H. C. F. Mansilla is a member of the Bolivian National Academy of Sciences and the Bolivian Academy of Language. He is also the author of the book El desencanto con el desarrollo actual: las ilusiones and las trampas de la modernización.
This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.
In Latin America, too, the complex links between the unstoppable advance of technological progress, environmental disorders and the lack of genuine ethical standards are currently being discussed. In my opinion, this is dramatically felt in the youth strata in almost all countries. The incipient disillusionment with the products of technological civilisation seems to have led —among other factors— to a revision of the prevailing intellectual fashions and, consequently, to the need to rescue the moral values of humanism. The latter are now supposed to contribute to the promotion of critical thinking with social resonance and a sense of genuine responsibility of citizens towards their respective societies and towards themselves. The revival of humanist tendencies, however weak this current may be, represents an indication that the celebrated dilution of morality is probably not the last word in our troubled age.
The world of the present, still marked by the relativism of values in the moral sphere and by the predominance of the principle of efficiency in the field of economics, scorns the ethical and aesthetic norms of past generations. What has been said so far seems to correspond to the dimension of conventional humanism, which, according to the postmodernists, would today be linked to the sphere of mere nostalgia, which is now seen as the sphere of expiration1. But it must be emphasised that nostalgia has an eminently critical function, for it is the awareness of the loss of historically acceptable qualities and reasonable but now outmoded values (e.g. trustworthiness, perseverance, autonomy of judgement, respect for plurality of opinion and appreciation of the rule of law), which have proved useful and important for a successful life2. The rejection of critical nostalgia leads to the impoverishment of individual and social existence in our century, a possibility glimpsed early on by the Frankfurt School3. The rescue of critical nostalgia is opposed, for example, to the predominant attitude today in Latin American academic and intellectual fields, where the norm is to bow to the fashion of the moment with genuine devotion. Just as fifty years ago the different variants of Marxism constituted the single creed in the social sciences, today the different schools of postmodernism, such as deconstruction, multiculturalism and axiological relativism, represent the obligatory currents of the age, which astute people do well to follow meekly. We have exchanged one dogmatism for another, no less suffocating than the former. As in former times, it would be foolish and derisory to be outside the orthodoxy of the day. The renaissance of humanism can help us to change this constellation, helping to create a critical awareness of problems.
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A conversation with Hans-Peter Schaub