"When they fall apart, all societies are converging... there are Melanesian, African, American cultures. Decadence has only one face." (Claude Lévi-Strauss, L'Année sociologique, 1940-48, p . 335)
Plurality, plural: not being alone, living with others. That falls into the most everyday experiences, pleasant or inevitable. These are links that hold us, and which sometimes we would like to escape, although this is rarely possible.
But there is another meaning for “plurality”. It emerges as the opposite of the phrase : "act as a single man", be a part of the mass, behave altogether as if we were a single huge organism, a gigantic device ". And this also is an integral part of human experience, sometimes for the worse. But this time, it is not loneliness - too weak and powerless - that allows us to mitigate or avoid it, but a plurality 1.
Does Plurality need a learned treatise? As a daily practice, it is worth at most a few pages of a bit trivial and well-intentioned prose: learning to live and work together, accepting differences, diversity of viewpoints, behaving with civility, etc. ...
But the plurality of human cultures is disappearing, and that is about what we’re talking here. Because we have no idea how to protect ourselves from the inevitable erasure of the memory of our various collective pathways.
Maybe, this mere problem deserves to be thought more carefully. Certainly, languages which are dying every day in the cultural world are neither living species nor individuals, for the death of whom we should be sorry. And we can, conversely, be pleased that all people can now communicate easily. We can also reassure ourselves by noting that languages are defending themselves better than we would believe, that they are mutually supportive in multicultural political sets, and know sometimes how to come back to life from nothing.
But, whether in International English or in the thousands of resilient languages, what is going to happen when each of the billions of human beings has no other convincing social reference for what they should say or do, but one single beam of speeches gathered and translated by a world machinery, one way only to consume the same material goods and culture, to suffer the same publicized debates for normalizing morals? To endure mass manipulations at the world level, aiming at forcing them –by fear or seduction- into a prescribed behaviour ?
In such a context of rapid homogenization, the issue of plurality is not trivial. And because Plurality is a political concept, and perhaps one of the most difficult to construct and legitimize in a time of global massification, (after national masses have been developed and built around the ambiguous and fragile ideal of “democracy”) and because the most relevant content of plurality remains hidden until we discover its role in cultural anthropology as a law, then it may require a systematic effort of articulation and presentation. At least an effort to be compared to that showed by ancient philosophers, when they died without having achieved a portion of their program!
Certainly, PhD dissertations counting thousand pages have disappeared from the academic landscape, but there are still novels from more than 500 pages (Ellroy, Dantec), in which we like to follow the thread of suspense and anxiety. Here, this 900 pages-long adventure is just a little shorner, dedicated to an approach that claims to be logical. Still, residual implicit meaning makes the task more difficult for the reader - but to eliminate it might have needed a thousand additional pages, or, conversely, would have imposed to reduce the argument to a small set of perfectly formal equations.
We could indeed, like some so-called economists, try to reduce human activity to a few conjectures. For example, if Plurality is always a cause for an appeal to the power of arbitration, and if any arbitrating power tends to become just Power by selecting the best, and thus destroying diversity, Plurality is therefore destroying itself. There remains an immemorial question: how Plurality can delay (and not accelerate) the process of power ? Or, in other words: how freedom of arbitration among adults can avoid turning itself into a hatred of freedom by the following generations which must undergo previous choices as if they were the law ?
How can Plurality stop collecting all the passions in a single collective destiny which combine - which has yet combined - wealth and poverty, concrete environnement and polluted nature, authoritarian order and bloody mess, illusory technical power and real despair of being a person controlled by all the others.
Not to be frivolous, the question must be detailed, and this is being done in this book, which can be read as a proposed answer.
To the reader who wonders about the merits of proposals addressed to the human community, as if thinking by one person could exert any influence on collective destiny, we will answer he (or she) is right: it does not come to think one is Superman, but to react as a free adult participant to the requirements imposed by the growth of a globalized world that now affects us all ... and each. It is rather surprising that many intellectuals, under the cover of their beloved specialties, well sheltered in the small areas of their disciplinary disputes, do not want, in general, to consider this issue, whenever everything should incite them to get concerned with it. Some of them, however, have initiated first steps in this direction : these include for instance Immanuel Wallerstein 2, Ulrich Beck and Gunther Teubner, François Fourquet (disputed by Alain de Toledo), Jean-Loup Amselle 3 Constantin von Barloewen, Monique Selim Charlie Galibert, Raphael Bessis or Marc Augé, who invite us to explore various aspects of a possible "Anthropology of Globalization", 4 and others, none of whom thinks he is Superman.
