Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Question 1: Does culture institute politics?

The question ‘does culture institute politics’ is a difficult one to answer. Especially with regards to international relationships, culture has not played a defining role per say. Rather economic and political considerations determine the course of development. 

On the other hand, cultural influences upon politics could be taken to mean the appointment of the poet Pablo Neruda as ambassador of Chile to France or Senghor's 'Negritude' representing a stream of thought once felt in Africa when attempts were made to link Humanism with a specific trait of African identity.

There come to mind as well the many African, Asian and Latin American artists living in Berlin, Paris, London, New York etc.. It appears that many of them seek to constitute a new set of identity principles for their respective continents. They do so in view of the socio-historic phases their respective countries and continents are going through at the moment.

How finally this question may be understood, three observations need to be made before reconsidering the question. This is done in view of the fact that the institutionalization of politics by itself is already a highly challenging task. It may, however, give already a first insight into what prompted the drawing of a rather sharp distinction between culture and politics. 

I Parts and Whole

A possible relationship between Europe and the developing world may be constructed out of examples set by artists themselves. We know from Gauguin personally that he had a distant relationship to Europe which he considered as being a sick world. It represented to him a world fragmented by many factors and therefore artists were unable to bring about expressions connecting the parts to the whole. Once in Tahiti he felt again his artistic expressions growing stronger as they showed a connection to the whole of the community.

This line of thought can be spun out insofar culture institutes politics in two ways. It is an expression of culture felt, perceived and lived in what allows people to connect themselves with the larger community, and not only the people immediately around them, but how interactions in the streets and work places take shape to realize concrete outcomes. The latter has to do with what makes real value conceivable. The other way culture constitutes politics is how people make political judgments about others, society generally and more so how they view political conditions. The latter entails as much relationships to political parties as there is the problem of generalizations. For what has true validity. People risk ending up usually in wrong projections, assumptions and even worse in prejudices because there is no reliable method or philosophy to link the parts with the whole. 

Obviously in Europe the thought about the whole has gone through quite a transition and altered philosophical dispositions. While Hegel could still claim "the whole is true", Adorno wrote after 1945 in ‘Minima Moralia’ that “the whole is not the truth”. There followed especially in France Deconstructivism. At the same time, fragmentation as basic experience was countered by followers of holistic theories and visions. Always it is a matter of unifying things under which principles and visions or lack thereof. 

Repeatedly Europeans return out of lack of visions mainly to Ancient Greece and search in what thinkers, poets and artists expressed then for inspirations to envision another future, life or just what might lie ahead. It has become a key source of thoughts about democracy. One principle thereof is 'to agree to disagree'. To date it serves as basis for freedom of expression when it comes to discuss political opinions in public. The notion of public truth and public spaces has been ever since then with us. In that sense cultural reflections thereof have helped to constitute politics.

Of course, how relationships between parts and whole are viewed, it depends upon how the cultural context is shaped primarily by artistic expressions and recognized in aesthetical reflections with the notion of 'beauty' constituting a key orientation. Matisse was known by a powerful aesthetics which allowed him to compose parts to form a whole in such a way that it intimitated Picasso to the extent that he considered Matisse to be a much better artist than himself.

There are as in political theory many different ways to relate the parts to the whole, the individual to society. There are artists who give a lot of weight to details, provided they are worked through to form a consistent path of expression. Value is put on consistency and requires memory work to sustain the process. It leaves unclear what are the parts and where the whole would become finally visible. In physics that became known as the relativity principle as favored by Heisenberg who stood for that group of sceptics that Einstein's unifying field theory would ever be found. Needless to say, what stand people take, that has consequences as well for how thoughts relate to actions and thereby to theoretical reflections of experiences made in the process. Popper would call it the trial and error experimentation process. If translated into politics, it would mean favoring the reform process instead of revolution. But whatever the stand, it will affect the viewpoint as to what can govern the relationship between the individual and society.

More importantly various cultural viewpoints lead to quite a different way of letting human and social relationships unfold. In the global world the keyword for that has become 'networking' as if everyone has become a fisherman who casts his nets out every day to see what information and people can be retrieved or else got caught up in the net.  

However, it is doubtful if all these remarks are sufficient to show how culture can constitute politics. The latter entails among many other things the serious matter of how a constitution is drawn up. Such a basic text declares by which values and principles all wish to abide by when seeking a way to live and to work together. A constitution can lead to the creation of a state and therefore to an institutionalization process of politics according to certain rules and stipulations.

There needs to be reminded that to depart from culture does not mean going necessarily in a political direction. Artists or those wishing to convey a specific culture by dancing, telling stories, preparing food etc. wish to relate more to the human being and therefore to humanity in general rather than to a confined space of meanings and forms of interactions. With art goes freedom of artistic expression at the level of the imagination which is boundless. At the same time, artists and those adhering to certain cultural norms are inspired by and wish to address a specific community of people. Whether Solshenitzyn with his Slavophil the Russian people or Elytis in 'Axion Esti' the Greek people in resistance again German occupation during Second World War, there is being addressed something having to do with injustice while showing the truthfulness of seeking freedom.

But a true artistic expression cannot be reduced to just a national or local form of truth. This is because the search for the human voice continues while visions are expressed when looking beyond the narrow confines of the immediate. Dostoevsky would say about cities that they are three dimensional planetariums while the human soul knows a million possibilities to exist. It makes art into seeking justice by understanding what frees people to live a true life. That there is politics involved, no one will doubt. Interestingly enough Solshenitzyn said that every writer has to be like a second government and therefore responsible for everything that happens in his country. That is a moral responsibility and means a writer has to respond fore mostly to where he senses injustices happen.

