, this happened a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago when the flow of immigrants to the West was still rather weak, and the newcomers had, whether they wanted it or not, to switch over to another cultural domain. However, today the ultra human rights activists have already set an goal that is unachievable in principle – to retain the previous cultural domain of immigrants (with the purpose of achieving ‘multiculturalism’) and at the same time to make them honour human rights and democracy.
One might say ironically that the results are promising. The 1997 best British documentary “Tottenham Ayatollah” tells about Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical Islamic fundamentalist, whose aim is to convert Britain to Islam. According to his vision, there will be no frivolous Spice Girls in Britain, homosexuals and adulterers will be stoned to death, and pubs will be closed down. There will be more and more people like Omar Bakri, and it all shows recklessly: human rights – more precisely, the spread of the Western understanding of human rights – is faced with cultural barriers. If an Arab in the UK who lives off a state benefit of 200 pounds a week and is applying for British citizenship is not enthusiastic about the abolishment of the death penalty and the equality of men and women, then what can one think of those Arabs who live in Arab countries? Both the extremist and less extremist Western human rights activists can praise the nobleness of the Western values, which are perhaps understandable to everybody, but it will not change the public opinion in the souk of Medina. Moreover, what should one think of human rights or whatever rights that two thirds of humankind cannot understand? Is it logical that the direct outcome of proclaiming some law, which is purportedly common to all humanity, is that two thirds of the human race proves to be underdeveloped and/or stupid? Who actually is stupid then? Or should somebody be stupid? Perhaps not. However, it can be avoided only if we give up the idea that human rights are universal, absolute, and inalienable and treat them similarly to societies and cultural norms – as changing in time.
Ultra human rights activists usually avoid the problem whether human rights are absolute, universal, and inalienable only in space or also in time (i.e. whether these requirements for human rights are valid only today and tomorrow or were they valid yesterday, too). The avoidance of the question is caused by the fact that there is a logical trap that will put rigid human-rightism in a very difficult situation, indeed. If one claims that human rights extend to the past as well, then one would have to admit that the entire history of mankind until recently has been nothing but a history of human rights violations. The human race was born, developed, and became rather prosperous at times in the course of human rights violations and largely thanks to these violations. Had the first Cro-Magnon men been aware about their right to safe and healthy work, they would have glanced around and climbed the tree in desperation – as is known, human rights cannot be extended to animals. Had the sailors of Columbus paid due attention to their totally insanitary living conditions in stuffy cabins, one can be sure that America would not have been discovered.
All this sounds rather absurd, and a human rights activist with a sense of humour might try to argue that Cro-Magnon men did not know Newton’s laws of motion either, but they actually existed then. In that case the history of human rights would be regarded as a history of ‘finding’ them. However, it is not a serious argument. Even the laws of physics, which were once regarded as absolute, warn us against such an attitude. Einstein’s theory of relativity, which challenged the Newtonian world picture, inspired some philosophers to claim that there was no objective truth, not even as the laws of physics, and that even the laws of physics are invented rather than discovered. One need not agree with this claim but it should make us cautious nevertheless. In a situation where some people doubt whether the laws of physics are objective and generally valid, the claim that human rights are generally valid in time and space is, to put it mildly, daring, indeed.
No matter how we look at it, if we wish to be honest, then we have to agree that human rights are only human rights – they can be granted and deprived by humans. Human rights are a matter of agreement. There is no need to worry – even so they are venerable, necessary, and noble. Everybody lives in a certain time frame and in some cultural domain, and he should enjoy the rights that he is entitled to by the specific time frame and the cultural domain. The fact that these rights have a human background does not reduce their power in a specific place at a specific time.
Although it might be claimed that the human rights were born or at least christened in the United States, Americans have developed their own system of humanistic values that partly overlaps with the human rightism cultivated by the European Council, but is not identical to the latter. Incidentally, it is another proof that the US is not a state nor a usual national culture but something more. The United States has long ceased to exist as a cultural ‘extension’ of Europe. The Americans have long reached the point where they could ask a European with surprise why the latter crosses the number seven with ‘such a strange crossing line’. It would not be surprising if they wondered why Europeans use such strange units of measurement as gram, kilogram, meter, or kilometre. It is understandable that that once the European Council declared itself the Rome of the human rights, the Americans could not afford to remain waiting for its papal bulls, but worked out, even without noticing it, their own fully American version of human rights. It is another proof that the human rights as such, the human rights as a (partial) denial of the communal moral system is an objective result of all cultures with European origins, which has been brought about by increased rights of the individual and the blurring of cultural boundaries.
The American version is called ‘political correctness’. A comparison with the human rightism of Strasbourg shows that although political correctness has no such sacred texts as the Universal Declaration and the Convention, in this case it could be even more justified to speak about ideology. Or at least the pursuit of political correctness may often take even more aggressive and brainless forms. In short, political correctness means such modes of thinking, life, and behaviour that aim at equal rights of people representing different races, sexes, nationalities and languages, religions, sexual and physical distinctions, etc. and occasionally even their actual equality. The beginnings of this ideology stem from everything that is diametrically opposite – religious intolerance of sectarian pioneers, ruthless extermination of Native Americans, the age of slavery of Afro-Americans, strict regulation in patriarchal communities with regard to sex and age. Political correctness is denial of all these cultural norms.
The formation of the requirement of political correctness was inevitable with regard to American history; otherwise the society would have perished. As noted, it is actually problematic whether America could be called a society in its usual meaning. Rather, it is a confederation of societies, which differs from the usual political confederation in that its members do not live next to one another as the states on a map, but they are intertwined, mixed, and layered. Another significant circumstance is that various societies or semi-societies have not joined this confederation at once, as the first thirteen states, but gradually. The original thirteen states established a society with white Anglo-Saxon roots, which was Christian with various sectarian tendencies; it imagined itself as an anti-British or non-British entity. Britain constituted ‘them’, which brought about or at least prompted the emergence of American ‘us’ (i.e. Americans). American society lasted on this footing for quite a long time, being able to absorb a remarkable number of immigrants who were, however, mostly also Christians and whites. Some dissonance appeared only with the arrival of Catholic Italians and Irish. Southern blacks formed a (semi-)society of their own with their folk music, ethnic food, folklore, and the sense of ‘us’, which, however, contrasted not with Britons but white Americans. At the same time it was not a fully independent society; rather, the build-up of the black society resembled that of the Estonians in the 18th century – it was a society in its own right but not fully. Similarly to Estonians of those days, their society lacked its top.
The abolition of slavery was followed by the gradual economic and cultural emancipation of the blacks, and at first the whites responded in the spirit of those days – segregation. Similarly to the Baltic Germans in Latvia and Estonia, the white society simply tried to ignore the emergence of the black society – to keep out of sight and to forget about it.
Mutual ignorance is really a possible way to cope with the differences. For example, the Egyptian Muslims and Copts more or less ignore each other. Naturally, they work together and often live next to one another; they trade and communicate with one another, and they share much of their cultural heritage, which makes it also possible to call them Egyptians. However, at the same time they are separated by fully real cultural and traditional barriers. It is not the usual feeling of strangeness that one experiences with regard to something strange and unknown; rather, it is a mutual feeling of strangeness that is an integral part of both cultural traditions – they constitute primary ‘them’ for one another. They are ‘their own strangers’ to each other; tourists, however, are ‘strange strangers’ for both of them. At this it is important to note that the sides are not equal. One side, the Muslims, clearly predominates. They establish the rule; the Copts provide an exception.
Unfortunately, segregation did not succeed; the race riots or the hot summers of the 1960s with an increasing spread of human rights ideology dealt a death blow to its development. Martin Luther King became a great figure and soon also a martyr of this process. The term ‘martyr’ points symbolically to the fact that the pursuit of equality by blacks was founded on divine law in addition to the human rights.
The skin colour and not religion and language have always distinguished blacks from white Americans. In the 1960s the white America passed a decision – the blacks must become part of the American society; one must so to say let them inside, and one should simply forget about their skin colour. It laid the foundation of a modus vivendi, which was diametrically opposite to segregation – in future one was to ignore not the existence of each other but each other’s differences. Unfortunately, it only means that one utopian goal is replaced by another one.
A similar development took also place in the attitude of the white Americans towards southern Hispanics, Native Americans, and finally towards all those who are ‘different’, including Muslims, Japanese, and Chinese. All of them have, so to say, established themselves; they have become conscious of their unity and demand respect. One has to add here women, teenagers, homosexuals, and people with disabilities. It has resulted in multiculturalism. But once there is a multitude of cultures, there is also a multitude of possible conflicts. ‘Political correctness’ is inevitable in these conditions; otherwise America would witness continuous war where everybody would fight everyone else. At present the balance is maintained by a paradoxical fact that in the conditions where cultures are theoretically equal, in reality it is not the case (as yet), and the white Protestant America remains the mother culture or mother society against which one can rebel and from whom one can demand justice and care.
