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Expanded Questions – Ester Pascual: “When the victim sees that the person who hurt them is truly sorry and is suffering for it, they regain confidence in human beings”

[Transcript of interview]

-Welcome to Expanded Questions. Today we are going to talk about Expanded Reason in a specific case and in a specific degree, in Criminology. Throughout history there have been many attempts to bring victims and perpetrators together, and today we are going to talk about these meetings with the director of the Criminology Degree at the Francisco de Vitoria University, Ester Pascual, because she is one of the people who has tried and is carrying it out. Hello Ester, how are you, how are you?

Hello, good morning.

-Welcome, it’s a pleasure for us to have you here, in this space of Expanded Reason. Above all, what we wanted to look at is the subject of forgiveness with all the rawness it contains, but from a transversal perspective, because it covers different fields, it can be seen from the family to restore the relationship, from education, psychology, in law for restorative justice, in communication for how the struggle between evil and good is expressed, one can choose which choice to make… But how important is university study in the capacity to establish this forgiveness? How do you see the possibility of training in forgiveness applied to each science through this study?

Well, I think that in order to reach this training you first have to have an understanding of what generates crime, transferring it to the field of criminology. You have to understand what it means to be a victim of a crime, the needs of a victim, the first of which is the truth, the need to know what happened and why; a second step, on the part of the offender or the perpetrator, is the recognition of the damage, because it is very healing for the victim and makes the perpetrator see the impact it has on people, that is, how it changes their behaviour or their character, and if they become aware of the crime, forgiveness comes naturally. Whoever sees the damage they have caused and looks at it critically, the need to ask for forgiveness comes naturally. It is not a forgiveness to free oneself from guilt, but a forgiveness to get closer to the victim, to get back to the more human side of the victim, because when perpetrators who are truly repentant ask for forgiveness they do it to regain the dignity they once lost when they committed such atrocious crimes.

How is that taught? We teach students to look at crime from the point of view of the impact it generates, not only what it is called in the Penal Code or what punishment we give it, in other words, how it is going to be punished, but what generates the crime. Apart from that, a legally reprehensible conduct and a prison sentence or compensation, what else does it generate? You have to look at the perspective of the perpetrator and the victim, and from there, with time, you can see how forgiveness is very healing for all parties.

-In fact, it is one of the main ideas in Icíar Bollaín’s latest film, Maixabel, because of how you see that the perpetrator, the one who causes victims, through the encounters obtains a personal benefit of healing, as do the victims, as if it were a mutual aid, since their lives end up being linked… what is the anthropology that underlies both conditions?

The restorative encounters reflected in Icíar Bollaín’s film are based on a true story, it does not invent anything, it happened in reality. What is the idea of the person underlying it? To be able to participate in a restorative encounter experience, the victim has to be in a phase of de-victimisation.

In a victimisation process there is a first phase of criminal impact, of shock (“this is not happening to me”, “my husband has not been murdered”, “this is a dream”) and this phase can last for weeks or months, depending on how the event happened and how the person is receiving it, if he/she is medicated or not.

Then there is a phase of hatred and anger, it is healthy to also feel the anger of saying: “Why did this happen to me? Anger is natural emotionally, but you have to get out of that phase because hate, in the end, destroys you, and the victims tell it very well, all those who have participated in the meetings. The film only reflects two, but there have been 32. The truth is that many victims say that after many years of hating, they discover that it is the one who destroys the one who feels it. Hatred does not reach the perpetrator. The one who suffers the hate is the victim and it does not allow him to be happy with what he has left, his children, the rest of his family, his work… the hate eats him up. That is why many victims say: “He has already destroyed my husband, my son or my father, he cannot destroy my life and destroy what I am”. They describe a change of mentality: “I have to be reborn. How? By overcoming the event, by forgiving, and forgiving does not mean forgetting or justifying.

These meetings allow the victim to ask questions about the crime, which is very important, and to see the human side of the perpetrator. That is what gives a victim peace again. Many victims say that when they see that the person who harmed them is truly sorry and is suffering for it, they regain the trust in the human being they once lost. Such a traumatic event makes one suffer the loss of trust in the human being, but the fact that this human being is able to look them in the eye after a long time and show that they are indeed suffering for what they did and will not do it again restores their trust. That is on the part of the victim.

