Everything old is new again: peace studies and the “new reality”
Galtung is the founder of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“peace universityÃ¢â‚¬Â, Transcend, which stresses Ã¢â‚¬Å“a new realityÃ¢â‚¬Â in conflict resolution and reporting Ã¢â‚¬â€œ one based largely on Ã¢â‚¬Å“recognising the validity of the otherÃ¢â‚¬Â and avoiding descriptive terms like Ã¢â‚¬Å“barbarousÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“terroristÃ¢â‚¬Â. How that Ã¢â‚¬Å“new realityÃ¢â‚¬Â would address the actual realities of jihadist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t entirely clear; but it appears to involve squinting and delusion, along with the flattening of moral values, including basics like who did what to whom, or wishes to, and disdaining Western preferences as by default wicked and Ã¢â‚¬Å“self-righteousÃ¢â‚¬Â, while excusing or ignoring the vividly self-righteous ambitions of the jihadist movements themselves and their ideological cheerleaders.
Interviewed for AustraliaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s The World Today, Galtung offered a reassuring, even whimsical, view of Islamic theocracy: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The basic point in democracy is that a rule is by the consent of the people, and in the Islamic world that consent is very much in terms of to what extent Islamic values are being enacted.Ã¢â‚¬Â Again, it isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t clear how this rosy formulation addresses the preferences and liberties of, say, women, non-Muslims or gay people, whose relationship with orthodox Islamic values and the politics of the mosque may be somewhat less congenial.
Of course, this “new reality” that Galtung pushes is, as an intellectual exercise, at least, hardly new. In fact, its effects can be seen everywhere, from academic historiography to the work of an advocacy media orthodoxy that has internalized the call to forge such “new realities” by creating, as drafts of history, narratives that are concerned more with capturing “larger truths” (of the media’s own determination) than they are at describing occurrences or stringing together something so pedestrian as “facts.”
Too, Galtung’s “new reality” is nothing more than Said’s Orientalism directed toward “conflict resolution,” with the “resolution” always favoring a type of “tolerance” that amounts to deifying cultural and moral relativism — and a decidedly skewed relativism at that: descriptive phrases that would tend toward judgment, when they come from within the dominant western Enlightenment paradigm, must be avoided, the argument goes, so that the Other is not demonized based on cultural norms he is under no obligation to abide. After all, how can one recognize the “validity” of the Other if one is predisposed to categorizing his behaviors in (arbitrary) moral terms — rather than in terms that are context-specific (which is simply another way of saying specific to a given culture — followers of which, it follows, are the only ones with the requisite rhetorical authority and “authenticity” to pass judgment on themselves)?
Regular readers have met this formulation before, of course, given that it lies at the very heart of multicultural dogma — the long-term design of which is to de-stabilize universals and create meaning that is answerable only to consensus. Which, though it is often packaged and sold as empowering (for instance, in interpretive studies, where the author’s intent is no longer a controlling factor, and instead “the people” — or interpretive community — are granted final dominion over individual intellectual property), is, in fact, akin to precisely that idea of “democracy” that our founders rejected, recognizing that such a system must necessarily lead to mob rule.
From the perspective of interpretation theory, the mob rule analogue is the “interpretive community” that is granted the power to assign meaning — with a willingness to agree to adopt a particular meaning in the greatest numbers all that is required for codification: with no common ground from which to “judge” meaning (in the absence of concerns over authorial intent, meaning is transferred to those whose own intentions paramount), meaning itself is simply a matter of aggression and will. And this is precisely what we see in the cultural analogue of the mob rule paradigm, where “democratization” is deployed as a euphemism for a consensus-driven (and so potentially politically expedient) view of values and morality.
None of which is very “new,” at all.
Also not new is the attempt to enforce such a paradigm of relativism (which, ironically, is the precursor not to universal “tolerance” but to power-driven totalitarianism) by insisting that those dominant cultures who value “values” or who embrace universals, surrender them in favor of the “new reality” in which the universals of “the Other” are to be (again, ironically) validated as a matter of course.
Or, to put it more simply: who are we to judge that the Other routinely judges? — a formulation that boldly an unabashedly wears its central incoherence (that we must agree to our own cultural invalidation in order to “validate” the Other) as a badge of virtue.
And this is what David is getting at when he writes that the “new reality” being pushed by Gatlung “appears to involve squinting and delusion, along with the flattening of moral values, including basics like who did what to whom, or wishes to, and disdaining Western preferences as by default wicked and Ã¢â‚¬Å“self-righteousÃ¢â‚¬Â, while excusing or ignoring the vividly self-righteous ambitions of the jihadist movements themselves and their ideological cheerleaders.”
From my perspective, I don’t find anything at all accidental in such an ideological stance: the ability to destroy or marginalize universals; the ability to enforce “tolerance” of the kind that is, by western liberal standards, intolerant of free expression; and the ability to grant “the masses” final determination over “meaning” — all of these are carefully-considered philosophical maneuvers in the aid of an epistemology that is resolutely material, and so resolutely given over to power dynamics.
Which is why it not surprising to find “the masses” being “guided” toward specific narratives by those seeking political power and cultural control — even as they take great pains to sell their dupes on their own “independence of mind.”
“Fight the dominant paradigm” — when it becomes the rallying cry of those seeking to institute a new dominant paradigm — becomes its own sort of performative irony.