At the same time the picture is far from rosy, and it would be wrong indeed to assume that someone has found a formula for overcoming cultural differences, and one simply has to implement it by means of political correctness. The present-day America has not witnessed a final result but another stage of development. For example, the Afro-Americans have already demanded the rewriting of American history because they do not content themselves anymore with cramming ‘white history’. Such a demand is even more understandable when made by Native Americans, who are after all the indigenous people of America. Such tendencies, however, keep undermining the common ground that all the Americans share, such as Capitol Hill, the White House, the Stars and Stripes, covered wagons rattling towards the Wild West, and Pearl Harbor. How can one find common ground with American Japanese, for example, who constitute a majority in some regions of the West Coast? How can one make Native Americans whisper in awe in front of a picture depicting the covered wagons of pioneers? The so-called multicultural society consisting of all peoples, races, and religions does not have and cannot have any shared ‘them’ – there is no one to oppose together. But for the aliens.
Incidentally, anti-alien mythology is a popular theme in American showbiz. Here one cannot help but recall “Independence Day”. This well-done and at times far from lightweight movie almost ridiculed political correctness (the world was saved, of course, by a team of a Christian, a Jew, and an Afro-American), and also the American problem of finding a common enemy was solved as politically correctly as possible because the enemies were neither Islamic fundamentalists nor communists but aliens. However, aliens do not take you very far. If you do not have ‘them’, you do not have ‘us’ either. And what is the point of talking about society then, even if it happens to be a multicultural one?
However, for the time being the unusual American society still exists, and not long ago it acquired a real terrestrial enemy in the person of Osama bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalism. There is no irony in this statement. Osama bin Laden is really an enemy of the American and the entire Western civilization, including the human rights and democracy. It is natural and in some sense positive that his activity cements American society. For this reason 9/11 has in addition to the tragic side also a positive side. Although politically incorrect, one can state this controversial fact as a conclusion drawn from the consequences of various other more or less recent instances of bloodshed.
Actually, the crime of Osama bin Laden makes some kind of crack in the marble wall of political correctness. All the religions are, in fact, equal, and none of them should be persecuted, but nevertheless it is allowed with regard to belligerent Islam (the kind of Islam that is aggressively intolerant towards any other faith or unbelief). It breeds insecurity because once you question the credibility of a doctrine, it is impossible to restore it to the full extent anymore. Ideologists have some work to do; an exception has to be turned into a ‘seeming’ exception and explanations are needed. Anyway, the requirement of political correctness has become stronger rather than weaker. It was decided that in the former location of the World Trade Center there will be a monument to the brave firefighters who are raising the Stars and Stripes on the ruins. The design of the monument, which was inspired by a real event, foresaw a white, an Afro-American, and a Latino although in reality three white men hoisted the flag. Even some firefighters of Mexican decent started to protest at overdoing it. However, occasional protests do not change the general development trend. In a 2000 Hollywood movie about the Argonauts for young people, the crew included, for example, a woman, and a black man as Orpheus.
Since political correctness is a rather recent phenomenon, the greater part of the world’s cultural heritage, especially the literary classics, turns out to be politically incorrect. It does not mean that literary works promote racism or something else that is undesirable – good literature rarely does it – but racial, ethnic, religious, and other differences are discussed openly, a black is called a negro without any inhibitions and a Jew is called a Jew. It could well be that once again some books will be cut, forbidden, and placed under restricted access. A young American who has grown up in the spirit of political correctness might be shocked even by Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”. One could predict that such requirements will cause stress and strain because consistent political correctness requires considerable self-denial from at least those adults who must change the attitudes acquired in their youth.
Voluntary self-denial causes subconscious hostility towards those people who manage to avoid self-denial because of their stubbornness or good luck. The French collaborationist directed his or her hostility not at the Nazis but at the resistance movement. An East-European person who reluctantly joined the communists hated not the ones who made him do it but the ones who did not join the communist party. No wonder the champions of political correctness more often than not stand out because of their intolerant and irritable tone, which could reflect their split personality.
However, reaching the divine heights of political correctness is far from merely excelling oneself. In fact, it is a broader issue that once again leads us to the much-repeated fact – every concept of ‘us’ brings about certain potential for conflict; each cultural domain is entitled to at least a tiny bit of intolerance or at least irony towards the ones that are different (viper in bosom). There is no such thing as a politically absolutely correct cultural domain, and it is, in fact, impossible because it is logically impossible. Such a cultural domain should rest on rules excluding each other: “First, we tolerate everybody and everything. Second, we cannot tolerate you because you are – unlike us – intolerant.” It would not be culture but schizophrenia. Political correctness has its limitations. Assuming that (as noted above) human sociality and altruism has its inherent downside in the form of the need for intolerance, one would rather believe that the provision of every new rule of correctness will somewhere bring about new intolerance. Racial hatred will be replaced by hatred of the racist, male chauvinism will be replaced by hatred of a male chauvinist, and homophobia by hatred of a homophobe, etc. Actually, these phobias will merge. Having witnessed the election success of Le Pen and all that belonged to it in the spring of 2002, the author cannot understand what makes Le Pen actually more dangerous than his fanatical opponents beating their drums.
Does it mean that progress and humanism have failed to make the world more understanding and tolerant? In order to answer this question, one should know how to measure tolerance / intolerance with regard to both individuals and societies. The author does not believe in the possibility of such analysis. One can only assume, and intuitive understanding tells us that at least in the West both culture-external and culture-internal tolerance have really increased over the past five hundred years. However, it does not mean at all that tolerance should increase endlessly as far as absolute tolerance. As noted, absolute tolerance is impossible, and therefore it would be reasonable to assume that tolerance – thus also political correctness – has, first, a theoretical boundary and, second, also a specific boundary in each specific historical and cultural situation depending on the conditions. An attempt to overstep this boundary implies an attempt to demand tolerance by force, which is the opposite of tolerance, however. Actually, we have already reached this conclusion in the book. Similarly to the human rights, political correctness is neither universal nor absolute but depends on the ability of people, who adopted certain cultural values, to disown them. This ability has its limits because otherwise we would have no humankind or cultural history. As was shown previously, development is intrinsic to culture, but it takes place very reluctantly.
HUMAN RIGHTS: CULTURAL LIMITATIONS
Thus, the spread of Western human rights is worldwide faced with cultural barriers depending on one’s cultural background – traditions, values, school readers, and lullabies. In addition to cultural barriers there are also economic and physical barriers, which will be addressed later.
None of the specific systems of values and traditions opposes the ideas of human rights somehow in general but is reluctant to accept certain specific requirements. The following two principles, which have been mentioned repeatedly, have caused most of the problems: inviolability of human life (i.e. abolition of the death penalty) and equality of men and women (i.e. abolition of sex discrimination as far as forceful equalization). One can note, however, that there is some difficulty even with the pillar of the human rights – the view that man is entitled to any rights at all with regard to state power and fellow man, on which democratic governance is based. In many parts of the world the implementation of democracy has shown little success.
All these cases of reluctance have easily understandable reasons. For example, human life has never been considered absolutely inviolable throughout the history of mankind. Even today only a small proportion of humankind shares this ideal. Incidentally, human life has not been regarded as inviolable or sacred for a very simple reason – man has never been regarded as the absolute top of the hierarchy of values. It is true that Christianity raises man by its immortal soul higher than the other animals, but the same immortal soul constitutes at the same time the very reason why, throughout the centuries, there has been no panic regarding the loss of the transient body. For millennia Christian Europe has feared the deprivation of salvation rather than death. Life in this world is only preparation for eternal life, and for this reason death is not an anomaly but in all respects a logical course of events; with a slight exaggeration – one’s goal in life.
Generally speaking, other religions, too, have come up with similar explanations to alleviate the fear of death and to interpret human life. All of them share the conviction that human death does not mean the ultimate end, and, accordingly, it is not that important that man should not die, but, rather, he or she should die properly. All cultures denounce arbitrary killing (except, perhaps, Filipino headhunters; still even headhunting had its rules) but not execution or so-called justified killing, for example, in the form of vendetta. There has always and everywhere been a clear distinction between killing and execution, incidentally, also in the Bible. Therefore, when the opponents of the death penalty refer to the fifth commandment (“thy shall not kill”), their statement is demagogic. The fifth commandment does not imply prohibition of the death penalty.
However, the stubborn resistance of the advocates of the death penalty derives not so much from their belief in the next world and life after death as from a deeply entrenched conviction that a crime must be followed by a punishment of approximately the same degree. ‘Blood will have blood’, consequently the murderer has to be put to death. Crime and punishment constitute one of the binary oppositions that belong to the foundation of each cultural domain, the so-called universal layer of all cultures. Because humanness assumes the ability to tell the difference between good and evil (i.e. ability for morality) the conceptual pair of crime and punishment, which is so directly and obviously related to morals and actually serves as the foundation of all practical morality, must be understandable to everybody regardless of one’s cultural background or his or her specific understanding of what is a crime or what could be a corresponding punishment.