However, it is clear that many of these attempts are marked by a kind of fascinated horror at the phenomenon we are experiencing, and by an understandable difficulty at trying to build appropriate tools to interpret it actively, and within categories less impregnated with nostalgia for old times 5.
To the reader who feels not at ease with somewhat systematized demonstrations, we would like to submit another possible reading: Plurality in human culture is not only a PhD issue, but also a vivid ethnological and historical topic, along with a remarkable archeological experience. The question of Plurality has indeed led us to discover (through a research labelled as "fundamental", as it persists in France for some time before our research system being shot, like a lame old horse) that social unconscious conversations really exist, laying unfolded literally under our noses, yet carefully ignored, meticulously unnoticed by the biggest organizations having charge of our present world.
Then, the point to be emphasized is that the unconscious character of pluralization in regulatory relationships between humans is an ever underlying trend, inscribed in the experience of the species itself, as deeply and obstinately as its opposite: the tendency to merge political entities in ever larger sets.
This feature has decisive implications for our purpose : it means that strategic plurality has always been "engrammed" in our history. The strength of differences hidden under a common compliance may appear weak and dispersed, but it's still there. It has always been alive. We do not need to invent it for the sake of the present argument, albeit urgent. We must only reach the essence of the phenomenon under appearances and contingencies, in order to reveal eventually its potential power to adapt itself under the most difficult conditions.
In fact, Plurality has appeared - as a link structure - under most varied and contradictory aspects. For example, counter to what common sense suggests, nations, religions and civilizations in which we participate are not only empirical multiplicities, crystallizations of identities, effects of historical movements solely caused by habitude, chance, necessity or interests, those effects leading sometimes to peaceful relations, and sometimes to deadly conflicts or even radical extermination. Analysis of everyday speech and semiotic structures shows that we live in a field of logical debate in which nations, religions and civilizations represent specific positions, questioning and answering others ... perhaps aiming at limiting each other, even if sometimes they dream of eliminating each other.
It is on this point that we agree ... and disagree almost immediately with Hannah Arendt, who has certainly most wisely understood the coincidence between the political problem of contemporary humanity and the need for pluralism 6: For her, Plurality is more precisely an introduction to Multiplicity, and hence to the multitude of singularities. But if we are never alone, and if it is in the political debate and conflict that human action is manufactured (all points on which we fully agree with Hannah Arendt), we must admit that the main discussion rather concerns groups of men holding joint positions than an infinity of possible individual opinions.
So, what we will call here "Plurality" mainly refers to the way men get positioned together in front of others, who are also sharing ideas or practices7. Certainly, there is also some "agonism" between individuals, between singular subjects always struggling to be recognized as such , but it can only come out in public life through shared statements. And these rallying statements are not to be found in infinite numbers, because the ultimate indivisible singularity is only acquired by the Mystic or the Madman, and cannot politically defend itself without the support of a community that prevents them from being attacked.
It should be still necessary not to be mistaken about the kind of antagonism or collective difference that will be studied here : the anthropological plurality which is interesting us has absolutely nothing to do with identity or national ‘groupism” as opposed to another identity (even more strongly that the difference is in fact purely symbolic) or with a position which contributes to the community through a specialized function. What it is all about here is rather what divides internally each speaking being, because human speech is producing and separating in our minds at least four polarities:
-On the one hand, we are subjected to speech by Society; We must enter the speaking community in order to be considered as human.
- But secondly, we must choose a certain speech among many possible arguments and styles (we are talking in order "to say something”, and not to say nothing… which would also have some intentional meaning, anyway -);
-Then, we effectively “take the floor”, what the Pragmatician calls “performativity”, but what we would simply call here "moral or aesthetic commitment” with what we say.
-And finally we will just play or " mimic " the conventional characters (the" actants ", says the Linguist) that the grammar of our specific language is determining : we become the "subjects of the statement", strictly located in a correctly built sentence by the syntaxic rule of each language.
