Tuesday, 27 January 2015

18. Civilisation v barbarism: Je suis tout le monde

Civilization v barbarism has been one of the biggest battles history books have fought against History.

From Greece and Rome, China and European colonialist powers to this post-colonial era, the barbarian label has been used to justify... well quite barbaric behaviour... This label is put -mostly by an imperial power- to foreigners and peoples that did not accept their rule. Barbarians are inferior, they are brutal, cruel and no worth of any respect, recognition or empathy. They are not equal. Therefore, they can be invaded, bombed, gassed, subjugated, raped, tortured, orphaned, enslaved or plainly killed. 

We find the "savage" outside so, so when we kill it, civilization wins, believing that this act of violence will be a proof of our superiority rather than a manifestation of our own savage nature.

The presumption of superiority does not finish in a war or an invasion context, see this segment from Jon Stewart's show, touching on this point:

Of course, believing in our superiority (or inferiority) is the biggest delusion. We project our own capacity for cruelty onto others, without being able to see it in ourselves. Under this logic, killing half a million children in Iraq is considered a hard choice, but "the prize was worth it", according to Madeleine Albright. 

See these articles from Guardian's columnist Gary Younge:
Behind curtains- Jaco Van der Vaart
Churchill said "I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilized tribes", which was later used against the Kurds. Only a few years later, he had to face his own super magnified shadow in Nazi Germany-for which he was hailed a hero- and in that clash he produced something unexpected: words about the struggle, about bravery and freedom that ended up inspiring even the ones he would refer to as "savages".

So, what then? The West is barbarian? Who are the "good ones"? Who is the hero?

Here is where the real "Je suis" comes to play. "Je suis tout le monde", "I am everyone". 
Without seeing the humanity of it all, the unapologetic blind cruelty of the "civilized" and the unapologetic red-eyed rage of the "savages", the strength of the order and the hidden logic of chaos, we cannot connect with the totality of our own humanity. We won't be able to connect with ourselves.

At the end, the only difference between civilization and barbarism is the capacity to step aside the one-sidedness of any given position. 

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