There has been a great deal of discussion concerning punishment as an ideology. Does punishment mean revenge? Is it self-defence? Or is it a means of education? Apparently, it means all three. In the case of most punishments the educational aspect is beyond doubt because all societies recognize the right to penitence. (Incidentally, one may ask why one does not regard it as a universal, absolute, and the only really inalienable human right! At the same time one should emphasize that the right to penitence should not be mixed up with the right to forgiveness. There is no such right.) The self-defence aspect of punishment is also apparent. A society isolates a criminal for a while in order to have some rest from him or her or branded a mark of disgrace on his or her forehead as a warning. Revenge is the most problematic. The humanistic world view has branded revenge as an atavistic disgraceful drive that should be rooted out together with racism, xenophobia, and gender inequality. It is found that prison should not serve as institutions of revenge but institutions of education. Revenge is said to mean only gratification of one’s ‘base desires’, which will breed only more feud and nothing good.
There is no doubt that it is partly true. All the major religions call for forgiveness: “…as we forgive to our debtors”. At the same time the idea of rooting out the urge for revenge forever is somewhat frightening. Has man really changed so much that one can abandon an institution that has worked for thousands of years? As late as a few centuries ago revenge was considered natural, and it belonged to the system of moral values. Even the father’s ghost begged revenge from Hamlet because a person meeting a violent death could not have peace before somebody had taken revenge. How about now? Are we different now? And what can one do with those who for some reason cannot give up the urge for revenge and at the worst come to haunt after their death? No doubt there are large numbers of such individuals in the progressively-minded West who have remained in the chains of darkness and base desires not to speak of other continents and countries.
In the light of what was said above it seems that the rooting out of the urge for revenge is as hopeless as the abolition of anger, sadness, or disappointment. One can find a large number of rational arguments against all the mentioned emotions, but nevertheless one cannot expect them to disappear some day. And for more or less the same reason man will always harbour the wish that a murderer should be executed. The present Western European effort to abolish the death penalty is of course impressive, but nevertheless it is probably doomed to failure. It remains to be seen whether the Europeans, once the error becomes apparent – should the error really become apparent – will dare to admit it in time. That hope is of course naïve.
Punishment and revenge as such constitute the noted theoretical boundary – no society can abandon them entirely because it would mean rebellion against any kind of morality. However, the prohibition of a specific method of punishment depends on specific conditions. As far as the death penalty is concerned, what is decisive is whether the principle that a punishment has to correspond to a crime (in legal terms “shall be proportional to the crime”) will belong to the universal all-human set of norms, which is mandatory, or to the culture-bound set of norms – which is also mandatory, at least for an individual at any time and place (here and now).
The inability to understand the enormous importance of ‘here and now’ makes the ultra human rightists similar to the builders of communism. Lenin was for a long time wrestling with the idea how to witness the worldwide revolution because the doctrine foresaw its concurrent outbreak in all the industrialized countries, but nothing like this happened in the West. Eventually Lenin had to change the doctrine with the theory of the possibility of the revolution in a single country. This single country ignored all the contraindications to the building of communism due to its culture but also economy and laws of physics, and its outcome is known to us. A cultural domain with a strongly religious structure did not transform into an atheist but a pseudo-religious domain by adopting religious intolerance but not forgiveness and mercy. The transformation of agriculture ended in a disaster because the communal peasant failed to become the collective farmer of the new era. The idea that nobody shall belong to somebody else turned into a cruel joke – the hope that in future there will be ‘communal wives’. (It reminds me the idea of equality by some utopian, perhaps Fourier – everybody is entitled to an equal number of dwelling rooms, horses, and servants.) Even the Bolshevik leaders clearly revealed their cultural boundaries. For example, the nobleman Ulyanov (i.e. Lenin) was unable to give up a decent suit and a tasteful tie, which should not have any significance from the perspective of the world revolution. Actually, what is odd indeed is how his subjects turned him into a mummy and put him on display.
However, the method of forcing, for example, the idea of the equality of men and women on those societies, where it is as foreign as a piece of metal in the body of a living person, is none wiser than the communist experiment. As if it weren’t enough, even democracy as such meets with opposition, and in the case of several African countries it has made political scientists ask (in whispers) whether it was actually a wise idea to demand democracy from those countries. All too often a democratic experiment has led to anarchy and civil war while despotism would have meant at least some kind of order from where one could have gradually started to move towards democracy. The forceful implementation of democracy in Japan yielded a more or less favourable result although there, too, were some doubtful side effects.
The Scandinavian countries carry the torch for the equality of men and women. The Scandinavians insist that their regulations in this field should be introduced everywhere, intentionally and painstakingly ignoring the fact that throughout history in Nordic societies the position of women has been much stronger than in most other parts of the world. One could recall, for example, Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset or her remote successor Pippi Longstocking. Women are traditionally strong and entitled to more rights in those societies where men are at sea for a long time. That explains it. It is not understandable why it should be relevant to Kazakhs or Kurds. It is extremely short-sighted to regard Kristin Lavransdatter or Pippi Longstocking as a manifestation of the chosen few where Scandinavians reveal a better access to the proper understanding of the human rights. But this is exactly what is happening. The Norwegians were the first to establish ‘parliamentary reservations’ for women (at least forty per cent of the seats must go to women); not long ago a similar quota system took effect also with regard to the boards of state enterprises. The European Council speaks about these innovations in a rather demanding tone, which leaves no room for doubt that soon such inverted discrimination will be required from other nations, too.
In Estonia the problem of equality should not become as acute as in several more southern, including South European societies. It is so because in Estonian society, which has been basically agrarian, women have never been totally suppressed. A farm was run both by husband and wife, and the latter was responsible for several areas where the husband had no say. Nevertheless, on cannot deny the existence of a certain degree of androcentricity even today. It is in all respects logical that as men in the course of urbanization are gradually freed from the traditional male jobs (ploughing, sowing and harvesting, chopping firewood, harnessing the horse, recently even repairing one’s car or flat) the general division of labour and roles breaks down between the sexes. It is logical that this division of roles survives longer in those regions where men still keep doing the male jobs that are too difficult for women or the ones that are simply unappealing to them (e.g. fishing in coastal regions but also soil cultivation in the regions that have remained faithful to agriculture).
However, even in towns one does not expect full disappearance of the division of roles but only some modifications. The role of the male may and must increase both in the area of housework and looking after children. Still, one cannot deny the fact that the relation of mother with her suckling is fundamentally different from that of father as long as women give birth to humans. This fact, as well as some special requirements during pregnancy (for example, each pregnant woman is excluded from the teams of both potato-pickers and shot putters for some time), inevitably impose a certain family-internal division of labour and roles. It will be so of course on condition that the family as such will remain, but even its disintegration cannot bring about a full disappearance of the division of labour and roles.
Other differences between men and women will not disappear either. They will remain, enraging militant feminists and providing work for the multitudes who make their living from these differences – tailors, hairdressers, judges of rhythmic gymnastics, and the entire perfume industry. Against this background one of the latest initiatives in this field of the European Council – the requirement that any sex discrimination (i.e. distinction) should be abolished – sounds absurd, indeed. Do separate toilets for men and women qualify as a violation of humans rights? One might wish to check it. One should enter a toilet intended for the opposite sex, allow the police to arrest you and take you away, and then sue your country at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And one could well ask why a male sprinter cannot compete with female sprinters. On what grounds can one prohibit him from lining up at the start? And one more thing – the European Social Charter foresees the right to a special protection in the area of working conditions. Will this noble requirement be abolished now as it is in conflict with the human rights?
Once again we have slipped from the obstacles originating in the cultural context to the obstacles having a universal character. It is true that in each case the universal obstacles are manifested as some specific clash of cultures, for example, the problem of covering women’s faces in an Islamic country or the stubborn occurrence of retaliatory killings in Dagestan. Therefore, the abolition of the death penalty would be a step backward and not forward because the number of retaliatory killings would probably increase there. To sum up, because all the societies throughout the entire history of mankind have recognized punishment and revenge, they have also admitted the difference between man and woman. While the first imperative could be regarded as universal, the second one could be even more general. To remember it, a glance at a puffed up tom turkey will suffice. Dreamers have dreamt about humankind without sexes – a perfect example being the novel The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin, daughter of the renowned anthropologist Alfred Kroeber – but a dream will be a dream. It is worth mentioning that in order to do away with the division of roles, in her novel LeGuin had at first to eliminate the physiological and psychological differences between man and woman. In real life it is impossible to eliminate them.