On the part of the perpetrator, a lot of time is required, it is clear that when a person commits a murder he does not regret it the next day, he needs a path, and a real capacity for self-criticism. What happens is that experience also shows that in people who commit a crime, deep down there is repentance, pain, discomfort because they are aware that they have destroyed a life, and that remains there. There are those who are able to verbalise it and there are those who continue to maintain that what they did was well done, but it is a protective layer because in the essence of human beings, when they do wrong, there is a hint of self-criticism or responsibility for the damage they have caused that ends up weighing heavily.

-And it is a way… because how do you reconcile forgiveness and justice? What is each term?

Well, in fact they are completely separate. The criminal process is there to establish a procedural truth that often does not coincide with the truth that the parties experienced, it is there to determine whether this person is the perpetrator or not and to impose this punishment, but a criminal process is not there to heal the moral wounds caused by the crime, that’s the way it is. Nor does it give the victim a space to express themselves, to ask questions. Justice remains there, but many victims, despite a trial or a conviction, do not feel that justice. For them, justice is not truth or reparation, it is something else.

-Also at the university we see that this path is a search for truth and normally we search for it with other people. You see in the film the value of community, but what does it mean that thanks to this community you can reach this path of healing? Is the group an essential factor?

I think so, there will always be pioneering people who dare to take the step, such as the victims who participated in these meetings and the perpetrators, and both sides have a lot of merit. The behaviour of both is very courageous. But then there has to be a community that supports you, that encourages you and supports you. That’s the oil stain in the ocean, they say: “It’s only 32 cases out of 900”. But that is permeating little by little, little by little, and what these victims did has been permeating part of society and their small communities, they have also been making it known, it seems positive and necessary to them, to others, and it is tremendous because there are already people who are asking for it: “I want to go through a restorative meeting because I need it”.

As I say, this is taking root in society, in small communities, in increasingly larger ones, and society has to understand that dialogue is something very necessary, that it brings us closer together much more than we think and has a brutal potential. Forgiveness, which is something we are afraid to talk about, also has a brutal potential, for victims and perpetrators.

-I don’t know if you know one of the papers in the Expanded Reason Awards, by Robert Enright, about forgiveness. He said an interesting idea, that this exercise of kindness has a point of rationality and is an act of will, almost heroic. Do we need to educate our personality in virtue or is it a question of heroism? What does it take to forgive?

It takes overcoming hatred. Some people are more innate, have a natural predisposition or find it less difficult. I ask myself, the people who participated in these meetings: What special people! They are no better or worse for taking part in this, all victims deserve respect, but it is true that they are people who believe in second chances, in reintegration, and who are not entrenched in hatred.

They are taught from an early age that dialogue is there, that human beings are capable of the worst, but also of the best. It is a virtue that can be cultivated by oneself, but it is also learned through the example of those we love the most, and society drinks from these examples. Some societies are more pacified than others because of an issue that is there from childhood; the Nordic countries are much more pacified because they have a system where values are lived from childhood onwards. I think it is important.

-Statistically, this author also said that forgiveness reduces anger and not only that, but it also improves academic performance, have you been able to see this in your students? Has there been any attitude of decrease in violence or improvement in their grades? 

When someone is installed in hatred and anger, they are in a self-destructive situation that destroys everything around them. A student who is pacified in the face of a conflict will perform much better than one who is in another situation.

-Talking about the meaning of this for your career, looking at your professional career as a lawyer, it is impressive that you dedicate yourself to this training project and introduce it into the university in such a spectacular way. What sense do you find in establishing this type of victim/victimizer encounter?

It has taught me a lot not only professionally, but also personally. And what I was saying before, that human beings are capable of the worst and capable of the best, nobody can say: “I would never do something like that”. We can’t say it, because also looking at the life circumstances, the companies…, we are not exempt from saying that we would never do that because we can’t know.

Just as man is capable of committing the most atrocious things, he is capable of the best: recognising the damage and trying in the smallest possible way to make emotional reparation to the victim. Well, it has taught me the greatness of the human being.

