Differences

Differences ….
…. I thought about it during the symposium, while talking to one of the colleagues who asked me what I would think about the gathering. Of course, there is a danger of stereotyping. Still, I dared to say that in China such events are more about presenting the institution, in Europe it is always very much about self-presentation of the participants – “here I feel more of collaboration, trying to define the core of the issue and working together towards finding an answer.” – As said, there is the huge danger of all these classifications, concerned with the I and the We and the Us – I will come back to it.

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The day after the symposium was the day of … – well, it was not really holiday. It was about other meetings – the many ambassadors that participated in the symposium had been now “replaced” by the individual ambassadors: instead of meeting the ambassadors as collaborators, it was now meeting the ambassadors. One could think: they represent their country; but they also may represent themselves – just having a job, living in another country than that of their origin and somewhat “merging images and expectations” – at least in some cases. If one would not know the mechanisms that are behind of being sent on mission into the different countries one could occasionally get the impression ambassadors come to the country that they see “as their own”, the country in which they would really like to live … . Perhaps it is about extremely privileged people who are able to live up to the Aristotelean “vision” that

[t]he ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.

Or it is about the perfect staging: the non-smokers, and non-drinkers, sitting relaxed in the rocking chair, smoking the obligatory cigar, while their vista is moving pensively between the rum and …, well, it should be Miami if it would be a it closer …
Anyway, would it be possible in Italy to meet for a chat with the French ambassador, and especially: celebrating the launch of a mural, a most remarkable project that decorates now the wall around the embassy? The kind of casual chat may be as remarkable as the fact that the embassy allows such truly multi- and intercultural project to happen and as remarkable as the way in which artists, people from the embassy and people from the Cuban government and people from the street interact. Is there a term like “serene-serious”? But looking for such a term may be just due to the German heritage that I carry with me around the world – nolens volens … – as we all carry such tiny things with us, and as it confirmed to me during the day: the yanks in the morning, the French during the day, but also confirmed in the evening, meeting the ambassador of the UK on the occasion of the visit in the beautifully renovated opera house. (— Ah well, there is something nice about carrying the general entry ticket named “minister of culture”.
Though the various ambassadors and embassy staff reflect another dimension of “the we and they”: the social divide is surely not relevant in Cuba as it is elsewhere. I was always thinking about it during these days, looking at the person in the escalator: her job is to look after everybody, getting us onto the right floor …, and during the breaks she is reading the academic journal on international relations. It reminds me of thbe one day when I had been collected: the car at the gate was bringing me to the ministry. The colleague, who would later take part in the meeting with the deputy of the department, discussed heatedly the next possible moves the government should take – admittedly car and uniform were less pompous than those of the European doormen.
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Second day after the symposium, first day of the month: First of May. I leave as usual in the morning at 5ish. But this day not just for a walk, but with  the destination appropriate for this day: the Revolution Square. Already in front of my house I see many people, moving into the same direction. They are gathering, the group of international students just passes when I open the gate, I see the workers of different hospitals, the workers of the ministry of education, the workers of the tourist industry … – an experience of a special kind: Bonn, the peace rallies (in 1972?), a rally in Paris, probably about 15 years ago; the various rallies around the globe, against the US-Intervention in Iraq — I remember having been in Birmingham at the time, taking part in  workshop. And we received the messages: tens of thousand, millions … – in Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid … .
I do not know how many people gathered on the first of May in Havanna. In any case, numbers do not really matter. Later, when I walked back, a thought came to my mind, the idea of a “comparison”: There are so many people now talking about the pope, the new developments: beginning with his harsh critique of “an economy of exclusion and inequality [that] kills”, recognising that
[t]he current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person.
(Evangelii Gaudium, 2013)
But as strong as the messages from the pope may be, something else comes to my mind: The pope’s message is received with devotion and humility, leaving afterwards everybody alone: going home or even going out to do good – as volunteers, as supporters and councillors (I guess it is the new term for missionaries), as Mother Theresia or Father Theodore or Brother Michael
and sister St Catherine of Siena. The message of this first of May was clearer – after a short but powerful address the rally started moving, the groups remaining together: from their enterprises etc., but in some way they are merging …, expressing their determination — Trotz alledem (or here)
Sure, for some the photos seem to be more important; and for some … – Linda, when we talked, was not too excited: “”e are gathering at 5:30 — it means that I have to get up at 4, walk a long way as the buses will not provide service that morning … – but I have to.” — “And if you would not have to …?” — “Well, I still would go. We Cubans just like to complain.” [Ah well, yes … of course also “We Cubans …” ;-)]
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Much later, it is about 10, I am sitting in the rocking chair, reflecting, writing, contemplating …. – some people pass the house, obviously tourists … too late to join, though it may well be that they never really want to join.
I look at my t-shirt: 21ème siecle. La fin de l’histoire? Mon oiel! – Karl Marx looking mischievously. And indeed, it may well become true in a different way as originally stated that
those who come too late are castigated by history
(Mikhail Gorbachev)

