United NationsEducational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Humanism, a new idea Dreams of science Michal Meyer I am because you are Michael Onyebuchi Eze Humanizing globalization Mireille Delmas-Marty Where is humanism going? Sanjay Seth Welcome to the Anthropocene Ruth Irwin The Muslim phase of humanism Mahmoud Hussein Child soldiers: a new life ahead Forest Whitaker A special place for the imagination Antonio Skármeta Courier OctoberDecember 2011 THE UNESCO ISSN 2220-2285 e-ISSN 2220-2293
Oliver Kozlarek (Germany) Milad Doueihi Cathy Nolan Liu Ji Forest Whitaker Mireille Delmas-Marty (China) Roger Ross Williams (France) (USA) Asimina Karavanta (Greece) Mahmoud HusseinPaulette Dieterlen (Egypt) (Mexico) Michael Onyebuchi Eze Michal Meyer (Nigeria) (Israel) Sanjay Seth (India) Cristovam Buarque (Brazil) Prudence Mabhena Antonio Skármeta (Zimbabwe) (Chile) Salvador Bergel (Argentina) OUR AUTHORS Ruth Irwin (New Zealand) UNESCO in 2011: Towards a new humanism and globalization that rhymes with reconciliation In 1951, during a ‘Discussion on the our understanding of the meaning of reflections and expressing aspirations Cultural and Philosophical Relations humanism. In March 2011, UNESCO held from everyone everywhere.” Between East and West’ held in the a meeting of its High Panel on Peace According to a section of the report capital of India, New Delhi, from 13 to and Dialogue among Cultures at the UN entitled ‘Towards a new humanism and 20 December, UNESCO endorsed the headquarters in New York. Comprising reconciled globalization’, the purpose of idea of a new holistic humanism. The some twenty distinguished figures from the new humanism is to “create a world was recovering from a terrible all over the world, the Panel agreed that climate of empathy, belonging and war that had sullied the myth of “rethinking peace and reconciliation understanding, along with the idea that technological progress dominating resonated with the quest for a New progress with respect to human rights is Western culture. In a discussion Humanism for the 21st Century,” called never definitive and requires a constant document entitled ‘Towards a New for by the Director-General of UNESCO, effort of adaptation to the challenges of Humanism’, the participants at the Irina Bokova. modernity. Those challenges cannot be meeting spoke of a “confused “In the context of globalization,” says met without ethical principles, which intelligence that has lost its soul” and a the final report on the meeting, “this should be at the foundation of what was “crisis of humanism”. They advocated a concept has to concentrate on cultural aptly coined ‘a public realm of values’.” “spiritual revolution” and “common diversity, dialogue in the age of the spiritual progress” calling for greater Internet, and reconciliation between the exchange between East and West (p. 27). North and the South […] The new The conclusions of the Panel meeting, in March 2011, can be found at the following address: Six decades later, the challenges humanism has to be an authentically http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0019/001923/1 facing the world have moved on, as has pluralist cosmopolitanism, inspiring 92362e.pdf
In this issue“The affirmation of human commonality If humanist principles are not turned to the cause of child soldiers,and dignity is something that is no less into practice, though, humanism will explaining what drew him to thisurgent today than at any time before,” says remain no more than wishful thinking. barren and tragic universe, so farProfessor Sanjay Seth (India), in his In these times of globalization, we need removed from the luxury of Hollywoodintroduction to this special feature (p. 6). to make use of the “envisioning forces” (p. 44).He puts forward a number of thought- of law to forge a humanist form of The future of the book is a subjectprovoking ideas on contemporary justice that is pluralist and open, says close to the heart of the Chilean writer,humanism, like questioning the notion of the French lawyer, Mireille Delmas- Antonio Skármeta. Author of the novel,a singular Reason, the cohabitation of Marty (p. 28). Among other evidence to Burning Patience (which inspireddifferent visions of morality developed support her case, she cites two major Michael Radford’s film Il Postino) hearound the world, or the need for a global challenges of modernity: climate predicts that the various types of mediaform of justice. Issues like these are change and new digital and biomedical will continue to exist, side by side – thediscussed in depth from a range of technologies, which are also discussed digital book, that faithful ally ofviewpoints by Nigerian-born Michael by Milad Doueihi (USA) (p. 32), Ruth research and information, and theOnyebuchi Eze (p. 10), Asmina Karavanta