TEDxJaffa — Carlo Strenger — The World Citizenship Project

TEDxJaffa — Carlo Strenger — The World Citizenship Project


Translator: Robert Tucker
Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo The guy on this side is me. The guy on the other side isn’t me. But if things would have worked out
a little bit differently it could’ve been. Because I was born into
an orthodox Jewish family. During my adolescence, I started
to feel very uncomfortable with the idea that I had to follow precepts, accept beliefs, just because
some authority said I had to. And in the loyalty to my tribe, to my religion, to my family, I didn’t feel enough of a reason
to renounce the idea of freedom of mind. I think I’ve been very lucky because
my family was willing to accept my choice, even though it was
somewhat painful for them, and I, as opposed to many others,
who went on a similar journey, didn’t have to choose between
my freedom and my family’s love. And yet I had to pay a price
for that freedom anyway, because my hunch of it, by the way, is that many of you
at some point will feel that my story
isn’t that different from yours. And you will also recognize that once you broke out
of earlier loyalties, you also paid the price of losing
a little bit of the safety, tribal belonging, of truths,
of certainties that you have given up on. This talk is about how I found out
that I did belong to another tribe and how I regained a sense of mission
that is very important in my life today, and, I guess again, important
in your lives as well. Well, at the beginning, I thought
my new tribe was Jewish neurotic males. That actually put me
into very good company, and I felt fairly proud,
but rather soon found out that there were
also some problems with that, particularly when I read and heard Woody Allen’s fabulous summary
of the Jewish neurotic males’ credo: My only problem
is that I’m not somebody else. So, he tried psychoanalysis
to become a little bit happier. When he was asked
after 28 years of analysis, what it had done for him, he said, “Not a single day goes by
in which I don’t think about suicide.” (Laughter) So they asked him again 8 years later,
totaling 36, and then his answer was, “Well, probably I didn’t need all these years of analysis
to begin with.” Now, incidentally,
psychoanalysis was invented by another Jewish neurotic male, who made a lot of people
feel very uncomfortable by telling them that they really wanted
to sleep with their mothers and kill their fathers. (Laughter) I’m not sure that’s true,
but I can tell you for sure that he helped me a lot. You see, I have
an attention deficit disorder, and I, as my wife can attest
without doubt, am completely incapable
of keeping anything in order, including my own writing desk. So, think about it, for a good Jewish boy, I should’ve been either
a lawyer or a doctor, but I would never have made
a living with it because I’m simply not able
to keep what needs order. So psychoanalysis kind of worked out
pretty nice for me, so I’m very grateful to Freud for that. To become a little bit more serious: You see, most of Freud’s specific theories have turned out to be wrong. I still that his contribution
to our culture was phenomenal and I want to focus on an aspect that is
a little bit less known to most people. When Freud began to write, the “in” thing in psychology and biology
was to claim that different races had different psyches,
different psychologies and different biologies. Particularly, a lot of races
had inferior biologies and psyches. What many people are not aware of
is that one of Freud’s goals was to show that in the end all humans have the same biologically
determined unconscious and we belong to one race. This was a very important message, the message that there is
a universal human nature, but it wasn’t always liked. Looking one step further
in my own voyage of discovery, I, at some point, found out
that my new tribe wasn’t just Jewish male neurotics, but there were actually
a lot of women in them, and it didn’t have to be Jewish for me to feel this sense of belonging,
and actually not even white. This is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was born 42 years ago
in Somalia to a Muslim family. And, at age 5,
she was genitally mutilated. She managed to break away
in late adolescence, and, since early adulthood, she has been fighting
for the rights of women, anywhere, everywhere on this globe,
but particularly into Islam into which she had been born. You might expect
that that’s a wonderful message. It’s the message that half of humanity should have the same rights
as the other one. And yet it turns out that this message
again is not always welcomed. Ayaan Hirsi has been living
under death threats for the last 8 years, since she wrote the script
for a documentary about the status of women in Islam. This is the point where,
as a psychologist, I’m beginning to ask the question: Why are messages of universal laws, universal natural laws, universal values,
universal rights, why are they so often met with resistance? I noticed that this thing, of course,
didn’t start in the 20th century. You see, in 1632, Galileo Galilei, was tried by the Catholic Church
for arguing that the Earth is not
at the center of the universe. And he had to recant publicly
in order to avoid a horrible fate. 24 years later, Baruch Spinoza, born into a Portuguese family
in Amsterdam, had come to the conclusion that there was
basically only one set of laws that applied to everything on this earth,
including to human nature. That all texts can and need
to be interpreted in the same way,
with the same historical method, and that includes the Bible. It wasn’t very well accepted. At age 23 he was excommunicated
by the Amsterdam Jewish community. He was never to see any of
his childhood friends or his family again. He did become one
of the founding philosophers of modernity in general
and modern science, in particular. Charles Darwin was a little bit luckier,
he wasn’t excommunicated, but his writings were put
on the index of the Catholic Church, meaning you shouldn’t read those. What did he say? He said that human beings
are basically on a continuum with the rest of biological life. So once again let me ask the question:
What about the message of Galileo, Spinoza, Darwin, Freud, and Ayaan Hirsi makes it
difficult to accept? Fortunately, my colleagues
in extensional psychology have started a research project
in the last 20–25 years that is beginning to yield answers. You see we all need worldviews, we all need a structure that provides us with meaning,
that tells us what is valuable, and it tells us how to live our lives and to tell us
when we live meaningful lives. All of us, all of us,
