Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Entry points into reality and possible demands

Paintings murals together offer entry points into a lived reality to show what is possible if not restricted in the freedom to work and to learn together.

These murals give a measure as to what is possible when it comes to demand peace.


Children and youth perceive the world of the adults in various ways. Very often they do not like what they see and only wish not to become like the adults. That poses numerous challenges for them as they have very often not a positive model but only the negation of how things are right now. This makes the entry point into reality and adult life especially for the youth into a crucial turning point in their personal biographies. After all, maturity as understood by adults is equated with knowing what can be achieved and it goes with not making impossible demands. But what are in reality possible demands? An answer to that question depends whether 'reality' is taken as measure for the possible or else the demand for the possible stems from the richness of the imagination allowing for the perception of still other things which are possible. Of interest is here the recommendation by Michael D. Higgins, former Minister of Culture in Ireland and today MP in the Irish Parliament. Since he is as well a poet, he expresses in a specific poem that if one is to retain consistency over time, then it is advisable to stick to impossible demands. They turn out in the end to be more truthful than those demands which are bent to fit into given reality. Naturally and most relevant to Kids' Guernica, is the demand for peace. This demand for peace is deemed in this world of today as an impossible one. What children maintain is that the demand for peace is possible.


Michael D. Higgins, Poetry Reading in Athens Centre Oct. 2007

Photo: Kostas Kartelias


Of Possibility

From that wider space

that is imagination

is made possible

a visual beauty

that dazzles and ensnares.

Deep in that space lies too,

an unreleased expectancy,

versions of a world unborn,

spending shards of light and colour,

that make an invitation

to something truly human.

They lodge in memory

making an inheritance

of possibility not always realised.

And in that side wielded up by memory

to spirit at the end,

it is these shafts

and unrealised suggestions

that endure

at the end.

Making a rich legacy

of possibility.

Michael D. Higgins

Adults have made by comparison to children too many mistakes, including wrong compromises. In the process of entering reality, they may have become 'reasonable' according to the definition of being a responsible adult, but they will have lost this all important innocence. The latter would allow them to uphold very simple demands like staying honest and not giving in to resignation. Significantly Albert Camus did not accept reliance upon 'hope', for to him "to hope is to resign while to live is not to resign."

Michael D. Higgins would even go so far as calling them ‘impossible demands’ but with another kind of endurance since they are honestly meant and give meaning to human action and thought over time. That heritage of childhood the philosopher Juergen Habermas calls ‘memories of the future’, or that what cannot be realized in the present is retained for future times. The poet Ritsos describes soldiers which have fallen as still holding onto the ropes to ring the church bells once peace has come to the land.

And very often they lack the imagination which goes with the vision of a just society. Not surprisingly Picasso said about himself whenever he paints, he tries to be again like a child and thereby become true in expression. Something of that critical tension to the imagination Kids' Guernica wishes to attain at all times.

What worries children are tendencies by adults to neglect this human heritage of impossible demands. To them they are more real than what adults use to escape in their everyday lives from all these human challenges, including how to live in a just society at peace with itself.

Indeed, all of us are ready to construct a make belief world in which we are only partially responsible for what is happening in the world. No wonder when the Copenhagen summit ends in failure despite what is happening to the climate on this earth and it is these political failures which determine finally the kind of environment children have to grow up in. It includes the absence of public truths and instead there is being propagated a love for lies because it is convenient for politicians to believe the people do not wish to hear the full truth, if at all any partial truth.

The German sociologist Ulrich Beck describes the qualification process adults undergo to specialize themselves as a way to escape full accountability. By qualifying for something specific, they disqualify other aspects of their potential selfs and refuse to be approached on that side. It may reflect a division of labor and also a wisdom by avoiding to pretend to be able to do everything and anything.

However, if qualification-disqualification strategies lead to a neglect of human concern and loss of human solidarity - none other aspect is meant when not free to be approached from all sides - then children and the youth would not only have to face impoverished adults but risk becoming like all the adults inapproachable. Such a typical adult would lack both the experiences and the willingness by which it would be possible to respond to things going on in society. It would mean a reduction in the sense of feeling responsible for what goes on in life i.e. for the lives of other people. An outcome of that was experienced in Germany under Hitler for no one saw Jews disappear even though the trains bringing them to the concentration camps still ran on time, and someone was driving that train to the death camps!

