Monday, June 29, 2009

Supporting civic nonviolent movements

Recent studies have shown that civic nonviolent movements are by far more effective in bringing democratic changes in autocratically and dictatorially governed countries than movements that use violence do. Nonviolent movements are not only more effective than movements that use violence, but they bring also bigger democratic changes than more or less violent movements do. In spite of this, politicians in democratic countries that want to support democratic changes in not democratically governed countries ignore these facts and they are hardly prepared to support civic nonviolent movements otherwise than with words. They see nonviolence as “soft”. But as Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman put it “Given the significance of the civic factor in dozens of recent transitions from dictatorship, it is surprising how small a proportion of international donor assistance is targeted to this sector” (in “How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy”, The International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law, vol. 7-3 (June 2005) ). For what is soft about supporting what is successful at the cost of supporting what is less successful? To give only one example, rather than bombing Serbia the NATO had had to support Otpor, the nonviolent movement that brought Milošević down.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What's wrong with science?

Weinberg, Nichols & Stich have shown in an article that epistemic intuitions are not as objective as they once were supposed to be. Epistemic intuitions are not universal but differ according to culture and even within a culture according to the social group. Experiments show that conclusions may be different when they have been drawn by people with different backgrounds. Now it is so that most scientific activity is done by people belonging to the highest SES group (SES=social economic status), and till not so long ago all scientists were mainly men in the highest SES groups in western countries. This would not be a problem if science would lead to objective, universally valid conclusions, but it seems to be worrying that it has come out now that many scientific conclusions are not as universal as they were supposed to be. Actually, science is no more than a view on the world by people belonging to a certain cultural group. As the authors formulate it, “if we are right about epistemic intuitions, then ... [it] would entail that the epistemic norms for the rich are quite different from the epistemic norms appropriate for the poor... And that we take to be quite a preposterous result” (in: Joshua Knobe & Shaun Nichols (eds.), Experimental philosophy, Oxford etc.: OUP, 2008; p. 35).
But is it really so preposterous and worrying? Maybe it is naive to think that it would be different. Besides that many people have always said so (but most scientists and scholars did not listen to them, certainly not those who belonged and belong to the “main stream”), actually it is rather human that the result found by Weinberg is right. Probably it would be preposterous and worrying if it would not be the case. For science is as human as any other affair that people do, and also the intuitions involved in science are as human as human can be. There is no reason to suppose that intuitions that look to be universal are fundamental exceptions. Science is founded on norms, albeit scientific norms, and as norms they can have no objective value and they can have different interpretations for different people, with the result that it is basically a local affaire (local in the sense of limited to a culture, SES group, or the like). But is this a threat to science? I think it is not. That scientific conclusions are different for different groups simply shows that they are intersubjective at most. Science is, as Karl-Otto Apel has shown already 30 years ago, not a matter of developing a theory that explains a fact or phenomenon as such. Science explains always for a certain subject of knowledge, and if its results are different depending on the different cultural, SES or other background of the explaining person or persons, one must not be surprised. If one would, it would mean that one does not give the “explains for a certain subject of knowledge” any sense. Even when one accepts this relativity of science, it still describes the facts and explains them in a certain way. But is it not what science has always done?

Monday, June 15, 2009


Actually I wanted to write here about Arcadia, where I have been a few weeks ago. Arcadia symbolizes the simple, happy life without sorrows. A world where one does not need to think about the future because the future will be happy, too. A world of shepherds and shepherdesses who find all the needs for life, all food and shelter, around them in a beautiful landscape. A world without sufferance and without suppression. You find this world especially depicted in pieces of art in the 17th and 18th centuries.
With these thoughts in my mind I passed the border of Arcadia on the Peloponnesos in Greece. However, what is the reality of Arcadia? It was a bit a disappointment, for I did not see shepherds and shepherdesses; I did not see even any sheep at all. In fact, the region was not fundamentally different from the others region on the Peloponnesos. I did not have the idea to be in paradise, although the landscape was beautiful, indeed.
But maybe Arcadia is something only in our mind. In the end we all want a better world and Arcadia is a symbol of such a world. It is another word for paradise, but then a bit more worldly. People have to work there, it is true, for being shepherds (or whatever that may be) they have a profession. People in Arcadia may have a ruler, a king. But ruling Arcadia is in fact a simple affair, a bit like Marx’s communist state. The conflicts of interest have been replaced by a simple kind of administration in the sense that it is a managing of practical relatively uncomplicated affairs. And what is essential, there is no discrimination and no exclusion.
Of course, I do not think that somewhere in the world such an Arcadia exists or could exist, but what I might expect is that people try in some way to build up a kind of Arcadia in the sense of a society where some of its minimal requirements have been fulfilled. Then we see Arcadia as a striving for a better world. However, after the recent elections for the parliament of the European Union, the Prime Minister of my country felt the need to say: My party will not cooperate with a party that excludes people. I think that this simple statement says a lot about the world we live in. It shows that exclusion happens but also that it is not something individual. It is not in the sense of “I do not like him or her” or “I do not like them”. It has an organisational base, for you find it back in what a certain political party stands for. It is a kind of “We do not like them”. Even more, the leader of the party that the Prime Minister was pointing to has said what kind of people he means with “them”: Muslims. This shows that we are not only far away from Arcadia, but that people do not want Arcadia. Or rather, they want it on their own conditions, which makes Arcadia implicitly impossible.