including all of us in this room, feel very bad, attacked and insecure when our worldviews
are criticized, are under attack. But it does turn out
that there is basically, there are two forms of reactions
to such threat. There’s one type of worldview,
that I call closed worldviews, based on the idea
that there is one authority that must not be questioned,
that at some point told us the one truth, that will never change
and doesn’t need to change. Of course, if that’s what you believe
about your worldview, any change, the reality
that there are other worldviews that are often quite successful,
can evoke a very difficult reaction, in fact, often very violent reactions. On this side, we have Baruch Goldstein,
the Brooklyn-born Jewish physician who moved to the West Bank,
and in 1949 killed 29 Muslims who were praying in the tombs
of the Patriarchs near Hebron. The other guy is Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is to this day
one of the leaders of al-Qaeda. What is so fascinating and so unsettling
is that both these men were trained as physicians. So, it doesn’t matter
that you have knowledge, unfortunately, sometimes
it isn’t even enough that you were trained as a physician
that was supposed to save lives, as long as you have a closed worldview that feels completely threatened
when it is criticized. Not all religions and not
all religious human beings need to react that way. The Dalai Lama Buddhist,
a very deeply believing Buddhist, has been in a very intense dialogue
with science for decades. Chief Rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, has been in a very intense,
very fruitful dialogue with other cultures, with science, and has contributed a lot
to such dialogue. Open worldviews are defined
by the profound insight that human worldviews are,
in the end, human creations, that they’re attempts to deal
with the boats and the fate that we all sit in,
to be finite human beings, that we will all die
living in an infinite universe and still need meaning. The moment we understand that,
our worldviews open up, we become a little bit more tolerant towards the need for change,
towards the fluidity that is needed. I think that most people
who have broken out of a closed worldview, and have moved out,
become deeply identified with and deeply believe in the necessity
for open worldviews. And let me, for the sake of this talk, call all those of us who believe that
world citizens.” What can we do in order
to open up worldviews everywhere. What you see in this slide
is Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, in a very ongoing dialogue that he has with one of the greatest living
enlightenment philosophers, Jürgen Habermas. Let me make it clear,
I very deeply disagree with many of the things
that Pope Benedict thinks, but he can be talked to,
the dialogue is there and it is of absolute necessity. I’ve actually been trying for years
to do that within my own tribe of origin. Remember the caricature
that I showed you at the beginning? It’s actually part of a caricature
that was made to promote an ongoing TV program called
“The Rabbi and the Professor,” in which I argue
about Israeli politics, Jewish identity with national religious Rabbi, Uri Sherki. As I guess you can probably guess
from the caricature, I’m not always nice there, often quite angry, but manage to talk. Not only don’t we hit each other, we actually like each other
personally a lot, even though he probably thinks
that I’m as wrong as I think that he is, with the slight difference, of course,
that I’m right and he’s wrong. (Laughter) Here, we come to a very important point. You see, world citizens have a tendency to hope that everything
will end up very harmonious. In the end, we will just, you know,
end up agreeing with each other and feel that we have
a deep common denominator. It will not always be like that. Salman Rushdie, a great novelist,
in 1988 published one of his novels called “The Satanic Verses.” In it he used one
of the most important tools of open worldviews,
the ability to satirize ourselves, to be ironic towards ourselves, to see ourselves
from funny unexpected angles. One of the things he did was to satirize
a lot of elements of Islam. That wasn’t taken very well! Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa,
a religious command, that Salman Rushdie
and everybody involved in publishing or disseminating this novel
had to be killed. And you know what? There were
many, many people who took that seriously. The Japanese translator
of the book was killed, the Norwegian publisher barely survived
an attack on his life. In the end, more than 30 people died
because of the violence engendered by this fatwa. And now it comes to a really bad point. You know what happened? Many of Rushdie’s fellow writers suddenly said,
“You shouldn’t have written that book. It was insensitive, you should’ve known
that it created problems.” I’m all in favor of dialogue,
I’m all in favor of harmony. I do whatever I can
to increase it where I can. But we have to know
that there are moments, where, if you’re not going to stand up
for the core values that we stand for, including the freedom of expression, freedom of expression
that doesn’t generate hate, and doesn’t preach violence,
neither of which Salman Rushdie did, if we back down,
it’s the beginning of the end of our world citizenship project. There’s also what
Salman Rushdie’s very good friend, Christopher Hitchens, said. He writes in his autobiography
that when he heard about the fatwa, he was completely mobilized. He says, “Suddenly, there was a cause that involved everything that I loved
and everything that I hated.” In the hate column, he says there is dictatorship,
stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying and intimidation. In the love column: literature,
irony, humor, the individual and the defense of free expression. I guess that’s one
of the better short summaries of the fighting spirits that we need,
as world citizens, if we know that there will be moments where we’ll have to stand up
for what we are for. Christopher Hitchens used
his ferocious intellect, his prodigious memory, his enormous wit,
and the beauty of his language to stand up for those values. His untimely death last year has robbed us
of one of our greatest proponents, but I hope he will continue
to inspire many and I would like to dedicate
this talk to his memory. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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    Jason TK

    this is pretty similar to the movements of Universalists, which seeks to promote global citizenship and global governance. It's still pretty good in its own innovation nonetheless.

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