reinvent humanity

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

The modern myth that we are “the little god” on Earth and that we can dispose of it as we please because it is inert and purposeless has been shattered

It causes serious concern the systemic attack that nature through a very small and invisible virus is moving against humanity, leading thousands to death. However, our reaction to the pandemic is also fundamental. What lesson does she give us? What worldview and what kind of values ​​does it lead us to develop? Surely we must learn all that we should have learned and did not learn. We should have learned that we are part of it and not its “lords and owners” (Descartes). There is an umbilical connection between human beings and nature. We come from the same cosmic dust as all other beings and we are the conscious link in the chain of life.

The erosion of the “little god on earth” image

The modern myth that we are “the little god” on Earth and that we can dispose of it as we please because it is inert and purposeless has been shattered. One of the fathers of the modern scientific method, Francis Bacon, said that we should treat nature as the henchmen of the Inquisition treat their victims, torturing them until they give up all their secrets.

Through technoscience, we take this method to the extreme, reaching the heart of matter and life. This was implemented with unprecedented fury, to the point where we destroyed the sustainability of nature and thus of the planet and life. In this way, we break the natural pact that exists with the living Earth: she gives us everything we need to live and in return we should take care of her, preserve her goods and services and give her rest to replace everything we take from her for our life and progress. None of that we did.

Because we did not observe the biblical precept to “guard and take care of the Garden of Eden (of the Earth: Gn 2,15) and threatened the ecological foundations that sustain all life, it counterattacked us with a powerful weapon, the coronavirus 19. to face it, we return to the method of the Middle Ages, which overcame its pandemics through strict social isolation. To make the people, frightened, go out into the street, at Munich City Hall (Marienpltatz) an ingenious clock was built with dancers and cuckoos for everyone to come and appreciate it, which is still done today.

The pandemic, which is more than a crisis, but a demand for changing our worldview and incorporating new values, poses this question: do we really want to prevent nature from sending us even more lethal viruses that could even decimate the human species? This would be one of the ten that disappear permanently every day. Do we want to take that risk?

The widespread unconsciousness of the ecological factor

In 1962, American biologist and writer Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring” (silent spring) warned: “Future generations are unlikely to tolerate our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that sustains all life…The question is whether any civilization can wage a relentless war against life without destroying itself. itself and without losing the right to be called civilization”.

It seems like a prophecy of the situation we are experiencing at a planetary level. We have the impression that the majority of humanity and even political leaders do not demonstrate sufficient awareness of the dangers we are running with global warming, with the proximity to our cities and especially the massive agribusiness of virgin nature and forests being deforested. In this way we destroy the habitats of the millions of viruses and bacteria that end up transferring to human beings.

It is imperative that we abandon the old paradigm of the will to power and domination over everything (the clenched fist) towards a paradigm of caring for everything that exists and lives (the outstretched hand) and collective co-responsibility. Wrote Eric Hobsbown in the last sentence of his book the age of extremes (1995): “One thing is clear. If humanity wants to have a recognizable 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. The price of failure, i.e. the alternative to changing society is darkness” (p.506).

This means that we cannot simply return to the pre-coronavirus situation. Nor can we think of a return to the pre-Enlightenment past, as the current Brazilian government and others from the extreme right want.

The post-pandemic: the new or the radicalization of the before?

There are many analysts who predict that the post-pandemic could mean an extreme radicalization of the previous situation, a return to the capital system and neoliberalism, seeking to dominate the world with the use of digital surveillance (big data) on every person on the planet , something that is already underway in China and the USA. Then we would enter the dark ages, with the risk, suggested by Raquel Carson, of our self-destruction. Hence the demand for a radical ecological conversion, whose centrality must be occupied by the Earth, life and human civilization: a biocivilization. If we want to survive.

Sigmund Freud, responding to a letter from Albert Einstein in 1932 that asked whether it was possible to overcome violence and war, left the question open. He responded by pondering that he could not say which instinct would prevail: the death instinct (thanatos) or the life instinct (éros). They are always tense without being sure who will triumph in the end. He ends with resignation: “Famished, we think of the mill that grinds so slowly that we could die of hunger before receiving the flour”.

There is a far from optimistic opinion of one of the greatest North American intellectuals and severe critic of the imperialist system, Noham Chomsky. He says: “Coronavirus is something serious enough, but it is worth remembering that there is something much more terrible looming, we are running towards disaster, something much worse than anything that has ever happened in human history and Trump and his lackeys are ahead of it, in the race to the abyss. There is two threats immense we are facing. One is the growing threat of nuclear war, exacerbated by tension from military regimes and the other, of course, global warming. Both can be resolved, but there is not much time and the coronavirus is terrible and can have very bad consequences, but it will be overcome, while the others will not. If we don't solve this, we are doomed."