About addressing only certain people i.e. the Greeks in resistance, more can be said. In modern terms it is called audience creation; in practical terms, artists do address after all the self understanding of people and by trying to enrich them show a complexity which no administrative practice can do justice to. While the latter is stuck to only certain categories, culture is an open way to deal with the complexities of life and human beings. It is up to culture to keep open politics.

Artists can do so by going beyond usual agendas and systems of categories. They should adhere at the same time to Adorno's principle that the only thing self understood is that nothing is self understood. Hence he would also say identity is as much about non-identity. By contrast a politically motivated self understanding is based on adherence to a specific nation state. Once that is allowed to prevail, it limits identities to only certain socio-economic and political interests. As seen over time, such arrangements and institutional processes risk leaving out the cultural dimension. That is one of the main problems of the European Union.

While local communities and nation states are based on a strictly defined cultural well-being, including pride, status, way of speaking and conducting business, cultural openess is needed if only to remain able to adapt to changes. Here cities can differ very much from nations, provided no monolithic cultural stamp is put upon them as was the case in Thessaloniki after 1921 and as a result cultural diversity driven out of its urban structures.

Nevertheless local communities are more concrete. The contrast can be felt and noted when people living in large cities describe their sense of belonging to society. The point of differentiation here is what life in freedom means to various individuals and groups. Besides that a culturally inspired self understanding means something particular and general at one and the same time i.e. belonging to a specific group e.g. lovers of Bach while reaching out to the broader spectrum of humanity i.e. music as universal language. By attempting to live in this cultural tension, the aims is to recognize specific needs while remaining able to overcome divides and misunderstandings between people. The slogan 'act locally, think globally' resonates with that kind of movement of people in a world at large.  

Certainly culture institutes politics when principles of policies are formulated in reflection of specific value premises. This is entailed when the aim of the policy is to overcome social and economic disparities since it shows an adherence to equality as social value. Within the European Union social and economic cohesion has become of utmost importance and with regards to the developing world 'reduction of poverty'. As this leads then to political claims to know what are sound training methods, politics is constituted by discussions about what can contribute to a fair distribution of resources and therefore how things are to be funded if meant to go in a certain direction. 

A politics inspired by culture aims to realize certain values. It means setting specific terms while expressing the wish that the efforts undertaken shall fulfill the vision of a fair society. The problem of such political claims is that they are based on cultural assumptions often not reflected upon if in agreement with the others. There are after all differences of experiences which cannot be easly bridged. More so if 'needs' are to be covered in practical terms while respecting the other(s), the institutionalization of the process thereof requires more than mere information and clarification. In the absence of 'mediation' based on extrapolation to allow for an emphatic understanding of the other side, there will be only a wrong setting of terms and no institutionalization which can be accessed from all sides.  

If culture institutes politic, claims of knowledge about what the other side needs has to come to terms with the largely unknow relationship between the parts and the whole. Artists would say this is a matter of proportion and moving with the times while learning from materials used to make life possible. But what takes place right now between Europe and the developing world, all kinds of distortions in perception result out of different methods which come into play when materials and resources are sought or made use thereof. This distortion at a large scale does not allow for intercultural dialogue nor for such self understanding which would make possible building of cultural bridges to the other side.

II Individual and collective creativity

The Surrealists and in particular Andre Breton in his ‘canon for creativity’ questioned the Western concept of art and artistic expressions. They did so by comparing Picasso’s painting of ‘Demoiselles d’Avignon’ with African masks carved by unknown tribesmen for the similarity in faces with the masks was most striking.

Picasso himself was influenced by African masks. They represented to him a kind of spiritual protection against all kinds of dangers, including sexual diseases.

The contrast between the European and African definition of creativity shows while in the West the creative individual genius is acclaimed, the collective process counts for more in African tribal culture. The latter knows no claim of individual ownership but it is an act of creation when a mask is being carved by anonymous artists. It means creative impulses are passed on differently. 

Thus a discussion in the West developed around the definition of creativity and has not subsided till today. Andre Breton formulated a program for Surrealists to follow and equated thereby creativity with a morality based on the recognition of certain aesthetical principles. He made one exception: Picasso. Breton said about him he does not need to follow a group norm for he follows his own ‘morality of creativity’. All artists recognize a lot depends on what impulses are set free when exhibiting their works. They need that energy to go on. For them negative criticism is better than none; it gives them orientation about what their audiences like or dislike. Taste, but also a certain feeling for themes, materials and forms has a lot to do with how creativity has been brought about.

Once expressed a lot depends whether or not the artist has the stamina to continue until his works are finally recognized by society as a contribution to life and therefore to man's self understanding. Vincent Van Gogh was subdued by Gaughin when the latter came finally to his 'atelier of the South' for the latter had then just sold some works. The success gave him the Right to tell Van Gogh how he should paint. Van Gogh tried hard but finally he could no longer take this submission and even humiliation. He revolted even though he never sold but one or two of his paintings during his life time. 

As to Picasso, ‘Demoiselles d’Avignon’ was not recognized for a long time until bought up to become a priceless item in the MOMA collection. Picasso did survive even though he too went through a dark or 'blue' phase after a friend had committed suicide. What saved him were loyal supporters, indeed friends who believed in him. That made him independent from money and at the same time Picasso elevated his art works by linking them to myths on which Europe had strived all along e.g. Minotaurus.

