Wednesday 1 September 2004

Conflict, Tolerance and Hospitality (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 2 Autumn  2004


By Marko Zlomislic

Philosophy is traditionally defined as the love of wisdom yet its history is full of conflict without resolution. Indeed, the history of philosophy can be read as a series of conflicts without any final resolution. Heraclitus showed the conflict at the heart of existence when he argued that War is the father of all. The mythologists would give their model and this would conflict with the pre-Socratic model who in turn conflicted with each other. By wanting to know the truth about the becoming of all things the pre-Socratics conflicted with the mythologists. Each of the pre-Socratics conflicted with each other over the arche or source and telos or end.

Socrates found his conflict with the Sophists and the State. Aristotle conflicted with Plato while the Renaissance conflicted with the various streams of Medieval thought. Rationalism conflicted with Empiricism and Kant with his transcendental idealism thought that he had achieved a resolution until Hegel showed this his philosophy was the only solution.

Reacting to Hegel, Marx and Kierkegaard each gave their answers. This pattern can be seen in our religious traditions which records the conflicts between the peoples of the Book. Traditionally the methods available for conflict resolution can be divided into those based on power and those based on dialogue.

The power or authoritative method of resolution reveals how the stronger side promotes its interests by the use of force. Within this model, using force would be the only method of resolving conflict. Our human history is full of examples of this type of conflict resolution. The next model resolves conflict based on a decision made by an authority. Here a third party makes a decision based on their judgment of the situation. In this model no consideration is given to the interests of the parties involved in the conflict. The model of arbitrage again involves a third party who hears both conflicting sides and finds a solution based on legislation. The next court model uses the law as a basis for its decision, which the conflicting parties are forced to accept and respect. The power or authoritative method of conflict resolution is based on force; both as the force of arms and the force of law. As such this model is not concerned with justice.

The first point is that the authoritative model of conflict resolution is lacking because it is not based on justice and as such, only engenders further conflict. The dialogue or non-authoritative model of conflict resolution includes the methods of facilitation, mediation, conciliation and negotiation. Facilitation from the Latin facilitare means to ease. The facilitator is seen as someone who will ease the communication between the conflicting parties until an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides is reached. Mediation from the Latin mediare means to divide in half. Mediation focuses on achieving an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides.

Conciliation, from the Latin conciliare, means to give, to call together or to overcome something together. A conciliator helps the conflicting parties find a mutual understanding that creates a harmonious psychological connection between them. 

Negotiation, from the Latin negotiare, means to carry on business or to continue transacting business. Negotiation resolves conflict by way of communication but is restrictive in nature insofar as it remains tied with economics. From the postmodern perspective, these models of conflict resolution lack the ethical resolution needed to navigate conflict. The question of how to resolve conflict rests precisely on the notion of resolve. 

Resolve means to unloose, to dissolve, to loosen, to perform the operation required, to become fluid. These definitions of resolve point us to Derrida's notion of dissemination and the resolute or faithful decisions that can be brought forth. Rather than relying on oversimplified models whose ethics have not lessened violence or whose calculations have led to unspeakable crimes against both the human and the animal Derrida brings us back to the complexity of our situation in the name of a radical responsibility. The responsibility and individuality proposed by the ancients and the moderns can no longer predominate. This is the first effect of dissemination. Responsibility and individuality are more complex than the tradition concedes.

The procedures of the ancients and moderns operated according to a certain protocol. From Plato to Kant, the forms or categories functioned according to the notion of capital or the head. With Plato, to make head-way that is to move from the conflict of the Cave towards the resolution of the Sun required a certain, oppositional and hierarchical protocol that was already fixed in advance. 

With Kant the categories of the mind provided another protocol as to how one should function in order to gain understanding. The starry skies above and the moral law within provided the convention. All protocols, conventions, formalities, standards, treaties, must give way under the effect of dissemination because of their rigid and corpse like nature. Dissemination reveals the excess that cannot be contained by oppositional or dialectical models of conflict resolution. Here no form, formalism, category or structure can help us to find a path through our difficulties. 

The modern notion of standard requires responsibility and hospitality to a set of rules that must be obeyed so that the resolution will already have been established. The standard or standardised doses of the ancients and modern pharmacies with their hemlock, prozac or the healing word of God were ways of soothing and smoothing out conflict. The well kept pharmacy follows the logic of the if/then which already determines the outcome of any event. Dissemination, on the other hand, brings us back to the complexity of the decision. The ancient and modern notions of conflict resolution have attempted to pin down the person. 

Dissemination produces a snag in that project. There is no such thing as a final analysis that can bring the result of relief. The notion of conflict resolution that has been practised thus far implies that we can have a clear and distinct picture of all the drives and desires within us and that these conflicting drives and desires can be mended through therapy, an exchange of bombs (bellum punitivum) or any form of covert activity (uti exploratoribus) practised in the name of 'doing the good for the God who is on our side'; suppressed through the use of pharmaceuticals and psychiatric advice; contained through the prison system or eliminated through capital punishment and wars of extermination (bellum internecinum). 

Here one needs to think of the tyranny at the heart of all religions who see God merely as a rewarder/punisher. What kind of decision, responsibility and hospitality can there be when knowledge can no longer be trusted? Even though we do have knowledge it will never be enough knowledge. Though we don't know how to proceed we must not succumb to improvisation which in a certain way feigns knowledge or gives the appearance of having knowledge when there is none to be found. Every event that requires a genuine decision will both rigorous and necessary. The rigor and necessity of the situation requiring a decision cannot adopt an 'anything goes' attitude. It requires both chance and rule; chance insofar as we don't know all there is to know and rule insofar as something must be done immediately. The decision demands immediate action within the difficulty that we find ourselves in. 

