“Civilization” was barbarism

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By FLÁVIO R. KOTHE*

In countries that were colonizing metropolises, there is latent a certain arrogance, in which many continue to think they are superior and with the right to belittle the “underdeveloped”

1.

A magazine, which is reduced to the digital dimension due to lack of institutional support, needs to know what will become of it in the way it still has left, what it can expect when there are no more local or national borders. If it has been read on all continents, with hundreds and even thousands of readings of its articles and essays, the proposal contained in it has reverberated, even if this does not count for one Quality reduced to formalisms. There is no arrogance in the interdisciplinary search, as it is known that the truth depends on the angles from which the object is sought, in a process of permanent revision.

What chance does a South American intellectual have of being recognized in Europe or the United States? Practically none. Intellectuals from metropolises such as France, Germany and the USA do not know Portuguese or Spanish, they are not concerned with having access to what is published in these languages. Philosophical languages ​​are, for them, Greek, Latin, French, German and English. The rest is not even talked about, it is not talked about. Little worth, they think.

To what extent can they be right? It is not a question of comparing the number of theses defended in one language or another. What matters is the density and quality of the text. There is historical data that we no longer have. We do not know, for example, what of Greek philosophy was learned at the University of Luxor, as was the exact wording of Plato or Aristotle. It is not suggested that one can ignore the European metaphysical tradition. Anyone who does this is ignorant who will have nothing to add.

The best training in Brazilian schools and universities does not reach what can be obtained in the best in France, Switzerland, Germany, England, USA. If so, the subject is not born "monkey”, but is treated as such by imposition of circumstances. This is not to say that he is, by being labeled as such. Applied to a soccer star, the scream of the enemy crowd reveals the fear of the player's quality. It is not, therefore, just a question of deficient training, but of verifying the criteria of the labels. As long as only the parameters of the metropolis are valid, the “mental colonies” will always be considered inferior.

Martin Heidegger thought that all philosophy and science was Greek in origin. He reinterpreted basic terms, showing how the Latin translation had lost its original meaning. Hence he fell into a philological fetishism, thinking that philosophy should be centered on the hermeneutics of Greek terms. He did not take into account the clear limitations of Greek thought, from the belief in the gods (which accompanies epic and tragedy) or Plato's error in pointing to heliocentrism as the apex of truth in denial of geocentrism. From the perspective of astrophysics, both proposals are erroneous, as it was a mistake to believe that an anthropomorphic Apollo could carry the sun across the heavens. The discovery of the infinity of sidereal spaces shakes the concepts of infinity and finitude. The discovery of the unconscious remakes the view that one can have of the cognitive self. Nietzsche was more open to these revolutions.

This leads to sensitive issues. Could it be that man is the one who determines the being of beings if he does not even know most of what exists in outer space? Can one speak of “part” when there is no delimitable whole? Is man the only holder of language, the only one who knows he is going to die? Does the animal, being weltarm (poor of the world) makes every man a "weltreich”? Most humans are denialists, opt for mental poverty. He doesn't believe he's going to die. He thinks he has an eternal soul or a spirit capable of transmigrating. The "world" can no longer, however, be defined as what is on the horizon of man, this being the only "To be there”, the one who is there and knows he is there. It is poverty to assume that every animal is world-poor and every human being is world-rich. The dominance of slavery and colonialism does not seem to be a relevant issue for non-Marxist European and American philosophers.

To say with Heidegger that the stone has no world, that the animal is world-poor and that only man has a world is one-sided, it is to fall back into the Christian metaphysical tradition. It is ignoring that rich men have more world, more world at their disposal, than the poor of this world. A stone, Nietzsche would say, has the ability, through the force of gravity, to perceive the existence of other masses, is capable of tending to approach or move away and to assimilate. It therefore has intellection, affective reaction and volitional capacity. Therefore, what would be the principle of distinction of the human being evolves. Nietzsche predicted that for the next 300 years there would be no understanding for this in philosophy. Half of this time has passed. Heidegger, Derrida and others remain within metaphysical regression.

2.

This is relevant to South American thought. When Derrida argues Robinson Crusoe, loses sight of the fundamental dimension of Daniel Defoe, which was the defense of English colonialism in opposition to Spanish. Although he was born in Algeria, he has the manorial perspective of Otanistan, in which the perspective of the “underdeveloped” does not count, does not exist. When he discusses “the beast and the sovereign” does he avoid the main theme, which is the relationship between colonized and colonizer? When he discusses whether man has a world, the animal is world-poor and the stone has no world, he makes variations around Heidegger, but the two do not discuss whether, the poorer the subject or the country, the less world he has. They cannot get rid of the Christian arrogance that only man has a soul, is aware of his own death.

