|Towards New Humanism and EIU: Never Give in to Cynicism and Despair||12-05-09|
Towards New Humanism and EIU: Never Give in to Cynicism and Despair
An Interview with Professor Fred R. Dallmayr
1. Could you please tell us how you first got interested in UNESCO and began to take part in UNESCO’s activities?
As you know, UNESCO is a branch of the United Nations. Having experienced World War II as a child, I have been committed to the goal of the UN?the goal of peace and global cooperation?from the very beginning. By emphasizing the role of education, UNESCO makes a crucial contribution to the world community, because it is through cross-cultural education that global cooperation becomes possible. It was in the 1980's that I first became actively involved in UNESCO, initially in the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU). KNCU invited me to UNESCO meetings in Asia. In this way I also became acquainted with UNESCO people from Paris, especially the section chairs in philosophy and the social sciences. In the 1990's I began to be invited to “World Philosophy Days” sponsored by UNESCO and thus, I participated in many such “days”, for example, in Paris, Morocco, Moscow and other cities of the world.
2. You were a research scholar in India at the University of Baroda from 1991 to 1992 and later worked on books related to India. Could you explain how your interest in India started?
My interest and involvement in India started in 1984. I was invited to participate in a political philosophy conference at the University of Baroda. The conference was organized by Dr. Bhikhu Parekh, who then was Vice Chancellor of that university (and later became a professor in England and still more recently a member of the House of Lords). At the 1984 conference, there were some people from Europe and America, but the majority came from different parts of India. Thus, I became acquainted with many Indian intellectuals and colleagues. Subsequently they invited me to come back to India and to lecture at their universities and colleges. This, I did for the next fifteen or twenty years. I developed a keen interest in Indian history, culture, and philosophy. Together with Dr. Ganesh Devi, I then put together the volume Between Tradition and Modernity: India’s Search for Identity. The book was meant to introduce readers to the great diversity of cultural, intellectual, and religious strands or traditions in India.
3. As a professor of philosophy, what is your opinion about philosophy in Asia?
For a long time, philosophy in Asia has been neglected and even dismissed by some Western philosophers, on the assumption that the only “real” philosophy is Western. Having studied Indian philosophy, and later also East Asian philosophy (Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism), I knew that this was wrong. So I became involved in the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy (SACP) and during 2004-2005, I served as its president. This was for me a great learning experience, as the meetings of this Society bring together experts in both Indian and East Asian philosophy.
4. You agreed it is problematic that today’s colleges and universities are reducing or eliminating the humanities or liberal arts programs due to the growing needs of professional training in order to raise employment rate of their graduates. This trend is also being observed in the Asia-Pacific. In your opinion, what are some ways we can change this trend and let people recognize the importance of the humanities?
The status of the humanities and liberal arts programs today is very fragile or precarious in many countries (both in the West and the East). The main reason is a certain “development” or “growth” ideology which places all the emphasis on economic productivity and technical knowhow.
5. In one of your interviews regarding SNS (Social Networking Sites), you mentioned that we need to teach the youth about how to truly “communicate” with each other rather than to just enjoy entertainment via SNS. In your opinion, would you consider the concept of “understanding” in Education for International Understanding (EIU) and “communication” the same? If they are similar or different, could you elaborate upon their similarities or their differences?
I do not entirely dismiss SNS; to some extent, they serve a therapeutic purpose by giving people (especially young people) the feeling of being socially connected despite the fact that they live increasingly in an atomistic world (governed by the profit motive). So people like to “communicate” on Facebook, Twitter, and other media -that is, communicate often with large groups of anonymous strangers. But such communication is not the same as dialogue and genuine understanding. On internet engines, people just send to others “blogs” or tidbits of opinion or information. What is lacking is real mutual engagement and care, the probing and questioning of views, and thus the possibility of “humanistic” learning. If communication is reduced to the exchange of random tidbits, then it is just fun and games?which is far removed from moral education and character formation.
6. SNS has led the way in bringing the “Arab Spring.” How would you explain the relationship between SNS usage and democracy?
In the “Arab Spring”, SNS has indeed played the role of a catalyst, by alerting many people to grievances and to what is happening in the streets. Thus, many people became democratic agents for the first time in their lives. However, while serving as such a catalyst, SNS does not have the capacity to sustain a movement toward the creating and consolidation of democracy. This is demonstrated by the decay of the “Arab Spring” in most of the Near East (with the possible exception of Tunisia). The point is that democracy is not just a momentary euphoria. To build democracy, one has to study the working of existing democracies and also the teachings of prominent democratic thinkers. Above all, democracy requires the cultivation of democratic dispositions and character qualities. This does not happen through SNS.
7. The international community is currently facing crises caused by economic, environmental, and natural disasters. If we assume that our time is an age of crisis, how should we solve this? Moreover, how would you describe the term, “new humanism”?
There are indeed many crises confronting humankind today: geopolitical, economic, and ecological. Geopolitically, we face the problem of continuous warfare and possibly the danger of a nuclear holocaust. The needed remedy here is better diplomacy and an effort to achieve military, especially nuclear, disarmament. Economically, the global meltdown in recent years has demonstrated the grim failure of “casino capitalism”. The needed remedy here is to design a “new economics” beyond the pale of both neoliberalism and communism. Ecologically, we face the danger of global warming and resulting natural disasters. Here the remedy has to be the reduction of greenhouse gases and the resolute protection of our natural habitat. What all these remedies have in common is the needed curtailment of rampant selfishness and the cultivation of a sense of ethical responsibility for our shared world. This is the point of the “new humanism”: not a humanism defined by selfish domination but one stressing the human role as guardian and caretaker.
8. The title of this magazine is SangSaeng(相生), which translates as “living together, helping each other,” how would you define the significance of “SangSaeng” in promoting EIU?
The title of the magazine, SangSaeng, captures precisely the meaning of the “new humanism”: namely, the emphasis on “bringing together and helping each other”. In this manner, the magazine (in my view)
9. Do you have any comments for SangSaeng’s readers?
My comments to the reader: study and take to heart the meaning of SangSaeng. Also, never give up; never give in to cynicism and despair. This world is still young and full of promise. We have to be the keepers of this promise.
*FRED DALLMAYR is Packey J. Dee Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His fields of research are associated with comparative political theory and crosscultural philosophy. He has also written numerous influential books, including the recent publications of In Search of the Good Life: A Pedagogy for Troubled Times (2007), Dialogue among Civilizations: Some Exemplary Voices (2002), and Beyond Orientalism: Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter (1996).*