But to come back to collective creativity, there is something Van Gogh pointed out which should not be forgotten. For he was of the opinion that there are many more subjects worthy to be painted, but they are not since no individual has the energy to achieve that. If that subject matter is to be painted, then artists need to get together and enter a collaborative work process. This insight was behind Vincent Van Gogh's dream of creating with other artists an 'atelier of the South'.

III The cultural significance of literacy

Differences in cultural development between the Western and other worlds are always measured in terms of literacy rate. As this is connected with administrative regulations literacy means here the ability to read official announcements and to fill out administrative forms. Once used as key selection criterion for hiring of people, literacy becomes decisive as to who is included in ongoing development projects. The possibility of making experiences as part of a wider qualification requirement becomes thereby an essential prerequisite for further development. Thus the criterion can explain also how people are separated and treated differently. Those who cannot read and write are permanently disadvantaged and would never be considered as mediators or interlocutors between local, even indigenous people and representatives of a Western society. The latter prides itself as having a high level of literacy and therefore to enjoy supposingly such a cultural superiority that it disadvantages automatically the cultures of the developing countries.

One person who attempted to overcome an imposed ‘illiteracy’ of the oppressed was Paulo Freire. In his fight for literacy first in Brazil, then in Chile he used a method based on listening what words are used repeatedly. He claimed that insight can be gained into basic needs once it has been established which words are used more often. As such they would reveal what everyone was waiting for and wished to have prior to taking the next step of development. For example, if people would repeatedly speak about ‘water’, upon a closer look an understanding of needs could be reached. In this case it would mean people would no longer want to fetch water from a central well but instead get fresh water directly by pipes to their huts. Subsequently literacy has to do with the articulation of needs and doing something practical about it.

The example of people obtaining finally running water at home can be used to show also an adverse side of development. Once they need no longer to go to the central well for water, they suddenly miss out on what was in reality not just getting water but joining in a complex web of communication build around the well. Call it gossip or just passing on news while waiting with the buckets in a row to get their turn, it facilitated that people knew more or less what was going on. Once that falls away, developments driven solely by technical and economic solutions can easily destroy these complex webs of communication patterns. If not replaced more and more people will feel estranged to the others and enter forms of alienation not known to have existed before in their communities. This is especially the case when development plans are implemented without realizing that literacy needs culture to sustain an open ended communication process. 

There is another aspect which Freire spoke about in his book about 'education of the oppressed'. For once freed from their former masters or from whatever dominated over them, they have usually no other model but that of their masters. Hence people freed from slavery risk becoming themselves masters who treat others as they were once dealt with when still slaves. Both material and social gains come at a prize if the kind of literacy is left out which goes with true emanicipation. 

Often only such development is praised as if improving quality of life by technical and economic means is what matters most. If it brings in reality a new kind of cultural deprivation and more so political regression of another kind, then the lack of cultural emancipation will deprive in the long run everyone of true development opportunities. Here needs to be stressed that developing countries need their own models of cultural adaptation and therefore must attain a level of literacy, so that the path of development taken does not reproduce new forms of poverty and discrimination, equally abuse of power and loss of equality. Most often the mistake by developing countries is to imitate solely what is generally regarded as successful models within the Western world. In reality it means a sell out of own values matched by a loss of orientation with no recognition given to what would still contribute to the life of the communities in an authentic way.

Given these three observations, what then can be said about culture instituting politics? 

Politics can mean at times things are done even though people would know deep down this is not their way of life nor really something they desired. However, they got trapped collectively by politics following a specific course of development. As a result people are getting involved in a different scale of economies and therefore they find themselves in new dependencies without having enough resources to satisfy all needs. In the name of efficiency they are at the same time overstretched while other things enjoy a higher priority. In that sense modernisation as sign of development brings with it a new kind of scarcity. The latter can be perceived as having to work now for a different system making itself felt in many kinds of artificial restraints making themselves felt in their daily lives. As they are imposed from above, they have no answer to that as all bottom-up actions are weak and without substantial support and acceptance by their own government and elite made up of experts and those who have studied abroad, they will not be able to do anything about them. What is, therefore, the true implication of such top-down politics is the negation of their own natural experiences and indigenous knowledge. Consequently people enter a world marked by a highly contradicting path of development leaving so many more exposed to all kinds of abuse and exploitations amounting in general to a sharp rise in loss of literacy due to a  ‘poverty of experience’.

Since all of these observations are based on the term ‘experience’, there needs to be distinguished ‘experiences of another culture’ from  ‘cultural experiences’ or more precisely 'culturally recognized experiences'. In turn, it begs the question how do we experience our own culture of the Western world when at home compared to being in the developing world. The question needs to be asked since institutionalization of Western politics entails exclusion of culture for the sake of sheer economic dominance and exploitation. It makes it all the harder to speak about 'experiences' especially if they are only recognized not by culture but by a politics leading to such actions which leave aside human experiences and relate solely to what can be institutionalized in the process in order to secure a tangible outcome.

One concession is made in European projects. They do give value as well to intangible results, namely when a learning process comes about during the duration of the project. Experiences made due to the project are, therefore, recognized if they are monitored and can be evaluated accordingly. Upholding the logic of projects is the prime task. According to such methodology, there are stipulated the prerequisites in need to be fulfilled if experiences to be made are within the project's terms of references. Given these framework conditions, experiences are only then recognized if they can be validated in the process of implementation. Practically such a project culture bases itself on experiences made within networks requiring the furthering of skills needed for the art of networking both locally and internationally.  