Animals know when they are threatened with death and will try to avoid destruction if they can. They have feelings, they have their own form of consciousness, their own language. That Western man does not understand this only means that he is less human than he pretends. He is more “animal” than the animal. It is a suicide of nature, the species that has gone the most wrong, the most destructive on the planet. His civilization is barbarism.

Philosophy becomes a mechanism of alienation. It is no coincidence that “modern European philosophy” reached its apogee with the formation of the great English, French and American empires. To suggest that before there were the Spanish and Portuguese empires, which were devoured by the English, which was devoured by the Yankee, means examining that the two kingdoms were dominated by the Catholic Church, which avoided philosophizing by rationalizing the belief in scholasticism. The overcoming of scholasticism is within this transition of empires.

What we see happening is a process of pluralization of powers with the emergence of Russia and China. BRICS members will have to rethink their conceptual foundations and their assessments, so as not to remain dominated by European metropolises. South American adults and young people do not study Russian or Chinese: English is enough for them. Western philosophy needs to be thought of as an ideology of domination. Washington's architecture imitates Greco-Roman architecture because the country wanted to be – and succeeded – the one who dominates the planet as a defender of the so-called superior culture. Schopenhauer unveiled the nature of Western philosophy when he said that the interpretation of the world is an expression of will, with Nietzsche adding that it would not be mere desire, as Freud later thought, but a will to power, to dominate, to impose will to everything and everyone.

The human being intends to say how “things” are, he wants to dictate what everything is, he “says” what “the world is”. Only he would have “world”, according to Heidegger. Now, in the face of the immensity of outer space, there is no “universe”, something closed that would have man as its center: the “will” is nothing. There is no “closed whole” that constitutes a “hermeneutic circle”. There is no fullness of "world" for man, even if he believes that "world" is what he supposes it to be. That some countries have managed to dominate continents does not mean that they will become sovereigns of outer space, no matter how much they launch rockets, ships and probes.

To assume that man is distinguished from the animal and the thing because he is the only one who knows he is going to die – as Heidegger and Derrida repeat – is to ignore two primary things: the vast majority of humans are denialists, they deny that they are going to die; a goat being led away to be beheaded or a pig near the fatal knife scream asking not to be killed, because they know they will be. It is comfortable to think that they have no concept of death to be kept in the concentration camps where chickens and pigs are currently raised. The Christian even imagines that his god gave his own life to save men: if the god did it, why wouldn't animals and plants do it? The bad conscience that your own life is nourished by the death of other people's life is erased. Religion is alienation.

3.

Such banal and crude observations do not enter into the subtle reflection of thinkers from the metropolises. They carefully avoid all crucial topics where sensitive issues are exposed. They avoid pointing out flaws and gaps in themselves. Their speeches do not delve into issues that, from a “peripheral” perspective, would be relevant.

The Iberian negationism was transposed and imposed in the so-called Latin America by the Catholic Church linked to the central power. The courtly administration wanted a way to control the central power's envoys, so that they would not ally with local forces and proclaim independence (as they ended up doing, to fall into new forms of subservience). Church envoys fulfilled this role and were paid for it. To this day Christians dare not violate the doctrine of faith, for they fear losing their salvation. Christianity internalizes slavery, the master/slave relationship, in the deity/believer relationship. There, it only remains for the inferior to pray for lordly commiseration by throwing himself at his feet. Something similar is done in dissertations and theses.

Catholicism was the royal road to implant the metaphysical duplication of the world in South America: it was a neo-Pythagorism, which I didn't know it was, because it didn't see itself as a school of philosophy and thought that faith was above reason. Metaphysics did not come to Latin America as a philosophy, but as a belief, therefore as something dogmatic, which had to be accepted and assumed without question, otherwise it would be jeopardizing eternal salvation. It was not discussed whether man has a soul or not, how it could or should be understood. Standing on the Lord's side was salvation.

Although Christian Platonism wants to base itself on Plato, it is not identical, as Socrates' ironic speech always contains a doubling, in which he does not say what he thinks. This “Platonism” falls short of Plato, as he did not propose ideas as pure forms, but as prototypes, in which there would be a unity of form and matter. “Spiritualism” dominated the Hellenic space, with the belief in the transmigration of souls.

In its Catholic variant in the colonial and imperial periods, the Brazilian literary canon participates in this duplication, it is an agent of its propaganda and, at the same time, an involuntary witness to its sequels: a temple to be deciphered in time. From the beginning, contact with “America” was a projection of this doubling. The literate tradition suggests that Europeanness is good, making resistance to it bad: one was being, the other nothingness; one was utopia, the other hell; one was civilization; and the other, barbarism. 

