November 23, 2012

Isabelle Stengers on diplomacy


And this is something that I link to the question of diplomacy – which is about the risks of war and peace. Diplomacy means that in such and such a situation war is the normal thing to do, but that it may be possible that peace has a chance. In other words, peace is possible not probable. When you have a police operation, peace is what you enforce. Today many wars are in fact police operations, pedagogical operations. ‘They’ will learn how to behave. It is easy to put yourself in the place of people having to face a zero-death war: stop fighting or you will be crushed. No place for diplomacy here, because diplomacy presupposes a peace to be invented, not the weak part bowing down in front of the strongest part. I think of the diplomat as a figure of inventing peace as an event. And a diplomat will never say to another diplomat, of the adverse camp, ‘In your place I would do this or that’. They know they cannot share their risks because those risks are related with what the population they belong to will be able to accept, the risks this population will accept to take. If there is a practice where hope is important it is diplomacy – hope and not faith, because it is a matter of becoming able, not of ‘seeing the truth’.

An important point here that makes diplomacy possible is the difference between sense and meaning. When you have a war situation, when ‘This means war’, there cannot logically be a place for peace – it is a matter of winning or being defeated. But the diplomats are the ones who can play between meaning and sense. You try and risk keeping the sense while a small modification of meaning may produce a possible articulation in the place of the contradiction from which war did follow, logically. But the population to which the diplomat belongs must accept this modification, must accept that sense has been preserved while meanings have been modified, and this is a risk for this population. If they refuse, the diplomat has failed; she can even be called a traitor. So the risks the diplomat is able to take depends on the trust she has in the population to which she belongs. Trust is always the condition of experimentation, of taking chance. Trust must be created for things to change.

- Isabelle Stengers, from an interview in Hope: New Philosophies For Change 


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