Irwin, from New Zealand (p. 34), Michal paper book, which is ideally suited tofrom Greece (p. 14) and Paulette Dieterlen Meyer of Israel (p. 36) and Salvador “non-utilitarian imagination” (p. 47).from Mexico (p. 16). Bergel from Argentina (p. 39). To mark International Day of Persons The humanist turn that is currently To conclude this special feature, the with Disabilities (3 December), we willunderway draws on humanist traditions in Brazilian senator, Cristovam Buarque be publishing an interview with theall cultures, according to the German outlines his proposal for a new American director Roger Ross Williams,philosopher Oliver Kozlarek (p. 18). Indeed humanism based on seven pillars: whose film Music by Prudence won himcertain aspects of contemporary Islamic planetary politics, respect for diversity, an Oscar for best short documentary.philosophy have their roots in the very respect for the environment, equal He tells of meeting a youngidea of humanism (p. 22), says Mahmoud opportunities, production controlled by Zimbabwean woman, Prudence, whoHussein, an Egyptian political scientist and man, integration through education and lost both her legs, yet, through herIslamic scholar. And the doctrines of ethical modernity (p. 41). singing, managed to overcome aConfucius and Mencius could be seen as a Our guest for this issue is the number of obstacles, includingmodel for the development of the new American actor and film-maker, Forest rejection by her family, discriminationhumanism imagined by Professor Liu Ji of Whitaker, recently appointed UNESCO and poverty (p. 51).China (p. 25). Goodwill Ambassador. He is committed Jasmina Šopova4 . THE UNESCO COURIER . OC TOBERDECEMBER 2011
Where ishumanism going?At the heart of the notion of In this essay, I ask whether the affirmation of human commonality and worth is best securedhumanism is that something that by an anthropological understanding of thewe all share and which sanctions world, and by the search for a singular rationality. In short, is the aspiration to affirm humanour aspirations towards equality, commonality and dignity best served bydespite our differences. The humanism?Enlightenment philosophers Man at the centre of the universelooked for it in the crucible of a Edward Said1 declares that the ‘core’ of humanism is the secular notion that thesingular rationality; today we historical world is made by men and women, andneed to search at the crossroads of not by God, and that it can be understood rationally. At the core of humanism, then, is adifferent visions of morality. philosophical anthropology, which in according centrality to man diminishes (though it does not necessarily eliminate) the role accorded to god(s). Once the purposes and the acts of gods SANJAY SETH explained the world of men; with humanism, to understand the gods of men you have to understand the men, for their gods are the fantastical creation of their minds.Humanism is, amongst other things, the claim or If the centrality accorded to Man as maker ofintuition that all humans have something meanings and purposes involves a diminution offundamental in common, and that this the role once accorded to god(s), it also involvesmandates equal entitlement to dignity and a separation, a distinction, between a humanrespect. This, however, does not serve to world and a non-human one. There are twodistinguish humanism from other doctrines and worlds, one of impersonal processes and laws,understandings, including religious ones, which the other of human intentions and meanings.treat all humans as sharing a commonality (an Nature is not a realm of purposes andimmortal soul, etc) which commands respect. meanings, and so to gain knowledge of nature is What historically distinguished humanism to gain understanding of the impersonal andfrom the many other affirmations of human often lawlike forces that shape it; knowledge ofdignity and worth was the specific form that this the historical or cultural world is knowledge ofaffirmation took; in particular, two supporting or purposes and meanings, for the historical worldbuttressing arguments which, in affirming is where the meanings and purposes of men arehuman equality and dignity, give this apparent in the traces they leave behind.affirmation its distinctively ‘humanist’ cast. These Knowledge of nature, the preserve of the naturalare, first, that human worth is affirmed sciences, can lead to mastery of natural forces;independently of god(s), and more generally, knowledge of the historical world, the preservethat ‘man’ replaces god as the measure of all of the human and humanist sciences, leads tothings. Second, that what all humans have in self-knowledge.common at once consists of, resides in, and can Humanism replaces a view of a single worldonly be discovered through, a singular shot through with meaning and purpose, inrationality. which the purposes and designs of nature are Thus understood, humanism is not simply a prefigured and reflected in the social world, withRenaissance phenomenon, but something that two worlds, one devoid of meaning and purpose,comes to full flower in the Enlightenment, in the and the other constituted of the meanings andform of the idea of a universal humanity and a purposes humans have given their world insingular Reason. different times and places.6 . THE UNESCO COURIER . OC TOBERDECEMBER 2011