There are some other approaches to culture. The economic historian Louis Baeck pointed out that the original term ‘household’ within the Mediterranean tradition meant not the separation of culture from the economy as the case in the Atlantic tradition, but rather the inclusion of the economy in culture. But even though it does not make clear what difference it would make for the institutionalization of politics. It can be imagined that in a Mediterranean household decision patterns would link informal with formal processes and relate economic activities more closely to the various rhythms or seasons of the year. The Roman poet Virgil underlined that when he warned an empire would begin to break-down once its people knew no longer when it was time to cut the olive trees.

Earlier on, in reference to Lewis Mumford, disruptions of such time rhythms known to the Mediterranean culture and others occurred when an overall drive of expansion transformed the Western world. It lead to trespassing of especially cultural borders and to a neglect of cultural experiences. The drive to discover the world was not due to curiosity but sheer greed for power and wealth not to be found in Europe. Experiences were made due to a sharp polarization between here, the static or ‘known’ world at home, brought in sharp contrast with the other or illusionary ‘unknown’ world. These experiences were more enforced and made a great risk to lives since unheard of things till then were done, in order to create new opportunities felt to be denied at home. The supposing freedom gained by discovering new lands ended up in a colonization known by the brutal suppression of the indigenous people who lived there already but in a very different cultural world. Hence in Western philosophy the trend was to link experiences to making clear differences when relating to the otherness (Hegel). In the present world the crisis in terms of such a cultural definition of experience or 'poverty of experience' can be linked to the almost total destruction by now of otherness so that differences have not merely vanquished, but a sameness seems to flatten out any identity leaving it to rage and revenge as only motors left if self elevating is needed in order to retain superiority and dominance over the other people.   

All this leads in many cases only to ‘negative freedom’. Margaret Atwood describes her fellow Canadians as wishing to experience no interferences at all in their lives; however, they cannot say positively what they would like to do instead. As this attitude is based on denial (it can be attributed to having left home to immigrate and thereby risked to become ‘rootless’, which is, culturally speaking, a kind of neurosis expressed mainly by not being satisfied by anything), there is no real experience made and no validation possible. It creates a cultural vacuum usually filled by religious fervor or mere cynicism drowned in alcoholism and other types of excesses. The identity process will then steer to socially sanctioned activities and determine politics as real process through social alliances created if not by going to the same church, then by playing together golf. It is a matter of course which determines the development path.

Cultural self denial is the case of many immigrants from Europe to North America and to other places of the world. By giving up the prime cultural home, the original language is replaced by first the language of desire for something strange and once disappointed t venture no further but to stick to the language of social norms (James Clifford). Without culture it leads to such ‘inferiority complex' but equally estranged guilt feelings for having abandoned one’s own culture, that negative beliefs are upheld, morally speaking, by transforming convictions of values into political dogmas, in reality value beliefs turned into prejudices against people who do not share the same values. All that fiction of identity is upheld all the more in the strange land by invoking rituals centered around fundamental beliefs and principles.

It can explain what happens to people once they are without culture and yet forced to face in that strange land other cultures e.g. Indians and their way of life. They are driven in face of this cultural gap to try and to prove their own superiority by outdoing the others. Since they grow very quickly tired, if not impatient with themselves for lack of communication and understanding of the others, they resort almost automatically to sheer force in literally outgunning the Indians. They do so since no experience can enrich their cultural appreciation of the others. Instead they mask their inferiorities by demonstrating that their technical and military capacity can overwhelm anything. However, such an approach lacks one decisive thing, namely what Indians and other indigenous people have even at the abyss of their own survival: a wisdom to stay happy.

The American writer George Crane writes in his book 'Beyond the House of the False Lama' that

"The days of the nomads are numbered. But for those free nomads remaining on the steppe, it is a talisman of their intrepidness, their courage in the face of assimilation, that even as they understand that they and their way of life are all but extinct, understand that now they are headed nowhere in history, that they are still somehow happy en route. They care little about property; the land belongs to all and to no one, and owing more than one needs to survive, more than one can easily move, is a misery. They seem to be looking always at that place unseen, that invisible blank in the distance beyond the horizon. The direction they are heading. For, seen in the long light of time, only this earth will remain. Take heart: only the earth survives. This colorless, monotonous, austere, inhuman, magnificant country that stretches away, away in every direction. And the end is only where humanity leaves off - stops and lets the story continue in worldless silence." (p.250) 

If there is 'silence', where does language begin again? Paul Celan said after the Holocaust that slowly language was returning despite Adorno's saying that no more poetry was possible after Auschwitz.

"Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, 'enriched' by it all."

(taken from a speech by Paul Celan from "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen", p.34, in Celan's Collected Prose, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, The Sheep Meadow Press, 1986 - source: Wikipedia)

Poetry may not be enough to free mankind from silence. As a matter of fact, Michel Foucault advised to spot the places of silence before lyrical protest threatens to cover them up.

It was, however, Michel Foucault who nourished as well thoughts about 'the birth of the clinic' and who linked the question of perception with how prisons function. For there condemned men and women are put under strict observations and if they trespass any of the internal rules of the prison, they risk being punished even more than what they experience already: 'removal of their freedom'.

All this is to say the question whether culture institutes politics can be discussed within the European context as to what institutionalization means and brings about. It can restore as much as remove Rights and protect but equally harm self esteem or generally what is called 'human dignity'. 

What is, however, a note of difference or even disagreement with arguments favoring culture stems from the experience with the Holocaust. George Steiner asked in 'Language and Silence' whether culture can humanize people in time so as to avoid man made catastrophes? Writers like George Crane believe so that culture allows resistance against all negativities. Yet the continual suppression and even genocide of others as experienced over and again poses the question, what kind of culture is left once politics is institutionalized and yet 'crime against humanity' cannot be averted? Or is it true that the very absence of culture leads to these criminal acts against humanity?

