Yehudi Menuhin’s alarm call – Our civilization is heading towards collective suicide
Interview by François Delétraz in Le Figaro Magazine – Staurday, November 14, 1998
This weekend, the famous violinist is conducting a concert at the Cirque de Bruxelles. Interview with a wise man who saw the century pass.
Le Figaro Magazine – You are very critical of the modern world
Yehudi Menuhin – Our civilization suffers from a lack of vision and disaster anticipation. Everyone tries to enjoy the moment. Without hindsight, without objectivity. Everywhere there is a lack of mediation and creativity. Especially in schools. The arts are absent from our lives. And we surrender to violence.
Is it the product of capitalism?
Not only that. In the Soviet Union, it was a state capitalism. When Moses had already come down from the mountain, he had found his people worshipping the golden calf. Perhaps it is the need to survive that pushes us to be only in the moment. However, the human animal has another dimension. He is aware that he is conscious, he asks himself questions that he cannot answer. It is to this dimension that religions and philosophies are attached. It is this questioning that creates unity and belonging to the universe. But we are so concerned today about events in constant turmoil, about this radical change that I have seen accelerate in my life, that we are no longer worthy of our knowledge, of our duty to respect life… These problems are much more crucial today than ever before. We must integrate them into our thoughts and attitudes if we are to escape a kind of collective suicide. Before, nature was more powerful than man. Even though we were engaged in wars and destruction, the forests came back, we could swim in the sea, the whales survived. But the means of pollution and destruction have become so enormous that even nature is now our enemy.
Why are we moving so quickly towards this collective suicide?
We are all united. The fate of all humanity depends neither on Jesus nor on the Buddha nor on Moses. And if we do not correct these Pavlovian reflexes, we will be powerless to face this time when humanity is still struggling to exploit, to defeat, to exercise tyranny. To collect as much as possible, without worrying about what will follow. And to live at the expense of those who have no recourse or resources. Our teaching in this regard is also not up to the task.
Why is technology becoming increasingly important?
Because it allows us to flourish, to relieve ourselves, to be inspired, to have fun.
And to restrain us?
Yes, good technology, for example, is a technology that makes it possible to travel better without polluting. But the will to improve is insufficient, because there are always people who want to keep what they have. To think that the United States is opposed to some decisions against pollution! That they hesitated to sign this agreement on the resources of the sea! We pretend that not everyone has moved in ten thousand years. The desire for conquest is unchanged: Russia against Chechnya, Israel against the Palestinians, or the cursed Milosevic against other cultures. Instead of letting live, of respecting. We must share with those who do not resemble us, because their differences enrich us. You have to respect what is unique in others.
Are you against nationalism?
Absolutely. Nationalism has been a useful step in development. But there is no longer a truly sovereign nation. Fortunately, there have been great men in Europe, French, Germans, Belgians, Luxembourgers, who have laid the foundations for a union designed to reduce the independence and sovereignty of States. At the same time, this unity is too great to create a united fervour. Like the fervor of tribes defending themselves against other tribes. The State has never been the protector and guardian of minorities. He has always sought to impose unity, to have a population that defends him. Everyone had to show the same reference to the state and its flag. This happened a century ago in Italy and Germany, during the unification, and it is older in France. The State is the result of technological progress. Railroad, steel, cannons. Since today’s world is on a different scale, we need an association of populations and talents to satisfy the requirements of our knowledge, our research and our thinking. To overcome the limited means of our tribe, our city, our state.
Are you European?
Yes, excessive nationalism – just as there is fundamentalism in religion, there is excessive nationalism – hides behind false certainties. This allows the mind and intelligence to be relieved, while it is necessary to develop intellectual structures to find balances between opposites. Fundamentalism excludes opposites. We believe that a fragment of truth is the whole truth. But the opposition is wonderful if you reap the benefits. What would we do if all worlds were the same?
Aren’t you afraid to take a stand against extremism in a country that is dear to you, Israel?
It’s like religion, there are subjects we avoid. Religion is a wonderful thing, if you are a believer. It helps to accept fate. But religions are like men. And some religions have not behaved any better than men. I can’t believe in a priest who blesses a cannon that will kill innocent people.
