Philosophy and Roma

Philosophy and Roma? Roma and philosophy? Romani philosophy? In the following lines I will, instead of trying to answer these questions, attempt to clarify them – not in order to arrive at definitive conclusions but to generate new questions. The ideas expressed here are provisional and incomplete. They endeavour not so much to point out milestones as to mark a path. I will not look for answers to every question raised because I do not purport to be right or to be in possession of any truths. What I am offering is rather an invitation to reflection, and like any invitation it cannot be forced. Now, following these preliminary remarks, I will proceed with the first question.

Philosophy and Roma?

Has the multifaceted nature of Roma been considered from a philosophical perspective? The answer is no. Reflections on the multifaceted nature of Roma have been made from a medical perspective. From a descriptive-diagnostic standpoint. They seek the right diagnosis on the assumption that there is something dysfunctional about Romani society. I understand this type of reflection to be that which tries to be objective and scientific. Its descriptions attempt to render a diagnosis for the situation of Roma. Romani society is observed in order to arrive at the correct diagnosis. This type of reflection describes “reality as it is” or “tells what is seen” so that explanations can be found. It is supposed that this kind of investigative thinking involves positioning oneself in front of the object of study in an attempt to describe facts as they exist. It is this type of thinking that is found in the vast majority of bibliographical materials covering the multifaceted nature of Roma. They seek to understand what they see or what has occurred, and from these descriptions explain reality. There is supposedly no intention of “saving” or “condemning” the multifaceted nature of Roma but rather of generating an accurate description of its present state or a narrative of its historical development that can stand as a primary explanation for its current situation. For example:

Who are Roma? What are their origins? What is their present situation on the Iberian Peninsula and their historical evolution? How can their marginalisation be explained? It was absolutely necessary to know their historical trajectory, as it is now established from the 18th century in this work.

Mª Helena Sánchez

I have tried here to provide a description which is as objective and organised as possible of two Roma communities, about which I have obtained reliable and detailed data. I would really like my paper, the one I am working on now, to make some type of contribution to a much needed understanding of their lifestyle and values.

Teresa San Román

It appears that from this perspective one can only accept what they are saying without any objections. It is nonetheless possible and particularly necessary to make a couple of principled objections in regards to the multifaceted nature of Roma. The first is that the alleged facts on which descriptions are based are not facts but rather interpretations of facts. And such interpretations are strongly influenced by the context in which they are considered. A distinction must be drawn between a context of discovery and one of justification. In the philosophy of science, the context of justification comprises the tests or demonstrations that scientists present to justify and defend the truth of their hypotheses. The context of discovery includes the factors that influence the creation and acceptance of a theory. This context should include elements that are not strictly scientific (such as psychological, moral, cultural, political, etc. factors) that can influence whether an idea or theory is accepted by the scientific community. Until the 1960s, it was considered that the context of justification was fundamental to explaining the acceptance of one theory over another. When two theories contradicted each other the more rational and truer one prevailed. But that is not the way it works. Because we are culturally situated beings. That is to say we do not interact with reality devoid of preconceived ideas and pre-determined paradigms, or of mental and emotional structures, or of moral and conceptual categories, or of a noosphere. Our relationship with the world is arbitrated by all of this interior architecture, and this interior architecture is shaped by the cultural context in which an individual exists. History shows how beliefs determine what one considers to be true and what one does not. It was not exactly because it was more rational to think that the earth was the centre of the universe that the ideas of Galileo were rejected. We must distinguish between the way one obtains a result and the way it is justified. So the first step when considering the multifaceted nature of Roma must be to question the parameters of our thoughts about them. It is not a matter of describing what one sees, but of analysing the intention in the observer’s eye. What might be the intention of Mª Helena Sánchez, who writes in her paper (aimed at thinking “objectively” about the historical trajectory of Roma) the following dedication: “To my father, a lover of flamenco but not of Roma”. Oh well.

Another objection to this type of approach is that it does not take into account the fact that ideas do not only describe reality, they also create it. This distinction was made by Max Weber, who said that such ideas act as both indexes and factors. As an index they describe reality, but the way they describe it works as a factor, as a creator of reality. By analogy, in cinema the way a film is edited can make it seem like either a drama or a comedy. More recently, the latest definition of Roma by the RAE (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) deserves attention. My main intellectual objection is precisely that the inclusion of trapacero (a colloquial term meaning “swindler”) within the accepted definitions of Roma does not function as an index but as a factor. That is, it is not a description of reality but instead creates one. Or rather, a description of reality creates the reality being described. Hence scholars who agreed to include the above definition cannot justify their decision behind the excuse of an alleged description of objective reality. They are not aseptic: they are contributing to the maintenance of a reality where Roma are put on the same level as individuals who use deception and artifice to defraud people. I say “maintenance” because that is precisely one of the characteristic features of the semantisation of the multifaceted nature of Roma during the legislative campaign against them, which officially existed from 1499 to 1978 and whose consequences are still with us. A blatant example of this presence is the inclusion of trapacero in the definition of Roma. Its evolution can be traced to the first Pragmatic Decree of 1499:

Know ye that it is known to us that you have travelled from place to place for a long time and over many years without a trade or other way of living, that you subsist by begging, pilfering, drinking, deceiving, casting spells and telling fortunes, and doing other improper and dishonest things.