This reproduces the domination of the metropolis over the invaded territories. Being a master there is good; to be a slave, bad. Straight hair is good; the one with a lighter clip, bad. Religion and art serve to internalize domination, believing that it is salvation. It is good to identify with the Lord, to submit to his will, to respond to his desires. One does not learn there that the master is the servant of the servant, which can only be discovered if the latter does not submit to him.

To think is to reflect. And it's not, because it's necessary to go beyond just reflecting other people's lights. The colonized thinks he only thinks when he reflects the colonizer's speech. He sees in the metropolis the light that illuminates him. His “reflection” is to reproduce the lights coming from the “big centers”, which are all located in the capitals of the metropolises. He does not think for himself when he "reflects".

This posture of submission can occur in the “bibliographic update” of a thesis, but it is also in the posture of wanting to ignore art, science, theory produced in the metropolises. To assume that “my village is a world” does not want to see that the world is more than a village. It is an arrogance that cannot compete with the densest work, with the best of world production.

4.

In countries that were colonizing metropolises, there is latent a certain arrogance, in which many continue to think they are superior and with the right to belittle the “underdeveloped”. This can appear as racism, having an underlying pretense of the colonizer's superiority. While there was still the Soviet Union, there was talk of the “third world”. “Communism” seemed to be an alternative utopia, not to be restricted to the capitalist model. The strange thing is that since 1945 the European powers have become colonies of a former British colony, countries that are neither independent nor sovereign, but still think they are masters: the more they claim to be the less they are.

The “civilization” brought to the Americas by the colonizers was barbarism. The aboriginal way of living with nature, without the systematic destruction imposed by the colonizer, was more civilized. Therefore, what claimed to be civilization was barbarism; what was labeled barbarian, civilization.

It cannot be expected, for the time being, that French, English, German, North American intellectuals take Latin American thought seriously. It starts with the fact that in general they know neither Spanish nor Portuguese, much less Aymara or Guarani. They would be equivalent. They would not represent a gap. What is written in Portuguese is equivalent to what is written in Aymara, 0 = 0, in this imperial logic. They do not seek to know these languages, as they are convinced that it is not worth the effort to follow what is published in them. They may appear sympathetic to South American visitors when they hope that they will serve as disseminators of their works for the intellectual development of the former colonies.

The believer and the colonized stop thinking when they reach the limits of convictions and/or convenience. Kant made it clear that he never wanted to go beyond what was postulated by Lutheranism: exactly there one should start thinking about it, but it is where respect for the great thinker imposes the cessation of the clash. A Catholic takes it for granted that the Bishop of Rome is the head of all Catholics and that resources have been flowing to Rome for centuries from all over the world. For the Italians it is good that every year millions of tourists go there to see the “treasures of sacred art” accumulated in thousands of churches. They can even have an Argentinian as their pope who speaks Italian like a native, nothing changes in the scheme of domination by belief.

May the “Americans” celebrate their victories in the digital war they have been waging for a century, with artists moved to celebrate the equality of diversity without looking at the central issue of social equality in a mode of production that increasingly increases the distance between media owners of production and the rest, this can be understandable. Whether you call the celebration Tony, Oscar, Golden Bear or something similar, the problem is that the colonized root for other people's awards as if it were for their own cause; it's staying night after night watching western movies, police series, detective soap operas as if they were mere entertainment, not indoctrination, brainwashing, rites enacting myths. The “big names” of the metropolis are not willing to recognize the limitations of their empowerment. They can't or don't want to.

The intellectuals of the metropolis play the role of lords of thought. They ignore the servers of the distant mind colonies. European countries, which were metropolises and lost sovereignty since the end of World War II with the presence of American troops in their territories, are not willing to recognize that they have become a colony of a colony, even when they talk about sovereignty. They want to recolonize the metropolis that colonized them.

5.

When Derrida begins to comment in classes on Heidegger's seminars on finitude, he brings Defoe's novel, Robinson Crusoe, as a counterpoint. More appropriate would have been to bring something like the german ideology from Marx. When Daniel Defoe says that the island is deserted, it goes unnoticed, as if the trees, animals, occasional aborigines there were sand. Although he mentions it, he does not develop the central issue which is the dispute between English and Spanish colonialism and capitalist growth based on the self made man. This has already been said, but it gets submerged. The difference between man and animal is discussed without seeing if man is really one or if there are very different men when some are lords of the metropolis and others are servants of the colonies. History evaporates in metaphysics, although it proposes to debate time in what they call being and being in time.

