The heart of Europe

The crisis has accentuated the selfishness of EU countries, triggering the abandonment of cooperative European integration. A Spanish philosopher argues that cohesion and interdependence must be regained before an irrational north-south divide tears the EU apart.

Published on 18 April 2013 at 11:14

The European Union’s actions are causing well-deserved dissatisfaction among its citizens. The union is being tagged a "European disunion", in which national leaders scramble for votes without caring about that supranational institution that once made us so proud.

We Europeans, inventors of the nation state, also devised a community of shared sovereignties and laid the groundwork for a cosmopolitan society. Economic union would reinforce political cooperation, founded on the principle of a citizens’ Europe.

However, the current crisis has shown none of these goals have been reached. Countries have conducted themselves in their own self-interest, not in the cooperative spirit essential for the union to follow the political and economic agendas that would best benefit its citizens. There is no genuine European democracy: leaders make agreements bilaterally, changing their loyalties for the sake of short-term convenience, and neglecting European aspirations.

It’s a suicide mission, not just because it goes against the grain of democracy, and not just because it is immoral to make decisions above the heads of those who suffer the consequences, but because it is as foolish as it is irrational. If we assume humanity to have benefited from the rationality advanced in Europe, we have ended up in the most puerile irrationality.

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After all, we have known for a long time that what is rational is not to seek the maximum selfish benefit and let others fall by the wayside, but to summon up sufficient intelligence to work together from a starting point of social cohesion. The old anarchists got this right: it is mutual support that benefits the species, not ruthless competition, and it is wiser to make allies than adversaries, friends than enemies.

The cooperative human

Inherent human reason is not egoistic, but cooperative. As Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has pointed out, “you will never see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.” The ability to cooperate led the human species to leave the jungle behind. Those who work shoulder-to-shoulder not only succeed in moving a log, but also create links that have their own intrinsic value and that help them work together in the future.

That seemed to lie at the heart of the project for a united Europe. It is disheartening to see how the Europe that invented democracy in classical Greece, that coined the notion of human dignity as the core of a shared life, that promoted not only scientific but above all a moral rationality, that discovered the social state and the possibility of a supranational community, has betrayed its own identity with a tenacious drive to self-destruction, without the least affection for the ideals that constitute it.

The events in Cyprus, which are clearly the results of selfish and bumbling improvisation rather than intelligent concern for the good of the population, add to a recent history of grievances among the countries of the south, in which a deep aversion northern states is brewing. This situation benefits the populisms and totalitarianisms of one or another stamp, which in a just society would have no chance of thriving.

How is it possible that the well-off find it so hard to learn that countries and people depend on each other, and that it is not true that “my win is your loss”? Just the opposite is true. If we in the south end up poorer, which is what is happening, not only we come out the losers, but those from the north end up worse off as well.

Even devils prefer rule of law

Kant, the German of Königsberg, said that even a town of devils, beings without moral sensibility, would prefer the rule of law to a state of war every man for himself. But, indeed, he added they must have sufficient intelligence. I would add they must show authentic human intelligence, as is revealed in the ultimatum game.

In this game, one player offers to share a sum of money with another player, who can accept or reject the offer. If the second player accepts, they both come out ahead. If not, neither gets anything. If it were true that human rationality attempts to maximize profit unilaterally, the second player should accept any offer that is greater than nothing, and the player making the offer should offer a share as close as possible to nothing. But those players who are offered the share tend to say no to anything less than 30 per cent of the total, because they want to avoid saying yes to any amount that would humiliate them. For that reason, the players making the offer tend to propose 40 to 50 per cent of the total in order to take away at least something. If the offer is a little short, those who demonstrate a maximising rationality when they enter a game of ultimatum adapted for them are chimpanzees, not people.

The bad thing is that, in itself, the humiliation of the worse-off is also not even intelligent. What is intelligent, in the case of Europe, is to recover one’s own identity and so create a genuine democracy, based on social cohesion and mutual assistance.

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