-In fact, you are now going to Boston to a Congress with great personalities in which you are going to contribute this grain of sand…

Yes, indeed. I’m going with Maixabel and we’re going to see if we can transmit the power of dialogue and forgiveness, which is tremendous. There is something very striking that I would like to highlight, and that is that before the meetings there were some informative meetings with the perpetrators that were very difficult and others with the victims that were easier, but in both interviews the two sides agreed on one thing.

The perpetrators said: “Forgiveness is useless, I have killed in the name of an organisation and it is the organisation that should ask for forgiveness, sitting face to face and asking for forgiveness is useless, what is it going to give the victim, it is a very short word for something so serious that I have committed, I am ashamed, it is absurd”.

The victims said: “I don’t want to be asked for forgiveness in order to live, I don’t need it”. So why do you need to sit face to face? Because I need to ask questions, to see how this person thinks, to make sure that this is not going to happen again and I want to be an example of peace for my children, and to tell them what hurt me, yes, but to set an example because I see that the next generations are installed in hatred and if we don’t set an example this is going to remain entrenched”.

It was very curious because in the meetings nobody wanted to talk about forgiveness. Only very believing people said that they came to forgiveness because their faith demanded it. The rest, for the future of Euskadi. And it is tremendous that at the end, after many hours, because the meetings last between 4 and 5 hours, forgiveness naturally comes up on the table, perhaps not with that word, but with: “I am very sorry”, “I wish I could go back”, “I wish I hadn’t done it”.

It’s tremendous. The victims when they came out said: “I thought that forgiveness was useless and it helps me a lot to know that this person is going to leave prison feeling what he has done and not proud with his fist raised, that he is aware of what he has done and that he is not going to do it again, this gives me back my confidence”. Forgiveness has a lot of power.

-Ester, it is a pleasure that you continue to work for Expanded Reasoning in your degree, with your students, outside and inside the university, and tell us about it at the Institute, we want to leave a small trace of what Expanded Reasoning is in a concrete case such as your daily work.

Thank you very much.

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Expanded Questions – Ana del Valle: “When a filmmaker puts the camera somewhere, he puts himself there”

[Transcript of the interview]

-Welcome to Expanded Questions, the space of the Expanded Reason Institute where we are interested in science and, above all, in what science has to say about human beings. Today we have with us Ana del Valle, professor and doctor of the Faculty of Communication. Hello Ana, how are you?

Hello, how are you Almudena?

-Welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you with us today, above all because we’ve echoed one of the most interesting articles we’ve collected from your career, which is called… a very attractive title… anthropological and ethical answers to the technological question. And in this article, what we have looked at is how in this communicative act there is an intention, a way of placing the camera, of framing, the place you choose… in this communicative act, what is the underlying vision of man and what is the end, which is the question that interests us all?

It is the question. In this article, what we try to explore is the hypothesis that when a filmmaker puts a camera somewhere, what he puts is himself, he doesn’t put a technological response, but he puts a system of values, a certain view of reality. The article inherits a tradition that investigates the act of communication as a specifically human act and, therefore, as any human act, endowed with will and freedom, unlike other things that man does. Communication is a specifically human act and we understand that the film or audiovisual story is a type of communicative act and this has its own aims, which are understanding, comprehension and collaboration.

In this sense, all this is the legacy of the work of Expanded Reason that other authors have done before me, especially Álvaro Abellán in the dialogic theory of communication. What I was wondering there is if this is so, then is it possible that a filmmaker, a director, of all the decisions he has to make, in terms of lighting, sound, direction of actors, etc., there are some decisions that are more likely to create meaning, and I realise that there are two fundamentally: one is where he places the camera, because by placing the camera you select a part of reality and leave out other things, we tell the spectator “this is the most truthful thing I can find”, and another expressive substance is the montage.

To the question about the anthropological perspective, the answer is that as this question does not respond to anything technological (I can put the camera anywhere, but I have chosen this place because I want to tell this part of reality), I can trace the director’s view of the world, his idea of reality through the shots and the audiovisual language he uses. So, there is a certain vision of man in each style, in each movement and, in the end, in each director.

-How did you manage to look at this science in this way? How did you arrive at this forma-mentis, as they say?

