A culture of differences

Man . . .is always similar to man and is equal to him, always of a wild nature
Charles Baudelaire.

Several introductory thoughts

“Our culture’s originality and resistance is an attempt at openness,” – that is how the Kulturos Barai contest theme is formulated, not necessarily, but at least supported by several primary suppositions. In the mind of the author of this essay they could be thus: 1) Lithuanian culture’s originality. That means that at least in some aspects it differs from others, in the neighborhood and in further European countries’ national cultures. Besides, this originality is understood as a certain kind of value, which is worth saving; 2) even though in the past few years in Lithuanian discourse the concept of “openness” is usually used in a positive sense, in the contemporary context with integration into the European Union, openness unavoidably means a challenge, which throws globalization power at Lithuanian culture as well as certain cultural tendencies which are gaining strength worldwide. They are endangering cultural originality, which is why either a cultural mechanism of self-preservation must be found, or at least actualized; 3) the pronoun “our” in the name of the contest can be interpreted not only in the narrow “Lithuanian” sense (even though this sense, undoubtedly is primary), but also in the wider “European sense (we are not only Lithuanians, but also Europeans) – what will be Europe’s originality in a world going global.

The problem which interests us, as with many problems, foresees the question of survival and is intriguing. And intriguing problems tempt to present the situation in dramatic simplifications, which is why those most quickly recalled are popular responses. The three most widespread (most popular) outlooks at Lithuanian culture, and in part at the Lithuanian nation, are that in the future it will unite with Europe: 1) the non-critical pessimistic or Europhobic (“as much an ethnic as a cultural unit, Lithuania, just like other small nations and countries, has no future in the European Union”)1 ; 2) irresponsibly optimistic (“nothing is threatening us, we will perfectly uphold our culture just as x is upholding its culture”, – dependant on sympathy with like the Danes, the Dutch, the Luxemburgers or some other “small” EU nation); 3) carefully optimistic (“the future of our nation and our culture in a united Europe depends only on ourselves”).

The limitations of the first two outlooks gives away the unhealthy, even masochistic – the “smallness of Lithuania, – perceptions of the majority of these defenders (“we are small, which is why in the melting pot of a united Europe we will vanish together with the other small nations” versus “in spite of the fact that we are small, we will not disappear, just like older small EU members have not disappeared”). Both of these opposing views are united by the supposition that “large” nations just because of their size have more possibilities of survival than “small” nations. However, these days not many believe in the edicts and rules of history. History is the cemetery of large and small nations – here Hegel is right. However it is unlikely to confirm that history’s best evidence lies with large nations. Neither the Romans – once one of many small Apennine peninsula countries, nor the Arabs of Mohammed’s time, having controlled almost the entire western Arabian peninsula, were not large nations. Their rise is not so much a consistency, as a mystery (or a coincidence if “mystery” gives someone an allergy), just like the demise into nonexistence of the civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, Byzanthium, and the Inca remains a mystery, so does the astounding vitality of small nations – the Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Romanys. Many more examples are available and the role of the nation of Lithuania in the XIV-XV centuries in Central and Eastern Europe was considerably greater than the role which would “objectively suit” any number of nations. Keeping all of this in mind, the prognoses, how many – a hundred, two or five hundred years, the Lithuanian language will survive, is a “sport” of the same level as the prognoses of the twenty, thirty or fifty years – we will need to reach the current EU countries’ standard of living. No one can know this. History is not so much a rational calculation and prognosis, as it is a coincidence, a gamble or mysterious – as you like – element.2

Compared to the first two, the third outlook seems to be the most realistic. Its greatest virtue is that it accents not the size of our nation, but our responsibility. That is why this outlook is open as much to our luck, as to the possibility of our loss. However, this view has shortcomings, inherited from political rhetoric, whose objective, without doubt, is to inspire us into believing in our own strengths, so we would feel responsible for our own fate. But not everything depends only on ourselves. This view, like the first two, depends too much on national paradigm (as much on political as on cultural respects) and almost completely ignores the fact that a united Europe will be vital and complete, as much a political as a cultural reality, having its own unique face in a global world. Unavoidably, an anti-national identity will be created and in some measure – an anti-national culture. However, in this case our cultural future in a united Europe will depend as much on our cultural efforts and creativity, as much as on the beginning of a formation of an anti-national European culture. What will (if it will be) this future culture of a united Europe be like? It would be risky to form a prognosis. However, questions can be raised: what could (or should) a united European culture be like, so national cultures – its components – from Germany to Malta could feel like the creators of an anti-national culture?3

The essential need for the creation of a consensus culture is frequently discussed, one that rises above national ambitions and egoism.4A trusting culture is also mentioned, essential for a the functioning of democratic institutions essential in education.5 Naturally, a strong European democracy is difficult to imagine without an internally flowing intention to agree, which is not under institutional pressure or sanctions resulting in fear, but the fruit of a culture based on agreement. However, a culture of agreement and trust does not mean that the EU will answer positively to a question about the future of Lithuania’s and other nations’ culture – after all, it is easiest to agree for nations that are similar. That is why besides a culture of agreement and trust, I believe, it is important to also speak about a culture of differences. What is a culture of differences? Before answering this question, let us briefly return to the epigraph, the choice of which might have seemed strange.