The Enlightenment project Modern The example of the political philosopherIf anthropology (and a consequent division John Rawls13 is especially instructive. In his Abetween nature and society) is one defining knowledge, as Theory of Justice and some subsequent workselement of humanism, the conviction that what elaborated and Rawls sought to draw upon Kant to develop aall humans have in common resides in, and can theory of justice (see pp. 16-18) that would beonly be discovered through a singular rationality, defended by Kant grounded upon a few rationally defensibleis another. The project to establish this was at the and by the principles that would be acknowledged byheart of the Enlightenment. almost all. In later works, he acknowledges thatIn his “Was ist Aufklärung” Kant10 famously Enlightenment his theory of justice, and his defence ofdefined Enlightenment as mankind coming to more generally, liberalism, already presuppose a certain kind ofmaturity through the exercise of its reason. But if public political culture, one shaped by the Warsthe pre-modern notion of a morally ordered and could now stake a of Religion in Europe, by the separation ofpurposive universe had been (in Weber’s later claim to having politics from religion thereafter, and so on. Thephrase11) ‘disenchanted’; if tradition and custom aim of his later theory is thus to elaborate ano longer seemed the source of Reason, or validated or pragmatic and procedural defence of a justiceindeed, even reasonable; and if Hume’s sceptical proven itself, thus which is acknowledged to be Western andchallenge12 raised the possibility of as many liberal, and cannot be passed off as ‘universal’.reasons as there are persons; then what Reason revealing all (Rawls 1995 and 1996).was this, and whose Reason? earlier knowledge That which Rawls reluctantly comes to The most enduring answer to this puzzle was ‘concede’ has been levelled as an accusation byoffered by Kant. Its power lay, above all else, in to have been others, who have charged that Reason alwaysthe argument Kant called ‘transcendental’. speculation or turns out to be not a placeless universal, butInstead of ‘dogmatically’ asserting certain European. Here are their arguments: What wepropositions to be true, or seeking to identify, on dogma. And of have learned to call Reason is not rationality asempirical grounds, a set of rational principles course this such, but a historically and culturally specific waycommon to all men, Kant instead asked what of constructing and construing the world.sort of beings we had to be to have cognitions singular Reason, Moreover, treating this tradition as universal hasand perceptions in the first place. The which does not been an essential part of the story of, andtranscendental question allowed Kant to deduce justification for, colonialism. Armed with theuniversal categories of Reason which were not vary from culture certainty that it possessed nothing less thanderived from human experience, which is varied, to culture, proved universal Reason, Europe could proceed with itsbut was the basis for our having any experience colonial conquests, no longer principally in thein the first place. Kant managed to make a that all humans, name of bringing the true word of god to thepowerful argument for a Reason that was irrespective of the heathen, but rather in the name of bringinguniversal, because notwithstanding the immense Enlightenment and civilization to the benighted.variety of human experience, moralities and diﬀerences among What were being encountered were not othernotions of beauty, it was the precondition for them, were to be traditions of reasoning and other ways of beinghumans having any sort of experience, morality in the world, but unreason. The institutions andor conception of beauty. treated as ends in practices that constituted colonialism, or came Modern knowledge, as elaborated and themselves, and in its wake, were now seen to be educating thedefended by Kant and by the Enlightenment colonized, so that they too might one day reachmore generally, could now stake a claim to not means. their maturity and be able to participate in andhaving validated or proven itself, thus revealing exercise the Reason that was to be Europe’s giftall earlier knowledge to have been speculation or to