These four positions are all necessary at once for speaking, but they are not adopted by each of us with equal enthusiasm. Grammar may be a passion for a person, whereas political commitment will be the great love affair for another one; A person may comply with the societal duty because it is mandatory, when another one will be fully participating to a collective adventure. Someone will spontaneously take the leading part in a debate, whereas another person will simply express passive opinions, etc. We show greater ease, pleasure, conviction with one dimension of speech than with the other, and that implicit or explicit choice draws a "style", which is not only personal, because we tend to share it with people “like us”. And it follows from this polarization in any society, that we are prone to support a segment of our society devoted to one of these positions, instead of just being an “average speaker”. On its turn, this specialization in the dimensions of speech leads people to choose a special interest in one of the big societal functions.
For instance, the societal obligation is determined by the political structure and power, which are fascinating some people much more than others. We could surely find many causes to the fact that politicians like seeking power, but one largely spread motivation could simply reside in the way acts of speech are at the same time acts becoming effective because of the collective network existing among speakers.
Second example : the personal decision to talk and choose to position oneself in a speech act falls in the moral and artistic culture which defines worldview and tastes. But we know that those who like to dedicate themselves to ethical or aesthetic discourses rarely show a passion for mathematics or physics (except for some gifted writers). For a simple reason : you cannot spend a lifetime at convincing others to be good or to admire beauty, and meanwhile compute and measure things and facts around you. But the result of such a social division is that artists and engineers usually live in completely different worlds.
Third case : a spontaneous commitment in utterance is only possible if the locutor feels very familiar with other people. Familiarity implies you can be confident with the warmhearted responses of your entourage as it should be within the family circle, for example when a baby is learning to speak, and accepts jumping into a immense community of speech, like he (she) might dive in deep water. Then, Familiarity allows colloquial talkings, which, in turn, support Familiarity (as opposed to Power or to Aesthetics or Ethics).
Last example : scrupulously complying with syntactic rules may become a problem and a full time concern, which generally comes with a taste for formal logic, order, precision and even exactness, which drives the subject to a whole range of technical or administrative functions in society.
A thought experiment, conducted with enough accuracy about the possible sources of language in our species8 can be used to understand how speaking beings necessarily fall along these lines of force, not only individually but socially. But today, it is a matter of fact that every human society includes people seeking Power (even if this is not encouraged in anti-state societies according to Pierre Clastres), some people being strongly committed with familiar activities (least marked by Societal concerns), others rather inclined to become surveyors, grammarians and regulators, and still others who are passionately and happily taking their parts in a theatre of moral positions and tastes.
This tetralogy (to be compared with tetralogues by Mary Douglas, Alain Caillé and many other cultural theorists) is -of course- just the beginning, the priming of a Plurality, as many intermediate or hybrid positions are possible. But I maintain that these are the first polarities to be considered in all major anthropology, because they constitute the very foundations of a properly irreducible pluralism in every culture, although all cultures may also been magnetized by fantasies of unity, uniqueness and wholeness.
We will go into further detail about this theoretical foundation of plurality as a founding reflexivity in the culture as such (and not as a direct extension of collective instinctual sequences between individuals), but we must now indicate its importance. It serves to demonstrate that main variances in human activity are neither entirely antagonistic nor functionally complementary. They are simply coexisting in tension, from the simplest day-to day act. They are both specific concerns and elements of the same world of mankind’s symbolic life.
For example, we may assume that most artists (and religious minds to a lesser degree) are opposing with all their strength a managerial design of life. They can even imagine collective forms of life that escape this fate (villages of artists, monasteries, etc.). Those forms, to some extent, represent a principle of autonomy which protects plurality (although they must in their turn find rules of order and modes of governance). But at the same time, these forms exist only as "counterpoints" to others, and vice versa, because they belong to the same global field of signification, enabling humans to simply focus on one aspect of its operation.
To dare a formula, let’s say that there are several intractable versions of human beings, and that in each of them. They are hidden or distorted by all forms of superficial variety, like races or types, but their fundamental nature is their unability to exist without each other.
A first problem is raised by this discovery (for such it is! 9) : how to prove the existence and strength of such an Anthropological Plurality if it is still veiled, "dispersed" or warped, as it is transformed by other phenomena of differentiation and opposition, which both history and studies on societies known as "primitive" are reflecting ?
Another problem is to understand how humanity could express this intrinsic plurality in our era of convergence. How could it switch from religious or national conversational fields which reflected plurality in some aspects, to a world conversational field, the last being the only opportunity to address current problems ?