It seems at first sight that people are at risk if forced to act on their own i.e. without cultural protection given to them through self esteem but equally also human means to address fellow human beings. It is the search for the human voice that gives orientation to self understandings still in need to be explored and expressed. 

Yet there is a kind of ‘politics’ to be faced internationally, which differs from any cultural approach at human level. Perhaps the scale is so very different, but there needs to be included very often sheer indifferences when genocides occur or human atrocities can continue unchallenged, even if brought to the attention of everyone by the global media. It seems failures to respond in a human way at the various collective levels can be explained by various factors converging. Lack of human solidarity goes with a diffusion of minds about who is victim, who perpetrator while 'public diplomacy' leads more to an over emphasis of short sighted success stories than to a real analysis of failures in order to learn how to avoid in future similar mistakes being made. The latter does not seem to take place once culture fails itself to anticipate what is at stake if certain actions are not undertaken e.g. going to war instead of working through the process of intercultural dialogue in order to stay in touch with the human reality of the other side. Always good options seem to be sacrificed for the sake of retaining and even strengthening power. If that is the case, then the relationship between culture and politics takes on a different significance.

It cannot be that simple, but cynical and negative observations about humanity can be used as justification principles on how certain people are treated e.g. the tough policy of Israel towards the Palestinians. If not countered, then international politics can be drawn into the usual 'chicken-egg' fallacy as is the case in the Middle East. Here needs to be made a distinction between Jewish people as victims of the Holocaust and Palestinians as victims as a result of establishing the state of Israel on land where they lived before being expelled into permanent refugee camps. 

Also it cannot be that human experiences are completely lost once the institutionalization process of politics grips the minds of the decision makers. Barenboim expresses that best when he says about Israel "my land, my pain". He echoes thereby the poet Seferis who said something similar about Greece. In the end, once human culture which derives value from the very existence of every human being, is negated, then society and especially the political institutions seem unable to respond to the challenge whenever there is a another human crisis in the making. 

More so the failure of culture leads to a failure to keep open channels of communication with the other side. It is then said that diplomacy failed. In the case of former Yugoslavia that excuse was used to justify the bombing of Kosovo. It was claimed that this military intervention became necessary as last ditched effort to end genocide there. Since then wars have been justified as humanitarian actions when in fact no war can be justified while military actions can never be considered as humanitarian actions. No wonder then that international diplomacy could not avert the invasion of Iraq nor has the world been able to circumvent the military junta in Burma in time to bring aid in time to victims which had been struck May 2008 by a cyclone. Also after hurricane Katerina had struck New Orleans and the surrounding area, there were many more mishaps in the way the various services responded compared to what was needed by the people on the ground. Significantly aid is only given if it does not jeopardize the very power structures which have been built up around the world to make a system fluid enough to let trade and other forms of exchanges continue. But if it happens without the necessary 'osmosis' then various people cannot be brought together in time so as to avoid crisis and more so to prevent crimes against humanity. Unfortunately too many false legitimacies abound. They prevent the bringing about of just solutions and above all they just hinder human responses in time. For established power always plays with time and delays fore mostly any decision if it would mean tapping own resources or even giving up power e.g. Mugabe in Zimbabwe. 

With regards to the functioning of international institutions and a more progressive development policy, there is at least within the European Union an ever louder call for politics to be culturally based. UNESCO has with its declaration on cultural diversity underlined this need for a world wide cultural understanding. The aim is to include the others as being different and therefore in need of empathy. Only then intercultural dialogue can ensure that violence does not speak, but mediation prevails between various groups opposing each other. Thus culture in the widest sense seems to be needed in order to make possible distribution of resources in a way that the world can be perceived as being fair to all people.

What alters the search for a link between culture and politics is technology. In 1975, when heavy cargo ships were being replaced by container ships, it was remarkable how harbors altered their organizations in order to adapt to the changes from bulk to container traffic. The working gangs disappeared suddenly along with all kinds of servicemen. Gone with them were all the colors and cultural distinctiveness each group had upheld as a way of identification with a specific way of existence i.e. as sailor, as loader, as transporter etc. Container traffic made the ports functional and colorless, even empty. The many men who used to carry heavy sacks on their backs down planks from the ships not only vanished but with them the songs retaining memories of experiences made when ships were still schooners and the shout 'land ahoi' resonated within every man. Instead there remained in the port but one crane operator and some other guy on the ground to give signals and to hook up the crane's chain to the containers. More so, sailors and even ship captains when going ashore would no longer wear their uniforms; rather they melted into the anonymous whole by being dressed like everyone else in the streets. Since all wear similar clothes from then on, it was impossible to deduce from their clothes what they did in order to exist in society. Sartre had made that remark about the difference between a chimney sweeper and an intellectual; while the former showed through his outfit the design by which he exists, the intellectual had no such outer bearing in mind nor did he really know how to exist in society at large. Nowadays this not knowing how to exist seems to have become a general even though a deeply anti intellectual trend.

Once cultural distinctions in the way to exist are neutralized, an overall drive is to escape from industrial society. Even the culture of coal miners is no longer a living culture but rather has become something to be preserved by a museum focusing on industrial heritage. Interestingly enough the sociologist Gurvitch made the observation that ‘society brings forth technology, but technology destroys in the end that society’.

The question which arises out of such an observation is whether not only people and their cultures, but also the political institutions brought forth over time experience a similar fate? Certainly Johannes Agnoli saw in Western Societies a basic tendency which he identified as ‘transformation of democracy’. It means politics tends to become over time anti-democratic and therefore by definition, but also structurally speaking, a contradiction to the original intentions of the ‘founding constitution’.