them.dogma. And of course this singular Reason, Lest there be any confusion, let me be verywhich does not vary from culture to culture, clear that I am not suggesting that theproved that all humans, irrespective of the intellectual and cultural tradition of moderndifferences among them, were to be treated asends in themselves, and not means. It is testimony to the vitality of the line of 10. Immanuel Kant [1724-1804], German philosopher and a pivotal figure in modern philosophy. “Answering the Question:argument initiated by Kant that the most What Is Enlightenment?” is the title of an essay published in thesophisticated contemporary attempts to salvage Berlinische Monatsschrift (Berlin Monthly), in 1784.or retrieve the Enlightenment project, while 11. Max Weber [1864-1920], German sociologist and economist.acknowledging, as they must, that Reason is 12. David Hume [1711-1776], one of the most importantinseparably bound with interests, culture and figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottishpower, all do so by returning to Kant. The Enlightenment. Known especially for his philosophical empiricism and scepticism.criticism that can be levelled at such arguments, 13. John Rawls [1921-2002], political philosopher. His book Aunsurprisingly, is similar to the criticism that was Theory of Justice (1971), is considered as one of the primarylevelled at Kant by his contemporaries and texts in contemporary political philosophy. Quoted works: “Justice as Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical” in Philosophyimmediate successors, namely that such proofs and Public Affairs, 1995; Political Liberalism, Columbia Universitypresuppose what needs to be proven. Press, 1996.8 . THE UNESCO COURIER . OC TOBERDECEMBER 2011
I am becauseFor many people in the Bantu language countries of Africa, the term Ubuntu/bothoencapsulates all the qualities of a respected member of society. But the term is also usedby Africanist scholars as a critique of colonialist doctrine and even forms the core of ahumanist ideology upon which the new democratic South Africa is constructed.
taught that he came second, that he belongs to sledgehammer kind of ethics that helps us tothe inferior class which must obey and learn.” deal with the traumas of modernity and This mindset would form the political globalization. The argument is that, since weblueprint for South Africa’s colonial history and cannot positively identify Ubuntu as an authenticwas the foundation upon which the new South historical culture, it remains an inventedAfrica gained national sovereignty. But if the discourse, in an alien format. Being ‘invented’,South African colonial state had been founded Ubuntu is more or less an ‘empty concept’upon the ideology of social Darwinism, what through which Africanist academics perform ashould be the ideological foundation of the new, supple manoeuvre of identity formation using andemocratic, independent state? This is where ‘imported’ cultural nationalism. Evidence isUbuntu/botho comes in. sought from different African cultural traditions Everyday life under As a public discourse, Ubuntu/botho has to homogenize a range of values that are then Apartheidgained recognition as a peculiar form of African represented as Ubuntu. Ubuntu is thushumanism, encapsulated in the following Bantu generalized as a universal African value,aphorisms, like Motho ke motho ka batho babang; irrespective of the actual historical context of theUmuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a societies that practice it. However, Ubuntu doesperson through other people). In other words, a not need to generate a homogenous historicity3human being achieves humanity through his or to become an authentic African value. Andher relations with other human beings. But this neither does a lack of historical authenticityunderstanding does not need to generate an deprive Ubuntu of such normative legitimacy.oppressive structure, where the individual loseshis or her autonomy in an attempt to maintain a As a public discourse, Ubuntu/bothorelationship with an ‘other’. Many Africanist scholars would describe has gained recognition as a peculiarUbuntu/botho as an arbitrary communitarian form of African humanism.ethics that admits the individual’s good andwelfare only as a secondary necessity. But a The second conjecture is that Ubuntu has thecritical reading of this condition of relationship character of an ideology, appropriated forto others might suggest that a person’s humanity political ends, as was evident in its applicationflourishes through a process of relation and during the Truth and Reconciliation Commissiondistance, of uniqueness and difference. A (TRC), and the initial draft constitution of Southrealization of the subjective gifts (of humanity) Africa. As an ideology it can be applied as awe