II. Why Baudelaire?

I chose the poet’s scandalous quotation6 because this Frenchman was one of those Europeans who found progress and utopias as totally foreign beliefs. He, like his peer, Fyodor Dostoyevski, grasped the dark sides of man’s nature. But why are utopias and man’s dark sides of nature put here?

I have written, that one of the most important functions of culture is to gauge a relationship between “mine” and “a stranger’s”, between “me” and “another.”7 In this case every culture unavoidably puts larger or smaller constraints in regards to another’s legitimization, which is why in Hobbes dark vision of the emergence of society there is truth. Another, just as much as he is a true other, as much as he is not-me, unlike me, always inconvenient and undesirable. I tried to separate another’s exile or getting rid of others, that is the negation of another’s differences, mechanisms: a) the brutal physical annihilation of another; b) another’s differences conscious negation; c) the exile of another. These mechanisms have been known in every culture for ages, differing only by the aimed proportions.8

Fate’s irony, but in the space of Western culture, which opened up the values of the individual, freedom of conscience and tolerance, in the first half of the XX century the representatives of one kind of homo sapiens arranged a mass slaughter of another kind of representative of their own kind and murdered several tens of millions of people. “How can you compose music after Auschwitz?” – rhetorically asked T.W. Adorno. Meanwhile many Western intellectuals, especially in the beginning of the 70s, more insistently asserted that in the first half of the century the horrors were a logical dualistic platonic-Christian metaphysical ending and the final judgement of idealistic thought, existence and sacrifice of the reach for the now, for the sake of the future. This is why, even the after the war, European integration of Christian democratic ideology was prompted more than any other, but shortly thereafter, Europe began to ever more sink into a sociopolitical nirvana.9

The great doctrines of the East, firstly Buddhism, hold suffering as the point of being. This injures the split, which we are used to calling the subjective and objective separation, split, which is the basis for any desire (by not fulfilling desires, suffering is evoked), which is why people have to reach, so consciousness would evoke the split of being and deny the world as other worldly. Another is illusion, tricking the conscious, from which you have to awaken. Who knows, maybe the great teachings of the East have truly put a muzzle on the aggressive homo sapien instincts, the passion for destroying another, aggression against another like changing body and blood on the level of destroying consciousness?10 There was a similar event in Europe after the war. The attack on Christian dualism began in the XIX century, continued in the second half of the XX century, but its passion sagged ever more (this is reflected in such emotionally impoverished concepts like “postmodernism” and “deconstruction”). Existence, which I conditionally named as sociopolitical nirvana, is associated with many things, among which should be mentioned McLuhan’s (technological) and Fukuyama’s (the end of history) visions of the future, various postmodern philosophical theories, which ostensibly show “there is nothing on the other side of discourse and text,” a prolonged erosion of the Christian worldview, mass culture and the cult of consumption.

The bend towards homogenousness and the negation of differences unites all the things named. Another like a real other does not exist. Another is just an illusion, a phantom, a dream. McLuhan’s vision of the entire circle of the Earth pervading the central nervous system11 is shot through with this, just as the scenario of the end of history, according to which the entire world is overpowered by consumer mass culture, liberal democracy, hedonistic values and pax Americana. The homogenous spirit is represented by the doctrine of all of reality with all its differences in language and text melting together, as much as mass culture’s creation of a mythology in which boundaries disappear between the past and future. There only remains the “now”, the Eternal Now.

The anti-ideology good-hearted society, overcoming disagreements and differences, ruled by hedonistic values, a sufficient society, when being tolerant costs nothing, on the opposite side, finds life easy and even gratifying (because real differences are no longer noticed and the object of tolerance, the other, is in fact the same) – and this is the state of sociopolitical nirvana. However, this state is reached through a real difference, at the price of a real elimination of the other. The other can be destroyed not only physically, like body and blood. The reality of being different is annihilated, when he is advertised as existing only in word and text or when he is lowered to the status of a “simulacrum” a la Baudrillard. “Man is always similar to a man and is equal to him, always of a wild nature.” Another, if he is a real other, is always inconvenient, always causes problems, which is why tolerance is unavoidably an awkward assignment, while being tolerant is neither easy, nor pleasant. Which is why every culture, like those of not an especially peaceful kind of homo sapien culture, had and will have the exile of the other, the negation of the other mechanisms (always of a wild nature). But one must be careful here. You see European culture itself, perhaps more than any other, from its very inception fed on truly real differences.