Once a got a letter from a new pen friend in an African country south of the Sahara. She wrote that she is a Muslim, but she added: “Nous ne sommes pas comme ça” (“We are not like that”), meaning that the Muslims in her country are not fanatic propagators of their religion, but that they simply want to practice their religion, without conflicts, in all peace, allowing other people to practice their own religions. Like the statement of the Prime Minister of my country, also the sentence “We are not like that” says a lot, for it implies: Do not put everything in one box; behind the same name you find big differences, and the Islam has many nuances. The remark of my new pen friend was not directed at me, however, for we had not yet talked about religion. But she knew how many people in the West think about the Islam, and she wanted to say beforehand that the word Islam covers a wide world of different ideas and interpretations. It is true, I think, but what I am afraid that those who want to exclude Muslims because of their religion apparently do not want to see this and to believe this. But isn’t it still so that we have to judge people because of what they do as an individual and not because of what they are or are supposed to be, so for the simple reason that they belong to a certain category? The opposite is the foundation of all exclusion and discrimination and the negation of Arcadia. And that’s what I actually wrote about.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A visit to Nestor

When Telemachos arrived in Pylos, he was, as Homeros told us, warmly welcomed by Nestor, the king of the region and a companion-in-arms of his father Odysseus, when the Greek tried to conquer Troja. He took part in the sacrificial ceremony that was just taking place on the beach, was then led to the palace and was received there as an honoured guest. Not many years thereafter, but probably after the death of Nestor, the palace was destroyed and the place where it was had been forgotten, until it had been found back again in the 20th century. Now people are walking around there, looking curiously how a king lived more than 3000 years ago, seeing that the palace was exactly as described by Homeros, and thinking about how the son of Odysseus had been walking around there. The walls of the palace have gone but the ground plan is still very well visible.
I enter the building and after a few rooms I arrive in the throne room. The place of the throne is still easily to indicate. Another room appears to have been a bath room. The bath tub is still there. Is it here that Polykaste, the daughter of Neros, has bathed Telemachos?I am feeling the centuries that had passed, and also not yet...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

On waiting

Sometimes I take photos that show aspects of our daily life. One such an aspect is waiting. Waiting is something that everybody has to do now and then, and it is an “activity” that many people do not like, especially not in our modern society where everything must be efficient and where waiting time is seen as lost time. However, waiting is not simply doing nothing, being inactive. Waiting has a purpose. It is doing nothing in view of something else, and seen in this way it is a kind of activity, an inactive being active. We can express it also this way: waiting is waiting for, it is awaiting, and in this sense it is expecting.
A good example of waiting is, I think, waiting for a ferry. We arrive at the place where the ferry leaves, and we wait until it has arrived from the other side of the river or sea, and until the time has come that we are allowed to go on the boat. If we like, we can fill the time by eating, reading or who knows what, and many people do. A telephonist of an organisation who does not get many calls often gets administrative tasks to do for filling the time of waiting till the next call comes.
However, once I made a photo of a waiting scene and I realized that this waiting was different. The waiting scene grasped by the picture was actually not a waiting for, an awaiting, so it seemed to me, but the waiting in the picture had a purpose of its own. The picture showed a scene of groups of men and women in front of a church waiting until the service would have ended and the procession would leave the building (see photo). These men and women did not enter the church for taking part in the service. When I was looking at the photo, I suddenly realized why they didn’t, although it would have been quite well possible that they would enter and although some other people that arrived meanwhile did. For what these people really did was not waiting for the procession, (although they joined it when it left the church). In fact their waiting was a kind of social gathering. Talking with the other men or women in front of the church was apparently more important than the procession they were waiting for. Some people even arrived rather early. Why? Probably in order to wait longer! That is, in order to have more time to talk with the other men or women present. Waiting (so talking with the other men) was the purpose of going there, not being in time for the procession. And then the procession left the church and the waiting people joined. The social gathering had entered a new phase.

Waiting is something that everybody has to do now and then and usually we do not like it. If so, we often look for activities to fill up the waiting time and making it more useful. However, not all waiting is the same and sometimes the filling of the waiting is the waiting itself. Then it can be so that we look forward for it and that we wait for it.