viernes, 28 de agosto de 2015


The discovery of people controlling a resource that we value more than they do has led, only too often, to their murder or enslavement. Even in the absence of slavery or genocide, what Adam Smith famously described as the human propensity to “truck, barter and exchange” has always coexisted uneasily with a rival temptation to take, bully and extort. Smith was an extraordinarily wise and decent man who nevertheless shocked many of his contemporaries by what they saw as his cynical praise for the virtues of solid economic self-interest. In one respect, though, Smith was far from cynical enough, for he drew too little attention to the fragility of the commercial motive in the face of more brutal temptations… manlier virtues have been yoked countless times to the service of murder and extortion, while exchange with someone who is different from us, though it may lack panache, is, in the end, the only civilized thing to do. We can exchange poetry and works of art if we wish (and if they don’t prefer Coca-Cola), but exchange we must. The problem of civilized society, though, is how to turn the propensity to truck, barter and exchange into something stronger than a propensity – into a habit, into second nature. Second nature is the best we can hope for since, as modern evolutionary biology has now shown us (and as Adam Smith was never in a position to know), it is a long way from being our first…

Human beings ten thousand years ago had inherited a psychology that made them intensely suspicious of strangers, and capable of savage violence towards them under some circumstances, but able to benefit spectacularly from institutional arrangements that made it reasonable to treat strangers as honorary friends. The ability to abstract, therefore, from purely tribal loyalties and grant strangers the same freedoms as were granted to friends, the capacity to be open to new opportunities and choose freely among them, the willingness to communicate with those who do not share our ways of dressing, eating and living, and to share a space with those who do not worship our gods - none of these constitute a purely Western capitalist mindset, even if historically it has been Western capitalism that has wrung the most economic mileage out of them. Indeed, these ideas are not sufficient in themselves to constitute a whole mental outlook of any kind, but without them none of the major historical civilizations could have developed…. Reason is not in tension with pluralism, because what is needed to trust strangers is much less than what is needed to enter fully into their cultural outlook… it simply means refusing to allow differences over ideas to prevent us from dealing with others in a civilized way

Del libro, The Company of Strangers

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