…does not inspire.

May 19, 2011

Isabelle Stengers’ The Cosmopolitical Proposal is an overly complicated request for common sense; for thinking things through and considering decisions before making them in a political arena.

Summonsing Dostoevsky’s, Deleuze’s and Herman Melville’s ‘idiots,’ Stengers proposes that we need more of them to slow down our political decision making process and consider the hows and whys. Identified by the baseness of it’s stubborn and repetitive obstructions, the idiot is one that cannot answer the question, it knows only how to slow the process. Society needs to consciously ‘invoke’ the idiot.

Stengers offers some interesting frameworks and examples for decision making that I think align with the more romantic aspirations of a free and democratic society. 1) Different problems require different ‘experts’ to deal with the solution who can assemble to offer the most educated and well considered solutions 2) Every person has the right to be represented in the political process, whether individually or by a someone that argues for their rights, whether they want to actively participate or not, because it is in their individual and the ‘general interest.’ 3) We need to understand what it is to be human, that a nod to ‘humanness’ needs to be part of the process. People are unpredictable and their actions are not as neutral as the subject of a scientific solution would have them be.

The frameworks are interesting and make sense to me, though they fail to engage with current political models. I’m sure that Stengers is aware of this problem when she suggests that an obstruction that gets in the way of a decisions are the existing power structures. A recent example that comes to mind is the “Kevin Rudd’s Australia’s People’s Parliament.” For two media saturated days, Australia’s best and brightest as well as some luckily selected ‘everyday Australians’ joined in an inclusive and robust debate to consider the future of Australia; a national brainstorm. Under the pretence of all participants having an equal contribution, the highly orchestrated media stunt only highlighted how little power any individuals really do have in democratic Australia, the results and follow up quickly pushed aside by the business of running the country.

I understand that this is a cynical example and an easy way to counter Stenger’s argument, but without dismantling the entrenched power structures that influence and govern modern nation states, no change will ever occur. Stunts like the people’s parliament are an expensive and patronising way to maintain the illusion of a participatory government.

I wonder about Stengers’ intentions for this essay, from the denial of an initial knowledge of Kant’s cosmopolitanism to a lack of engagement with current political structures. I’m positive that Stengers is not that naïve as to just add another unrealisable scheme to the utopian collection. The examples that she uses have actually existed, but bring to mind the adage that today’s problems cannot be solved with yesterday’s solutions.



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