Everyone senses that social cohesion, as constituted by linguistic community, cultural community, religious community, and political community, is fading away in a globalised world. It is just as evident that the many cultures coexisting in close proximity attempt to urge their members to defend their own communities against others under any circumstances, for example through tests of loyalty, or even through coercive measures. This, however, leads to a loss of freedom. The goal must therefore be to develop a new legitimization for social relations. It is no longer a common affiliation with the same culture, religion, party, ethnic group etc. that binds us together—on the contrary, it tears societies apart; perpetual, sometimes bloody cultural conflict is the consequence. To a much greater degree, facing seemingly unsolvable problems together is what forces us to forge new forms of social relations. All those involved in tackling these problems as scientists, or as representatives of NGOs and citizen action groups are setting a precedent for a global civilization that transcends its constituent cultures.
Its potential has already been proven in many sub-domains: in aviation and shipping; in the use of the Internet and other digital media; in medical technology; and even in legal and ethical regards, the principles of global civilization are in effect at least through claims to international jurisdiction and the Charter of the United Nations.
Setting Precedents for the Unprecedented
In this context, allow me to briefly make reference to two possible approaches for managing potential problems: How can the claim to freedom by artists and scientists be granted and sustained? Why write if no one reads anymore; why work if praying would suffice? One has to understand that advanced civilizations all over the world once managed very well without differentiation of artistic or scientific work from general compulsory cultural activities. It was not until the 14th century and only in the European cultural region that the attitudes, mindsets, forms of activities and legitimization strategies developed that we take for granted for artists and scientists today. Essentially, this means that artists and scientists did not recognise any other claims to authority than those of authors. The audacity of this demand was astonishing—why should anyone be able to claim authority without the backing of a people, an army, a market, a sovereign, a municipality, or a clan chief, in whose name they could stake a claim to that authority? Authority through authorship became possible as people learned to make statements so compelling by means of their formulation and presentation that those statements were accepted, even without pressure from outside or above. And so artists, scientists, and their audiences learned to engage with the "things themselves"; to justify claims to truth through criticism of the assertion of truth; or to work with hypotheses, whose inherent purpose is to be disproved. The result of this was that all of creation and science could be questioned. It was no longer the prerogative of the censor, the priest, or the master to decide what could be regarded as legitimate, but instead, the artists and scientists themselves explored the realms of art and science as autonomous disciplines outside the control of representatives of cultures and religions. Today, the resurgence of claims to authority by the cultural and religious community looms large, and with it the submission of arts and sciences to external interests, be it those of the market or politics, that make decisions regarding the funding of universities, museums, archives, or theaters. Religious fanatics are not the only ones with a fundamentalist desire for the destruction of these institutions: market strategists, investment bankers, and decision-makers for third-party funding assume an even greater role in driving us down this path.
Our second example for orientation in citizen and visitor education (1) arises from the noteworthy fact that the ready availability of knowledge and skills through media is causing one of the crucial cultural techniques, i.e. reading a text with an individual focus, including the power to concentrate and the self-empowerment for productive alone-time, to be at risk of being lost. Put in conventional terms, this may be regarded as the return of illiteracy. That almost puts us in the same situation as the scholars and artisans between the 14th and 17th centuries. The few literati banded together into societies, known as academies, to ensure that everyone would read what was written and that given this general level of knowledge for readers and writers, a fertile debate could then serve as the driver of progress. Today, progress means the ever more comprehensive actualization of historical debates in the present. The most advanced society is the one that is able to retain the greatest part of its own history and its own coming to terms with the world in museums and cultural memory. In this sense, the citizens' school is intended as a refinement of the historical model of a "fertile society": as an empathetic contractual community based on enforceable reciprocity in the relations of producers to the recipients. The concept of a discursive community may be daunting due to its overuse as a buzzword; nevertheless, it gets to the core of the matter that we are generally concerned with.
Living and surviving in the megalopolises of the globalised world invariably leads to the conclusion that we will either be drawn into the assertion of cultural identities—and with it into a state of permanent civil war—or, as civilised, transculturally oriented citizens, we will have to find a new level of commonality with those to whom we live in close proximity. That is the crucial task for the citizens' school. If the pressure for allegiance to homogeneous linguistic, religious, and ethnic cultures leads to antipathy toward declared beliefs or the foreseeable loss of freedom, then the only course of action is to use the lack of conventional commonality to forge a community. How so? We consider the lack of commitment to be a problem; therefore, everyone who feels exposed to this problem has essentially found common ground. Problems are only interesting and important if they cannot be solved easily with a few simple steps, rules, or straightforward exercises. As we all know, every attempt at solving a problem leads to new problems: that means problems are generally never solved; they are managed. Those who are psychologically fit to face these problems that are unsolvable by definition will form the new community of people.
(1) In the field of art exhibitions, it is an insoluble problem that one shows the works selected for an exhibition but has no means of showing those that were not selected. Bazon Brock resolves this paradox in his Visitor Schools by relating all the selected exhibits to those that were not selected. Brock coined the term "visitor school" in the 1960s and offered the visitor school, for example, for all 'documenta' exhibitions 4-9 in Kassel. In the Federal Republic of Germany, exhibitions, museums and festivals are supported if they fulfil an educational mission. An audience is educated in an exhibition if it can relate the exhibits shown to the exhibits not shown. The audience member is thus edified when he or she is able to comprehend the criteria of selection because he or she knows the entire stock of possible exhibits, like a curator does.