III. A culture of differences

Larry Siedentop believes that the most important assignment for unifying Europe in the next decade will be the establishment of an agreement of culture, which would overcome the surmounting national egoism and limit national ambitions. These essential agreements of culture are in sight. Thus this question can be raised: what determined the rise of national countries as types of political societies and carriers of national culture in the XVI-XVII centuries? National countries rose and grew strong while the secular Middle Ages fell apart. National countries’ political theory changed the political theory of the general society, which dominated the epochs of Rome and the Middle Ages.12 In other words, national countries changed Europe like universitas christiana. But couldn’t it be that Europe made up of various national countries appeared as a natural cultural response to the fact that metaphysics founded on differences was being pulled into a second plane? The culture of the Middle Ages (and even daily life) is difficult to imagine without the strict dualism of Christian metaphysics, God’s Kingdom and the Earth’s kingdom, visualized as heaven and hell, while the reality of politics in the Middle Ages – was the rivalry between the Pope and the Emperor, without looser or tighter tension between Rome’s and secular rulers. Couldn’t it be that a Europe made of different national countries creates a cultural product just as in Medieval Europe?

Evidence points that within Christianity lurked cultural sources.13 Being/nothingness, good/bad, kindness/sin, God/Earth, soul/body, spirit/material, heaven/hell, creation/conclusion, Christ/Antichrist – these fundamental divisions are divisions between different realities in the strictest sense of the term “reality.” The essence of existence is not unity, sameness and continuity, not homogenousness, but diversity and difference, heterogeneousness. This existence’s heterogeneous intuition surpassed Christianity, just as in Islam, just as in Chinese (ying and yang metaphysics) in worldview. But it’s not enough that Western Christianity was more lenient towards creating cultural differences than was Byzantine Christianity. The dogma of purgatory, which Western Christianity tried to weaken with a radical heaven and hell, salvation and damnation opposition, still didn’t match the Eastern teachings frequently reborn teachings about apocatastasis, advertising that with the end of time the bad, with hell right behind it, will be overcome, so that even the sinners, even Lucifer himself will be saved. In other words, the West lived through the sacred and profane drama more intensely then the Byzantine Church, and Islam even more so, which is why two of Augustine’s swords, opposite the wishes of Augustine himself, were active in battle as frequently as they crossed each other.

The differences surrounding us are real – for entire centuries this kind of intuition breathed heavily, and that can be termed the rather old-fashioned term of the Western “soul.” Other things surrounding us are just as real. Sensitivity of differences and otherness makes up the Western (especially Europe’s) cultural essence. Thus the words in the epigraph, unfortunately, are what they are for a reason. Another, if he is a true other, is always inconvenient. It is sometimes observed how a culture which for long centuries was formed on a religion based on love, calling itself Christianity, could allow what occurred in the XX century. However the holocaust and the deepest prerequisite for tolerance is one and the same – it is the feeling of the other’s difference, the sense of difference to the point of pain. How should we behave with this pain (and it is as painful as it is real) of the other’s difference?

The holocaust and tolerance became possible because of a difference in culture. The holocaust as much as true tolerance requires us to view the other seriously. The other is truly the other. But a culture of differences is obviously neither a culture of tolerance, nor even more a culture of love, even though the imperative of love – is one of its sources. The dismissal of the other – as much destroying him physically as imagining it, that his otherness is just an illusion – is always easier than to love him. And this is a constant temptation in a culture of differences. This temptation is one that homo sapiens frequently were not able to resist.

In any given culture, the problem of the other is one of the most important. In any given culture, the other, no matter who he is – God, of another faith, of another nation, an emigrant, a convict, a drug addict, a spouse, a homosexual, a poet or a philosopher – just how much he is a real other, a real problem is unavoidable whether it be large or small, unavoidably he is more or less inconvenient, while real tolerance unavoidably raises a larger or smaller but always a real, psychological pain (that is how it is different from doubt). This is why every culture has a mechanism for the other’s dismissal or exile. Thus Western and especially European cultures have a distinct destiny that differences and variety are not some coincidence but the opposite – the essence of being has a polished difference. The heart of European culture is its heterogeneousness. This is why returning to the question formulated at the beginning of this essay – what will be our national culture’s future in Europe – I dare to affirm that it is imperative (even if it is not enough14) for the successful development of Lithuania, as much as it is for other national cultures to have a heterogeneous intuition in the European world view. If in the long run this kind of intuition fades out, the perspective of national culture should be viewed skeptically. Thus in such a case the very formulation of the theme – a changing Lithuania in a changing Europe – would no longer make any sense, naturally, if the notion of “Europe” means not more than just geography.