It is not easy for me to understand another forma-mentis. I have always looked at science in this way. It seemed to me, when I started teaching the subject of Multimedia Philology, with which I began to teach, there were things that immediately caught my attention, and it was a subject that I inherited and it was well taught, but there was something that didn’t fit with me, and at that time I called it warnings. I said how is it possible to call this university teaching if it is constantly changing, and if it is constantly changing, how can we tell students that their mission is to seek the truth, if the truth is immutable, what truth is there in this? Or why do we work with technologies that are different from the way the human eye perceives, from the way the human ear listens, why are we so obsessed with resolution and not with meaning?

There were many questions from the beginning, which were not proper to the subject, which I was worried about having because I thought I was not able to focus on my subject, and which, nevertheless, are the ones that have led me to open up a new look at multimedia technology. In other words, I think that, from the beginning, I haven’t looked at it in any other way.

-Also, in this search that you propose, there are models that have inspired you a lot, for example, what do you find in a character like Hitchcock? What inspires you to take to the classroom?

I did my doctoral thesis on Hitchcock and I chose him for many reasons. Apart from these garments of love, much of my personal interest is that Hitchcock runs through the history of cinema. The history of cinema is not that long. Hitchcock has been making films since 1927 and finished making them in 1976. In that time cinema has gone through the emergence of colour, sound, 3D, television, and Hitchcock has always been an innovator. I was interested, on the one hand, in how he saw all these technologies, but, above all, that there was a fracture in his cinema that was not perceived.

When you organise his work, you usually organise it around the films he made in England and the films he made later in the US studios. But I realised that there was something that happened around the 1960s that completely changed his cinematic style and that one could interpret that there was a style of unity according to how the media were used to produce a language and then from that year onwards there was another style that I called a “style of fragmentation”.

I realised that what had happened is a personal, contextual situation that has to do with many things. The world changes, not only Hitchcock changes, and a series of things happen to him that he perceives in a certain way that makes him change his idea of cinema. He stops thinking of film as a way of seeking the truth and starts to talk about film as a way of manipulating. It’s a radically different conception, not only of cinema, but of the world, and that can be traced through the way he uses the media, being also a master in the world of technology. Later I discovered many other things, but that was the anchor.

-It’s impressive that the whole thesis has developed from there, this figure has given you a lot of academic ground. We also wanted to propose to you… Expanded Reason sometimes runs the risk of remaining abstract, how can this mission of exploring all the dimensions of the human being be made concrete, how can it be put into practice? For example, in your case, in your class, with your students, do you have any concrete case in which between teacher and student something technical has gone beyond and has generated a question that can open up to a global dimension or to a greater meaning? Something that brings the concept down…

In the subjects I have been teaching for the longest time, I do see an evolution in the students’ perception of the impact of this different view of science. For many years now, I have seen that many of these questions have arisen as a result of very concrete things. Many times, for example, since you were asking about specific cases, we are explaining what light is, an electromagnetic wave, oh well, and what are waves? Physically they cannot be seen, but they are perceived through their effects. Beyond the fact that they are, there are other things that we don’t see and we can account for them by the effects that we perceive in reality, in fact, they are real, even if you don’t see them. The visible part of the waves is light, however, this is not only a part of the electromagnetic spectrum because when we are illuminated it is through artificial light. We know that there is another one that is natural and, by analogy, one ends up asking questions about it.

In my subject, these questions are not cut off. They arise because when a person wonders what light is, they don’t want to know that it is an electromagnetic wave that has a wave frequency and a wave amplitude, that’s true, it must be said, but it doesn’t settle the question.

-It is also interesting to see how in your life, on a personal and professional level as a teacher, this view transforms you. What does an expanded reason or an integrating perspective mean in your life?

I find it hard to separate it. In the end, you are who you are and you have a vocation that challenges all aspects of your life. To look at science in this way is to look at your teaching and your personal sphere in this way. This journey has transformed me in some very concrete ways that are not only scientific. For example, not to narrow down questions, not to try to answer them only in one area of life, because no important question can be answered only in one part of your life. I take this approach to all questions, it also challenges me personally, not to stop asking myself questions because I think I won’t find the answer or because I think the answer is somewhere else.

