Dialogue or Monologue of Civilizations? (Rational Paradigms and Irrational Challenges)

Davit Mosinyan
A Paper by Davit Mosinyan, Associate Professor, Armenian State University of Economics, delivered at the 10th Rhodes Forum

 Peace and safety have become the most important normative criteria for life in the contemporary world. If one tries to mention some universal human values, probably, first of all, he would remember these two. After the Cold War mankind has concentrated large portions of intellectual potential and practical efforts for realizations of these two values. As a result, some terms, including “dialogue”, have become buzzwords. By the way, taking into consideration the social-historical fact that the times of the dialogue between two kings or two leaders have already passed, in geopolitical sense nowadays “dialogue” is interpreted as “dialogue of civilizations”. Despite the way how understand the term “civilization” (though in case of the dialogue of civilizations it seems the huntingtonean understanding is supposed), a question arises: when can one assert that dialogue has already taken place?

From the falsificationist point of view (i.e. when our goal is the dialogue, and the clash of civilizations is in the focus of attention) technical productivity of research may be increase: for instance, one can argue that the wars in Iraq, Kosovo, the Armenian-Azerbaijani war are not dialogues, correspondingly, between the USA and Iraq, Serbia and Albania, Armenia and Azerbaijan. For the problems, concerning the dialogue among civilizations, are not puzzles, which need rational solutions: they are rather questions connected closely with the destiny of humankind. Meanwhile much more effort is necessary to adopt the verificationist point of view, because here one is obliged to answer at least the following two questions: 1) How to distinguish the dialogue from its imitations? 2) What does constitute the normative basis for the dialogue of civilizations?

Professor Hans Köchler has in detail presented necessary conditions and principles of dialogue: equality of civilisational (cultural) ‘lifeworlds’, awareness of the ‘dialectics of cultural self-comprehension’, acknowledgement of meta-norms of dialogue, ability to transcend the hermeneutical circle of civilisational self-affirmation, etc. . But there is one more significant aspect of the issue: how to distinguish the dialogue from a complex of monologues (from a dualogue)? The first main indication of an established dialogue is the understanding, which, by the way, being an existential property, each time manifests itself differently. The civilization always carries some definite sense. By the way, some finiteness, a definite level of organization is peculiar civilization (though, indeed, the development of civilization is possible). From this point of view, each civilization is a verbalization of a certain sense. It means that the civilization in its unalloyed state is an original monologue, which may meet another monologue-civilization. In fact, if the dialogue is realized, then the sense of the one side is distorted and stops to exist in its previous form. For instance, as Huntington notes, the modernization (which is the same thing as westernization in this case) in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal is an example of the dialogue with Europe, as a result of which Turkey stopped to exist in its previous condition. By the way, Orhan Pamuk has criticized the authorities of that state for such a strategy. This criticism impels to remember an old anti-socialist joke, as Wallerstein illustrates:

Orator: Comes the revolution, everyone will eat strawberries and cream.

Worker in audience: But I don’t like strawberries and cream.

Orator: Comes the revolution, you will have to like strawberries and cream.

Of course, it doesn’t mean a rejection of the idea of dialogue. Nowadays we have no other way for co-existence besides the dialogue. But we should take into account the mechanisms of organization of the dialogue.

According to Habermas, “the issue is no longer whether ‘justice among nations’ is possible at all, but whether law is the right medium for realizing that kind of justice”. International law is not established once and for all. It may change under the influence of superpower and yield to some moral arguments. A danger of the endless monologue arises in the case of domination of such rules of game.

Another scenario of the dialogue of civilizations, which is presented by Huntington, is the following: the civilizations become much closer or fight each other mainly on religious grounds. According to one of the rational previsions by Huntington, Russia and Georgia will gradually become closer, because they are parts of the same Orthodox civilization. However, in spite of this important factor, as we see, these two nations still can’t find common language for dialogue. Probably, one can invent some ad hoc theory to explain this ‘irrational’ fact. It is possible to apply to ad hoc theories for a long time, but our life does not get better from this.

Civilization is a multilevel phenomenon. Some irrational facts always slip out from the rational conceptions of dialogues of civilizations, as well as from that of life. From a certain point of view, the ‘dialogue of civilizations’ is an absolute and abstract concept, for what we mean, when we speak about: political, economical, cultural, or social dialogue? For instance, Japan is in dialogue with Europe on the economical level so far (which is perhaps the most primitive level), but it is very closed and autonomous in the cultural respect.

One of the irrational challenges of our days is intensification of socio-cultural life, which is connected with the development of mass communicative means and promotion of the internet. Professor Köchler bases his analysis of new social media and internet on Gustav Le Bon’s idea of ‘psychology of crowd’ (see, Hans Köchler, “The New Social Media and The Changing Nature of Communication: Anthropological and Political Implications”, 2012, pp. 6-7). Internet is like a crowd, as each person there has opportunity to participate in the ‘dialogue’ with his own rules of game. Despite the political efforts of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan for peace, one can find mutual insults of Armenians and Azerbaijani in the commentaries to the YouTube videos about Nagorno-Karabakh. In this case, internet is an original area for mutual aggression.

There are various means for regulation of ‘internet behavior’. Thus, Iran has limited its internet-space; Singapore executes censorship on the internet by law, etc. Without disputing these approaches, however, it is necessary to mention that thus they refrained from a real universal dialogue. Being impersonal, dialogue on the internet is the most global, the most sincere and at the same time the most chaotic. The problem is that it is impossible to control the world wide internet by law. Besides, with the extension of opportunities for social virtual communication, the forms of expression of human subconscious have also multiplied. So the artificially created picture of convergence of the civilizations (what was the case, for example, with the Soviet Union) becomes meaningless.

Those relations of civilizations are stronger, which are expressed not only on horizontal level (here and now, for instance, political relations), but also on that of perpendicular, i.e. over the time. And in time the most resistant are cultural relations, which influence both on individuals, and on the crowd. Philosophical principles lie at the core of our identity of any kind. In this sense, it is difficult to distinguish civilizations which are fertilized by each other in philosophical sense. Remembering Nietzsche’s note on fertilizing and fertilized nations, we can observe the following: Russia and Germany belong to the different civilizations; in addition to it, because of the World War II hostile feelings arose between them. But now these two countries have reached quite serious level of dialogue. And this is partially due to the philosophical relations, existing between Hegel and Solovyov, Schelling and Berdyaev, Goethe and Tolstoy, etc., relations which one still may deep into. The same may be said also about Germany and Armenia.

Internet is a space where horizontal and perpendicular levels of culture meet. Due to the internet, humankind has become a real subject of communication; as to national collectivity, it has become a fact, as the will of population now can manifest itself just via pressing the button ‘Like’, etc. It means that cultural and socio-cultural relations can become a sustained basis for the organization of dialogue on the state level.