Here are mentioned only those views whose representatives hold the originality of Lithuanian culture and its future of value. After all, the possibility can not be tossed away that for some members of society the just mentioned vision of the future holds no appeal, which is why position "1" does not at all seem pessimistic. Let us hope that these citizens are in the absolute minority.

This proposition should not be taken as hidden populist apologia. In our daily political discourse, populism is usually associated with irrationalism, magic and magicians (traditional ex Orient and modern - public media specialists and image creators), tricking the public and tossing about promises. This is a real game and a real gambler has nothing in common with promises. When we buy a lottery ticket, we hold the least faith in the lottery ad promising us pots of gold. Thus with almost a messianic promise was the ideology and the government's regime, pretending to be of "educational" status, even of the rationale of a higher degree - Marxist ideology and a communist state. By the way, a populist is also a gambler, but his field of play with very rare exceptions is not history, but the mass of voters.

This proposition will sound naïve or even absurd to one who believes that European culture means the sum of Europe's national cultures (and on a world view it would be an arithmetic sum of known names). Thus such an approach to European culture is also based on the old nationalistic paradigm. In this text equality is understood similarly to mean how we understand our classical birthright: all men are created equal and all are equal before God. European culture is an equal (but not the same!) culture.

Larry Siedentop, Europos demokratija, V., Vaga, 2003, p. 30, 231.

Besivienijanti Europa (collective monograph), V., Institute of Culture, Philosophy and Art, 2003, p. 114-118.

Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Diaries, V., Andrena, Dictum, 1996, p. 33.

Andrius Martinkus, "Kitas, tolerancija ir skirtmu Dievas", Siaure Atenai, 2004, nr. 7 (689) p. 4.

Without a doubt, all three negation mechanisms are unavoidable just as the kingdom of the Earth is not the Kingdom of God: the result of self-defense could be the death of the attacker (a); a surgeon's objective is only the patient's body, which is just a part of the patient, which is just another individual's part, but the operation's success could depend on the capabilities of the surgeon to distance himself from the real individuality of the patient (negate him), his biography, his soul (b); dangerous convicts are forced to be isolated (c).

Andrius Martinkus, "Kitas, tolerancija ir skirtmu Dievas", Siaure Atenai, 2004, nr. 8 (690) p. 4.

Incidentally, Buddhism is the only one of the big religions, which was spread without using almost any force. Even more impressive is the Hindu example - Orthodox Hinduism does not acknowledge conversion. One does not become a Hindu, but is born one. Hinduism is by nature a non-missionary religion.

By the way, McLuhan himself believed that the new electronic technologies were anti the culture of the printed word, but are acceptable to the heterogeneousness principal. For example, see Marshall McLuhan, Kaip suprasti medijas, V. Baltos lankos, 2003, p. 98-99. So what should be thought about his almost religious prophesy, one of the most accurate sociopolitical write-ups of nirvana: "Today computers promise to become a vehicle which will within the blink of an eye change some code or language into another code or language. In short, the computer will through technology create a universal understanding and united condition, which will linger through Pentecost. Another logical step would be not to translate books, but to disavow them in the name of a common cosmic consciousness, which would bring it to the collective subconscious, about which Bergson dreamed about. The state of "weightlessness" according to biologists, promising physical immortality, could conform to a state of muteness, granting an eternal collective harmony and peace." Ibid., p. 92. But why is there included the name of a Christian holiday?

For more information see George Sabine, T.L.Thorson, Politiniu teoriju istorija, V., Pradai, 1995.

Naturally, here could be remembered the philosophy of Heraclites, the idealism of Plato, the democracy of Athens, the division of power in the nation of Rome and so on.

Theoretically this is not an impossible scenario, according to which the differences between the decline of national cultures, the culture of difference responds with some new fundamental division and in this way preserves the fundamental essence of heterogeneousness intuition. But I believe at this time there is nothing which could in a heterogeneous principal better represent the variety of cultures.

Published 23 July 2004
Original in English
Translated by Ausrine Byla

Contributed by Kulturos barai © Kulturos barai Eurozine


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