The Venezuelan story: A test for Western-oriented paradigm

Published 31.01.2019 00:07
A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a banner while taking part in a gathering outside the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 26, 2019.
A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a banner while taking part in a gathering outside the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 26, 2019.

U.S. intervention in Venezuelan affairs is unacceptable and must be resisted by all countries who defend that democratic norms should rule the world

There are significant powers and states in our world, with the U.S. coming in first. As the dominant paradigm during the last five centuries was shaped by the West, we are in a game whose rules were established by the West. It's better to read this process as a valuable and outstanding one within mankind's common journey.

In other words, the West – first through Europe and then the U.S. – has introduced considerably new concepts, ways of thinking, management and technologies to the world. None of these had emerged intellectually in Europe after the 11th century abruptly or out of the blue. Though the West frames its story so, those inventions and discoveries had not been achieved from scratch. Surely, Greek philosophy had been rediscovered via Islamic translations, China and India had been analyzed as major civilizations and the discoveries therein could be reinterpreted.

But what really distinguished the West was its curiosity, questioning common assumptions and self-criticism. How it differed from the rest of the world so much, at least during that time, is not the subject of this piece. What needs to be emphasized here is that categorizing global civilization as East/West (or in other ways) is actually a modern fallacy and nothing is completely original, in isolation or independent of its precedents. Those radical breaks from previous eras are not original or unique at all just because there was something they broke away from.

However, that should not prevent us from affirming the truth that what the West did is very important and valuable. And its value stemmed from a culture of curiosity and self-criticism. Testing the boundaries and questioning the existing order cannot be reduced solely to avarice and conquest mania. For my part, I interpret this as exile from a secular heaven. The forbidden fruit of the tree of life and knowledge was eaten once again, daring to pass beyond boundaries. Thus, Christianity was liberated from the chains of revelation while pretending to leave the old for good (I think early Enlightenment thinkers were sincere in this).

The untold tale

Concurrently, the Greco-Judeo-Christian legacy was liberated from the bounds of meta-narratives and called to serve human intellect and the individual. It is necessary to add here that these processes began with Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, Abelard and Ibn Rushd. While trying in good faith to transform and fathom faith in the face of the oncoming secular age, they opened an unintended door. But in my opinion, mankind was destined to open that door.

All these developments that required courage took place not in the East but in the West. The East was content with living with angels, miracles and nature. Looking back, it was obvious that could not go on forever. That's what the West had uniquely done.

I believe it's a kind of folly to regard all this as categorically good or bad. One is reminded of Horace's line "De te fabula narrator" that "the tale is told of you." And the story written or told is not of the West but of all of us.

When God was no longer at the center of life and the state, and the Church was forced to retreat to its spiritual realm, if it had stopped there, we probably would have been living in a milder world with softer truths. But the road that was opened had to consume itself, the theories had to be tested in practice and an accumulation of experience had to be acquired. Indeed, as the Enlightenment began to become more radical, it was seen that the god of the past was replaced with another god. The new one was not innocent at all. It began to emerge that the alleged freedom offered by the claim to break free from the injunctions of the old god, from the bounds of institutions that acted as its representative on earth was not so tangible. Still, there were processes to go through, inventions and a dazzling mind.

What went wrong?

Nietzsche, the last prophet of the Enlightenment, noticed that something went wrong but was unable to do anything other than propose a "revaluation of all values." As Leszek Kolakowski said, he asked all the forbidden questions, opened all the doors but sneaked off, so to speak, leaving questions unanswered and the doors ajar.

Whether the Enlightenment getting radical, becoming a new focus of domination, attributing spiritual power to itself was sort of a destiny, could it have taken another path is an important question. Undoubtedly, if this universe is "the best of the possible worlds," as Leibniz suggested, from the perspective of cosmic creation, one cannot claim that we have no option from the human perspective. Then there would be nothing to discuss. As for the future, apart from waiting to see, we would get stuck as objects. But what happened cannot be ignored. We can say that those that have happened until this day in 2019 happened in their own way. However, our job would not be finished by telling that. For unfortunately truth has come to be created and those forms that are usually presented to us as truth in our age are either a construct or a web of constructs that contain only a fraction of truth.

Michel Foucault devoted his life to the archaeology of these constructs and did important things. Only through these brave people that could we understand how we ended up these days scared of saying "I don't feel well" due to risk of being confined to a clinic. Not only did we forget to ask questions, but we also came to forget the question itself.

Is that which was placed at the center of the universe with high-sounding claims the intellect or utilitarianism broken free of all bounds? I believe that what guides us now is not intellect but utility but that we were stripped of the human and intellectual mechanisms that can properly identify even what that utility is.

Otherwise how could we have liberated ourselves from the infamies of the 19th and 20th centuries? How could we have come to accept the fact that tiny Belgium had killed 10 million people in the Congo and exhibited some others in human zoos across Europe? How could we have become complacent with the age of genocides that arrived blatantly and with the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities allegedly to end these genocides? And how can we continue to stomach it?

So, why were these not pondered upon? Why can't Europe and the U.S. today make the same brave self-criticism as during the 11th century? And why are those who do this treated as a marginal minority?

The democracy discourse

Let's look at an actual event. How can the U.S. appoint a governor to Venezuela? The U.S. may do this but how can European countries and EU members, which see themselves as the cradle of democracy, support this takeover attempt? How is it possible that Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, who overthrew the elected president with a coup and killed thousands of people, be declared as a champion of democracy? Who can say that the attempt to take over Venezuela is not related to the country's 300 billion-barrel oil reserves? Can democracy, universal law and universal human rights coexist with these double standards?

Of course, what explains all this is not rationality, but decadence mired in utilitarianism. Before the Enlightenment, we had drifted too far along a certain direction. After it, we seem to have drifted too far along in another direction. What should make us optimistic is the experience acquired through mankind's common history after drifting in both directions. We know from this experience that human civilization can make this world either a hell or a heaven at will. We also know that another course is possible. It's quite possible to both rule the world and compete without using terrorist groups, staging coups in countries, keeping people below the poverty line and denying them dignity.

Consequently, there is no other option than criticizing ourselves bravely and trying to repair the systems we have created. For this purpose, we have to re-imagine and reinvent the concept of state and international organizations. We need to refrain from dramatic breaks, knowing that as Max Horkheimer said of the 1968 events, that maintaining and mending a fragile democracy is more important than the totalitarianism that can result from its demise.

Do not interfere in Venezuela's affairs. Let its people make corrections and make the best of its oil reserves first. Believe me, this is the best course for all.

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