Silo – a literary work and a universal thought to be known and recognised

On 23 May 1991, on the occasion of the launch of a collection of his work by Editorial Planeta, Silo gave a conference at the Teatro Gran Palace in Santiago de Chile, explaining some of the features of his literary work and his thought.

A little more than three decades after that event, his thought, which inspired the action of millions of humanist activists all over the world, is still insufficiently studied and disseminated in the public ambit.

For this reason, given the profundity of this work and the importance that its conception could have in the present day, we recall some of the passages from that exhibition.

In relation to the characteristics of the first volume of the collection, Silo pointed out:

“Humanise the Earth” is a work of thought, treated in poetic prose style, which deals with human life in its most general aspects. It uses the sliding point of view from the personal interior to the interpersonal and social, exhorting us to overcome the meaninglessness of life; it will be active and militant in favour of the humanisation of the world.

As for the second book, entitled Guided Experiences, written in 1980, he said: “It is a collection of short stories written in the first person, but we must clarify that this ‘first person’ is not that of the author, as is almost always the case, but that of the reader. This is achieved by making the setting in each story serve as a frame for the reader to fill the scene with himself and his own contents. Collaborating with the text, asterisks appear to mark pauses and help to introduce, mentally, the images that turn a passive observer into an actor and co-author of each description. ”

In relation to the third work, Universal Roots Myths, written in 1990, Silo pointed out that “individual images are no longer touched upon as they are in the Guided Experiences, but the oldest collective images that different cultures have shaped as myths are collated and commented upon.”

And I later commented, “Thus, Universal Roots Myths brings us closer to understanding the factors of cohesion and orientation of human groups beyond whether the myths in question possess a religious dimension or simply act as strong, desacralised social beliefs.”

Finally, the essays “Psychology of the Image, written in 1988 and Historiological Discussions, produced in 1989, form a fourth volume entitled Contributions to Thought. It succinctly sets out the theoretical issues, for us the most important, about the structure of human life and the historicity in which this structure develops,” the author added.

Silo went on to present his thought by saying:

“Our conception does not begin by admitting generalities, but by studying the peculiarities of human life; the peculiarities of existence; the peculiarities of the personal register of thinking, feeling and acting. This initial position makes it incompatible with any system that starts from ideas, from matter, from the unconscious, from the will, and so on. Because any truth that is intended to be enunciated about the human being, about society, about history, must start from questions about the subject that makes them; otherwise, by talking about man, we forget about her/him and replace or postpone him/her as if we wanted to leave them aside because their profundities disturb us, because their daily weakness and their death throw us into the arms of the absurd. In this sense, perhaps the different theories about the human being have fulfilled the function of numbing, of turning away from the look of the concrete human beings who suffers, enjoy, create and fail. That being who surrounds us and who is ourselves, that child who from birth will tend to be objectified, that old person whose youthful hopes have already been shattered. They say nothing about any ideology that presents itself as reality itself, or that pretends not to be ideology, displacing the truth that denounces it as just another human construction. The fact that human beings may or may not find God, may or may not advance in the knowledge and mastery of nature, may or may not achieve a social organisation in accordance with their dignity, always puts a term of the equation in its own register. And if they admit or reject any conception, however logical or extravagant it may be, she/he will always be at stake, precisely, admitting or rejecting.”

Somewhat later, he would point out:

“The world presents itself to me, not only as a conglomerate of natural objects, but as an articulation of other human beings and of objects and signs produced or modified by them. The intention I perceive in myself appears as a fundamental interpretative element of the behaviour of others, and just as I constitute the social world by understanding intentions, I am constituted by it”.

And also: “In this way, I am not closed to the world of the natural and of other human beings but, precisely, my characteristic is “openness”. My consciousness has been configured intersubjectively: it uses codes of reasoning, emotional models, schemes of action which I register as “mine” but which I also recognise in others. And, of course, my body is open to the world insofar as I perceive it and act upon it. The natural world, unlike the human world, appears to me unintentionally. Of course, I can imagine that stones, plants and stars have intention, but I don’t see how I can enter into an effective dialogue with them. Even the animals in which I sometimes catch the spark of intelligence, appear to me impenetrable and in slow modification from within their nature. “=

Arriving after a few minutes of exposition at the following dynamic definition of the human:

“It is insufficient for me to define humans by their sociability since this does not make a distinction with numerous species; nor is their force of work characteristic, compared with that of more powerful animals; not even language defines the human in its essence, because we know of codes and forms of communication between diverse animals. On the other hand, as each new human being encounters a world modified by others and is constituted by this intentional world, I discover the capacity for accumulation and incorporation into the temporal; I discover their social-historical dimension, not simply the social dimension. Seen in this light, I can attempt a definition by saying: The human being is the historical being whose mode of social action transforms his/her own nature. If I admit the above, I will have to accept that this being can intentionally transform his physical constitution. And this is what is happening.