Between the intellect of the metropolises and the South American intellect, a relationship is established as if it were between master and servant, without using the phenomenology of the spirit of Hegel to understand what is going on. You can do anything, with the empathy and arrogance of someone who considers himself a know-it-all; it is up to the servant only to obey the commands received, he does not have the right to question in depth the emanation of the well-thinking. The Western European intellectual can say whatever he wants, omit whatever is convenient, distort whatever he likes: the colonized will only applaud, obey the guidelines received.

In the wagon of thought, the servant will be the donkey, obeying the pull of the reins, the commands of the ride. It needs to conform to the role of a satellite: reflecting the light of its astro-king. He is predestined to be Caliban, a variant of cannibal, in the relationship in which the European spirit is seen with the lightness of Ariel. If Shakespeare did so The storm, there is no way to make a storm in the teacup of colonized thought. Shaking the water will be ridiculous.

Hegel went so far as to suggest that the master depends, in order to be master, on the doing of the servant and that, therefore, the master is the servant of the servant and the servant is the master of the master. That's in theory; in practice it is more difficult. Marx transposed this to the relationship between capital and labor, to understand class struggle. Unionists thought they could change history with a general strike, in which all workers would refuse to continue serving the lords of capital. Zola showed, in Germinal, how the coal miners lived in precarious conditions and how the masters had the resources to repress the strike.

In the computer age, it would be possible to imagine that intellectuals from colonized countries promoted virtual meetings in which they could exchange points of view, recognize anti-colonial common denominators, form a broad front against the domination of the metropolises. They could assemble a mental BRICS, with space for Russian, Chinese, Indian thought and so on, so as to break the Eurocentrism of the colonial metropolises. More likely they would find patriots praising local minor works like non plus ultra.

The conscience possible for the landlord is not necessarily inferior to that of the servants, since he has better universities, libraries, research centers, working conditions. It would be a step, however, if the serfs managed to know the best that the masters know and began to suspect that their realities impose a different perspective on the propositions coming from the metropolises. Difference should have the freedom to dream of something that goes beyond thetic thinking and even its own antithetical scope, to discern something that is broader than the restricted spaces in which we live today in the university and in the media.

6.

In the current situation, South American thought cannot hope to be recognized in the metropolises. English, French or German speaking intellectuals are not interested in what is written in Portuguese or Spanish, Quechua or Guarani. They don't think it's relevant. South American intellectuals learned to learn English, French or even German, but not Russian or Mandarin. Maybe they don't need it, because there are already programs that make reasonable translations in a short time. What they need is information about this wider world and the conviction that there is something more than Left Bank.

The professors who ran our universities wanted disciples who would follow in their footsteps, carry their briefcases, not brains that would be able to think for themselves. With exceptions, they reproduced the external colonial relationship internally. The academic career has changed, the result seems to remain the same, with rare original thinkers.

Nietzsche said that every great master has only one disciple worthy of him: exactly the one who will stab him in the back. It was a cruel joke with Caesar, but it reproduced what he himself had done with Schopenhauer, what Hegel had done with Kant (and Marx with Hegel). Harold Bloom gained fame by reproducing this: every great writer follows a model author, but only becomes great when he succeeds in surpassing his tutor's limits. Wanting that you become better with the eventual criticisms and objections that the colonial disciples might make is a double naivety: neither you are willing to listen to what is said in the fields nor the problem is in the details of thought.

Bertolt Brecht resumed Hegel's dialectic in the play Mister Puntila and his servant Matti. You only become nice when you're drunk. If the servant believes that what the drinker says is worth it, he will have hopes that will be dashed. It's funny because it's so tragic. One cannot ignore the great tradition of the metropolises. Without knowing Brecht, Marx, Hegel, Fichte, Kant, Descartes, Pascal and so on, one will not dialogue with countries that have them in their basic training. The gap is not replaced by patriotic cries, with the proclamation that the village is worth the whole world. It's no use wanting to face someone with a machine gun and drones with an arrow and a club.

As long as the evaluation rules are dictated by consolidated models in some parts of the metropolis, the “underdeveloped” institutions will not have a chance to compete. They will have to learn to develop themselves. They will have to see how to overcome the prevailing limits, instead of insisting on discarding those who are able to overcome them.

The critical anthropophagy of the high culture of the metropolises is not done with the praise of the beau sauvage nor with the joke that the ontological problem is dental or that tupi or not tupi, that is the question. It may be cute, but it's ordinary. One will not be invited to sit in the academies of the metropolises nor as a corresponding member. If future generations are not politicized, if they do not learn the great works of philosophy, literature, economics, politics from an early age, if they do not have the courage to think for themselves, denialism will continue, without the difficult path of original creation. The underdeveloped, in order to develop, needs to learn to stop being its own enemy.

* Flavio R. Kothe is a retired full professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasília (UnB). Author, among other books, of Benjamin and Adorno: clashes (Attica).


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