It also leads me to a very deep respect for academic rigour and the research method because asking serious questions requires a dedication to the discipline, a knowledge and an epistemological question that I also try to apply to other moments in my life. It also means not being afraid to go into places that do not belong to the subject or are thought to be for others. And then, from having looked at Hitchcock in this way (I don’t know if he was in the question) I also take with me a sense of community and gratitude. He, after all he did, didn’t receive any Oscars and yet he is the director of the greatest film in the history of cinema. He is given the typical honorary award at the end of his life and he receives it with this phrase that I will keep for my life: “I share my award, as I have my life with her”, I share this award with my wife with whom I have also shared my life. To live like this, to be able to understand that the awards, the heartaches are the fruit of a community. Also in these questions of Expanded Reason, to live in peace, that where one does not arrive, the community arrives, the other arrives.

-It is a pleasure to hear how fondly you speak of your discipline, you respect it a lot, it shows, and for us it is a small satisfaction to be able to transmit that any science is very valuable, given the risk that the scientist might feel left out by the fact of incorporating the humanities, we want to give prominence to what science has to say, but also with this broad perspective of all the horizons of mankind. Ana, thank you very much, it was a pleasure to have counted on you. See you soon.

Olga Expanded Questions

Expanded Questions – Olga Peñalba: “Science gives us the ‘what’, technology gives us the ‘how’, but without the ‘what for’ and the ‘for whom’ we are nothing”

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It is certainly difficult, it is difficult for us, perhaps more than for other profiles, for two main reasons. One, because the knowledge itself of a more philosophical nature or in the field of humanities is a knowledge that is difficult for us from the start because we are used to working with numbers and formulas, our mind works differently, to understand a philosophical text approaching the truth behind it is already difficult for us; and then, we have a very large professional deformation and that is that we take for good that which is scientifically proven, that can be verified in some way, so philosophical knowledge that has a different way of approaching it is difficult for us because of our own training.

The good thing is that in the end we are all the same, we all look for meaning in what we do, and the meaning of the engineer’s profession does not come from science itself or from the technique itself, it has to come from another source. So when you tell the student what the meaning of his profession is, you ask him to go further and ask himself about the purpose of the career, he understands that this cannot be answered from that scope and that is where he begins to broaden his view.

I think it is less complicated for them than for us, because in the end we have a much broader trajectory, many years of understanding the career in a more reductionist way and when you make them an approach from the open reason they enter and see it more naturally, it is more difficult for us teachers than for the students because we have to unlearn somehow what we have learned.

I always try to make them see that science gives us the whats, technique gives us the hows (and that is very important since being a technical career the fundamental thing is the methodology to be applied), but that without the for what and the for whom we are nothing, in the end what we do is to apply science to build something for the good of someone and without the component of the for what and the person for whom we work the career does not stand, we are missing something. That is where we enter, but it is difficult.

 

Olga Penalba Expanded Questions

We have recovered an article that you presented to the second edition of the 2018 Expanded Reason Congress in which you make an interesting reflection on the fundamentals of Computer Engineering. In the end, the engineer does not stop being a person who works with people to offer a service to another person. How can you go beyond a complex calculation to see behind the person his gift, a free being or a vocation? Why is open reason, the broad look necessary? Can you give us some more clues about that article?

Yes, what we presented in that article was a reflection on a very specific subject that tries to give a global vision of the career that, to a certain extent, is a reflection on the discipline itself. The subject, called Fundamentals of Computer Engineering, was very much in terms of scientific and technical foundations, mainly mathematics and physics, the basis of computer science. But we realized, effectively, that the profession cannot be practiced if you do not have a strong ethical and anthropological basis, because in the end, as I said before, you ask yourself what you do, why you do it, in what historical context you do things, and that conditions it, it is not the same to do a project today than 30 years ago or the projects that will be done in the future. All that social context, the vision of the man you have for whom you are working, in the end what you do is to provide a service to society and to people, without that clear vision you cannot exercise the profession with the same quality.

What the article states is that we cannot only stay with the scientific and technical, but we must also go to the ethical and anthropological foundations. We work with people, for people, and how we understand the other and the relationship we establish with the other and the good we want to procure is the key to what we do, so that it makes sense and is useful to society and really worthwhile.