This fact implies that such cultural norms that take into account the difference between man and woman and at times deepen it – depending on the main areas of activity and the geographical and climatic conditions of its people – will stand in the way of the Scandinavian requirement of equalization today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. It will result in some confusion when nobody is quite clear whether helping a woman on with the coat qualifies as courtesy or a gross violation of human rights. Apparently, confusion will increase for some time before the world organizations admit – if they admit – that one cannot challenge different cultural domains with identical, undifferentiated requirements. One can bring hundreds of examples of the erroneousness and harmfulness of the unifying approach, but nevertheless both the UN and the European Council stubbornly cling to the dogma that “there can be no double standards” in the field of the human rights.
First, this claim is false, and, second, it is cynical. Double standards do exist; everybody who has at least some knowledge of politics knows it. What is allowed to one (country) is not allowed to another (country). The world would be much more honest if these differences were cleared up and made known – under what circumstances and to whom something is allowed and something is not. By contrast, the situation where wishful thinking is presented as reality means a cover-up, which will get us nowhere. Quite the contrary, it creates an illusion that everything is already more or less all right.
The above-said concerns global politics as a whole, including human rights. The norms should be differentiated openly with regard to social rights, equality between the sexes, requirements for democracy, etc. However, even putting forward such an idea is heretical and will immediately trigger serious accusations, including an accusation of making an attempt to set up a World Sanhedrin that would decide what and how much from whom. Apparently, in that case one would really once again be bogged down in arbitrariness and finally in violence, and the accusation would be relevant. The establishment of such a supervisory body is out of question, not as an instrument, objective, or as a spin-off. The existing Council of Europe is more than sufficient. No, differentiation should be apparent not in the increased efficiency of supervision but in the ‘liberalization’ of some rights that are today regarded as absolute, universal, and inalienable, that is, they should remain in the competence of each society. Such right could include the abolition of the death penalty, consideration of differences between men and women, and perhaps even “general, direct, and free elections by secret ballot”. The situation of the people of, for example, Zimbabwe will not deteriorate because of this. (As for free elections, in those places where the society does not wish them, they are not serious anyway even if they are held. As a rule, people who are unwilling to vote do not know how to do it.) However, this kind of non-interference calls for an important reservation – the society itself must be free to decide on its organization. It means that the world organizations will continue to have the responsibility to demand freedom for – nations. But if a society wishes to have free elections, the equality of women, the abolition of the death penalty and the freedom of the press, but some foreign power hinders it in all this, then the world organizations should interfere; otherwise one cannot take them seriously.
This outwardly insignificant change – to adjust the list of the objectives of the world organizations by replacing the freedoms and the rights of the individual by the freedoms and the rights of the society – would unfortunately imply such a massive reorientation, reprofiling of the paradigm, deconstruction of the discourse, and causing headaches to the doctrinaires that it would be difficult to believe that this change could take place in the near future. Paradigms are paradigms for the reason that they are incredibly inert, and even Vahtre’s book cannot change them. Taking it into consideration, the reader can simply forget what was said in the previous passage.
ECONOMIC AND PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS
As noted, already the Universal Declaration included among the human rights some that actually represent social rights. For example, everybody is entitled to form and to join trade unions; everybody has the right to rest and leisure and well-being, etc. The European Social Charter goes much further with regard to listing these rights (especially in the 1996 revised version) and foresees in great detail what is meant by such terms as the right to work, the right to safe and healthy working conditions, the right to holidays, the right to a fair remuneration, etc.
For example, the term ‘fair remuneration’ means among other things that both the worker and his or her dependants must be secured an income such as will give them ‘a decent standard of living’. However, the question arises how such a clearly culture-bound definition as ‘decent’ can stand for something universal. Actually, it can not, and each society has a ‘decent standard of living’ that is slightly different from the one in another society or in the same society at some other time. The dependence upon time is at the same time an intellectual and material phenomenon. It is a triviality that the subjective need differ in different centuries. One would more rarely recall the fact that material well-being is largely dependent on the extent a society has been able to accumulate – build roads, wharves, towns, cathedrals, etc. The wealth of the Western societies of today is based not only on the present work of present-day people. Thus, the content of the term ‘decent standard of living’ has a floating character, and the only thing that is definite is that it does exist, and in each location at any moment it has its specific content. It would be praiseworthy if people could understand ‘decent standard of living’ as a floating and relative concept, and sometimes it seems to be the case. At the same time there are huge numbers of human rightists with an extremely rigid understanding of human decency that corresponds to the norms of their own society but think that they should be applied to the Bantus and Inuits, to New Zealand and Albania. Nevertheless, the main drawback of the social human rights does not consist in the clash of cultures but in economics and physics – which are much more difficult to subordinate to ideology.
The social rights were amended to the Universal Declaration at the request of the Soviet Union because the Soviets hoped to use them in the propaganda war against the West. The West in turn accepted them in the hope that the Soviet Union would then join the Universal Declaration, but eventually the Soviet Union abstained. (Ashford 47.) This anecdotal episode of another deceit by Byzantine diplomacy could be shelved with thousands of similar cases under the common title “A History of Human Folly” and forget about it if the point were only in deceit. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and there were some powerful forces in the West who ensured after the deceit was disclosed that the social rights were not excluded from among the human rights, but their factual position as human rights grew even stronger. They remained in the Universal Declaration, and they are still there, but the European Social Charter represents the most vivid example of this process. As noted, formally it does not belong to the European Convention of Human Rights, but in fact works as demandingly as the latter. Dr Nigel Ashford emphasizes in the above-mentioned book almost with despair that social rights are not human rights – that is, they are not absolute, universal, or inalienable, which is true of course – but it would be a bad idea to flaunt this fact in Strasbourg. These people regard them as an integral part of the system of human rights; the entire Social Charter, however, is regarded as a supplement to the Convention in the area of social and economic rights. And these rights have a tendency to grow. It would not be surprising if somebody came up with the idea that the right to a lunch-time swim is a human right, too.
To put it bluntly, each social human right has its price; thus, any social right can be granted only if the provision of a right is accompanied with somebody’s responsibility. Unfortunately, we cannot find any responsibilities in the Social Charter. Everybody has the right to social security, but nobody has the responsibility to work. The majority of the social rights listed in the charter – if not all – presume the existence of the state. The state organizes assistance to the poor, control over the employers, and prevention of violence – but nobody has the responsibility to ‘make’ the state. The ‘making’ of the state, that is, fulfilling the responsibilities of a member of an organized society has been tacitly made self-evident, and perhaps this is the case because, as noted previously, the state is another natural outcome of a ‘selfish gene’, similarly to family, golf club, and trade union. All right, but one might have mentioned it anyway.
However, the existence of the state alone cannot ensure the implementation of the rights listed in the Social Charter. As noted, also money is needed for this end; or to be more precise, the ability of a society organized as a state to create and redistribute a sufficient amount of value that would cover the rights of its members. For example, the right to education costs a specific amount in the state budget, plus the amount of time and effort. It is difficult to measure the latter, but the figure written in the budget is unambiguous, clear, and merciless in its clarity. This figure varies widely by various countries, both for its absolute value (which is natural) and in relative terms, as per capita. Who could tell which amount covers the human right, and if it is smaller than that, would it constitute a violation of the human rights?
Suppose we can figure out this amount of rights and possibilities in every different sphere of life. Let us add to free primary and general education – required by the Universal Declaration – the right to medical assistance, enjoyment of art, housing of an adequate standard (it is not quite clear what it means, but the 1997 version of the Convention provides it), and many other things. One will add up the costs, and we will learn how much money a specific country needs in order to grant the human rights of its citizens. But what will one do if it appears that these costs exceed twice the revenue of that country? Who is to blame? To whom can one complain? Such a situation reveals the intrinsic infantility of the ideology of the social rights – without worrying how value is created and who creates or should create it, one focuses on the distribution of value. The outcome is the social programme by Astrid Lindgren’s Karlsson-on-the Roof: “Here are ten buns. Seven for me and seven for you. Mine are here.”
DIVERSION: LEFTIST FAIRY-TALE WORLD
With this the human rights movement, actually leftism, which invented and developed the social human rights, has reached the denial of itself – the trend of thinking that (reportedly) started as opposition to alienation now preaches nothing but alienation. It is not important how value is created; the main thing is that an individual should receive his or her ‘decent’ share of it. Leftism tries to place at any cost a black box called ‘the state’ between an individual and his or her consumption in order to root out the heretical belief as if, for example the sense of security consumed by the individual could somehow be related the value created by himself or herself.