The ancient and modern positions fail to see how undecidability can allow there to be a more credible responsibility. In Perpetual Peace: A Philosophic Sketch, Immanuel Kant gives a number of articles for resolving conflict. His third article states, 'the law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions a universal hospitality'. Kant recognises that hospitality is something grave, that it to say urgent and not just an inscription on the innkeepers door upon which a burial ground was painted. Hospitality for Kant means,
... the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility.
Kant goes on to write that hospitality is:
... not the right to be a permanent visitor... a special beneficent agreement would be needed in order to give an outsider a right to become a fellow inhabitant for a certain length of time. It is only a right of temporary sojourn, a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must tolerate the presence of each other.
While Kant's rich analysis of hospitality requires a separate treatment a number of points can be made here. First his notion that the human race can gradually be brought closer to a constitution establishing world citizenship is admirable, yet Kant ends his essay with the words, 'one cannot flatter oneself into believing one can approach this peace except under the conditions outlined here'. 

Arguably this statement is a call to further conflict because it does not treat hospitality in a radical manner.  Even if Kant is critical of those powers who 'make a great show of their piety... while they drink injustice like water', and 'regard themselves as the elect in point of orthodoxy', his notion of hospitality is limited because it is based on the modern virtue of toleration. Kant remains an enlightenment humanist and is hesitant to adopt the postmodern value of dispersion as dissemination even though he recognises it but immediately reduces its effects through the phrase, 'they cannot infinitely disperse'. 

In the Judeao-Christian tradition there is a commandment to be hospitable to strangers since one has been a stranger before. Deuteronomy5 tells the Israelites to remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt and therefore should accept those that come to them as guests in an unconditional way. 

The second notion of hospitality comes from the prophets who urged a general openness to be shown to widow, orphan and alien. In Jewish families a place is kept free for Elijah who may or may not come. Hospitality keeps an empty space, an openness is open to the radically Other. In the New Testament letter to the Hebrews 13:2, there is a commandment on hospitality. 'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it'. 

While these notions of hospitality are admirable and are admired by Derrida they still do not go far enough in the direction of the aporia. For Derrida hospitality has to do with responsibility towards the Other in their individuality and singularity. Derrida argues that we have to reconcile the demand for equality with the demand for singularity. This is an aporia. The question is how can we at the same time, take into account the equality of everyone and respect the heterogeneous singularity of everyone? 

This is the main question of conflict resolution. We cannot content ourselves with applying existing norms or rules but must make an absolute risk in every singular instant as if it were being made for the first time. These aporias or paradoxes are difficult to integrate into practice but responsibility, decision and hospitality cannot exist without them. The ancient and modern traditions have proceeded from the position of assured knowledge that has often been euphoric, free of contradiction and without aporia. Such assured knowledge is calculated and calculating. It is like a machine without responsibility and without ethics. For Derrida there is no decision, no responsibility and no hospitality without the test of the aporia or undecidability. 

This 'impossible' of which Derrida speaks is inseparable from the thinking of justice and from the unconditional hospitality that is required of us. Hospitality focuses on what is most urgent today and the most proper for the articulation of a political ethics of conflict resolution. The unconditional injunction for conflict resolution is: 'I have to welcome the Other' - whoever 'the Other' is, and unconditionally. For Derrida this means, without asking for a document, a name, a context or a passport. I have to open myself to the Other. I have to open my doors, my house, my home, my language, my culture, my nation, my state and myself. 

This unconditional hospitality is frightening and transgressive, but it takes us beyond the Judeao-Christian understanding of hospitality where we are hospitable because we may be entertaining Elijah or Angels or serving Jesus or dogmatically serving our parishioners. It takes us beyond Kant with his notion of restricted hospitality that says we should welcome the stranger or the foreigner to the extent that they are citizens of another country. 

Kant's concept of hospitality remains merely political in its reference to the state, the authority of the state, to citizenship and to the control of residency. If we decide that everyone will be able to enter my space, my home, my city, my country, my language then there is a chance that the worst may happen. Yes. But we must be open to the best and to the worst in other words to the human animal, or our hospitality will no longer be an unconditional injunction based on justice but a legal formulation. The aporia of hospitality says that we have to welcome the Other, the orphan, the widow, the alien. Without this there would be no hospitality. We must welcome without assimilation. To offer hospitality is to be aware that the other may ruin my space. Hospitality is therefore a risk which has to be negotiated at every instant. 

The decisions for hospitality or the best rules to follow have to be invented at every second with all the risks that this involves. Hospitality is the name for our relation to the Other. It is the very principle of ethics. It is and always has been grave and urgent. Seen in this manner conflict can be resolved if the Other is in his own home in the home of the Other (chez lui chez l'autre). 

Hospitality goes beyond invitation. With invitation we expect a guest to arrive without surprise. Hospitality requires absolute surprise. We are unprepared or prepared to be unprepared, for the unexpected arrival of any Other. Hospitality is the receiving or welcoming which has no power, protocol or law. It is an opening without the horizon of expectation where peace can be found beyond the confines of conflict. 

Address for correspondence: 

Dr. Mark Zlomislic
School of Liberal and Media Studies
Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
299 Doon Valley Drive
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4M4

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