The dance critic Jadwiga Majewska would call it a 'system of immaturity'. Once imposed upon children to the point that all their wonderful creative talents are squashed by the time they join the work force, they would resign and feel too weak to stand up to any demand for truth and honesty. No wonder many of them feel already at an early age simply bored as if nothing was going on in the world which could interest them. They have gone by then already too deep inside of themselves to register anything of true interest due to all the unresolved conflicts with the adults and which burden and bury them at one and the same time.

Thomas Mann said boredom was the cause of First World War. Since then war has lost its flavour as adventure but still after the disasterous Two World Wars, war has continued. In case of the Viet Nam war, David Mantell doing comparative research about war resisters and war volunteers found out that the latter group grew up in families in which 'law and order' was prayed, while they would beat up the children if they did not obey. Consequently these children were literally driven into doing all sorts of 'illegal things', including rape of girls at the age of twelve. Once the USA went to war in Viet Nam, they joined willingly because now they saw an opportunity to do what they were doing until now 'illegally' to do the same things under the auspices of 'legality' due to the declaration of war.

This relativity in the ethics has to be perceived as a pecularity of those who do only what the law tells them to do or not to do. As if without their own practical judgment, it is a sign of perversion of human values when a bishop admitted during the revelations of child abuse cases within the Catholic Church that he had beaten children and was, therefore, relieved once a law forbidding such acts, that he no longer needed to do that or was allowed to do it.

There is something deeply troubling when the German Greens who emerged out of the peace movement and were against war still could make war possible. For once the Greens joined the coalition government with the Social Democrats under Schroeder, one of the first acts was to agree to the bombardment of Kosovo and later on to sending troops to Afghanistan. The Green politician Joschka Fischer who became then the foreign minister would even justify this act of war by claiming that the bombardment of Kosovo was a part of a humanitarian mission to stop genocide and to end the siege of Sarajevo.

What we do not seem to see nowadays, and therefore risk to be accused by future generations, as we criticized our fathers and mothers for what they failed to do during Second World War, is how the institutionalization of war has been cemented by the doctrine of 'permanent war'. As said above, it was initiated by Rumsfeld after 911 to fight terrorism. Unfortunately that premise is being upheld by President Barack Obama. In other words, we are facing another failure to halt the permanent institutionalization of war and, therefore, are not in a good position to really reverse the perversion of human values.


Entry point in Ancient Greece (Sparta and Athens): a conspiracy against truth

Entry points can be defined by passing exams and therefore entering for the first time college or university. Usually it means moving out of the home of the parents and starting to live on one's own. That gain in independence is crucial for the maturation process of a youth into a responsible adult (even though the 'art of living' entails staying young throughout life).

Now there is some negotiation going on between the older and the younger generations as to the terms which are set according to which someone is deemed to have become an adult. It may suffice to look back to Ancient Greece to see how it was done in Sparta for it illustrates what perversion of values can do to anyone, namely break the character based on honesty and uprighteousness if not careful on how entry into adulthood is achieved. Usually that bitter truth is hidden or masked by specific rituals a youth must undergo before such an entry has been achieved.

The rituals of Ancient Sparta required of every youth before being accepted into the circle of the Elders to live for three days amongst the slaves and then prior to leaving on the third day, kill one of them and escape from helot settlement without being killed by them. That amounts at first glance to a test of bravery and the youth is asked to show real courage. In reality, the youth is asked to commit murder and by complying in order to be recognized as mature adult makes himself guilty of such a crime. The guilt feeling is, however, suppressed and sublimated by achieving not only the status of the elders, but by accepting that there is a difference between a slave and a citizen of Sparta as if two different laws exist and not one for every human being. Not only that leads to disillusionment on the part of the youth, but worse now that he has killed a slave himself, it cannot any longer challenge the adults for upholding such duality in the legal system and more so for having killed a slave. In short, what the rituals and entry requirements into adult life - being accepted into the circle of the elders - amounts to a 'conspiracy against truth'. The youth is thereby prevented of speaking up and against the killing of slaves. That has grave repercussions not only in their own lives, but for the very moral base of such a society as this 'conspiracy against truth' will prevent it from becoming ever a just society.