The accusation of alienation is not arbitrary. One can hear daily that citizens have become alienated from their state, to which some man of letters adds victoriously that, in addition, the state has become alienated from its own citizens. Unfortunately, such claims reveal that man and the state are two basically equal subjects, though not with equal power. However, that is nonsense even if one muddies the waters with the claims as if the ‘state’ could be something that is totally different from society. Such claims opposing the citizen and the state constitute themselves manifestations of deep alienation. A person who thinks that the state stands totally outside of him or her and outside his or her country is able to come up even with the demand that the state could pay the private income taxes. A group of Finnish comrades had reportedly made such a proposal after the Second World War.
Unfortunately, one cannot finish this diversion only with a reference to human folly. The reason is that at least in Europe the drive for alienation, leftism, and Karlsson’s seven buns has been strong for too long. Also today there are many people who, following the traditions of the Golden Sixties, keep developing the idea that, first, the state should pay for this of that because in that case people could have more money at their disposal, and, second, the state (as a ‘law-enforcement structure’) is bad to the core, it should be swept away altogether. The naïve slogans of the anti-globalizers show that all this has something to do with the yearning for patriarchal peace and quiet. One should also take into account the fact that such slogans appeal mostly to the ‘weary and humiliated’, that is, the people who find they have been treated unfairly and whose heart is thirsty for compensation if not revenge. One definite reason lies in the complexity of contemporary societies that tend to become incredibly complicated. Similarly to most computer users (unlike cyclists), who do not know and do not wish to know how their tool actually works, a man in the street does not wish to know anymore how the state actually functions. Unfortunately, its consequence is not an honest confession of one’s ignorance but mythological images of conspiracies, military-industrial complexes, freemasons, and perhaps dwarves who govern countries and peoples. ‘Folk structuralism’ would be a more polite term for it. However, it has nothing to do with science. The reasons why Karlsson desired seven buns are largely psychological.
However, there would be nothing infantile in the social rights if they were presented as goals, the pursuit of which is the responsibility of each societal leader – naturally in case a society wishes to pursue and implement them. In this case, it would be clear that the absence of some social rights does not automatically imply violation of these rights but simply absence, and that everything depends on the circumstances whether it is financially possible to grant these rights and whether those in the position to influence the development of society use this position responsibly or not.
However, the human rights, in case one includes the social and the economic rights, has another limit – the physical one. Naturally, this claim does not mean that some human right would be in conflict with the laws of physics but it means that, as a whole, they are in conflict with the resources of mankind and the physical tolerance of the biosphere. As noted, (nearly) all the rights require money to a greater or lesser extent or, broadly speaking, a certain amount of value created by man, and all this money and value can be converted into energy. Each right has a certain energetic cost that can be measured in joules, kilowatt-hours, or calories, and one can add these costs up similarly to various amounts of money. Despite having no specific figures, I am convinced that if one figured out the amount of energy, needed for granting the human rights to one single member of a Western welfare state, and multiplied it with the ever-increasing number of the inhabitants of our planet, we would have such an enormous quantity that cannot simply be covered by the actually existing energy resources. Or if they were sufficient, the amount of the released heat would be so large that it would cause a global environmental disaster. Already now nobody has adequately explained how else but by ruthless cutting of the rainforests could such countries as Congo or Indonesia grant the human rights to their citizens.
How could such circumstances as the energetic or financial cost concern the rights that are absolute, universal, and inalienable? The question arises whether a human right must be, on the contrary, free from any financial and energy cost, or it is still permitted to a certain extent. Take, for example, the right to justice. It is clear that even this right requires some money and energy, the financial and/or energetic value of which is also calculable. And it requires time, which is perhaps even more valuable. Precisely for these reasons, throughout the history of mankind in emergency situations, mainly in wartime, the administration of justice has been simplified and shortened, which inevitably increases the likelihood of miscarriage of justice. In such situations the right and righteousness retreat under the pressing need that does not allow wasting any resources or time. Therefore, even such a barbaric view could be theoretically defensible that the right to justice, elementary as it may seem, is neither absolute nor universal. Let alone such a costlier right as the ban on the death penalty, which implies long-term imprisonment that puts a heavy burden on society.
Is there any codified or uncodified right at all that does not ‘cost’ anything? Apparently there is. For example, the right to repentance does not burden the state budget or the environment at all. Nobody, including man himself, can alienate this right. Whether there is somebody who exercises this right is another matter. Unfortunately, this right has not been recorded anywhere, and if it were, then nobody would try to deprive anybody of it because that would be impossible anyway. The same could happen if we invented the right to love – how could someone ban it. This fact suggests that the listed phenomena are not rights at all; rather, they are human characteristics. A right, in its turn, is something that somebody grants and/or deprives. Or if it cannot be deprived, then it is at least violable. However, in that case – who grants (or violates) the human rights? The one who grants can be only someone who is superior. Who grants the rights to the supreme creature of the universe? The question is as absurd as the one whether almighty God can create such a heavy rock he cannot lift himself. The only sane way to evade the question would be to admit that we are not atop of the absolute scale of values. We are only humans.
Finally, one might note with humour that currently the European Union is dealing with something that is as possible as the paradoxical rock. Namely, the European Union has set an aim to be a ‘major player’ in the world and to this end to increase its economic might at first to the American level. The target is a noble one because it will help among other things to grant the social rights of the people, but as the 2002 Barcelona summit stated, trade unions present a headache because their demands concerning the working conditions and rest and leisure hinder the achievement of the aim. To put simply, Europeans would, in fact, like to be as wealthy as the Americans, but they do not wish to put in the same amount of effort. And if they do not wish it, they cannot be as wealthy.
MAY EVERYBODY BE HAPPY
While the elementary political and civil rights and freedoms are first of all intended to establish justice and to create equal opportunities to everybody, the emotional pillar of the social rights is to establish real equality. The social rights campaigners emphasize that in the state of great economic inequality the slogan of equal opportunities is an illusion, and they are right. For example, an economically-challenged person cannot send his or her gifted child to an elite school – even if there is no tuition fee – because the school is located in another town and attending school in another town is expensive. It is also true that even in the most democratic societies the self-realization of a person depends on the horizontal informal social network, which favours those who have belonged to it since their birth. These and other similar problems cannot be fully solved by laws or conventions although the latter may alleviate the situation a little.
However, in connection with the human rights there arises an almost insurmountable obstacle. The sacred truth that was recorded already in the American Declaration of Independence posits that “all men are born equal”, but when observing the realities of life then it appears that it is not so at all. People are not equal – that is so anyway – but they are not born equal either; some are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and others are not.
What can one do in such a situation? A Utopian would swiftly suggest that “the ones without a silver spoon should be given one, and equality has been achieved”. However, a realist would note that “mankind does not have enough silver for that”. “That’s clear”, a communist will step in “let us take from those who have and give to those who have not.” A realist will ask, “but then we will still have some who have and others who have not – how about equality?” “Well, in that case we will have to kill one by one those from whom we take away the spoon”, the communist rejoices, “then we won’t have any inequality whatsoever.” “Perhaps it is not nice from their part, but they will put up resistance,” the realist makes a barbed comment. “All right,” says the socialist, “in that case one has to take half of the spoon away from those who were born with it and give to those who were born without one.”
After long debates the proposal of the socialist prevails, and in order to implement it, a Chief Directorate for the Weighing and Halving of Spoons is set up, and they decide on the percentage of silver per halved spoon that is needed for the upkeep of the chief directorate. In the course of time the percentage increases because the sense of justice keeps developing, and, accordingly, the job requires an increasingly higher degree of accuracy.
All this reminds me of a Hungarian fairy tale about two bear cubs who found a ball of cheese. As they were unable to halve it, they asked a fox to come to their assistance. The latter kept halving and halving until the greater part of the cheese had been eaten by the fox, and both bear cubs received only a microscopic piece. It is true, however, that these pieces, though small, were heart-warmingly equal.
Be that as it may, the problem of whether socialism is efficient or inefficient, related to the predominant understanding of justice, is beyond the scope of the present topic. We are interested in the ‘insurmountable obstacle’, which is related to the human rights and consists in the following – even taking away half the spoon and its redistribution means that the rights of the people are not equal. There is one who takes and the other from whom it is taken. It turns out that the creation of equal opportunities requires unequal treatment. It is murmured under breath that it is positive discrimination. The low voice is used because elsewhere they have promised to root out any kind of discrimination. An honest and outspoken person has to admit, however, that complete equality is, in fact, impossible – in the conditions where there is no supreme power, or in the conditions of absolute freedom, there is no equality, nor is there equality in the conditions of some supreme power – the concept of supreme power itself implies it. Power can establish justice with regard to a specific person, but it cannot create universal equality. All the attempts to establish universal equality have soon led to violence. The seeds of this violence can be found already in the sacred Marxist texts. According to Roger Scruton, a critic of leftism, the Marxist theory “declares inequality injustice and through this justifies ‘violence in the sake of equality’ ”. (Scruton 105.) Violence as such is an integral component of any society, and it is used to reduce inequality – this activity is called restoration of justice – but it is nonsense and cynical cheating if one resorts to violence for the sake of universal equality.
