Dialogue, or Negotiations?

A Heretic’s Log: A series of philosophical essays written between September 20, 2002 and July 15, 2004.

What does it mean to be patriotic these days? To love a given homeland? To have national belonging? Perhaps even a faith? Conversely, what does it mean to renege and betray? Or, more interestingly, to have a national or confessional enemy?

Indeed, what do any of these things mean these days, when borders, physical and mental, seem more foolish and macabre than they have ever been before? When no more mysteries seem to be left in the world? Or, to be more exact, when Science has managed to demystify the Unknown, and Technology has overcome Distance?[1]

Our contemporary global civilization leaves us no more fig leafs. It denudes us all and as thoroughly as this has ever been done before. It denudes us to the bone-marrow and beyond, then captures our nakedness and mirrors it back on our bewildered and dismayed retinas. We are not what we expected to be, it seems. But then few of us are. Few can ever be.

Still, cynicism, not to mention senility, aside, it should be clear to most observers that we are caught today in a new paradox of our own making (and what paradox is not?), namely: our inability to accept what we have become and, in the process, reverting to what we disdain. We have indeed usurped more and more of the powers of God, but we are still doing the Devil’s work. To be in the image of God continues to be an unfulfilled (if not unfulfillable) aspiration.

What this leads to is all too evident and, in some internal sense, even logical: as the ism involved, the ism that remains somehow at the center of a people’s sense of identity and belonging, becomes more evidently falsified, the people adhere more and more to it. Whether this happens consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is the resulting confusion and the ensuing violence.

And greed is always a major factor here, of course. The greed of the haves and the greed of the have-nots, the greed of the downtrodden and the rich, those who have nothing to lose, and those who simply have too much. Greed always prospers whenever fear, denial, confusion and violence prevail. While one people are busy making a killing of one sort, others will be busy making it in another, one group continuously nudging and urging the other in one of those tragic-comical historical cycles to which philosophers woefully refer.

In times like these, the two kinds of “real” patriots, nationalists and religion-mongers, that will fill the world with their cries of outrage and righteous indignation, will both perceive and present themselves as victims.

To understand this more clearly, we have to bear in mind that the concept of possession here is seen as signifying both material and cultural wealth. The haves are not simply the materially rich, but also those whose culture and cultural values are defining the world in which we all live at the expense of the culture and cultural values of the have-nots, as those latter would contend. The fact that the claim of the have-nots in this regard may not necessarily be true, and may, in fact, represent another level of denial – an inability to admit the inadequacy of certain traditional cultural values in this day and age, is not too significant a matter here, since conflicts are often, if not always, fueled by greed and (mis)perceptions rather than facts.

A willingness to compromise and negotiate is not to be expected in these circumstances. For Dialogue, indeed, is the prerogative of the sure-footed, at least as far as staying in touch with one’s own humanity is concerned. That is, Dialogue is only possible between people who find in their common humanity enough reason for mutual acceptance. Dialoguers can be deeply confused about the meaning and significance of being human and the place of humanity in the Cosmos, but, to be Dialoguers, they should at least agree that their mutual humanity is a sufficient reason for mutual acceptance.

The purpose of the Dialogue, then, is not to find reasons for mutual acceptance, for Dialogue is not possible unless such acceptance already exists. Rather, Dialogue is all about trying to find common understanding of certain issues, or, trying to deepen one’s understanding them, not to mention one’s self, by looking at them from different perspective. Trying to establish some necessary common ground with regard to certain key issues so that a certain practical modus vivendi can be put in place, is more the purpose of Negotiations rather than Dialogue.[2]

Dialogue is also the prerogative of the Empowered, both in the economic and psychological sense. The rich and the poor, the Liberal and the Fundamentalist, cannot establish a Dialogue in the strict sense of the word, but they can negotiate, they can work out a modus vivendi. The Ease and the West, on the other hand, can, not to mention need, to do both. They need to dialogue if we are to have a deeper understanding of where we have been, as human beings, where we are now and where we need to go. And they need to negotiate if we are to avert certain disasters, political, economic, social, environmental, military etc.

Indeed, the word Dialogue today is often used in this sense, that is, as signifying negotiations rather than dialogue in the philosophical sense outlined above. Things being what they are, however, not even negotiations are likely to take place these days – the weak are too weak and the powerful too powerful. Resorting to terrorism by the first side, and counter-terrorism (AKA war against terror) by the other, only demonstrate this point. No solution to this dilemma is likely for the foreseeable future.

But then the global-in-its-reach Imperium Occidentalum Americanum is only now truly emerging, contrary to popular wisdom. As such, it is still all too powerful to be directly challenged, and when it will be challenged, this could only happen from within (more on this later).

Notes

[1] Perhaps, old cosmologies have had the same effect in their time, but they relied too much on faith, while contemporary cosmology is almost purely rational. As such, the difference between then and now is quite real and is not simply quantitative, but qualitative.
[2] though, perhaps, one can consider Negotiations to be a subcategory of Dialogue. But, for our purposes here, we shall distinguish between them, and perhaps even contrast them.