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Something that occupies my thought since some time now is going hand in hand with this — in the words of the pope it would be about “camminare insieme”; in general terms it is about the point I mentioned earlier: “the I and the We and the Us”. Recently somebody addressed me in a mail by writing “Man without country”. And I was thinking about it. What is it that makes us men and women of/with a country? The marching together as something of producing something and getting awarded for it? In simple terms the production of the gross domestic and gross national product and the social security that results from here? So far so good … – and still completely loosing ground when we think a bit more about it. Such production was always exclusive, depending on “the other”: any surplus produced, is complemented by a loss somewhere else. If a win-win situation is possible at all, it actually depends on overcoming its own presumption: the presumption of “the other”. It is even difficult to think it. It is a bit like thinking the “endless character of the universe”, the common approach being imagining something really huge, and adding something really huge to it, always adding and adding, only shifting borders and not being able to really think without borders at the outset – forgetting that the sum is more than the amount of its parts, forgetting that the borderless space is different to shifting borders to another external point. — Living in some way an “ex-pat life” (possible if one does not have a patria? Possible not to have a patria?), one hears too often these words of “the I and the We and the Us”: we Europeans, we Irish, we French, we Chinese, we Japanese, we Italians, we Germans, we …; our dumplings, our pasta, their stew …; and all their different ways of thinking and acting and not-acting, making even “our crisis” and “our hardship” and “our inability to find solutions” more remarkable than the “crisis” and “hardship” and “inability to find solutions” of the others — often followed by something like “but actually I am different, I am not really European, Irish, French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, German,  … In this way, nationalism may well be the foundation of individualism, making it necessary for us to define ourself in contradistinction. In actual fact this arises then from the constellation of a fundamentally split society, the split between and within nations. It does not allow us to develop this “camminare insieme”. Is it really true?
The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person.
(Evangelii Gaudium, 2013)
Or is it the other way round: as the accumulation regime, a capitalist system stands at the outset. In the words of Karl Polanyi:
The market pattern, on the other hand, being related to a peculiar motive of its own, the motive of truck or barter, is capable of creating a specific institution, namely, the market. Ultimately, that is why the control of the economic system by the market is of overwhelming consequence to the whole organization of society: it means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.  The vital importance of the economic factor to the existence of society precludes any other result. For once the economic system is organized in separate institutions, based on specific motives and conferring a special status, society must be shaped in such a manner as to allow that system to function according to its own laws. This is the meaning of the familiar assertion that a market economy can function only in a market society.
(Polanyi, Karl, 1944: The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time; Boston: Beacon Press, 1957: 57)
It was the
[n]ineteenth century civilization alone [that] was economic in a different and distinctive sense, for it chose to base itself on a motive only rarely acknowledged as valid in the history of human societies, and certainly never before raised to the level of a justification of action and behavior in everyday life, namely, gain. The self-regulating market system was uniquely derived from this principle.
(ibid., 30)
And as long as these gain oriented markets are now our “societies”, and as much as these markets are backed by a methodological nationalism, it is barely imaginable to achieve a way of thinking that overcomes the inherent force towards “the I and the We and the Us”. Actually capitalism itself – its key players of the current casino system – is much advanced, not limiting itself to overcoming borders, but having moved further, by simply moving them away, as long as it is advantaging itself.
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What makes it so difficult to accept the contradictoriness as something very normal?
Two o’clock at night – well, not yet. I have to levee to the airport at two – Teresita is still up, asks if I want a coffee. Of course I want and some water. Few minutes later the driver enters the kitchen, and we enjoy the coffee together. There is not much time left. A last hug, I have to lean down, sense the warm skin … the little luggage I have is already in the car – an old Moscovitch, still in the road. We reverse, and I see a built-in gadget, showing the driver green, yellow and red lines, with it the distance to objects in the back. Unexpected, added to the original — I look up, there is still a mirror, having lost its original function of looking back. But wait, it looks back, much further than any mirror would allow, holding a rosary …
… Accepting this contradictoriness will allow us to enjoy “our stew”, to respect the baci e abbracci with some people as much as the respectful and somewhat distanced bow of other people and look together for those contradictions and tensions that need to be rebuked.
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