It is hopeless to overcome this serious conflict, and the human rights ideologists make no effort in this direction. On the contrary, relevant questions are regarded as spite, in less fortunate cases as a manifestation of primitivism, which is naturally first and foremost characteristic of East European nations. It remains unclear how far should one go with creating equal opportunities by means of positive discrimination or how far it goes in practice. There is a quite clear tendency that was mentioned at the beginning of the chapter – the requirement of equal opportunities reveals a tendency to develop into the requirement of actual equality. For example, the social rights campaigners often do not address anymore the question how a gifted child from an economically-challenged family could succeed in entering an elite school; instead they would ask why on earth are there elite schools, and how could one abolish them. The ideological grounds for such a target are based on simple truth – the mere existence of an elite school is a manifestation of inequality and breeds more inequality. In any case the graduate of an elite school has an advantage over the graduate of Paglesham secondary school.
This kind of equalizing way of thinking, which could easily lead to absurdness, derives already from the idea of equal opportunities. When Jefferson wrote: ‘all men are born equal’ he probably meant that their self-realization should not have any advantages or disadvantages because of one’s inherited social position. For example, a person should not be deprived of some area of activity because he was not born as a nobleman. And apparently it did not mean that the person who was born equal with regard to the others could not attend, for example, an elite school and achieve greater success in his or her life than some other person. Or should we ban elite schools, how could we forbid one’s marriage to a fabulously rich bride or groom – and getting a chance to implement some original idea, which would otherwise not have been put to practice due to lack of money? Thus, the base texts of the human rights demanded the equality of man at birth and not that the entire following course of life should be equal to everyone else. However, Jefferson was not explicit about the age after which non-inherited (i.e. merit-based) inequality is permitted.
By now the equality requirement has shifted far from the moment of birth, and usually the social activists speak vaguely and emotionally that people should be in an equal state when they come of age, that is, become socially grown-up. However, this boundary is undergoing a shift, too. If the shift continues, one will have to equal to the other throughout one’s life, and perhaps one is allowed only to die as a more talented and successful person than someone else. Briefly, in sport it is clear that when the starting shot is fired, the athletes must be on the same lane, and after that one can take the lead. On the other hand, in the framework of social justice it remains unclear which moment in the development of a social creature counts as the starting shot. If the starting shot is shifted to an increasingly older age, it will result in equalization, even if it is only in the form of aim. One’s life passes while waiting for the starting shot in the line-up as an equal.
The idea of equality as a pillar of the social rights rests in turn on some ideological or, rather, an emotional foundation that substantiates and justifies the pursuit of equality. It is pursuit of happiness.
At first one could recall the fact that the idea of equality is not as self-evident as it seems to us here and now. Throughout known history neither equality nor equal opportunities have stood on top of the value scales of societies. This fact is directly linked to another fact that has a fundamental relationship with the topic of the human rights – decreased religiousness in the Western societies over the past five hundred years. A decrease in religiousness and parallel emancipation of the individual (whereas the question of which was derived from which merits a separate volume) has brought into focus self-realization in this life. For a long time already in the West the course of man’s life is not interpreted as preparation for eternal life but as the one and the only and the final one. For a long time already Western man has not racked one’s brain over how to achieve God’s blessing but how to become happy. And that is quite a different matter.
The manifestations of the traditional, conservative, class-based, submissive, unselfish, hypersocial, ‘fossilized’ – you name it – world view and hierarchy of values carried on until the recent past. One cannot claim that they are totally absent now or that the contemporary Western man does not know them at all. The contemporary Western man can, for example, by chance take the “Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas Senior and discover two interesting characters: Count de la Fère and Grimaud. The philosophy of life as revealed in their relations is totally patriarchal and selfless. The former has the obedience of the latter; the latter enjoys the protection of the former. Affection, however, is mutual. The relations between Count and Grimaud reveal nothing of what literary and social criticism of the human rights brand could see there – gross injustice, humiliation of one person by the other, etc. Actually, these two people were, so to speak, in the right position with regard to each other, whereas the right position was based on the ancient understanding that people are not equal, and they do not have to have even equal opportunities. Dumas does not provide any religious explanation to this case, and probably it would be not relevant. The link with religion is much deeper and less visible, being manifested not in conventional religiousness but in some kind of specific selflessness that does not prioritize one’s person or personal happiness. Instead, the goal is to understand one’s place in life in the way it is provided by destiny and to honestly perform the corresponding role. This type of person would sum up his earthly aspirations with the following words: “Wish I could die at peace with the world.”
We could call it pursuit of happiness, too, but it would be somewhat artificial and demagogic. Dying at peace with the world which people like Grimaud expect from their life, and the happiness and self-realization pursued by the present-day youngster are rather different matters.
While de la Fère and Grimaud took the ancient social paradigm right as far as the recent past, the present-day ‘selfish’ pursuit of happiness in turn has its roots in the distant past. It is in all respects natural and is in line with a previously suggested definition, according to which culture is development.
Apparently one has to regard as one root also the famous observation by Martin Luther that man will be blessed through (one’s personal) faith, which took religion and belief on a much more individual level than before. It was only natural that there was no specific moment of truth or a specific person who could lead the development of European culture to the path of individualism and individual happiness – even if we have in mind such a strong personality as Luther – which is to a certain extent an ironical fact. Individualism as an ideology was invented over a long period by a collective of various thinkers, as if they had been building an impressive wall for centuries.
On the other hand, the ideology of individualism was established abruptly, violently, and in the form of mass psychosis. The gradually strengthening orientation to personal happiness and self-realization entailed in Western societies and the derived demands for various liberties and rights resulted in a number of bloody revolutions and other coups – the Reformation and the following religious wars, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, etc. In the course of these revolutions people repeatedly proceeded from the pursuit of human happiness to its implementation or the establishment of universal happiness. This process revealed two worrying facts: first, the happiness of one part of people consists in the unhappiness of others, and, second, some people show no wish to become happy. Both facts made the bringers of happiness resort to violence. Some of them became legendary for their thirst for blood (e.g. Saint-Just and Dzerzhinsky).
Yes, to claim that the roots of these events lie in the deepening of individualism and the gaining of independence by the individual sounds somewhat unexpected. One is used to seeing in revolutions or at least ‘revolutionary violence’ not individualism but a returning outburst of the herd instinct like in Gombe National Park, justifiably of course. However, the point is not only in the herd instinct. Actually, a revolution knows – unless it is a singing revolution like the one in Estonia in 1988 – how to combine the worst characteristics of individualism and collectivism.
However, the point was not in occasional cruel people. Unfortunately, violence is entailed in the idea of universal happiness itself for the reason that was just mentioned – some people have no intention to become happy. Or at least they do not intend it in the way it is ‘prescribed’. Individualism entails a fundamental conflict – by deifying the needs and the aspirations of an individual, this ideology imposes an unnoticeable burden on ‘another’ individual whose needs and aspirations are sacrificed for the sake of the former. This ‘other’ individual either has to give up his or her wishes, rights, property, and principles – or, what is more common, he or she is declared a ‘non-person’ or ‘class enemy’ and will be destroyed. In most cases he or she is declared ‘public enemy’. Without denying at all that public enemies do exist (e.g. Herostratus), I nevertheless note that the typical leftist understanding of the public enemy is totally absurd, which unerringly points to its emotional – one might say Althusserite – and not rational core. On one side there are people, on the other side there are thousands of people who are not people. It shows vividly that leftism fails to cope with its task – to make everybody happy – both from the theoretical and practical perspectives. No leftist theory can prove how one can practically achieve that public enemies will not be the enemies of people. In theory public enemies simply do not exist because theoretically everybody wants to be happy and to support the social system that ensures such happiness. They do exist in practice, however, and this circumstance makes an average leftist simply angry. If one lacks power to vent one’s anger in other ways, then one has to content oneself to turning nasty in the media.
Unfortunately, there is no such method of communal living that could grant simultaneous happiness to all of its members. It always happens that Tom loves Mary, but Mary loves Johnny, and even Saint-Just or Dzerzhinsky could do anything about it let alone the European Council or Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Although there is great desire to solve the problem – one has to knock Johnny off and to make it clear to Mary that her happiness lies with Tom. It would be rather naïve to think that this sad inevitability, which could be termed as the Law of the Impossibility of Granting Sexual Happiness by the State, would not affect social conditions and would confine itself only to the so-called private sphere.