bear to each other motivates an ‘magic wand’ to deal with every emergent socialunconditional desire to view and harness other crisis. And as an ideology, its usage can also bepeople’s uniqueness and difference, not as a abused and ceases to be an ethical value,threat but as a complement to one’s own becoming a value-commodity which is thenhumanity. The Christian African philosopher, J. S. appropriated to create a positive corporate orMbiti’s now classic phrase, “I am, because we are; brand image, as in ‘Ubuntu security’, ‘Ubuntuand since we are therefore I am”, captures a key restaurant’, ‘Ubuntu linux’, ‘Ubuntu cola’, etc.feature of this kind of subjective formation The third sequence is a vision of history inthrough relation and distance. Mbiti subscribes which Ubuntu/botho is considered within the A beach for Whites only into an affirmation of human subjectivity that puts historical context in which it emerged. Being Cape Town, South Africa, incommunitarian good before individual good. I historical, it also gains an emotional and ethical January 1970disagree, however, with this prioritizing of the legitimacy, since it is signified as a good thatcommunity over the individual. Neither is prior. remains internal to the practices of a communityThe relation with the ‘other’ is one of subjective where Ubuntu/botho values are invoked.equality, where the mutual recognition of our The question, then, is whetherdifferent but equal humanity opens the door to Ubuntu/botho, construed as an ideology,unconditional tolerance and a deep appreciation precludes all possibilities of creative historicity?4of the ‘other’ as an embedded gift that enriches My answer is no! The context in whichone’s humanity. Ubuntu/botho emerged (even as an ideology) in the political history of South Africa was anA unifying ideology? attempt to configure a theory of politicalWithin the contemporary history of South Africa, succession that is consistent with the vision of anthere are three main ways in which Ubuntu hasbeen understood: First is the assumption that Ubuntu is merely 3. The idea that African historiography is a single historicalan anachronistic philosophy produced by African narrative irrespective of many cultures, people(s) and traditionsacademics. Here Ubuntu functions as an that inhabit the geographical place called Africa. 4. Creative historicity argues that history is neither a fixation onalternative narrative to replace colonial logic, a the past nor a mere chronology of events. Good history is opendesperate discourse of identity – a to multiple influences and contexts.12 . THE UNESCO COURIER . OC TOBERDECEMBER 2011
that will allow both the refugee and thenative born citizen to establish exchanges Justicethat are at once durable and productive.When viewed as a common field sharedby multiple alliances and potentialaffiliations, this intercultural societypresupposes a radical reconfiguration ofthe institutions and social, educationaland political discourses that should beaddressing the needs of expandingintercultural communities in the nation-states and their supranational formations. Interculturality is a condition, bothontological and political, that hasalready transformed the nation-statefrom within. But for human beings to besocially and politically recognized assingular yet also equal, it is necessary toreform education so as to enable theblossoming of an intercultural learningand living that is − in the words ofFrench philosopher Jacques Derrida −continuously opening the laws ofhospitality to the foreigner to whom“hospitality is due.”6 Building this kind of humanism,hospitable to the one who remains aforeign anthropos, and which byreconstituting its laws and discourses,speaks to her/his often radicallydifferent ontological and politicalcondition is the task of the humanitiestoday. According to the Americanfeminist scholar Judith Butler, this task is“no doubt to return us to the humanwhere we do not expect to find it, in itsfrailty and at the limits of its capacity tomake sense.”7 In other words, it is tothink of the human as the anthroposalways already at stake, always alreadyat risk, the face whose gaze is fixed onus in an open and persistent invitationfor justice on a planetary scale. ■ Asimina Karavanta holds a doctorate in comparative literature and teaches at the University of Athens. She is specialized in postcolonial literatures and theories, and is the co-author with Nina Mogan of Edward Said and Jacques Derrida: Reconstellating Humanism and the Global Hybrid, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.6. Derrida, Jacques. Of Hospitality. Trans. RachelBowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.7. Butler Judith. Precarious Life. The Powers ofMourning and Violence. London & New York: Verso,2004.16 . THE UNESCO COURIER . OC TOBERDECEMBER 2011