James Boggs in his book ‘The American Revolution’ says at fault for what happened to American society with all its racial discriminations was not so much the American constitution itself. Rather the problem resided with the process of implementation since it allowed the Southern States to count everyone in their population in order to claim more seats in Congress, but in reality the Blacks had no Right to vote. That was a clear violation of the Constitution proclaiming equal rights for everyone.

The same problem has been created when the constitution in Iraq was drafted anew, that is after US and coalition troops had occupied the country and toppled Saddam Hussein. The constitution was not brought about by a careful deliberation process involving the people but by military expediency. Andreas Papandreou  had called it already in reference to Greece under military dictatorship 1967 - 73 ‘democracy at gunpoint’. In another way the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty is an equally disturbing indication. For it meant wrong provocations by especially the member states made people opt for the wrong choice to reject rather than work within a common framework on improving democracy within EU institutions. The fall back to national cultures was sold and celebrated as victory of the small but more authentic over the threatening super state many feared Europe could become if legitimized in this way. Now the member states initiated the Lisbon Treaty and thereby superseded all citizens by excluding with the exception of Ireland a ratification process by public referendum. There is also hardly any distinction made between criticism out of affirmation of Europe and rejection of Europe; it has evoked many more ambivalent attitudes with perhaps the UK leading the way in being not in, but also not completely out. 

If the question about constitution is extended to ask whether cultural governance on the basis of cultural consensus is possible, if yes, then a prime prerequisite for that to happen would be the sharing of civil values by all people. Only then can brought about through culture a political culture in Europe that allows for progression in development and foreign policy. Political culture entails many things, including a methodology on how problems are perceived and solutions for them evaluated. 

As a matter of fact the EU Constitutional Treaty would have been inconceivable without the European Convention. The rejection of the EU Constitutional Treaty meant equally a refusal to recognise a need to bring about such consensus or broad agreement that everyone knows what giving Europe a constitution entails. The negative press campaign used in effect the fact that no ordinary citizen could read 800 or more pages to defeat one thing needed: culture to handle complexity. 

To be sure, everyone involved in the European Convention praised one main thing, namely as a methodology it had achieved to put all problems on the table. The process of deliberation included dialog with civil society. Frederique Chabaud, then coordinator of EFAH, advanced most brilliantly the cultural argument and gave reason to hope that non controversial agreements could be reached along this cultural line of argumentation. Hence the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty meant in reality opting as well for a much narrower definition of culture i.e. national, regional and local ones instead of embracing an open ended learning process about each others cultures.

Once France and then Holland said ‘no’, all subsequent member states, including the United Kingdom, suspended the process as it made no longer any sense. The rejection left European institutions without any real legitimization. It indicates a huge gap continues to prevail between citizens and institutions of the European Union. Again the question can be posed but can culture halt such erosion process in democratic inspiration and help to institutionalize a new deliberation process to be considered as truly democratic? Right now the member states went ahead with the Lisbon Treaty and thereby excluded the controversial part, namely the European Constitution, in order to close the legitimacy gap but without participation by citizens.  

One philosopher who gave much thought to this question was Cornelius Castoriadis. He linked culture to the imagination.  People would project their wishes upon political buildings housing parliament, justice, education etc. and thereby imagine what is going on inside. Being conscious of a political landscape being dominated by political parties, Cornelius Castoriadis added that it would be crucial that the programs of these parties are drafted in such a way that people can recognize themselves in what is being said and done in their name. What happens, is said and done inside these political institutions (from the European Parliament in Strasbourg to the United Nations in New York) is, therefore, crucial whether or not people feel understood in what they want. All political institutions, including schools and museums, cannot function without one prerequisite being fulfilled: public trust.

It goes without saying that public trust can only be sustained as long as politics at the highest level retains the ability to address real needs in both a spirited and imaginative way. All reforms stand a chance of being successfully implemented, if they follow through on one key prerequisite: the adoption of law is not merely a matter of enforcement or not, but people accept it and thereby make it into their way of life e.g. putting on safety belts when driving cars. Therefore, not so much laws are needed which make good business possible, something Kant thought to be the political need of the state, but laws which let culture evolve around them. That is needed if cultural adaptation lets people cope with the changes evoked by these laws in response to complex issues e.g. climate change.

In other words, culture institutes politics by facilitating cultural adaptation to all changes incurring in the world and by bringing about at the same time a culturally defined lawfulness. This allows knowledge about the new law(s) being disseminated in all directions and made understandable in a way that this law prompts actions directed to answer very specific needs. Specific has to mean here culturally recognized as the very nature of every social, political, economic and environmental issue is its own complexity. There is no point in over simplification if the real issue has to be dealt with in accordance with the need to bring about solutions in an organised manner. Since that includes as well how memory works, exclusion of culture would not only hinder finding solutions but transform serious shortcomings into grave failures. The invasion of Iraq is here a prime example.  

Clearly the political test shall be the acknowledgement of the cultural impact of any new law or regulation being proposed. For it must stand the test of consistency in cultural terms for only then the reform proposal stands a chance to gain in value over time. Validation comes with experiences made. They can confirm the wisdom of having taken development in such a direction and to the next higher level of organisation. That is crucial to understand with culture being the best coordinate for future organisational strategies as they depend themselves on the very definition of success. 