No hope. It will affect social conditions as well. Consequently, it will always be possible that Tom loves the progressive income tax, but Johnny, on the other hand, prefers the proportional one, whereby Tom and Johnny cannot relish social happiness together. The best thing that the politicians and the ideologists can do is to seek possibilities to minimize the number of unhappy people. As soon as one begins to eliminate them, one could expect either mental or physical violence. A realistic policy does not consist in striving for universal happiness but endless optimization. One has to stress the word ‘endless’ because a solution that is optimal today is definitely not so tomorrow. Nor will the human rights of today satisfy the European or the American tomorrow.
The reason for this has been discussed at length previously – the reason is that culture is development. The demands of the people will increase. At least it has been so over the past millennia in societies covered by the Western civilization. It remains to be asked how far can one go with the development of one’s individualism, and where is the borderline after which human society as such begins to disintegrate.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Any kind of assumption and prediction is of course a thankless task, but there is no good reason to declare it absolutely pointless either. Meteorology proves it quite convincingly. It is not forbidden to think about possible development trends and development scenarios in other fields either, be it such back-breaking areas as Man, Society, or Culture. Let alone of one part of the World, so-called West. Therefore, the reader will perhaps forgive some ideas.
It is difficult to deny the fact that human rightism and political correctness that originated in Europe and America – to be precise, understandings concerning the rights of man and political correctness – do not stand still but develop in some direction, and this direction is identifiable. There is strong likelihood that the development of these concepts will not come to an end or change its course – not tomorrow, and apparently not the day after tomorrow either. (For me, ‘tomorrow and the day after tomorrow’ mean the next few decades, perhaps thirty years.) Therefore, considering their previous development trends, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow they will be a degree ‘stronger’ than today. This claim is notoriously vague and subjective, but there is no better choice.
During these twenty of thirty years the human rights and political correctness (despite the ever-louder warnings) will tighten up considerably. The legalization of same-sex marriages will be made mandatory to all the European countries but perhaps to America as well. There is increasing pressure to abolish the death penalty in America, Japan, and other notoriously barbaric societies.
A large number of social rights will be added, which will be treated more and more definitely and unambiguously as human rights. A new category of rights will arise – the so-called self-realization rights, in the framework which one could regard as a human right the right to practise ice hockey or mountaineering regardless of the person’s material and physical possibilities or the climatic and geographic conditions in his or her place of residence.
The lines of the sections devoted to the rights of women will become drastically longer in all the Western legal codes; also, the number of court cases opened pursuant to these codes will increase abruptly. The work areas of the world organizations will widen considerably, and, accordingly, the organizations themselves will grow larger. While in 2001 an attempt was made to submit the problem of stray dogs in Bucharest to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, then in a few years time this effort will be crowned with success together with dozens of similar efforts, and the Council of Europe will begin to pass resolutions, declarations, and conventions on these matters. Presumably any kind of hunting will be forbidden; in addition, somebody will invent plant rights, and it will be forbidden to trim poplars, for example. People will be looking for a possibility to abolish death (i.e. death is increasingly regarded as an anomaly, and somebody must be held responsible for its occurrence; it will give rise to thousands of lawsuits against hospitals and doctors). The civil rights will shrink or disappear altogether; immigrants can feel at home everywhere, at least in the eyes of the law. There will be an enormous number of lawsuits in the course of which hundreds of “intolerant male whites” will be convicted of violations of the human rights, xenophobia, and racism. What is especially significant is that the number of family-internal lawsuits will increase abruptly, whereas confronted before the court will be not only ‘Kramer versus Kramer’, that is, spouses, but increasingly more frequently father and son, mother and daughter, grandchild and grandparent, and brother and sister.
A general regularity is revealed – an increase in the number of codified human rights will bring about an exponential growth of human rights violations. In other words, the more rights there are, the more violations there will be. Subjectively it will be manifested not by content with the extension of the human rights but by discontent at the increased occurrence of their violations.
All of this would be impossible if the public opinion or at least fashion did not support such extreme humanism. However, fashion continues to be on the side of human rightism and political correctness. The demand for all kinds of rights resembles an avalanche that will not come to a halt itself. Incidentally, Anton Hansen Tammsaare, an Estonian classic author, described a similar process in the third volume of his “Truth and Right”, which deals with the search for truth and right against the background of the 1905 Russian Revolution. The successful orator is the one who demands more than the previous speaker to be outdone soon by a new speaker who will in turn demand even more. In this way also the West demands in the course of its bloodless cultural revolution more and more from itself and experiences as if religious intoxication because the bright and happy tomorrow is within its reach.
The hour of truth will be bitter, and one can be quite sure that when it comes, the majority of the Europeans and the Americans will be unable to admit it – not to themselves nor to the others. Hysteria will break out in the course of which efforts will be made to find the culprits – who is to blame that universal happiness and abundance was not attained, which actually was within easy reach. No doubt, the culprits will be identified and torn limb from limb in the most humane manner without applying the death penalty.
However, the truth itself consists in the fact that most of the extensive rights codified during almost one hundred years have constituted infantile fantasy from the very beginning, being equal to Pippi Longstocking’s hope that “I will never grow up”. The observance of these rights proves to be impossible due to the reasons that were described in previous chapters – first, there is not enough energy, or it is impossible to release it to such a great extent; second, the West has not enough economic possibilities (i.e. man is not diligent enough to afford the kind of idleness that he or she would like); third, both inside the Western societies and around them there will be more people who simply do not respect the human rights and even not the pillars of democracy. What Mugabe did in Zimbabwe in 2002, breaching cynically the democratic rules of procedure in the name of remaining in power, proves not to be an echo from the past but a gloomy herald of the future. It is likely that the Western rules, which are politically correct, democratic, and respectful of the human rights, will be replaced by much more violent and communal ones.
It could well be that the so-called third world will inundate the West that has rushed too far ahead, or the Rest will inundate the West, as the Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani warned already fifteen years ago. The Rest will not come with a war but on foot and on bicycles, and they will just take the West over in the way once the Germanic people took over the Roman state.
Tiit Kärner, a physicist of the University of Tartu, has drawn attention to the ironic fact that both Alarich and Odoaker were Roman citizens, the blossoms of a one-time liberal citizenship policy from whom the ancient human rightists perhaps also expected ‘loyalty’ in acknowledgement of citizenship but in vain. Also, the West hopes in vain that ‘citizens’ of the brand of Tottenham Ayatollah will stand up for the human rights and political correctness. No, such people have come “to a foreign monastery with their own statute”, and they intend to enforce the statute there. The West is accustomed to the fact that after some time its statutes are adopted both in the South Sea Islands and the vast expanses of permafrost tundra. It even does not occur to the vast majority of the Europeans and the Americans that soon it could be different, and some day the statutes could be imposed on the West itself. What is even worse is that it does not occur to the elite of the Western civilization, its intellectual leaders.
The third world is of course not the only threat to the West. Rather, the main source of threat lies inside the West, as was also the case with the Roman Empire. Over a period of several thousand years moral apostles have reminded us ‘the decline and fall’ of Rome as a terrifying example, but nothing too bad has happened, and therefore references to the collapse of the ancient world are in the so to speak propagandist sense of doubtful value. One can always claim that it is the same old story. However, this circumstance does not, in fact, mean that one cannot find any parallels in the contemporary West and ancient Roman history that are substantive and true. But let us cast aside the trite – though probably justifiable – references to the moral decline as the main cause of the decline of Rome and content ourselves with the claim that Rome disintegrated first and foremost internally. Will the West also disintegrate internally?
There is no doubt about it. Each organism is disintegrating all the time, and it stays alive only as far as its creating tendencies are stronger then the disintegrating ones. Thus, the identification of the disintegrating tendencies in itself does not spell death tomorrow as yet. I have no such intention either because it is far from clear whether the tendencies, disintegrating the West will prevail tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or in a hundred, two hundred, or five hundred years. Or never, which is highly unlikely but possible. To be more precise, it is impossible to prove the impossibility of such a scenario.
However, the disintegrating tendencies are identifiable, and the present book has referred to some of them: suffocation and slop death (i.e. destruction of rainforests and pollution), information flooding and the resulting fragmentation of societies, to which the incessant process of the hypertrophy of individualism makes a significant – perhaps decisive – contribution.
One might ask where there is any reason for such pessimism. But is there any ground for optimism, one might ask in return. We could reflect for a moment what have we actually created. The human rights? Freedom? All right. But how about ‘human touch’ in the emotional and conventional meaning of the word? The answer is no. In order to be convinced of it we could trust for a moment Victor Hugo and his opinion to the effect that architecture is the best indicator of the spirit of an era and go through the list of the major achievements of the period of the birth and efflorescence of the human rights in the construction of the man-made environment. We can see Brasília by Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa, which already conceptually has no human touch or warmth. We can see Corbusier’s free planning, the fruits of which are sprawling bleak districts of panel houses all over the world. We can see the Millennium Dome in London. We can see colourful supermarkets being built on the outskirts of towns. We can see the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which looks like a tin factory. Generally speaking, we can see an infinite number of occasional outstanding buildings, but we cannot see anywhere this friendly and cosy environment, which the burghers of Tallinn built in the form of a city that was entered on the UNESCO world heritage list. We know the creators of the contemporary buildings by name – they are Artists, Personalities; but we do not know the master builders who have sunk into oblivion, the ones who built the Alsatian villages that look like as if they have left the fairy-tale world because they were selfless and where not guided by the desire to erect a monument to himself.
