reprinted with permission from
Poison Fire, Sacred Earth,
TESTIMONIES, LECTURES, CONCLUSIONS,
THE WORLD URANIUM HEARING, SALZBURG 1992
What kind of a civilization is it, what kind of humanism is it that plunders and destroys the sacred sites of power of traditional cultures due to its measureless hunger for resources and energy, that in its mania for progress literally walks over corpses, and everything that cannot be integrated and digested is shoved aside in blind ignorance and usually destroyed? Can such a humanism, can such a civilization truly speak about justice and human rights and praise all these high ideals without losing its credibility? . . .
What we desperately need is a culture of silence, of listening, and of the wisdom of the heart.
Prince Alfred von LiechtensteinWelcoming Message
Prince Alfred von Liechtenstein, Austria. Economist,
President and co-founder of the Vienna Academy for
the Study of the Future, Winner of the Albert
Schweitzer Humanitarian Award 1990, New York.
(This speech was held originally in German)
Two ideas have made a considerable mark on the current world civilization formed in Europe: One is the conviction that humankind is equipped with a powerful understanding, and the other is the thought that constant progress is possible. As an extension of these two ideas, there is a common fundamental conviction and notion in our civilization that social phenomena may be placed within an all-encompassing historical context. This notion is closely connected to the concept of a development which is directed towards some end or goal, a universally historical process developing linearly and consistently and leading to an ever higher evolution of humankind.
With reference to the general validity of human reason, we cultivate the idea that progress leads us, in the end, to a higher, more humanitarian and rational state. Belief in the progression from a lower to a higher state is based on an old European view of humankind and the world, the foundation of which is marked by dualism. This dualistic view of humankind sees humans in opposition to nature, even in a constant struggle with nature which surrounds them and lives within them. Struggle dominates all of nature and brings about evolutionary progress: The strongest wins and only the strongest survives.
The experiences and acquired knowledge of this century now coming to an end, nevertheless, raise the following necessary question: Can this dualistic worldview be maintained, and is this idea of perpetual progress not an error, an illusion, and perhaps even a great overestimation of ourselves? In the still incomplete final evaluation of humankind, we may find in the end that this progress has brought about more damage than advantages. At any rate, more and more people are beginning to doubt the idea of progress, and an increasing amount of criticism is being directed at this concept from various points of view.
It seems as if the idea of progress has ultimately become a merciless Moloch to which everything must be sacrificed. All of us here are witnesses, and many of us are also accomplices to this relentless progress trampling over everything in its way. Terrible sacrifices have been and will be made in the name of progress. The lower must yield to make way for the higher. But what is this concept of the higher to which we sacrifice everything? It is the dream of the consummation of history, of the achievement of perpetual happiness, of a man-made paradise. All representatives of ideologies and utopias chase after this dream of heavenly happiness, but also, in his or her own way, so does every respectable citizen. This dream of a better world, a better life, justifies all the sacrifices for the representatives of the ideology of progress, because for them, the end still justifies the means.
The secularized form of the concept of progress is a materialistic ideology of progress. This ideology of progress is characterized above all by two aspects: It is oriented toward use and fixated on efficiency. The materialistic ideology of progress is based on an economic view of the world and humankind. The world order of our current (world-wide) society is derived from an economic process and is subordinated to economic considerations. But this currently dominant positivistic view of the world and of humankind robs humanity of its essential dimension and degrades it to an object in the economic process. From this point of view then, a human being only has value and becomes a valuable member of human society if he or she works (within industry) and offers some economically usable performance to the economic process. A lack of efficiency and a low ability to perform reduce the value of an individual drastically. Thus, people or cultures who cannot or only with great difficulty be integrated into this economic process possess only a minor (economic) worth or none at all. They are not serviceable for progress, they even stand in its way.
Babies, small children, old people, handicapped people therefore become marginal groups within the society of modern worldwide civilization as do those of traditional cultures which are not yet "civilized", that is, not integrated in this world civilization. From the cost-use-oriented point of view, they become cost factors and health care cases are seen as a dead weight to society. Only those capable of producing and consuming carry weight economically; all others are considered as resources or raw materials which can be used, or if they resist being used economically, they are seen as a hindrance to progress and are to be removed in an appropriate way.
We have come together in Salzburg in order to listen to those who are forced to live on the inner or outer periphery of this modern world civilization, to those who have become victims of progress, to those who participate in a very minor way or not at all in the comfortable blessings of this civilization. These peoples have been hit, and their lives have been thrown off course by the impact of this racing progress. They have lost their stability and, having been cut off from their roots, they are slowly and excruciatingly being destroyed. We want to listen to those who have no perceivable voice in this modern world although our civilization has been, at least in part, built upon their psychic and physical sufferings.
What kind of a civilization is it, what kind of humanism is it that plunders and destroys the sacred sites of power of traditional cultures due to its measureless hunger for resources and energy, that in its mania for progress literally walks over corpses, and everything that cannot be integrated and digested is shoved aside in blind ignorance and usually destroyed? Can such a humanism, can such a civilization truly speak about justice and human rights and praise all these high ideals without losing its credibility?
A gathering of representatives of greatly varied cultures, a meeting of cultures is always a look in the mirror and thus serves as an opportunity to ponder and reflect upon one's own culture.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes in his famous little book The Little Prince such an encounter between two cultures in the meeting of the fox and the little prince. The latter invites the fox to play with him, to which the fox answers: "I cannot play with you . . . I am not yet tamed!" To the question, what is tamed, the fox answers: "That is something lost to forgetfulness . . . it means: to make oneself familiar. For me, you are nothing but a small boy, very much like a hundred thousand small boys. I do not need you, and you need me just as little. For you I am only a fox, very much like a hundred thousand foxes. But if you tame me, we will need each other. You will be unique for me in the world, I will be unique for you in the world . . ." Then the fox asks the little prince: "Please . . . tame me!" The little prince answers that he would very much like to, but he doesn't have much time. He wants to find friends and learn many things. "One only knows the things one tames", says the fox. "People do not have time anymore to get to know things. They buy everything in stores. But because there are no stores for friends, people do not have friends anymore. If you want a friend, tame me!" To the question of what the little prince must do, the fox says: "You must be very patient, and you will say nothing. Language is the origin of misunderstanding." Upon leaving, the fox presents the little prince a secret: "Here is my secret. It is very simple: One only sees well with the heart. Most everything is invisible to the eyes. People have forgotten this truth, but you must never forget it. For all your life, you are responsible for what you have made familiar."
In the end, it is the restless search of humans for happiness that generates the pressure and material compulsion of progress: They produce tons of knowledge every year, they increase productivity, they increase the gross national product and maximalize their profits . . . and yet they still do not find what they seek . . . they do not find it because their eyes are blind and their understanding limited. "One must search with the heart", says the little prince.
Perhaps we have already nearly reached the end of this progress. In spite of the proliferation of efforts in the field of science, the knowledge produced seems strangely weak and exhausted. An increasing loss of orientation is spreading across the world. And yet slowly, we begin to suspect: Knowledge alone does not bring us further anymore if it is not paired with wisdom.
What we desperately need is a culture of silence, of listening, and of the wisdom of the heart. The World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg is dedicated to the purpose of cultivating such a culture, and I wish you all a lovely and healing week here in Salzburg.
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