The Unfathomable Pornography of Binary Thinking

Is it merely accidental that the new century begins with an act of horror that marks for ever the imagination of our generation and of those to come? The capacity of human beings to forget is certainly infinite, but it can't act on symbols. And it is precisely a symbol that was aimed at by the cold and implacable brain of an esoterico-technological engineer who conceived the act of staging the castration of the economic and financial power thought of, till now, as untouchable.

We can't keep silent and accept, certainly not in an involuntary way, what is at the end of the road: the self-destruction of our species. It is crucial to ask questions about the roots of this horror if one really wants to put oneself on the road to a new kind of learning reality.

One lesson I draw myself from the period we now live in, starting September 11, 2001, has to do with the unfathomable pornography of binary thinking. This phenomenon is not new. Modernity invented all kinds of deaths and ends as a consequence of binary thinking: the death of God, the death of man, the end of ideologies, the death of Nature, the end of history and - tomorrow - the end of science and the end of religions.

The binary logic of the absolute truth and of the absolute falsehood acts today with astonishing shamelessness. Slogans such as "The fight between Good and Evil" or "God is with us" have great success with the masses and it is amazing to hear an old Leninist slogan "Who is not with us is against us" in the mouth of a great liberal leader. Is it so difficult to see that binary thinking is precisely the favored ground of terrorists? Is it so difficult to see that violence always engenders violence in the absence of a new logic? "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" - said Mahatma Gandhi. New logics have to be integrated in the process of new learning, both in a theoretical and in a practical way.

A second lesson I draw is the necessity to rethink the problem of the sacred. We eliminated the sacred in what we thought to be an act of freedom, of liberation of the human being. Thus appeared the reign of relativism in the name of which one can assert anything and also the contrary of anything. The terrorist acts "in the name of God (or that of the Good)" and those who fight the terrorists act also "in the name of God (or that of the Good)." Which God? Are there as many Gods as there are religions?

I think that a new vision of learning must integrate the search of the transcultural and of the transreligious attitude. The transreligious attitude is not simply a utopian project - it is engraved in the very depths of our being. The transcultural (transreligious) designates the opening of all cultures (religions) to what cuts through them and transcends them. If the transcultural and transreligious attitude were to find their proper place in modernity, a war of civilizations could not take place.

Theoretical physicist at CNRS, University of Paris 6
Member of the Romanian Academy
President of the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research (CIRET)

October 16, 2001

Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études Transdisciplinaires n° 16 - Février 2002

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