Nowadays the West can create this kind of homely feel only by meticulous restoration of old quarters as it was decided in Rue de Laeken in Brussels. There they demolished an architectural ‘masterpiece’ from the 1970s (some immense shoebox of blue glass) and restored the old buildings that had been torn down previously. Then Charles, the Prince of Wales, expressed hope that Rue de Laeken would herald “the rebirth of the street in the 21st century”.
Unfortunately, there is some reason for doubt. Why should the Europeans of the 21st century be able to give up the individualism, need for recognition, and egoism that has been injected at an early age? It is terrible to admit that we could possibly never see the creation of a man-made environment with a human touch, and the reason for this lies in us. The people who worship their own rights cannot and actually do not wish to build cosy and warm towns. Cosy little towns are built only by people who can sit on a long bench in an inn. We cannot do it anymore – not in Europe and not in Estonia either. One can prove it by the reconstruction of the Viitna Inn in northern Estonia after it had burned down. The inn was restored, but the long bench is not there anymore. Everybody has his or her own chair.
Individualism creates a cold and often downright hostile environment in the draught of which a ‘migrant is wandering aimlessly’. From here it is very close to the claim that beyond a certain limit the human rights turn into their opposite and start to harass man and to drive him into the draught both in the direct and in the figurative meaning.
It is logical to assume that both the domestic and foreign barbarians, including the barbarian ‘in us’, rebel against such a prospect. They abandon the accomplishments of democracy either partly or fully and turn the wheel of history back by several centuries. They demand not the rights but the ruler. Then they begin to demand a fair ruler, then justice – and we will be back to square one.
It could well be that chaos and anarchy will rule the world after the cultural collapse of the West, as Robert D. Kaplan predicts, but it can last only for a short time. The human nature of people, their organizational essence, on which also Francis Fukuyama lays his hopes, will probably remain and impose at least some kind of order. A model for such a process was suggested by William Golding in his “Lord of the Flies”. Perhaps the West will return to the class-based model of society, as predicted and secretly dreamed about by the vast majority of science fiction, where the technological wonders are constantly mixed with knights, princesses, dukes, and barons. It is so in the “Dune” by Frank Herbert, and that is the way it is in the “Star Wars”. Science fiction tends to predict some kind of tyranny, which is a thought-provoking signal. Tyranny entails something that is appealing also to the contemporary European and American.
Nor is it impossible that the future might have in store a new form of tyranny, ecotyranny, which means that one part of humankind drives the other part into extreme poverty in order to curb the destruction of natural resources and to secure the lion’s share for oneself. However, also the green movement with in all respects noble objectives appears to be in reality among the most intolerant political trends, as if – at least in the case of some types of people – they were more interested in acting out their need for hatred than in defending the natural environment. One feels even more uneasy when in several countries the greens have joined their forces with the reds. The combination of green and blue gives brown… One can only hope that the above-said represents a mediocre witticism and not the reality of tomorrow.
As can be seen, the chapter “May Everybody Be Happy” was followed not by happiness but the worst-case scenarios. However, there is regularity in it. As was repeatedly claimed before, almost all the practical attempts to enforce universal happiness resulted in grim reality – dictatorship, tyranny, mass murders, psychological terror, and hardened tolerance. It only remains to bow low to the obtuse conviction of the contemporary leftists, who deny and ignore the sound conclusion that tyranny and intolerance rather derive from the objective itself than represent accidental by-products of communism and its off-shoots. It appears that the wish to make everybody in this world, here and now happy is … inhuman. Not to say criminal. Once you think about the mass graves and concentration camps under Stalin, Pol Poth, Mao Zedong, and others, the use of this word is not inappropriate at all.
Do the human rights and political correctness belong here as well? Definitely not for the severity of the repressions but in the sense that perhaps they could entail a similar ‘fundamental error’. Will the human rightism, which is constantly tightening up, inevitably lead to the ruin of society and thus to the ruin of each individual? If it is so, will people be able to admit it? Will there ever dawn the day when ultra human rightism will be declared a mistake, the opposite of its original idea? And will this day be called the day of Great Disappoint?
These are difficult and even shocking questions. As children of our times and the ones who are deeply indebted to the human rights, we are unable to pass such decisions anyway. It is simply beyond our powers. We cannot toss away at one go everything that we have regarded as the blossom of the development of mankind. Being confronted with these questions, our power of reflection will fail us; all of a sudden we are once again innocent and irresponsible; we are standing with an apple in the hand, and we demand innocently and irresponsibly our rights because we cannot help it.
However, the above-said concerns our attitude to the human rights and political correctness in general. In each specific case we still enjoy the freedom not to go along with follies. This right is a treasure, and it could well be that this book, in fact, was written to protect it.
In case the reader finds that the end part of the book became somewhat gloomy by predicting a kind of great disappointment, the author would like to comfort the reader with the most optimistic truth in the world – no situation is so bad that it cannot get worse. It definitely can, and there are definitely much gloomier scenarios than the one described above.
Are we facing the paradox that man has become too human and has to reduce its humaneness in order to preserve itself as a species? Or will it suffice if one retains the link with the animal kingdom in the form of the sexual instinct? It is absolutely clear that mankind would become extinct without it. But who could say where is the boundary beyond which humaneness begins to disrupt reproduction – or in other words, what is the ‘mandatory beastly minimum’ from the perspective of the preservation of the species beyond which we are, so to speak, free to exercise our humaneness? Really, even if development as such is inevitable, it does not mean that there is no choice. No individual or species can evade the burden of freedom of will. In fact, not everything in culture is derived from the selfish gene and its demands although it is clear that to claim that nothing is derived from it would be wrong, too. The truth must lie somewhere in between.
But perhaps such quests are altogether futile, and the death of mankind is programmed in man? Or has it been programmed at least in the Western civilization? Sometimes the present-day West with its constant and panicky ‘destruction of conventions’ seems to resemble a building that its inhabitants gradually use up as firewood to heat it. Or a company that is selling its assets in order to constantly raise the living standard of its workers. Suicide has become a lifestyle. That is absurd. In this context it is somewhat frightening to think about the comment by Alexis de Tocqueville that “in a democratic society every generation will form a new nationality”. Where will be then the grandpas dandling their grandchildren and their worldly wisdom? Where will be the truth that “when I was young, my dad used to say stupid things, but the older I’m getting the wiser are his words”? It is comforting to recall that Tocqueville made his remark already several centuries ago and so far the world has not gone to the dogs. However, a few centuries are nevertheless a mere trifle by comparison with millions of years of anthropogenesis…
Is man and humanity a mistake? Perhaps even from the very ‘beginning’ – for example, since man became a biped? Is culture really a deviation? The deviation that the subconscious of the species of homo sapiens is trying to compensate by trying to stop the development of culture in vain? By resting on a hazy notion that eating the apple was a mistake, indeed? Or did the mistake occur already earlier, before the ape? In the paramecium? In life itself? Not even in the “mode of existence of albuminous bodies” but in the fact of their existence? It sounds plausible if you think cosmically. Someday both the Sun and Earth will disappear. Should we really declare the entire existence pointless, that is, claim that there is no sense to look for the sense?
Or there is no mistake whatsoever because nature does not commit errors? There is constant development stretching from becoming a biped to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will inevitably proceed in the same direction, and bring universal happiness and equality? One does not know it.
The only clear thing is that thinking is a great fun. Consequently, there is no need to ask whether it was sensible or senseless to ask the previous questions. One can ask them if you like. Moreover, there is some rationale in them. Namely, you do not have by all means to regard any real development as logical and progressive. Nature may make occasional ‘mistakes’, as the destiny of the antelope with gigantic antlers or the sword-toothed tiger proves. An adaptation, which was originally useful, embarks on a life of its own, undergoes hypertrophy, and will destroy the species instead of retreating. A dead end. It could well be that homo sapiens will face the same destiny, whereas its cross is not antlers or fangs but individualism and its quintessence in the form of the human rights. One might recall that all the earlier hominids became extinct; why not us then? It is not a mindless idea; rather, it would be mindless to prohibit thinking about this. It could well be that not the entire species of ours is on the wrong track but only one part of it. In that case everybody can join the other side. If only one knew which one it is.
Translated by Enn Veldi. Published 2008, translation of a 2002 book “Suur pettumus” (in Estonian); second, revised Estonian edition 2016