This field does not exist today, or else, its consistency is very weak as it is precluded by legitimate collective powers grids at national, international, transnational and multinational levels. Indeed, there is still no structure that is overtly "global" or "human" or at least, if it exists, it is still concealed or virtual, and the question of multiple versions of Human beings coexisting in a global conversation remains covered with series of veils. If this option is more necessary than ever, it remains a hidden truth beyond the cult of the System, worshiped day after day by media zealots.
But if the reader does not accompany us very far in the realm of purely theoretical concerns (which we might easily understand), we would at least be able to hold his (her) attention by showing him (her) something she( he) may not have noticed, because when certain things are so obvious, we simply do not pay attention to them.
Damn! How to attract one’s attention to a too obvious Invisible? As a prompt, we shall dare using an oblique method, which consists in submitting to the reader some strange and enigmatic questions.
Here: -what if the human world had always been both a single field of confrontation, and an ongoing conversation between irreconcilable ideas, rather than a process of "progress"? And if, instead of considering successively the influence of the three religions of the Book, we wondered if they do not form, beyond time, a conversation between logical arguments?
-What if the Chinese had invented the West (and vice versa) because there is not an infinite number of possible choices for civilizing processes ?
-What if the western "cultural diversity" is hidding in its depths a very strong structure of different positions about the relationship between community and law?
-And if the nomadic conflictuality (though still hard) or animist local magics (of which we are still so afraid) were not regressive and "primitive" tendencies but logical positions in any universal cultural field, implying to maintain them vis-à-vis religious or modern positions?
These questions may seem outlandish or obscure. We will see, however, that in raising them, we change the way we perceive our human world. Grasping Plurality as a logical necessity and not as a succession of moves replacing each other, allows us to perceive a hidden link that organizes and makes viable our terrible and wonderful species, we like it or not.
To put it simply: it is quite possible that, despite the most horrendous conflicts that humanity has ever known (and is preparing again), religious, national, or civilizational differences have preserved us until now from hurling down to the funnel of the most deadly unitary exaltation, eventually fossilizing human diversity in a total and immutable order.
Despite many intricacies and meanders, the prospect of a "world-society" 10 is no longer just a distant dream or a fantasy. It comes dangerously close to us, going on in periods of progress as during crisis. Strangely enough, observers look at this massive happening as sunbathers laughing at the tsunami wave that will carry them away in a moment Most seem captivated, without any caution, by "the spread of a global culture (made) possible through cultural hybridity and the production of increasingly common referents for a global audience." 11
While a few authors sometimes admit uniformity and diversity confront themselves within the same globalization process 12, they never ask about the possibility of the cultural catastrophe that harbors the emergence of a culture without no “otherness” than those which are now submitted to it.
It becomes even more useful to learn how - not holding - but building on the now globalized surface, variations in positions and their own territories, which, quite simply, are conditions for our mental, moral and perhaps physical survival.
Our work does not draw from the conversation itself, as if it was its own finality 13. It points out a formal relationship between the present most crucial problem of mankind - the ecological, social, and economic imbalance to which we contribute by our massive commitment in a mad race to completeness - and the choice for a culture which can either aggravate the situation, or amend it.
The plan submitted to the reader is fairly simple:
Chapters 1-4 are devoted to explain how the possibility of continuing humanity (not in an increasingly "uncertain" world as anxious authorities use to say in their euphemistic language, but in the growing certainty of a coming disaster) calls for Plurality rather than for one “best solution”. This will include developing the apparently incongruous idea according to which a "constitution of humanity" would set up a world conversational field allowing some reciprocal respect among great human dimensions.
In Chapters 5 and 6 we try to build a theory of anthropological plurality, both sufficiently coherent and understandable, compared to existing principles of sovereignty in world politics, usually based on the nation-state paradigm. We'll try here to systematize links between the intrasubjective division of any speaking-being in any society, and Plurality in every community.
Chapter 7 takes a grip on the question of the anthropological source of plurality, including revisiting most famous ethnological fields in the terms of our concern.
The long chapter 8 is dedicated to the rediscovery of plurality in history until today. It is not a conventional visit, because we must determine how History "prepares", often through unconscious developments, the emergence or disclosure of "anthropological plurality”.
Chapter 9 raises the problem of translation between historical pluralities (usually set up in national, civilizational and religious fields) and a future pluralistic "program", which should take account of globality as a probably irreversible fact.