That this was not restricted solely to Sparta was revealed by Plato's dialogue with Socrates. In one of them Plato depicts how Socrates waited outside the Polis to stand trial. He was accused of misleading the youth. Now significantly while waiting, Plato describes how a youth comes suddenly running up to the gate leading to the Polis and where Socrates is waiting. Socrates asks him why his face is flushed and he is in such a haste. The youth explains that his father has just killed a slave and he wants to accuse his father of murder. Through the subsequent dialogue Plato shows how Socrates talks the boy out of his intention to accuse his father in front of the Assembly of Athenians. Plato may have followed through his intention to show that Socrates was not misleading the youth, but in so doing it underlines that Socrates accepted himself the duality of the legal system with one law applicable to the citizens of Athens and another one to the slaves.

This example of how a 'conspiracy against the truth' shows how any system manages to defend itself against any demand for a consistent truth. Rather than giving the youth the freedom to find a way out of this contradiction, the adults make the youth commit the same mistakes just for the sake of not being challenged themselves. Altogether such initiation rites can be quite treacherous for it leads to the upholding of double standards when adults go about their affairs. If that kind of practice goes unchallenged, and adults think they can get away with it, then it can lead easily on to ever greater abuse of children and of the youth, and not only that but no one will know in the end what is the truth and a just society. The demand for equality will go unheard and in no time to squash those feelings of guilt still further, all sorts of inventiveness will lead on to war as if then killing is alright, legally and practically speaking.

Search for values - Humanities and Political philosophy - rational measures for a discourse about governance through the making of laws

Since philosophy is about letting politics find these rational measures, freedom one of them, we need to know how we set these measures. Such ethical values are needed all the time, including when just going about doing our own business. How we conduct ourselves in society matters to ourselves, our families and friends and to society in general. We call the setting of these measures an ethical act when we set our value premises. However, there is one big problem connected with that. The Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis pointed out, once values are set, they can hardly ever be discussed. Moreover, if one tries to change the values of the other, then it leads very often to conflict, if not to outright hostility and therefore directly to war.

Since Ancient Greece we have realized that we can only avoid going to war by listening to the voice of reason. Unfortunately we seldom do. Yet we do know what to expect when we uphold the spirit of humanity and when human ethics governs not only our relationships to neighbours but how we conceive ideas to become laws.

In Greek democracy, the just law meant fore mostly as a reform process to break the power of the rich before they become too powerful and therefore would no longer permit to be questioned. There was a strong distaste and dislike for dictators. Thus the Ancient Greeks would laugh at the idea of giving tax breaks to the rich. They knew that every democracy is build on the idea of equality and that means giving every citizen the same Rights and, therefore, access to the community. That is why the worst form of punishment was not the death penalty, but banishment from the community or as Solshenitzyn put it in "First Circle of Hell" banishment to the West.

Truly the giving of ideas can be one of the most creative part of human development. A history of political ideas shows that this goes with some basic concepts. Unfortunately that includes the concept of 'habits' to which Hume resorted insofar as he wanted to introduce the notion of law abiding citizens as the ones who control themselves by following 'habits' and therefore through such regularity in life reassure those in power that they have nothing to fear from the common folk.

The purpose of just law is to overcome arbitrary decisions and to let life settle into a lawful existence. As this is based on public discourse and therefore on the importance of public truth, it means everyone should become not silent, but mature enough to articulate him- or herself. Speak up! Give your best opinion! Once people know others are not afraid to say the truth, then knowledge is indeed in a better position to know what is going on. Only the perversion of public truth by accepting half truth and even worse a lie prevents society from knowing how to become more just.

In a mature political process, anyone can questioned in public debates 'the truth of the matter put before all' and do so before everyone decides what to do. Since no society or individual has ever the full truth ready at hand, engagement in such public debate to facilitate the decision making process requires two things: independent knowledge and an ongoing learning process. Remarkable are then such political systems in which mistakes stemming from wrong decisions are recognized immediately and corrections are made before it is too late. That requires a political philosophy by which negative and positive consequences are drawn out of the course of actions which society decided to take, in order to bring up the discussion to the level of possible and not merely given facts. It is in the sense of the possible that alternatives to reality exists.