That is what the text of the pragmatic decree said. And this semantisation, this supposed truth justified measures against the multifaceted nature of Roma such as extermination, deportation and imprisonment by the State. It is therefore worthwhile to consider what Nietzsche said and Foucault elaborated on about the relationship between truth and power: that power imposes its own truth; that we need to create discourse that claims to speak truth in order to exercise power; that we are subjected to the production of the truth by power and can only exercise power through the production of truth. Why should we not forget that the legislative campaign against Roma in Spain has led to a type of truth-proclaiming discourse about them? No exercise of power exists without being economical with truth. Creating discourse which claims to speak the truth is really an exercise of power. Each party assumes its own level of responsibility.

Roma and philosophy?

With this second question I am asking myself whether Roma themselves have or presently do reflect on the multifaceted nature of Roma. At the risk of forgetting or not being aware of a particular contribution in that regard, I would venture to say no. Unfortunately. Soon they will do. It would seem obvious to insist on the need for Roma to contribute to reflection on the multifaceted nature of Roma. Amongst the many elements that this contribution would bring to topics of concern to Roma, I will point out one that I consider to be key in regards to this topic. I will at least attempt to explain it. Although theoretical approaches to the topic of Roma vary in terms of their academic quality, none of these approaches have questioned the principles, methods and consequences of the theoretical positions from which Roma reality is understood. This is a blind spot in the research, and an area that needs to be illuminated more clearly as it is crucial to the resolution of the Roma equation. In anthropology a distinction is drawn between emic aspects (descriptions made by researchers, consciously or unconsciously, in terms that are significant to the actors being described) and etic aspects (descriptions of facts that any observer would take note of and which make no attempt to discover the meanings that the actors involved would give to them). What could be added is an aspect I would like to refer to as replic. This would involve questioning the methods, processes and assumptions underpinning a researcher’s initial premises. I think that the contribution of Roma reflecting on the multifaceted nature of Roma will illuminate a blind spot found in all research, analyses, theses, reports and other documents. This blind spot is the researcher’s starting point. It is a question of analysing the starting points that have served as a basis for the interpretations that researchers have made in regards to Romani issues. It is an attempt to ask the person who is asking why they are asking what they are asking and why they are asking it in a particular way.

Romani philosophy?

The third question. Having admitted that there has been no reflection on the part of Roma about Roma issues does not negate the existence of a Romani philosophy or art of existence. As I do not wish at this time to go into all the implications of this statement in all their depth and dimensions, I refer to that which is common knowledge. SASTIPEN TALÍ. Health and freedom. There is much to be said for what this means. I will allow myself the license to assume that amongst traditional ways (or at least one traditional way) for Roma to greet each other, as occurs with other peoples and cultures, the meaning goes far beyond the strict meaning of the words used. That is to say, the words connote more than they denote. There may be people for whom it seems I take too many licenses. Perhaps. But remember that there have been considerable reflections and writings about the meanings of Indian (Namaste) or Hebrew (Shalom) greetings, for example. The mystical and ethical implications of these formulas have been spoken about. Sastipén Tali. In principle, the terms that comprise this phrase refer to different human dimensions. On the one hand “health” refers to a physical state and “freedom” to an ethical attitude. Following this line of thought, one could say that this greeting embodies attitudes about philosophy, vitality and freedom. Vitality because it affirms the value of health and freedom and it expresses a volitional predilection for freedom. Allow me to clarify. I will begin with the first term, “health”. The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical and social well-being of a person. Although a question could be asked as to whether there is an intra-Roma concept of physical well-being, what seems clear is that a different perspective of the meaning of social health does exist. The social dimension of health in the inter-Roma sphere includes the level and quality of relationships with other Roma. Hence the importance of one’s group, loved ones and family. It is a matter of social health. For Roma it is a sign of social health when a patient’s hospital room is full of people. It is socially healthy for Roma to go around in groups. It is another thing to analyse the historical and social causes that have led to this situation. But that would not fall in line with my current aim.

