Acknowledging Complexity

May 19, 2011

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Isabelle Stengers advocates in “The Cosmopolitan Proposal” for an active ‘cosmo-political’ discussion whereby an individual can freely contribute ideas/thoughts/feelings without the implication that they are (or are aligned with) the ‘truth’. The “Cosmopolitical Proposal” is one where differing views positively add to the discussion without undermining others, where “it is a matter of imbuing political voices with the feeling that they do not master the situation they discuss”.  This constructivist viewpoint aims to produce an environment in which other world-views are treated with “equality” rather than judged by “equivalence”. Stenger is clear to differentiate between these two categories. Equivalence suggests “a common measure and thus an interchangeability of positions”, whereas equality recognises the Other as differening yet with a likeness in value.

Stengers’ ‘cosmos’ is not in terms of a Kantian “perpetual peace”, which she believes is too all encompassing, especially in regards to those that may not wish to be encompassed. Here, ‘cosmos’ refers instead “to the unknown constituted by these multiple, divergent worlds and to the articulations of which they could eventually be capable”. Instead of discovering a “good common world” the proposal is to “slow down the construction of the common world, to create a space for hesitation regarding what it means to say ‘good’”. From Deleuze and Dostoevsky the character of the ‘idiot’ emerges, which Stenger uses to represent those that by definition operate outside the accepted discussion. Stenger champions this character as they help re-position the discussion from a binary right/wrong dialogue to one of multifarious opinions. This “slowing-down” of the dialogue allows the voice of the Other to be recognised. The power of the ‘idiot’ character however is that they can behave indifferently, or chose to ignore the dialogue completely. What this does is serve as a “fright” – because the idiot acts outside of the accepted dialogue it jolts those participating and “scares self-assurance”.

Stenger’s proposal is utopian, but not in the sense that the current world can be discarded with the introduction of a better, truer world. The point is to challenge the accepted world-view, and that with additional viewpoints comes “an interpretation that indicates how a transformation could take place that leaves no one unaffected”. It is only through acknowledging the complexity of the world, and the treatment of the Other as “equal” (without judgement of its equivalence), that we can “create a slightly different awareness of the problems and situations mobilizing us”.

– Tim Brooks


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