It’s human nature to want power?
Yes, but we don’t have enough knowledge to change that. We have made enormous progress in social understanding, in the child’s understanding. For example, what I am doing with the Muse project… When singing and dancing coupled with a Marian art are brought to schools where violence exists, this violence stops.
Let us be utopian: what would it take to make the will to power less strong?
Education first. Teach, share knowledge. Teach the nuances of human relationships, do not forget creativity, the arts of the five senses. We were born with these senses. Hearing in particular, which is the first. It is hearing that allows us to orient ourselves, to listen to others, to produce sounds that are pleasant to others. To recognize the danger. We would not have a memory without hearing. Linking emotion and thought in children is essential. Otherwise, we focus on theories that have no value. The baby’s hearing combines thought and emotion because it is memory, not thought. The memory allows comparison.
Does technology bring together emotion and thought?
You should be able to create through inspiration, but computers have a huge vocabulary, they have incredible sounds that we don’t know. On the other hand, they do not have any grammar. Maybe it will come. It is a whole continent still unexplored. They have acquired knowledge, but no innate skills. There are too many possibilities today, we must return to values that bring together differences. We have specialists in each field, and almost one language per field. There is not enough thought to connect the scattered elements and contrasts. Everything is independent. Look at the States: the Ministry of Education has nothing to do with the Ministry of Health or Culture. Yet, as in the family, as in the community, we cannot live without contacts. But our intellectual world is made up of categories, it is bordered by arbitrary and artificial borders. Bridges must be built, but this requires knowledge, a greater vision of man and his destiny.
Do you feel like a wise man?
The music gave me some perspective. I have lived deeply this century, I have a kind of experience. I know people of all colours, races and religions. At the same time, I have never become a slave to any race or religion. This allows me to compare and approach the human. I imagine a kind of contemporary religion that would be in harmony with knowledge. It is a heresy to say: God is in me. God is a father, a kind of tyrant. We cannot imagine a religion that would not derive from experience. For some tribes, it was the volcano, because it was powerful and dangerous. All gods are powerful. They are built in the image of men, not the other way around. Yet it is the same energy that has formed us. And which allows us, century after century, to get closer to this primary intelligence. We are possessed by this eternity. We exist on several levels: the moment, the years, the generations. But there is a much larger dimension than that. We are in a state of creativity, of constant adaptation. Our destiny is to learn and approach this intelligence that we will never touch.
Why have you so often been attached to lost causes?
I wouldn’t say lost.
Like the Dalai Lama against the Chinese?
His cause is greater than that. Faced with the Chinese, there will always be this human conception. I hope that each culture will one day accept the other. And that no power will ever seek to impose itself again. Even in Europe, we must protect ourselves from the European Union, where some would like to see the full integration of States, but also of culture. Perhaps tomorrow there will be no more poets, since everyone will speak in an understanding way through computers. To fill the gaps created by globalization and globalization, every child must learn to work with his or her hands, to work the land without a machine, to grow herbs and flowers, to paint, to dance, to make shoes. It is important to maintain this balance that tends towards the abstract and towards the part of ourselves that allows us to live, to have joy, to share these joys and to find security in an atmosphere that is unique to us. We call ourselves German, Catholic, vegetarian. We must belong to the same tribe that nowadays goes beyond borders. Like when I find myself with my African colleagues.
Why do we hear so much music that has no soul?
I would not say that, but it is true that things are done for the masses and that majorities can make mistakes. So do minorities, for that matter. The other great danger is that we want to satisfy everyone. We are therefore not taking a position. As with Kosovo, where Europe is inert. If’justice is not done to these poor Muslims, there will be a reaction, and France’s five million Muslims will react. We are the ones who are pushing them to become fundamentalists. Look at the camps in the Middle East. We take everything away from them and tell them: Live! They find substitute to survive, and since they have nothing of their own they have to take it from others. If we do not do something to show that all people have the right to live, that these people of Kosovo have the right to be protected, we will reap the seed we have sown. Politicians don’t want to risk anything, especially not losing votes. Faced with this inertia, something will move, and I would prefer that we do not wait for a disaster to happen before it moves. We are at the mercy of an impending disaster. Humanity is showing frightening violence.