Subsequently practical judgment in terms of impact upon culture has to be the basis for politics. It means consistent efforts need to be undertaken to keep the law giving process accessible to people. They need to know and to trust what is going on inside political institutions. If anything prompts political mistrust, it is when people are not addressed in their imagination and thereby cannot participate in the deliberation process constructively and creatively. Even if not physically present, people know intuitively what is of practical importance, equally crucial for life. In short, the ‘dialectic of the imagination’ is crucial for linking culture and politics to make possible a free society.

Given then this possibility of culture to institutionalize politics through active participation at the level of the imagination, the hitting back by the established Conservative society in Europe at the student movement after 1968 was a terrible mistake. It drove not only the imagination out of ‘politics’ but emptied the streets of all poetic elements. Still some new attitudes expressed then with regards to development policy made their way through the institutions. For example, it has brought about to the creation of such institutions as the Heinrich Boell Foundation. The latter was especially influential and supportive of efforts leading up to the WSSD in Johannesburg. Parallel to that numerous other organizations of Civil Society have become engaged in world and development politics, besides amnesty international there come immediately to mind Green Peace, Friends of the Earth etc.

But 2002 was a turning point insofar as business had effectively co-opted the agenda of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and politicians moved away from a clear commitment to indicators needed for measuring whether progress has been made or not with regards to sustainable development. As a matter of fact the loss of credible measures indicated a loss of ‘rational politics’. One year later it was replaced by war in Iraq but was already a fixture of global politics after what happened in New York on September 11, 2001: the invasion of Afghanistan. Very serious is that it has made the loss in moral authority of the United Nations most evident. So far nothing has been able to replace that loss. Moral authority is needed most of all for the promotion of world governance in relation to sustainable development and without it, the organization of world wide relief measures becomes nearly impossible despite the need to avoid in time another human crisis in the making.

This negative process was reinforced once the world failed after 911 to stop the going to war in first Afghanistan, then Iraq although based on false accusations. The 'war against terrorism' has contributed to the false creation of ‘enemies’. They do exist but are needed. Without them no army can function i.e. it has to have something to shoot at. Although everyone knew bombing Baghdad at the outset of the war meant hitting innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, it was accepted almost without any protest. The fact that the occupation of Iraq could happen although based on false reports about Iraq supposedly in possession of weapons of mass destruction and despite the people in the West going into the streets to demonstrate that they are against going to war, left everyone deeply affected. Many protesters became silent after March 2003 and have not heard ever since. By contrast, Poets against the War head by Sam Hamill attempt to counter this deep disenchantment in the global world.

A destruction of political culture in the Western world concurred with 911. All Western states had to comply and join the coalition under NATO membership rule, namely to show solidarity with another member if attacked. The United States claimed this was the case on 911, and compared it even with Pearl Harbour when in fact it was like any other act of terror a single, although highly sensational blow with the world media carrying free of charge the message. In reality, there were no standing armies ready to invade the United States. Indeed, the term 'attack' was highly inflated and made out of every American a 'victim'. According to Grace Boggs that political twist was needed to prevent Americans making any self critical analysis why it happened and instead allowed themselves to be swept up by a wave of American Patriotism. Unfortunately the false solidarity ruled out such human solidarity needed world wide to prevent war. 

That was not the only part of political culture destroyed in the process of public diplomacy and coercive practices behind closed doors. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was done to bring about regime change from outside. It disenfranchises not only the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, but repudiated one crucial democratic principle, namely to achieve change in power by free and fair elections. By using violent means to achieve regime change, it contradicts the credo of democracy upheld by the West during the Cold War. Always the criticism was leveled against Communist regimes that they did not allow for a peaceful transition of power by having free and fair elections. It means also upholding such principles as no one having the Right to stay longer than for a certain period of time e.g. the President of the United States can serve only two terms of four years each in case of being re-elected. Certainly the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein was never made in the name of democracy. It has left the political culture of democracy in disarray.

Culture can be understand in many different ways, but it is above all a ‘theory of perception’. As a way of looking at things while making up one’s mind in order to do things in a certain way, culture is expressed in such a complex process. No wonder that Essen 2010 as European Capital of Culture is using this designation to alter people's perceptions by exposing them to new art forms, in particular media related ones, so as to give them a way to adapt to future requirements of the high technology sector compared to the past industrial one. Artists can let people see things in a different and new way. With such changes in 'theory of perception' goes innovation: the art to see new potentialities even before they have been recognized by society at large.

Some may reduce culture to a certain pattern but then it is really tradition and customs which have been made into a kind of social norm to uphold a certain identity e.g. the Baverian one. Efforts have been made as well to link culture and work but there is a problem as pointed out by Cornelius Castoriadis. He stated that the binary process by which organization structures function is due to the influence of computer technology. It does not allow people to think in terms of contradictions and therefore they cannot attain consistency over time. The negative cultural impact is that the emotional binding process affecting people’s behavior towards work can easily be transformed into hostile attitudes towards life. It explains why the world is experiencing a kind of cultural genocide as described by George Crane being committed in particular against Nomadic and by the same token against free people. Here official perceptions follow the course of governments wishing to control everything top down. 

To counter such destruction of political culture a new cultural dimension is needed to address these problems. Indeed, once all unresolved questions and still to be faced open issues, if not new wounds created by a violent regime change, are taken together, then it has to be understood what it means when the problems for world cultures have not yet been really recognized. A part of a new agenda should be a focus on the many more traumatized people which are at risk to be left behind by recent developments. As long as everything is made to fit just certain patterns linked to massive accumulations of wealth, not merely political power but adversively various purchasing powers have to be confronted, in order to articulate at the negotiation table a position in favor of world wide cultural redemption. Compared to the colonial times and early stages of globalization, it appears the twenty-first century shall be marked by an even more brutal human trafficking. It goes parallel with other forms of exploitations of both humans and natural resources for the sake of just making some experiences but at ever greater risk to leave behind a traumatized world. That then says it all about a lack of solidarity or what new coalitions are in the making.

