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Nonviolence and Dialogue of Cultures

Monday September 17, 2007, at 17:30
Sala Seminario - Planta Baja IBEI
The aim of this lecture is to get a better sense of solidarity and empathy among cultures by celebrating and respecting the idea of diversity, but also by having a critical intervention against an uneven and unequal global design. What could be learned from this cross-cultural dialogue is that one has to be profoundly responsive to the sense of belonging that human beings experience in different cultures. But who says “response” says also “responsibility”. This is to say, responsibility is not the attribution of guilt to an agent for his/her acts or failure to act. Responsibility moves the individual to respond to the call of the world and to create a future which would otherwise not happen. We can join here the thoughts of two French philosophers, Levinas and Ricoeur, With the Jewish background in his philosophical thinking, Levinas could not accept the primacy of the ontological subject over the other. For him, ontology is the philosophy of injustice because it is an understanding of Being over an understanding of the relationship among persons. For Ricoeur, the ethical response to the other is also a reaction against violence in society. This means that ethics presupposes the freedom of the good, and this good is the source of ethics, not violence. In other words, for the disclosure of the good, violence has to be negated. Therefore, transforming a culture of irresponsibility into a culture of responsibility goes hand in hand with a philosophy of nonviolence. That is to say, only an open-ended, hospitable and empathetic dialogue which takes otherness (Fremdheit) seriously could be a genuine civilizational encounter. By “civilization” I do not understand progress in science, technology and industry, but a moral enterprise which shows to us the path of being human.
The main interest in Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence is related primarily to the concept of self-realization as a process of enforcing civic engagement and empowering civil society vis-à-vis the state. The dharmic nature of civilization brings Gandhi to compare his concept of Swaraj to a house with its windows and doors open. So, Swaraj means essentially “being open to others”, but it means also building a character for oneself by living one’s life as a moral project. In this sense, civilization is not just a state of self proclamation of freedom. True freedom is not merely the freedom to do what one desires, but also the ability to ensure that what one chooses is the result of a sense of duty and human solidarity. In other words, civilization in order to be an ongoing moral progress has to combine the dynamic and innovative characteristics of the dialogue. This is what will help resolve the dichotomy between the old and the new, tradition and modernity, continuity and change. Therefore, dialogue as a power of communication entailing both ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’ has the capacity of contributing to the survival and growth of civilizations. So, the idea of a “clash of civilizations” is suspicious of man’s capacity to dialogue and a civilization’s possibility to evolve as a living organism. Today in a time when mankind is confronted with a grim scenario involving clashes of national self interest, religious fundamentalisms and ethnic and racial prejudices, dialogue of cultures can be a well trusted means of laying the groundwork of a new cosmopolis. I believe sincerely that by promoting a better understanding of the other and by drawing on the best in human cultures, dialogue of cultures could help generate fresh impulses of creativity in human societies.
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