HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD
     
audience of 900 people (picture Dolph Cantrijn)
"If politicians become involved with the meaning of existence, they in the long run destroy people''. (European thinker and writer John Gray).
The
Nexus Institute organised its annual conference that covered the question on how to change the world. In the brochure Nexus writes that revolution is timeless. The man in revolt, fighting against unjust rulers and for a better world, has always been there. In our world we see resurgence the revolutionary élan: movements like Occupy, the Arab Spring and the Southern European indignados turn against the established order. The same applies to populist political parties and groups like the Tea Party. What ideal is worth fighting for? And why should the world really need to be changed?

Prominent international speakers debated 2 December 2012 on how we can change the world: Margaret Atwood (writes about other worlds), marxist filosopher Alain Badiou, political philosopher and skeptic John Gray, political philosopher Agnes Heller, expert in international relations
Parag Khanna, Evgeny Morozov (critic of the digital revolution), psychoanalyst Daniel Pick, conservative philosopher and art expert Roger Scruton, Member of Parliament for the Britisch Conservatives Rory Stewart and pr man and leader in the digital revolution Rory Sutherland.

 

 



Suppose you would like to change the world, how do you do that? Is it even possible, a better world? Is man really free, or is he pleased when he is manipulated by rulers and corrupted by commerce? How can change be achieved? And how should our world looks like? What is a world? My body, my mind? My professional world, national world? Or the complete history of human kind?

The conference began with an understandable opening reading of Badiou, who started to mention the concept of three interacting worlds as a way of looking at reality. Referring Popper, the world can be split into the world of physical objects and events, including biological entities, the world of mental objects and events and the world of objective knowledge.

With regard to events, it is a possiblity to go beyond. In Being and Event, Alain Badiou writes that the event is a multiple which basically does not make sense according to the rules of the "situation," in other words existence. Hence, the event "is not," and therefore, in order for there to be an event, there must be an "intervention" which changes the rules of the situation in order to allow that particular event to be. There is no "one," and everything that is is a "multiple." "One" happens when the situation "counts," or accounts for, acknowledges, or defines something: it "counts it as one." For the event to be counted as one by the situation, or counted in the one of the situation, an intervention needs to decide its belonging to the situation. This is because his definition of the event violates the prohibition against self-belonging (in other words, it is a set-theoretical definition which violates set theory's rules of consistency), thus does not count as extant on its own.
 
We are living in an interval. Old routines and affairs disappeared or became unusable, but new systems and mechanisms did not occur yet.

Badiou is allergic to the existing world, which in fact does not exist for him, and should not exist. Those who thus inlet adapts, arranges itself, reconciles. Badiou is a Platonist, someone who has great universal ideas in mind, such as universal equality, and measures everything. As long as there is no complete equality in the world, everything is wrong.

Badiou sees it as a betrayal when Social Democrats are governing and want to make improvements in this way. He outlined the impossibility to really influence the global state of affairs. " We have to refer to the individual level. There we can try to 'break' the cause of the existing reality".

He refers to May 1968 and the Arab Spring, events in which the impossible seemed to be possible anyway. Thanks to human creativity. Something new is always a critique on a closed identity, he said. It breaks in the existing. The question is whether it may called 'breaking' and whether it is always about 'criticism'.

 
Freedom, Badiou says, does not mean that you can do what you want, but using your own creative potential and discipline. Man does'nt find happiness in satisfaction with the existing, but in discovering his creative abilities to change the world. He calls communism the only guiding idea that really goes against the actually existing reality and does off democratic politics as 'nothing more than 'power-theater'. "In fact, everything is decided by a small group of rich and powerful people."

Democracy was treated with scorn by Badiou. Democracy was the real enemy. Badiou, who advocates great revolutionary change, did not know how small he had to make small with his fingers to show how small the changes are that can be applied in a democracy. That utopian great changes of Badiou were a reason for the English pessimist John Gray to express once again his astonishment about how it is possible that people always come up with Great Ideas, while being able to know what misery they have caused. At the same time he had to mirror himself that we are living in a fragile civilization and that mankind has to do with its own ancient evil ('immemorial evils'), 'conflicted animals' as we are. Do not expect rapid changes in the human condition, especially not by all the new technology. This is a new illusion.


There is enough material for discussion, appeared rather soon. The conservative British philosopher Roger Scruton disagreed fundamentally with Badiou, but he does share his skepticism about politicians "in whose hands we have placed our fate". Scruton does not like great ideas to improve the world and says that imperfection correctly is a crucial and inevitable part of life. He gets support from his compatriot John Gray, who pointed out that politics since the French Revolution is focussed to eliminate the evil in the form of war and poverty. There is certainly scientific and technological progress, but that does not change the human imperfection. We are 'competing animals', living in an "extremely fragile" edifice of civilization, warns Gray.

That brings the Hungarian and in New York living Agnes Heller to a flaming and not always traceable saying, which counted the blessings of liberal democracy and capitalism. Mass killings are not committed by Democrats, she says. It is not so bad to believe in progress, we no longer live in a dictatorship. That's achieved in the past sixty years. And what about Badiou's reviled democracy? That is the great possibility for a citizen to say 'no' and possibly to go in politics themselves and than to say 'yes'.

The British writer and parliamentarian Rory Stewart defends itself against the skepticism of intellectuals against politics: "I feel like the priest of a dead religion". For that, he harvested a relieved applause. We must abandon the idea that every problem has a solution, Stewart said, referring to Iraq and Afghanistan. But there is hope: "Politicians can do less than they pretend, but much more than we fear."

Alain Badiou

The endless theme of the conference made sure that everything came along: will the Pax Americana be replaced by the Pax Technologica? Have the elites failed? Will people become more agent instead of purpose? Are the big cities not breeding grounds for loneliness? Do people not cling to anything from permanent fear of freedom? The biggest scandal in the world today, according to Scruton is too much atheism and the disappearance of the "holiness".
Who says we are living in a wicked world, forget that we have certainly a moral consciousness, replied the English historian Daniel Pick.

Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion, pleaded for 'less thinking' to prevent that we will lose ourselves in the illusions aroused by the new technical media. We suffer from 'solutionism': we want fix everything. We also suffer from an unbridled need for perfectionism.

International relations are moving and formal organisations and multilateral institutions and systems no longer meet the new world order adequate. Governance and leadership asks to be reformed. Europe has to find his weight to be able to play a solid role in world politics. A comfortable human condition counts. Look at Greece and the debt crisis. An (political) ideology is needed, provided with humanism, happiness, discipline and social capitalism. And we need also progress, further developments in technology and the internet will certainly contribute.

"Is the change alive?"

Nexus Institute recommends the following readings:

Hans Fallada, Jeder stirbt für sich allein (1947), Albert Camus, L’homme révolté (1951), Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1963), Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World? (2011), Vladimir Tismaneanu, The Devil in History. Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century (2012).