Jozef Imrich, name worthy of Kafka, has his finger on the pulse of any irony of interest and shares his findings to keep you in-the-know with the savviest trend setters and infomaniacs.
''I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.''
In his clever 1958 allegory I, Pencil, the libertarian writer Leonard Read used the complex chain of resources and competences involved in the production of a single pencil to illustrate the vital web of interdependencies — economic as well as ethical — undergirding humanity’s needs and knowledge. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” Dr. King wrote from Birmingham City Jailfive years later, as the material aspects of our interconnectedness became painfully inseparable from the moral. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
How to inhabit our individual role in that mutuality with responsible integrity is what the great Czech dissident Václav Havel (October 5, 1936–December 18, 2011) addressed in his 1995 Harvard commencement address, later published under the title “Radical Renewal of Human Responsibility” in his collected speeches and writings, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice(public library).
Havel — a man of immense erudition and literary genius, who embodied Walt Whitman’s insistence that literature is essential for democracy, who went from playwright to president, who endured multiple imprisonments to uphold his ideals of justice, humanism, anti-consumerism, and environmental responsibility — begins by recounting an incident that sobered him to the irreversible forces of globalization: Sitting at a waterfront restaurant one evening, watching young people drink the same drinks as those served in his homeland to the sound of the same music that fills Prague’s cafés, surrounded by the same advertisements, he is reminded of the fact that he is in Singapore only by the different facial features of his fellow diners.
A decade before the social web subverted geography to common interests, values, and sensibilities as the centripetal force of community formation, Havel writes:
The world is now enmeshed in webs of telecommunication networks consisting of millions of tiny threads, or capillaries, that not only transmit information of all kinds at lightning speed, but also convey integrated models of social, political and economic behavior. They are conduits for legal norms, as well as for billions and billions of dollars crisscrossing the world while remaining invisible even to those who deal directly with them…. The capillaries that have so radically integrated this civilization also convey information about certain modes of human co-existence that have proven their worth, like democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law, the laws of the marketplace. Such information flows around the world and, in varying degrees, takes root in different places.
And yet, with prescience painfully evident two decades later, Havel cautions that there is a dark side to this undamming of information and ideas:
Many of the great problems we face today, as far as I understand them, have their origin in the fact that this global civilization, though in evidence everywhere, is no more than a thin veneer over the sum total of human awareness… This civilization is immensely fresh, young, new, and fragile, and the human spirit has accepted it with dizzying alacrity, without itself changing in any essential way. Humanity has gradually, and in very diverse ways, shaped our habits of mind, our relationship to the world, our models of behavior and the values we accept and recognize. In essence, this new, single epidermis of world civilization merely covers or conceals the immense variety of cultures, of peoples, of religious worlds, of historical traditions and historically formed attitudes, all of which in a sense lie “beneath” it. At the same time, even as the veneer of world civilization expands, this “underside” of humanity, this hidden dimension of it, demands more and more clearly to be heard and to be granted a right to life.
And thus, while the world as a whole increasingly accepts the new habits of global civilization, another contradictory process is taking place: ancient traditions are reviving, different religions and cultures are awakening to new ways of being, seeking new room to exist, and struggling with growing fervor to realize what is unique to them and what makes them different from others. Ultimately they seek to give their individuality a political expression.
With an eye to the dangerously disproportionate dominance of Euro-American values in this global marketplace of values and ideas, Havel writes:
It is a challenge to this civilization to start understanding itself as a multicultural and a multipolar civilization, whose meaning lies not in undermining the individuality of different spheres of culture and civilization but in allowing them to be more completely themselves. This will only be possible, even conceivable, if we all accept a basic code of mutual coexistence, a kind of common minimum we can all share, one that will enable us to go on living side by side. Yet such a code won’t stand a chance if it is merely the product of a few who then proceed to force it on the rest. It must be an expression of the authentic will of everyone, growing out of the genuine spiritual roots hidden beneath the skin of our common, global civilization. If it is merely disseminated through the capillaries of the skin, the way Coca-Cola ads are – as a commodity offered by some to others – such a code can hardly be expected to take hold in any profound or universal way.