One symptom is when culture cannot keep up any longer the institutionalization process of politics in a democratic, non violent and indeed a good way but instead turns towards what Louis Baeck named ‘cultural assertiveness’. It is a wish for dominance of not only by one culture but by a culture transformed into an ethnic assertiveness in belief separation from and segregation of all other cultures is best for this one culture now claiming one state. What it means in terms of ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been witnessed by all when it happened not only in former Yugoslavia but also in Rwanda and elsewhere like Dafur even though the world seems to have at times difficulties to call genocide by its proper name.

The deeper issue of various forms of ‘cultural assertiveness’, including the hijacking of culture for the sake of wishing to establish but one cultural identity e.g. Flemish at the exclusion of the French culture, is clearly not so much motivated by the own culture having come under threat, but something else has happened. Bart Verschaffel would argue fiction is taken to be reality and vice versa. It leads to a confusion about what is considered good for oneself as being automatically also good for the others. 

In reality the abnegation of culture as dealing with complex issues of development goes hand in hand with attempts to use culture to distribute money and resources according to specific values. It is a claim of resources, including cultural ones. In that sense language is perhaps the most important tool in this distribution fight involving as much local as global players. What plays into the hands of those wishing to abuse culture to further merely their own interests is the intensification of cultural inferiority felt by many vis a vis a global world. It seems to confirm claims of cultural superiority in the form of dominance by the English language in general and by the Hollywood film industry in particular. The interesting point is when European politicians argue in those terms e.g. in favor of French or Flemish film as if under threat by Hollywood produced films. Always they wish in reality to protect their own national cultural market while never open to other cultures. The break down continues along the line of wishing to protect the French or Flemish film industry when in fact it means wishing a non competitive privileged cultural space in which one can pursue own ways of creativity protected by claiming it to be in national, equally cultural interests i.e. how to secure a decent life by having a cultural job not in need of any further justification.

Although globalization is repeatedly cited as the prime cause for feeling that one’s own culture is under threat, the deeper issue is that people feel no longer able to cope with complexity. So here strikes the boomerang coming back in full swing. After people have left politics for too long without the influence of culture per say, culture is reclaimed in a way that makes out of culture a kind of mask for a state wishing to pretend to be a part of the civilised world when in fact people experience daily a brutal reality. If people have to face now more and more situations without mediation, they risk being confronted by naked violence. Once without means of dialogue, the lack of philosophical perspectives will make itself felt in the absence of people able to discuss things before deciding what to do.

While poetic images created by poets will observe those figures hurrying down empty streets, human history will be written in dust. Forgotten will be many people. Daily language will reflect that in the idioms in use. A key wish is to overcome traumas in order to find a way to go on and not to suffer further human losses. It can mean in the absence of interesting stories that people have less or even no empathy for one another that the language of silence dominates. It contributes to a loss of humane understanding and can be explained by loss of imagination and dreams, truth and real experiences. When the writers and poets go silent, then soon thereafter no one seems to remember what it feels like to be addressed as a human being, one understood and recognized by others and therefore not just as an object or means for something else. Once people are out of touch with the creative process, they have no access to human language. The latter requires according to Marx that the categories of productivity and of creativity are brought together when addressing the other. Only then human self consciousness exists and other solutions found accordingly. In that sense it is not the economy but culture which gives meaning to life insofar as stories are told how human beings stay human.

Meaning of life is further dismissed when ‘other worlds’ cease to exist and instead of differences only experiences are made that sameness exists everywhere (James Clifford, ‘Predicament of Culture’). With Coca Cola being sold everywhere and digital culture spreading per Internet into every last corner of the world, no wonder then that while the ‘poverty of experience’ spreads only few and outstanding images will dominate the world discourse. Since 911 and the start of the global ‘war against terrorism’ one structural disposition has become apparent as governments intent to exploit ‘terrorism’ as the newest ‘unknown’ to justify military operations and vast expenditures.

In face of all these recent developments some other remarks about culture and cultural heritage have to be made. It is not merely that the Talibans destroyed the two largest Buddha sculptures to establish a single religious imprint upon Afghanistan just before the outbreak of war, but once American troops invaded Baghdad the museum there was plundered and many more traces of thousand years of civilization either damaged or fully destroyed. It is an indication that power by definition wants to destroy that ‘otherness’ for it would remind that there existed another system. In order to remember other forms of existences, cultural heritage is crucial to carry things from the past over into the present. As things take on ‘value over time’ once societies attain a reasonable degree of cultural consistency, they can undertake their own mediation between the practical ways and theoretical perceptions of possibilities. That mediation can enter people's daily conversations in their wish to do things and to know what changes are in store for them due to still other developments.

Homer’s Odyssey was in that sense a measure of time for how long it takes not only for Odyssey to find his way back to Ithaca but what time society needs if to convert from a hunting to an agricultural one. This change requires the bringing about a just society in transition but as Ancient Greek poets would say that is no easy task. Out of that insight how difficult it shall be, there follow the measures for the tasks ahead. These measures must be able to mediate between expectations and the practical possible for otherwise there cannot be realized justice, neither now or in future. That idea about measures for the tasks ahead can be linked to society trying to accommodate nowadays changes due to globalization with the West interacting very differently with the so-called Third World or developing countries.

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