The last two chapters are devoted to the presentation of a pluralist "utopia", but by linking it with contemporary or predictable needs.
1. There are already several "treaties on plurality," including that of Christian Huygens, Plurality of worlds (1718) about stars and planets (not to be confused with : On the infinite Universe and Worlds by Giordano Bruno (1600)). A more ancient opus but on a closer subject, by Plutarch (although he was not a Pluralist in theology): Of the plurality of friends. An impressive number of books have been published on religious and cultural plurality, and I was about to discover another by Hannah Arendt, but not yet published, when I realized it was my own project, cited in an internet reference encyclopedia on the great philosopher!
2. The Modern World System, Academic Press, (Volumes I to III) 1974-1989.
3 Branchements : anthropologie de l'universalité des cultures (Connections: Anthropology of the universality of cultures), Flammarion, Paris, 2001.
4. Constantine Von Barloewen, Anthropologie de la mondialisation, (Anthropology of Globalization), Edition des Syrtes, Paris, 2003; Monique Selim, « Globalisation : consonances et dissonances anthropologiques ("Globalisation: anthropological consonances and dissonances"), Socio-Anthropologie No. 14 , 2004; Charlie Galibert, L’anthropologie à l’épreuve de la mondialisation (Anthropology to the test of globalization), L'Harmattan, Paris, 2007; Raphael Bessis (ed.), Dialogue avec Marc Augé – Autour d’une anthropologie de la mondialisation, (Dialogue with Marc Augé - Around the anthropology of globalization), L'Harmattan, Paris, 2005.
5. For example, the recurring idea of a "world state", as if globality absolutely had to borrow to old nations their type of government.
6. La condition de l’homme moderne, Chapter One: “La condition humaine”, Notes and comments from A. Kremer Marietti, Nathan, Paris, 2000.
7. The place of singularity is an important issue of the political debate, but we must then distinguish the practice of singularity, and its policy, conducted by the group of its supporters.
8. What we tried to achieve in the book L’invention du langage, (The invention of language), Anthropos, Paris, 2007. In this work, we postulate, addressing prehistorians, that we cannot think about the beginning of spoken culture without supposing a kind of fascination felt by the group around the category applicable to the collective self. Indeed, such a category is vital during wars (for ensuring alliances), and can be legitimately considered as necessarily prior to all instrumental appointments.
9. At the very least, this assertion is rarely proposed as such, whether differences appear to be contingent, or are interpreted as consequences of socio-economic situations, although several researchers have approached the "positional" side of human entities at different times and in different cultures. Michel Foucault, in particular, has come very close to plurality, but did not formally recognize it, probably because he was so much concerned with centralized and global Power. Claude Levi-Strauss has "fallen over" plurality through conversations between myths, but failed to establish it as a widespread human practice : on the contrary, he insisted much more on the organic aspect of symbolic structures. Meanwhile, Philippe Descola, who goes on the structuralist track, divides all possible conceptions of nature in four main proposals. This is certainly very close to our position, except the fact that these proposals, spread in history and through isolated cultures, never converse in one real societal dialogue. What we suggest here is, on the contrary, that all cultures are sheltering a kind of internal plurality, even if one polarity seems to be at one time in a dominant situation over the others.
10. We used this term in the title of a previous book : Société-monde : le temps des rupture, (World Society : a time of disruption), La Découverte, Paris, 2004, drawing on the sixteenth World Congress of French-speaking sociologists (June 2000) when it was used to define their main theme of work. Note here that there is a big difference between a "global society" formed by progressive links, and a " world society” which implies that society constitutes its own world, which might appear to be the case for a dangerous autism. We’ll see that if human society may continue to possess a real world that is not society itself, it must be more pluralized.
11. Jean Francois Lessart, "An emerging world society: analysis of some arrays at the base of this social change", Cahiers de recherche sociologique, No. 39, 2003, pp. 259-274
12. Daniel Mercure, Société-monde ? Les dynamiques sociales de la mondialisation, (A World Society? The social dynamics of globalization), Presses de l'Université Laval, Ste Foy, 2001.
13. This means broadening the scope of classical studies on deliberation, or on the "democratic potential" of conventions. Which id not really done yet in expert approaches. (Such as Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin, in: Fishkin, James / Laslett, Peter (eds.), Debating Deliberative Democracy, London, 2003.