Od uniwersalnej hegemonii do pluriwersalnego współistnienia (Czy Zachód musi być centrum świata?)

Czy można uwolnić Zachód od etnocentryzmu? — część 3. komentarza Corentina Heusghema do krytyki cywilizacji zachodniej według Arturo Escobara [Can the West be freed from ethnocentrism? – part 3 of Corentin Heusghem’s Commentary on Arturo Escobar’s critique of Western Civilization].
Zob. część 1 pt. Rewolucja kopernikańska poza fizyką [The Copernican revolution outside of physics] i część 2 pt. Roszczenie naukowego obiektywizmu jako hamulec samokrytyki [Objective science’s claims as a brake on self-criticism].


From a universal hegemony to a pluriversal coexistence (Does Occident have to be the centre of the world?)
Od uniwersalnej hegemonii do pluriwersalnego współistnienia (Czy Zachód musi być centrum świata?)

If there are several kinds of knowledge as we underlined in the previous episode, it already hints at the fact there are several accesses to nature, declined into multiple different ontologies. Consequently the occidental dualist ontology cannot claim to be the universal one. Its division between objects and subjects is not a characteristic of the world itself but pertains to the occidental culture and the modern form of knowledge. However, even if we had not undermined the privilege of science, we would still find that there are several ontologies (and thus manage the ontological Copernican revolution nonetheless). Indeed, the occidental science acknowledges the phenomenon of scale (micro and macro for example) which – if taken seriously, according to Merleau-Ponty – argues for the coexistence of multiple ontologies and for a relational paradigm rather than a single absolute, independent and isolated reality’s paradigm.

Pablo Carlos Budassi, Orders of magnitude, 2018, CC-BY-SA-4.0

In the framework of scales, the given objects are always in link with a subject or an observer that settles in a particular level or scale in order to relate to them according to this perspective. There is not only a universal kind of object but multiple partitions, polarisations or distributions of the same reality (producing different beings or entities) depending on the scale at which we consider them. This leads to acknowledge there are several strata or layers of reality. The occidental ontology’s assumption that there is only a single reality made of a single world implies to choose only one of the many scales and anoint it as the absolute, objective and unique one. Nevertheless, there is no obligation to choose exclusively one scale as the truly existing one; to do so would even be a mistake because the „macrophenomena are not less real, the microphenomena not more real. There is no hierarchy between them” [Merleau-Ponty, 2016, p. 275–276], each scale is as true as the other ones at his own level, they are all simultaneously existing and are primarily expressing a relation between reality and some living being with its own situation, light and perspective. In this way, we could consider that the different cultures (that produce different ontologies) are similar to the different scales, as multiple simultaneous coexisting worlds that are different, sometimes incompatible and yet expressing the same Being or reality, from different standpoints or perspectives. These many worlds or versions of reality cannot be reduced to one another, they are radically heterogenous even though they partially meet and intertwine. Therefore, like the many languages that each constitutes its own whole but differs in a diacritic and oppositive way according to Saussurian linguistic, the cultures could also constitute their own whole world or ontology that don’t exactly overlap. None of them would exhaust reality but they would all express it in their own way. But if reality, as the source of the ontologies, is present (even though not exhausted) within each of its expressions, then why would we have to choose only one of them? Wouldn’t reality be better grasped by confronting several of these partial views or expressions? In this way, reality wouldn’t be contained in a single ontology or worldview (so not in the dualist ontology of the Occident) but would lie in between them, as their link, pivot and their ground that ensures their coexistence, simultaneity and their communication. This change of conception is a shift from a unique reality made of a single world to a pluralist reality that Escobar calls a pluriverse or a „world that can contain many worlds” [Escobar, 2018, p. 32]. Instead of reducing all the ”cultural views” to one single world, the notion of pluriverse acknowledges the diversity of worlds, ontologies or cosmovisions because it supposes that there are numerous versions of reality. Thus, the pluriverse is a way to consider reality that is radically different from the modern and occidental one. The ontological Copernican revolution involved by the pluriverse allows to consider the Occident’s ontology as only one among many others that has no privilege, is not more faithful to reality (as the source of all the different worlds, scales or ontologies) and cannot exhaust it nor encompass the other ontologies.

Powers of Ten, 1977, 9 min, directed by Charles and Ray Eames

Blinded by abstract reason and its supposed objectivity and universality, the Occident lost its contact with the world and with the others. It became a dreadful culture that denied and destroyed the other ones. However, thanks to the operation of Copernican revolution it can regain a genuine relation to the pluriverse and the numerous cultures. Therefore, the Occident is capable of good as well as bad; it can seriously threaten the pluriverse and the other cultures but it is also able to reflect on this situation and criticise its own hegemony. For the Occident is able to become aware of its flaws and misconceptions or prejudices it can attempt to overcome them by inventing new forms of occidentality that won’t repeat the same mistakes. It can thus become a better culture, or rather a better version of itself. However, the possibility of improvement is not only available to the Occident. Indeed, in contact with the Occident, indigenous cultures have also learnt to self-reflect and use positive aspects of modernity. There is a mixity of cultures today, some indigenous cultures are using modern technologies to raise awareness among people about their struggle, they ally with international NGO and organise conferences with State leaders or representatives and lead juridical and political fights to claim constitutional rights (like the Buen Vivir movement in Bolivia and Ecuador for example) that Occident culture would acknowledge and enforce. Reciprocally, occidental thinkers rely on the other cultures as what resists to the universal claims of the dualist ontology in order to uproot ethnocentrism and find an alternative occidentality, another way and ontology within the Occident, more respectful of the pluriverse, the Earth and the others. This reciprocity between cultures benefits to all of them while respecting their specifities and autonomy, which outlines another kind of globalisation than the one we already know of. A globalisation that doesn’t erase difference and alterity but feeds on them in order to mutually improve and grow stronger becomes possible. Nevertheless, to intellectually point out the prejudices or mistakes at the heart of the dualist ontology is not enough to make its enaction stop. Thereby, the biggest question to tackle is still not solved : even if we have denied and rejected the dualist and hegemonic ontology of the Occident, how to overcome the inertia of its international institutions that ease the reproduction of what has been done until now and is a brake on radical change (and thus stays a threat to the other cultures)? According to Merleau-Ponty, institutions are more fragile than they seem because they solely exist through their enaction by humans, so a change in humans could drastically change the face of the institutions. However how to trigger a change in humans? The  gloomy perspective here is that the ones who benefit the most from the hegemony of the Occident and are at the top of its institutions will be the most reluctant to acknowledge its relativity. Maybe they don’t even believe in this worldview to begin with but put it forward because it serves their interests. A hegemony is quick to rise but to actively and purposefully put an end to it once we understand its negative effects is very difficult. It is always harder to stop a process rather than letting it keep going. It requires tremendous efforts and a specific historical configuration to stop dominant practices and ontological discourses. Therefore, it might be the greatest paradox of the Occident to be able to become aware of its detrimental flaws, to criticise them but to be unable to forcefully change them without a historical concordance or opportunity and to ignore how to bring about such an opportunity.

Corentin Heusghem

Bibliography :
Arturo Escobar, Sentir-penser avec la Terre. Une écologie au-delà de l’Occident (Sensing-Thinking with the Earth. An Ecology Beyond the Occident), Seuil, coll. Anthropocène, 2018.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et l’invisible, Gallimard, coll. Tel, 2016 (1964).


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