A training ground for dialogue

Łukasz Murzyn

The paradoxical title of this article stems from the observation of the nature of conflict, or rather a conglomerate of cultural crises, in whose shadow we function. As part of the discussion around the notion of “culture wars, apart from diagnosing the situation itself, more space should also be devoted to the methodology of reacting in the conditions of confrontation. The actions of the conflicting parties require reflection and recapitulation against the background of the declared commitment to specific values. It is also worth asking the question to what extent is it appropriate to conduct a discussion on the field of culture using the military language and what consequences it brings about. The most important thing, however, is to establish whether there is an alternative to "war" or what would have to occur for such a prospect to exist.

 

world conflicts

 

It is obvious to say that we are currently facing a multidimensional, global crisis, manifesting itself not only in the geopolitical, economic or ecological field but also in the cultural one. The differences of interests and the intensity of tensions between the main political players are greater today than the ones preceding both world wars, and perhaps only the fear of a nuclear solution lowers the temperature of rivalry between the superpowers. The U.S Chinese conflict for global leadership, the pivotal position of Russia, the aspiration of Middle Eastern countries, Europe weakening in the face of demographic and economic powerhouses of Asia, increasing pressure of the poor South on the prosperous North, aggravated by the Syrian conflict and climate change, are just the most obvious examples in the zone of worldly economy and politics.

 

The fundamental cultural divisions sometimes only seemingly coincide with the political and cannot always be explainable in terms of the clash of civilizations. On closer examination, it turns out that each of the main cultural circles is torn by its own internal conflicts, and all of them together are subject to more or less intense global processes. In our cultural circle, the collision of neo-Marxism with a worldview form on the Christian ground, naturally comes to the fore, but to limit the perspective to just such a statement would be a great simplification.

 

It is essential to bear in mind both the certain distinctiveness of the neoliberal perspective and the heterogeneous character of all the principal parties to the argument. Neither the contemporary left nor the Christian option are monoliths. The unambiguous polarization of the image of the conflict is derivative of the processes pointed to by Michel Foucault and his philosophical heirs. What follows is the subordination of many different attitudes stemming from many different motivations to two dominant, general discourses. The entities involved in the dispute, operating in  the name of their own identity, as well as their helplessness, in the face of global processes, submit to the  ruthless “biopower that furnishes the shape of public debate. Recruitment under the banners of the one or another general ideological option is always at the expanse of subjectivity and forecloses normal, interpersonal communication between the members of the hostile “armies, manmade in this inhuman process. Polarization is enhanced and consolidated by algorithms that manage the information flow in the global network. By enclosing users in homogeneous information “bubbles, “echo chambers and “rabbit holes, they lead large social groups into antagonisms, reminiscent of the initial phase of the Rwandan tribal conflict.

 

Polish war theatre

 

The Polish conflict, of course, reminds an element of the global game, however it keeps its own local specificity. The general view is dominated by the clash of, lets call it conventionally, the left faithfull to the ideals of emancipation and progress with a conservative right that is attached to the national and Catholic values. A closer look shows that the left side is basically a coalition of post-communists, domestic new left, anarchists and neoliberals, while the right side consists of at least two or three different Catholic options: from the supporters of  “Tygodnik Powszechny to the Family of “Radio Maryja. One should also aggregate a certain  group of representatives of the other religious denominations. Even more complex is indentity of todays Polish right wing, which shuns economic liberalism and focuses on the social zone.

What is also obvious is the cultural offensive of the left, which is geared toward causing constant social changes, eliminating national and Catholic discourse from the public space. The Left even succeed in bringing almost complete takeover of the public cultural insitutions in the period of 1989 to 2015, and to a ruthless and it should be clearly stated illegal exclusion of artists with non-leftist views from institutional circulation. A tight system was developed, serving a fairly uniform ideological message based on a narrow artistic and curatorial milieu, whose shape and size was in turn regulated by neoliberal market-based categories. The operation of the system was intended to have, on the one hand, of a missionarry nature, and on the other, to be commercially adequate for beneficiaries of this peculiar corporation.

 

Starting in 2015, a conservative conquest is taking place. The management of most cultural institutions that depends on the political headquarters is changing. It is hard to resist the impression that the so-called good change, reaching the simple reversal of the excluding methods used so far by the left, falls in this area into a dangerous trap of symmetry. Figuratively speaking, one could say that the conversion of Polish cultural policy is in a way like a caricature of the conversion of St. Paul, who, after falling from his horse on the way to Damascus, replaces killing Christians with killing Pharisees. Referring to the military language: the application of the principles of symmetrical warfare in this case does not lead to a positive qualitative change in this unjust system. 

 

Polish speciality: asymmetrical conflict

 

Here we arrive at one of the paradoxes within the issue under study: alleged conservatives use aggressive methods of Marxs acolytes, taking over the insincere narrative of the left, binding declaration of the struggle against exclusion and the ruthless exclusion of fellow citizens based on the worldview censorship.

 

Meanwhile, real good change should rather indicate going beyond the neo-Marxist rules of the game and founding other rules of mutual reference.

 

Using, again, the military terminology: the right wing, in order to be truly faithful to the values it invokes, should turn to the idea of an asymmetrical conflict. This by no means, means copying the tactics of drive-by warfare and guerrilla warfare. These had their mainspring in the form of various anti-institutional strategies during the period of the left wing institutional hegemony. At the present context, however, asymmetry of the action method should  derive, on the one hand , from the evangelical patterns, on the basis of: "overcome evil with good"(cf. Rom 12: 14-21), while on the other hand again, taking seriously the category of national community, it should manifest itself in cultivating the unity of national culture in spite of the global mechanism of dividing and dismembering such communities.

