The advent of a biocivilization

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The economy, politics and culture must be at the service of maintaining and expanding the virtualities present in all forms of life

I'll get straight to the point: within the current civilizational paradigm, of modernity, is another agenda possible or are we touching its insurmountable limits and do we have to look for another civilizational paradigm if we want to continue to live on this planet?

My answer is inspired by three statements of great authority.

The first is from Earth Charter, taken over by UNESCO in 2003. Its opening sentence takes on apocalyptic tones: “We are facing a critical moment in Earth's history, at a time when humanity must choose its future… Our choice is: either form a global alliance to care for the Earth and each other, or risk our destruction and the destruction of the diversity of life” (Preamble).

The second severe statement comes from Pope Francis in the encyclical Fratelli tutti (2020): “we are in the same boat, nobody saves himself, either we all save ourselves or nobody saves himself” (n. 32).

The third statement comes from the great historian Eric Hobsbawn in his well-known work the age of extremes (1994) in his final sentence: “We don't know where we are going. However, one thing is certain. If humanity wants to have an acceptable future, it cannot be by extending the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on this foundation, we will fail. And the price of failure, that is, the alternative for changing society is darkness” (p. 562).

In other words: our way of inhabiting the Earth, which brought us undeniable advantages, has reached its end. All traffic lights went red. We built the principle of self-destruction, being able to exterminate all life with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in multiple different ways. The techno-science that made us reach the extreme limits of support on planet Earth (The Earth Overshoot) cannot, by itself, as Covid-19 has shown, save us. We can file the wolf's teeth thinking that we have delusionally removed his voracity. But this does not lie in the teeth, but in your nature.

Therefore, we have to jump ship and move beyond a new world agenda. We have reached the end of the path. We have to open a different one. Otherwise, as Sigmund Bauman said in his last interview before his death: “we will join the procession of those heading towards their own grave”. We are forced, if we want to live, to recreate ourselves and reinvent a new paradigm of civilization.

 

Two paradigms: from dominus and the brother

I see at that moment the confrontation between two paradigms: the paradigm of dominus and the paradigm of brother. In another formulation: the paradigm of conquest, expression of the will to power as domination, formulated by the founding fathers of modernity with René Descartes, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, domination of everything, of peoples, as in the Americas, Africa and Asia, domination of classes, of nature, of life and domination of matter even in its last energetic expression by the Higgs Boson.

The human being (maître et possesseur of Descartes) does not feel part of nature, but its lord and owner (dominus) who in the words of Francis Bacon “must torture nature as the torturer does his victim until she surrenders all her secrets”. He is the founder of the modern scientific method, which is still prevalent today.

This paradigm understands the Earth as a mere res extensive and without purpose, transformed into a treasure trove of resources, considered to be infinite, which allow for infinite growth/development. It so happens that today we know scientifically that a finite planet does not support an infinite project. This is the great crisis of the capital system as a mode of production and of neoliberalism as its political expression.

The other paradigm is that of frater: the brother and sister of all human beings to each other and the brothers and sisters of all other beings in nature. All living beings have, as Dawson and Crick showed in the 1950s, the same 20 amino acids and 4 nitrogenous bases, starting from the most original cell that emerged 3,8 billion years ago, passing through the dinosaurs and reaching us humans. This is why the Earth Charter says and Pope Francis strongly emphasizes it in his two ecological encyclicals, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (2015) ea Fratelli tutti (2020): a bond of fraternity unites us all, “to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Rio and Mother Earth” (LS n. 92; CT preamble). The human being feels part of nature and has the same origin as all other beings, “the humus” (the fertile land) from which the homo, such as male and female, male and female.

If in the first paradigm the conquest and domination (Alexandre Magno and Hernan Cortes paradigm), the second shows the care and co-responsibility of everyone with everyone (the Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta paradigm).

Figuratively representing we can say: the paradigm of dominus it is the clenched fist that submits and dominates. The paradigm of frater it is the outstretched hand that intertwines with other hands for the essential caress and care of all things.

The paradigm of dominus it is dominant and is at the origin of our many crises and in all areas. The paradigm of frater it is nascent and represents the greatest yearning of humanity, especially of those great majorities ruthlessly dominated, marginalized and condemned to die before their time. But he has the strength of a seed. As in every seed, the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves, the flowers and the fruits are present in it.

That's why hope passes through him, as a principle more than with virtues, like that indomitable energy that always projects new dreams, new utopias and new worlds, that is to say, make us walk in the direction of new ways of inhabiting the Earth, of producing, to distribute the fruits of nature and work, to consume and to organize fraternal and sisterly relationships among humans and with other beings of nature.

 

Crossing a paradigm of dominus to the paradigm of frater

I know that here is the thorny problem of the transition from one paradigm to the other. It will be done procedurally, having one foot in the old paradigm of dominus/ conquest because we must guarantee our subsistence and another foot in the new paradigm of brother/care to inaugurate it from below. Here several assumptions should be discussed, but this is not the time to do so. But one thing we can advance: working the territory, bioregionalism, the new paradigm of frater/care can be implemented regionally in a sustainable way, as it has the capacity to include everyone and create more social equality and environmental balance.

Our great challenge is this: how to go from one capitalist society overproduction of material goods to a support society of all life, with human-spiritual values, intangibles such as love, solidarity, compassion, fair measure, respect and care, especially for the most vulnerable.

 

The advent of a biocivilization

This new civilization has a name: it is a biocivilization, in which the centrality is occupied by life in all its diversity, but especially personal and collective human life. The economy, politics and culture are at the service of maintaining and expanding the virtualities present in all forms of life.

The future of life on Earth and the fate of our civilization is in our hands. We have little time to make the necessary transformations, as we have already entered the new phase of the Earth, its increasing warming. There is a lack of sufficient awareness among heads of state about ecological emergencies and it is still very rare among humanity as a whole.[1]

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian and philosopher. Author, among other books, of Inhabiting the Earth: What is the path to universal fraternity? (Vozes).

 

Note


[1] An international group was organized that proposed “another world agenda to free life”. The first session was held on May 5, 2022. Each participant (about 20 in all, but not all of them participated) had 10-15 minutes to present their view of the topic. The articulator was the well-known Italian economist, working in the European Community, in Brussels. The basic purpose is how to democratize scientific knowledge that reinforces the search for an agenda that aims to liberate life. I present here my short presentation, made in French, with the ideas that I have proposed and defended in other writings. So far, apparently, the new agenda is still within the old paradigm (the dominant bubble), not raising the question of the profound crisis that this paradigm, that of techno-scientific modernity, has caused and which is putting the future at risk. of our life and our civilization. Hence the opportunity to clearly expose my critical position and totally disbelieving of the virtualities of this paradigm of freeing life, which is rather rapidly destroying it.

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