He then goes on to demolish the condemnatory immobility inherent in the concept of “human nature”:

“If by the idea of “nature” one wanted to point to the permanent, such an idea is inadequate today even if one wants to apply it to the most objectified part of the human being, that is to say, to her/his body. And as far as “natural morality”, “natural law” or natural institutions are concerned, we find, on the contrary, that in this field everything is social-historical and nothing exists by nature.

“Contiguous to the conception of human nature, another has been operating which spoke to us of the passivity of consciousness,” Silo remarked, after which he affirmed:

“In the opposite sense, we uphold the need to start from human particularity; we uphold the historical-social and non-natural phenomenon of the human being and we also affirm the activity of his/her consciousness transforming the world, according to their intention.”

Then, after detailing precisely how the images that end up configuring a look and a landscape, in a structural framework of temporality that is proper to it, act in its interior of consciousness, Silo would culminate that memorable evening, basing the human tendency to change from the need to overcome physical pain and mental suffering:

“Why would human beings need to transform the world and transform themselves? Because of the situation of finitude and temporo-spatial lack in which they find themselves and which registers as physical pain and mental suffering. Thus, overcoming pain is not simply an animal response, but a temporal configuration in which the future takes precedence and which becomes the fundamental impulse of life, even if it is not urgent at a given moment. Therefore, apart from the immediate, reflexive and natural response, the delayed pain-avoidance response is driven by psychological suffering in the face of danger and is re-presented as a future possibility or current event in which pain is present in other human beings. Overcoming pain thus appears as a basic project that guides action. It is this that has made communication between diverse bodies and intentions possible, in what we call the “social constitution”. The social constitution is as historical as human life, it is configuring human life. Its transformation is continuous but in a different way from that of nature because in nature changes do not occur through intentions”.

To which he will add:

“Socially constituted in a historical world in which I am shaping my landscape, I interpret what I direct my look at. There is my personal landscape, but also a collective landscape that responds at that moment to large ensembles. As we said before, different generations coexist in the same present time. At one moment, to exemplify, there are those who were born before the transistor and those who were born amidst computers. Numerous configurations differ in both experiences, not only in the way of acting, but also in the way of thinking and feeling… and that which in the social relationship and in the mode of production functioned at one time, slowly or sometimes abruptly ceases to do so. A future result was expected and that future has arrived, but things did not turn out the way they were projected. Neither that action, nor that sensibility, nor that ideology coincide with the new landscape that is being imposed socially”.

“To conclude this outline around the ideas expressed through the volumes published today, I will say that human beings, because of their openness and freedom to choose between situations, defer responses and imagine their future, can also deny themselves, deny aspects of the body, deny it completely as in suicide, or deny others. This freedom has allowed some to illegitimately appropriate the social whole. That is, they deny the freedom and intentionality of others by reducing them to prostheses, to instruments of their own intentions. This is the essence of discrimination, its methodology being physical, economic, racial and religious violence. Violence can be established and perpetuated through the management of the apparatus of social regulation and control, i.e., the state. Consequently, social organisation requires an advanced type of coordination that is safe from any concentration of power, be it private or state. But since the state apparatus is usually confused with social reality, we must clarify that since society, not the state, is the producer of goods, the ownership of the means of production must, coherently, be social.

Those who have reduced the humanity of others have necessarily brought about new pain and suffering, thus restarting the old struggle against natural adversity within society, but now between those who want to “naturalise” others, society and history and, on the other hand, the oppressed who need to humanise themselves by humanising the world. For this reason, to humanise is to move beyond objectification to affirm the intentionality of every human being and the primacy of the future over the present situation. It is the representation of a possible and better future, which allows the modification of the present and which makes every revolution and every change possible. Therefore, the pressure of oppressive conditions is not enough to set change in motion, but it is necessary to realise that such change is possible and depends on human action. This struggle is not between mechanical forces, it is not a natural reflex; it is a struggle between human intentions. And this is precisely what allows us to speak of oppressors and oppressed, of the just and the unjust, of heroes and cowards. It is the only thing that allows us to practise meaningful social solidarity and commitment to the liberation of those who are discriminated against, be they majorities or minorities.x

Finally, as for the meaning of human acts, we do not believe that they are a meaningless convulsion, a “useless passion”, an attempt that will end in the dissolution of the absurd. We believe that valid action is that which ends in others and in the direction of their freedom. Nor do we believe that the destiny of humanity is fixed by previous causes which would invalidate all possible effort, but by the intention which, becoming more and more conscious in the peoples, makes its way in the direction of a universal human nation.”

Javier Tolcachier