mano_floresBefore moving on to the next topic I will stop to comment that the dimensions of health and freedom are necessarily linked by the conjunctive “and”. They are not in opposition to or take priority over each other, but rather complement each other. This linking conjunction expresses the idea that one thing without the other is not possible, and vice versa. The parts make up an inseparable binomial, whose terms refer to each other in an interdependent way. In which direction is this binomial pair aimed? What does this mutual reference imply? I offer a two-faceted interpretation: Saying that “without health freedom is impossible”, or “just being healthy is freedom” suggests a predilection towards autonomy in the sense that the aforementioned combination is said to highlight a vital aptitude to be self-sufficient. Not needing to depend on anyone. Having enough physical stamina to perform the activity of one’s choosing. Conversely, it would be said that “without freedom there is no health”, or “only those who are free are healthy”. This second interpretation of the binomial is not as obvious as the first. The first indicates a concept where a physical condition influences an ethical value. In this regard it is obvious for us to think that way, given our mentality. In other words, it is clear that an illness can influence and can even negate our ability to choose. But a second interpretation of the binomial points to a concept where an ethical value may influence one’s physical state. If that does not seem so obvious, think of the psychosomatic aspects of diseases.

Now then, what kind of freedom is related in this way to health? In principle it should be a kind of freedom consistent with the ideas thus far presented: 1) a concept of health that entails the social relations with others considered as equals; and 2) the pursuit of personal autonomy. Could we then say that it would not be contradictory to identify relationships as a symptom of social health while also being related to the pursuit of personal autonomy? It depends on how the key concepts are defined. This is what I aim to do.

Freedom. Hundreds of books have been written on this concept. Over the last 3,000 years, thinkers have paused to consider it. As such it is impossible to establish a precise trajectory. It is also common to typify freedom as a symbol of the existential attitude of Roma. It is sometimes mentioned in reproach and other times in praise, by Roma and non-Roma alike. Why? And in particular, in what sense can we say that freedom is a value with which the Romani can identify? To try to answer this question, I would begin by distinguishing between three conceptions of the idea of freedom. On the one hand, there can be freedom of …, freedom to … and then freedom against … . The first meaning would concern a situation in which an individual has no prohibitions or obligations restricting their ability to decide. We could classify this as a negative freedom in the sense that there is nothing preventing me from exercising my free will. The second type (the freedom to …) concerns being free to decide and carry out what we consider to be in our interest and in accordance with our own purposes. We could classify this as purposeful freedom. Thirdly, freedom “against” something refers to opposing a power that limits me and nullifies my being: i.e., using freedom to confront a tyrannical power. We could classify this as a revolutionary freedom.

Does Romani freedom fall within any of these definitions of freedom? In my view it does not. For me, the Romani greeting implies a declaration of another kind of freedom. I believe it is a type of libertarian freedom. Libertarian not in the sense of not obeying any rules due to not recognising the authority of those who impose them, nor in the sense of positioning oneself against and confronting established power. Historically, this argument is not sustainable in relation to the multifaceted nature of Roma. From my point of view the concept set out in the second word in the Romani greeting is a kind of freedom that has more to do with plants than with barriers. It is about being free with … . This is closer to a conception of the human being in constant contact with other human beings without wishing for them what they would not wish for themselves.

Romani categorical principle

To be free I need for others to also be free. I cannot be free in solitude, nor can I be free by myself.

We could classify this kind of freedom as relational. The Romani categorical principle is fulfilled by unravelling the fabric that the command/obedience binomial has woven. And it is this way because the ordering and the hierarchical structuring goes against the Romani categorical principle; when I give an order someone will obey, and for that reason they cease to be free. It is not a question of confronting or not obeying the orders of anyone, but of not giving them to anyone ever. In other words, a societal organisation where no such framework exists in terms of the relationship between commands and obedience. Some people issuing commands and others obeying. It is a great challenge to organise a society that is not structured by the hierarchies of commands and obedience. This is the challenge that we Roma have been trying to meet for 1,000 years: organising society horizontally rather than vertically. Rejecting the creation of centres of power. Prioritising the harmonisation of relationships over structuring them in hierarchical fashion. Amongst German Roma, those responsible for creating peace in a situation of conflict are called “those who establish harmony”. In that sense it is necessary to speak of a musical type of Romani politics in opposition to the geometrical politics found in the majority society. Where the “synchronisation” of relationships matters more than their stability. On another occasion I will take the time to explore this topic in more depth, having here pointed it out.

Libertarian freedom does not mean not obeying orders as much as it means not having the need to give them. While this may seem like a non-submissive position, it does not match up with revolutionary-style freedom. As the Romani writer Matéo Maximoff said, “We wish neither to rebel nor to submit.” This to me is an affirmation of Romani libertarian freedom. This very idea was expressed even more clearly by Camarón de la Isla in the following lyrics to a fandango song:

I don’t want to be ordered around
Nor do I want to order anyone around
I don’t want to be ordered around
I like to live a wandering existence
here today and someplace else tomorrow
with my path stretched out before me.

Written by Isaac Motos.