 

Morals

 

Referring to the motto of the Polish Army: "God, Honor, Homeland", one may be tempted to determine the coordinates that should define Polish cultural policy in the face of the war of which we speak. Apart from the above-mentioned Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, his speech in the Areopagus (Acts 17: 16-34) can also serve as an inspiration. The situation described in the Acts of the Apostles should also be a model for discussing Christianity with its adversaries today, a discussion which is honestly penetrating to the truth, recognizing the value of the interlocutor and the value of his positive achievements. In practice, this should mean, for example, a clear recognition of the convergence of some emancipation postulates (equal rights for women, fair labor and economic relations, respect for natural heritage, etc.) with the social teaching of the Church.

 

The image of the Areopagus can also successfully be a model of organizing the circulation of culture, taking into account the equal right of expression of all citizens. The point of honor of the right must be to stop the pendulum of exclusion, in whose rhythm our culture has been operating in recent decades. We need a new programmatic framework for public cultural institutions. The new rules of constructing the offer of these institutions should be based on the principle of pluralism and objectivized representativeness of all forms and creative strategies occurring among artists. The only limitations should concern attitudes that clearly promote criminal ideologies and hatred, and those aimed at destroying the state that hosts these institutions. It is hard to imagine that such regulations would be introduced by the representatives of the left, possessed by the not very honorable and paralegal idea of ​​the "long march", for years dictating the terms of the war of destruction. This can only be done by people who take the democratic and national idea seriously.

 

Reference to the concept of Homeland naturally leads to the recognition of the value of the community defined as "Polish culture". Everything that builds this community, which can be indicated as a common denominator that connects us despite the differences, should be a desirable artistic issue, should be promoted and supported organizationally and financially. On the other hand, what disintegrates this community should be identified as a threat. However, it should be clearly emphasized that such a threat is not a critical perception of Polishness, nor are works that are very difficult to perceive, painfully deepening Polish self-awareness. Such actions are most often, as one can say in Tischnerian terms: “the service of thinking proper to artists. However, the threat is to maintain a sharp division of our already relatively small society at a time when we have to face processes and competition on a global scale. The Polish social division will always work to the benefit of our powerful competitors and will be played by them analogously to the way ethnic tensions are played out in multinational societies. What we need in this regard was precisely stated by St. John Paul II in his homily delivered in Gdansk on June 12, 1987: “Solidarity - that means: one and the other, and if a burden, then a burden carried together, in a community. So never: one against the other, one against the other".

 

Strategy

 

If we adopt the right perspective, then at the strategic level, the game is about the survival of a separate identity of Polish culture, and further on about exports and the expansion of the cultural model in line with the preferences of our community. Therefore, we need a definition of Polish culture that will be spacious enough to accommodate not only the sides of the current conflict, but also to maintain the ability to interact in a friendly manner with other cultures in our region. The model for such a definition is available to us and is hidden in the tradition of multinational and multireligious tolerance of the First Republic. Modernization and adaptation of this pattern to today's conditions would give a chance for real subjectivity, one might even say sovereignty of our culture. It would allow for shedding the yoke of the currently dominant discourses and gaining actual influence on the processes of organizing them, and thus also on arranging and furnishing of social space. In such thinking lies the key to the true vitality of culture and to real power in this sphere. However, it is in vain to look for it in today's narrow definition, trimmed by Joseph Stalin to its present, almost completely mono-ethnic and mono-denominational shapes.

 

tactical level

 

At this point we come to the title postulate of dialogue. In order to realize the strategic goals outlined above, at the tactical level, that is, in the current shaping of cultural policy, the idea of dialogue should be emphasized. The appreciation of this idea should take place in the programs of cultural institutions, at all stages of artistic education and at the level of financing cultural initiatives, both those addressed to the national audience as well as those being an element of diplomacy and exerting a soft influence on the international environment. The postulated dialogue is by no means about striving for a utopia of deliberative democracy at the expense of democracy sensu stricto, nor is it about consenting to a postmodern blurring of values. It would be naive to count on consensus, on reaching an agreement every time. The divisions and differences are too deep, reaching into worldviews and identities, so there is no reason to expect such a profound transformation of adversaries or that we will avoid a hard resolution of border issues through voting. This, however, is not the point. Getting to know each other's intentions and perspectives, seeing the positives and the areas of common concern should lead us from antagonism to agonism. From today's immature form of public debate dependent on the power of discourses toward a model of agonistic democracy capable of peacefully working out rules of coexistence and accumulating social capital for common benefits.

 

team level

 

If the initiative of dialogue is to have a chance to succeed it cannot be only declared or decreed in centers of power. Significant effect will be achieved only if dialogue or polylogue, either verbal or artistic, is practiced in small, well composed groups of interlocutors. What is important here is not only professional competence of persons involved but also improvement of dialogue techniques and competence itself. We can look for some methodological hints in personalistic philosophies, and in a closer time horizon, for example, in the polemic between Jürgen Habermas and Benedict XVI (J. Habermas, J. Ratzinger, The Dialectics of Secularization, 2007). Contemporary social psychology also carries a wide catalog of useful tools for dialogue facilitation. They include both codified methods, such as Nonviolent Communication, as well as less formalized, more intuitive and based on practice of part of cultural environment, various detailed techniques of communication. In creating concrete artistic projects based on the idea of dialogue, non-hierarchical structure of cooperation, attention to the sense of empowerment of all participants of activities, negotiation of common language or translation of concepts, or even using non-verbal activities as a catalyst for rapprochement, and many others will surely be helpful.

 

***

 

It seems that in light of the idea of dialogue, the use of military rhetoric in relation to conflicts in the field of culture can only serve as a perverse metaphor.