 

Currently, technology is one of the most talked about issues, the paradigm of the 21st century. What benefits and dangers do you see in a technologization of society? How can we truly know reality through technology?

It is clear that technology is a tool and like all tools it has a good use and a bad use. For whoever creates them has to be aware that what he is creating can be used for the right and proper purpose for which it was created or for the wrong one. And from the user of the tool itself there are many associated risks that we all know. I believe in the positive view of technology, although I am aware of the risks and I try to train my students in them, but I have an optimistic view, I believe that if it is put at the service of people it really makes life here on earth easier for human beings. Perhaps the biggest risk I see in progress and technology is that every little step we take seems to be innocuous to a certain extent, but it is the sum of the steps that take us to a point from which there is no return and when you see yourself there you say how did we get here? That’s why we have to be very conscious, all of us who work in this sector and the people who make decisions about the next steps in technological development have to be aware that each step has to be measured a lot. Each advance is tiny, it seems that it does not change big things in society, but when we have realized that we have advanced a lot and there is a lot of risk.

For example, there have been many reports in recent times of the impact of social networks and all cell phones on students and their development, especially in adolescents and pre-adolescents who are “hooked” so to speak, using your terminology, to the networks, and that is having an impact on their own technological development. Of course, when networks are created they are created for a good purpose and make sense and when used well they are good, but we see the impact they are having on young people years after they are there and now there is no turning back or it is difficult to turn back.

Then technology always conditions engineers, everyone sees life through glasses and engineers see life through glasses and if they don’t remember to take them off from time to time to try to see things from another perspective, they fall into reductionism: seeing life in terms of problems, believing that everything has a solution and that we are always here to solve things, but not everything has to be solved or not everything can be solved, or measuring life in terms of how we measure machines, if it is efficient or productive, if this relationship serves me for something or not, measuring everything in terms of utility. This is one of the biggest risks that technology has.

Not to mention artificial intelligence, which is very popular….

…that’s a very exciting topic…

I don’t know if you know the Korean philosopher Han who is also now very popular who proposes that the danger of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is that by connecting two phenomena A and B the machine cannot say why A happens, it is very difficult for an AI to become like a human mind, but it is also positive isn’t it?

I have read news about this philosopher and, although in some things he is a bit catastrophic, in AI there are basically two currents among thinkers and scientists: those who believe that AI will be able to think like we humans do and will be possible at some point not in the short term, and those who believe that this will never be feasible, that it will always be artificial and that it should not even be called intelligence because the processes that a machine follows to produce a result are not even similar to those of people.

I believe that AI is a powerful tool that is helping us a lot, for example, everything that is impacting the diagnosis of preventive medicine and, like all tools, AI used well is good, but where it is going to go, that is one of the areas towards which we have to evolve very carefully. I know that ethics committees are being set up in many companies, institutes nationally and internationally that are concerned about the evolution of that area, about throwing sense and prudence into that particular area of technology that seems more challenging than others.

What is distilled throughout the interview is your experience as a teacher, beyond your position you are a teacher who relates to students, how do you see in the day to day of a class that the student is amazed, what makes them ask questions that start from science, but that transcend it?

The student has an incredible potential. If you give them the playing field they need, students easily enter into open reason and they are also capable of creativity, of having ideas… I am often surprised by what students do, in questions they launch or the proposals they make, you just have to let them, and know how to guide them a little, but they easily enter into these questions because they have it in their hearts.

In a subject we have on projects, we have set them a challenge, which is the problem of the million. They have to think about the development of an application that solves a problem that affects at least one million people in the world. They have to think about what that problem could be, document it and develop a solution to the extent they can, they can’t always go to a complete solution because at the technical level they don’t have the skills. It’s amazing when you give them a little freedom and make them think in terms of contributing to each other how they come up with incredible ideas, many of which would not have occurred to us teachers as a subject project. You have to let them, they have infinite capacity and they are wonderful.

Well, we are left with this positive vision of the human being, the confidence in the yearning that we all carry within us to know the truth and in an anthropological vision of man that dignifies him. It has been a pleasure to be with you, the RA Institute is open for you to continue enlightening us, so thank you very much.

Thanks to you, to the Institute for all its work and for giving me this opportunity to share.