"It is impossible for an ETA militant to even consider that he may have taken a wrong turn"
Monday, November 6, 2006
VICENTE TORRES is a member of Mensa International (Spain), an organization dedicated to identifying and fostering human intelligence for the benefit of humanity. This allows PD to say, for the first time and without blushing, that we have had the opportunity to embark on an exploration of the human and the divine. In this interview, Torres meditates on the existence of God, discusses how human beings use intelligence selfishly because "we have yet to feel as an endangered species," delves into euthanasia and abortion, explores the pain of victims of terrorism while positing that ETA militants are incapable of feeling it, and gives us his take on the clash of East and West and on the building of Europe.
Are intelligence and culture synonyms?
Intelligence is the thirst humans have for knowledge. It is what prods us to become interested in things and to seek their understanding. Intelligence is the key that opens the door to culture.
Why is it that human beings, as the sole rational species on the planet, cannot avoid setting foot on the path of their own destruction?
We humans are the only beings capable of destroying the planet, and we have managed to live recklessly and with wild abandon because we have not yet seen ourselves as an endangered species. We are intelligent, but we have been loath to using this attribute for the common good and have instead used it selfishly. The development of the atomic bomb has already had its impact and it may very well be the reason why a Third World War has not been unleashed. But soon enough danger will be imminent and it will be then that the survival instinct of the species will come into play. Up to now we have been electing our governments capriciously and, as policymakers, we have been enormously selfish. In borderline situations, which will undoubtedly come, there will be very few people capable of delivering mankind from the bottleneck. It is quite possible that when push comes to shove there will be only one person capable of doing just that. Mankind must discover that person's identity, anoint that person, and then follow the path set forth. There is no room for mistakes, for any lapse would mean the demise of mankind.
What can you tell us about Project Great Ape, launched by the socialist party PSOE? Can we compare the great apes to ourselves?
I think that a government that enacts a law that presumably fosters sensibility, yet at the same time harshly criticizes rival parties, and is contested in similar fashion, is making a meaningless gesture. In all likelihood, Project Great Ape disrupts the natural order of things. More useful, perhaps, would be to foster human sensibility in daily life. And that can be achieved by treating everyone politely and courteously thus making everybody else behave in similar fashion. If cruelty among humans disappears slowly, it logically follows that cruelty to animals will also disappear.
Does truth or thought make us free?
It is through thought that truth is found. It is the latter that grants freedom. There is no greater freedom than being able to navigate through any of the realms of thought. An ETA militant, an etarra, has certain realms closed to him. He is incapable of conceiving the pain inflicted on his victims. He is incapable of realizing what it is that he has done. He needs to alter his memories regarding his actions. It is impossible for an etarra to even consider that he may have taken a wrong turn. He would have to make a huge effort and acknowledge his guilt in order to be able to navigate through these realms. That is, freedom means being able to think about everything— think about one's own self, about those one loves, about those one does not find charming, about God, gods, the damage one has caused, justice and injustice, etc. When one does not have to alter anything so that it won't be exceedingly painful, one is free.
Speaking of freedom, as it pertains to euthanasia or abortion, are we facing a matter of choice or of crime?
I agree with Julián Marías in that legalizing abortion is a catastrophe from a theoretical point of view. It fosters egotism and backs the strong against the weak. It is depriving a unique individual of the right to life, an individual who did not ask to be conceived and who has the right to attempt his vital adventure. As far as euthanasia is concerned, something similar takes place. The survival instinct is very important in all animal species, humans included. As such, laws should always side with life. But when we get down to pragmatics, it may be that a woman finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and might find a thousand people who would advise her against having an abortion. Yet, in case she finds it difficult or impossible to support the child she is carrying and asks for help, it is very likely that all those people who were ready to give advice disappear and she ends up alone. I believe that the best way to combat abortion is to form associations or foundations that would help mothers who want to keep their children. Euthanasia is similar. One would have to ask how many would be willing to face those who wish to die and, looking them in the eye, can blame them for their decision. Logically, those who had made an effort to make life easier for the person who wishes to die could do it, because their investment would have been in vain.
Can we be free under the premise of the existence of God?
Human beings are free by nature. They may choose not to use that freedom out of fear or cowardice, but they need to know that they can be free if they so will it. The same arguments used to disprove God's existence may be used to prove it. Thus, God, in case he exists, does not want to give us any certainty in this respect. Doubt is not a bad companion. He who doubts does not want to harm anyone just in case he may not be right. We can say that human beings are free and that God may or may not exist. In the first scenario, which is what is being asked, then his existence would necessarily need to be good for human beings. A God who hates humankind cannot be conceived. If God loves human beings and these are born free, it is evident that God desires human freedom.
Is there a chance that man can stow away his complexes and finds a way for East and West to meet?
It may be that the meeting of East and West may be difficult or even impossible. But the meeting of people who live in the East with those in the West is unavoidable. All these cultural traits that divide us need to disappear sooner or later. We ought to avoid even the tiniest kernels of hate for those different from us. What Bin Laden and those who support him, whether openly or covertly, want is for hate to grow, and it serves as a wall that divides two ways of understanding life. We must not fall in this trap nor should we stop minding our defenses.
Is the building of Europe possible without some countries having more power than others?
The building of the European Community came to be out of need and if it weren't so it would not have happened. Since it is being done out of need and not out of conviction, all member countries want to get the biggest piece of the pie with all the means at their disposal. If it were to have happened out of conviction, then it would all have been more fair and rational from the start. But it is likely that justice will eventually take hold. Some day being German, Romanian, or Italian won't matter one bit.
What benefits to society are offered by associations such as ISPE?
Just like medical associations, for example, serve the purpose of fostering the exchange of knowledge and expertise among physicians, and that the associations of Egyptologists, to give another example, serve similar purposes, and that in the end all of it results in a benefit to society, associations of intelligent individuals allow for people with similar interests and even similar problems to meet, and, in so doing, stimulate their abilities. It is society, on the other hand, that sets the guidelines that enable diverse human groups to form associations, and it does so because, big or small, there is always some benefit. In the case of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry, perhaps it could offer more direct benefits if society, or some part of it, would try to make good use of it.