The philosopher Kant addressed that problem when distinguishing real from possible laws in comparison to what is deemed as being 'necessary', and even then, he would have to acknowledge that any given reality is man made and therefore could be just as well constructed differently. For this other premises will have to be taken into consideration. Kant took this to mean something like an 'a priori' has to exist before any experience can be made. Only when this departure point exists, then the law can deduced from the knowledge which the sciences bring about and passed on as advice to the government on how to make such laws which make business possible.

Knowledge of goals - Ethics since Aristotle

Aristotle is of crucial importance to know the difference to Kant's 'a priori': first of all, the imagination is for Aristotle the crucial departure point. Through the imagination we know our goals. It lets us decide as well by which means we can reach these goals; and secondly, as Aristotle put it, we need good friends for only they can tell us the consequences of our actions even if we realize that only 200 years later and, therefore, too late to make any difference in and through our actions.

With this knowledge as to what we can do but also need to avoid, we set ourselves on course to bringing about a just society. A part of that are rational measures with everyone agreeing at the market place what a bag of apples will cost. The setting of prices relates to laws which govern not merely the market to do business, but reflects in turn how free people are, in order to discuss the prices before they are set and prior to making these measures into laws.

Of interest is that in Ancient Greece immediately after the agora or market, all the people had to go to the Polis to discuss these laws. The purpose of the discussion was to find out whether they are just or not. This led Pericles, that wise statesman to say, not armies shall protect Athens but active citizenship.

Not surprisingly, the ethics of Aristotles means we can know our goals through the imagination and thereby come to realize what are the crucial measures to achieve them. Such lawfulness is reflected in the way we speak about this difference between goals and measures taken to achieve them. Out of that difference we come to acknowledge what it took to bring about meaningful actions. They are assessed not only in terms of whether or not they help us achieve these goals, but whether or not they are done in conjunction with our wish to live in a just society. We can only realize by knowing and therefore reflecting what we are doing by following the lessons of categories, that is to speak in a logical way about the reasons behind our actions. These categories are themselves a replica of a grammar of life best expressed by poetry. Aristotle realized that in the verse form man is best suited to express himself in order to see if he lives and acts in accordance to the rhythms of life.

Once poetry is acknowledged as best suited to articulate feelings, then they can be even if not understood right away become the logos - the entry point - into a positive experience of our lack of knowledge and therefore an innovative way to express what we do know. That knowledge differs needless to say from what Plato projected into Socrates who claimed the wiseth of all men is the one who claims only that he knows that he knows nothing.

If political philosophy tries to find out what are the preconditions for just laws being applied in society, and freedom of public debate in public spaces a matter of cultural truths being created by means of the imagination, then surely realizing such an aspiration depends upon what gives us inspiration and a clear vision as to the tasks ahead while being able to discuss these 'cultural truths' or why these values are in need to be upheld.

For lack of a better word, let us call this key factor 'happiness'. True happiness stems out of a kind of knowledge based on a certainty of love and freedom, and not on a claim of knowing more than others. If that governs our coming to the debate and lets us stay together without any compulsion except for the desire to hear the truth, then we feel free from forces of coercion and arbitrary decisions. And as we know best, continuity in love brings about children who deserve all the respect and rights to love (Janusz Korczak).

In other words, if we heed the happiness of not only ourselves, but of children we come closer to liveable truths. For children are the imaginary witnesses as to how we apply rational measures to sustain our lives on earth. They see first of all how consistent we are in terms of these rational measures. If we respect that, then we have future.


Post script

Kids' Guernica needs to move on, look into the future, and while going ahead see what lessons have been learned since 2010?

It appears as if instead of deepening and furthering multiple entry points and stories through Kids' Guernica specific actions, the shared reality has diminished due to exclusive practices. At the same time, most actions exhaust themselves in a symbolic gesture insofar as it is merely claimed to be doing something in the name of peace without specifying this any more concretely.

Also Kids' Guernica does not monitor itself with regards to outstanding issues and how to explain the failure to respond if not immediately, then also not in the long run e.g. as to what is happening in Syria since January 2011 or more recently what is a mounting threat to children seeking the right to education with Malala in Pakistan setting a prime example as what threat there is due to extremist elements seeking to establish an order by means of violence and furthering still more hatred against the other, the stranger, the migrant!

^ Top

« In search of social justice and good education | True happiness - end of war »