Chomsky has asserted that President Trump is insane enough to trigger a nuclear war, no matter what happens to all of humanity.

Notwithstanding this dramatic vision by the prestigious linguist and thinker, our hope is that if humanity is put in grave danger of actually self-destructing, the life instinct will prevail. But on the condition that we have built a different way of inhabiting the Common House on other foundations that are neither from the past nor the present.

Reinvent humanity and reshape the Earth

The coronavirus will force us to reinvent ourselves as humanity and to sustainably and inclusively remodel the only Common Home we have. If what dominated before prevails, still exacerbated to the extreme, then we can prepare for the worst. However, it is worth remembering that the life-system went through several great decimations (we are in the sixth) but it has always survived.

It would seem – I allow myself a unique metaphor – a “plague” that no one has yet managed to exterminate. Because it is a blessed “plague”, linked to the mystery of cosmogenesis and to that mysterious and loving Background Energy that presides over all cosmic processes and ours as well.

In any case, the coronavirus has shown us that we are not “little gods” who intend to rule everything; we are fragile and limited; that the accumulation of material goods does not save life; that financial globalization alone, in the competitive molds of capitalism, prevents creating, as the Chinese propose “a community of common destiny for all mankind”; that we have to create a global and plural center to manage global problems; that the cooperation and solidarity of all with all and not individualism, constitute the core values ​​of a geosociety; that the limits of the Earth-system must be recognized and respected, which does not tolerate a project of unlimited growth; that we must take care of nature, as we take care of ourselves, because we are part of it and it provides us with all the goods and services necessary for life; that we should pursue a circular economy that realizes the famous three R's (R): To reduce, to reuse and to recycle everything that entered the production process; that the economy be one of dignified and universal subsistence and not the accumulation of some at the expense of all others and of nature; that this type of subsistence economy reduces necessities to make room for sobriety and thus greatly reduces social inequalities; that the new economic order would not be governed by profit but by an economic rationality with a social and ecological sense; that it would be highly rational and humanitarian to create a minimum universal income; that health care is a universal human right (One World-One Health); that we cannot dispense with, rather favor, science and technology made with conscience and destined to serve life and not the market; that it is important to guarantee a State that regulates the market, promotes the necessary development and is equipped to meet collective demands, whether related to health or natural disasters; that we must encourage human-spiritual capital, always unlimited, based on love, solidarity, the search for fair measure, fraternity, compassion, the enchantment of the world and the tireless search for peace.

These are some lessons, among others, that the coronavirus allows us to learn. Quoting the Earth Charter, one of the most inspiring official (UNESCO) documents for the transformation of our way of being on planet Earth, “fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions and ways of life…Our environmental, economic, political, social and spiritual challenges are intertwined and together we can forge inclusive solutions”(Preamble ç).

What worldview and what values ​​to incorporate?

Knowing and becoming aware of the data of reality is not yet doing. What moves us to act? What worldview and what values ​​should we embody? An important text of the concluding part of the Earth Charter, which I also participated in, guides us.

”As never before in history, common destiny calls us to seek a new beginning. This requires a change in the mind and in the heart; it demands a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility. We must imaginatively develop and apply the vision of a sustainable way of life at local, national, regional and global levels.”(the way ahead)

Let's observe: it's not just about improving the path walked. This will lead us to the cyclical crises we already know and eventually to disaster. But it's about "seeking a new beginning”. That is to say, we are challenged to go back to “Earth, our home, which is alive with a community of unique life” (CT, Preamble a). It would be misleading to cover the Earth's wounds with band-aids, thinking in this way to cure it. We have to revitalize it and remake it to be the Common House.

“This requires a change of mind”. The change of mind means a new look at the Earth as well as the new cosmology and biology present it. It is a moment in the evolutionary process that is already 13,7 billion years old and the Earth, 4,3 billion years old. After big bang, all the physical-chemical elements were forged over three billion years in the heart of the big red stars. When they explode, they throw these elements that formed the galaxies, the stars like the Sun, the planets and the Earth in all directions.

It is alive with life that erupted 3,8 billion years ago, a systemic superorganism that self-organizes and continually creates itself. In an advanced moment of its complexity, about 8-10 million years ago, a portion of it began to feel, think, love and worship. The human being, man and woman, appeared. He is conscious and intelligent Earth, that's why he is called homo, made from humus.

This vision changes our conception of Earth. The UN on April 22, 2009 officially recognized it as Mother earth, because everything generates and gives us. That is why the Earth Charter states: “Respect the Earth and life in all its diversity and care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love” (CT ​​1 and 2). Earth as soil we can buy and sell, dig and do so many things. Mother, however, we neither buy nor sell; we love and venerate her. Such attitudes must be transferred to Earth, our Mother. This is the new mind that is important to embody.

“Requires a change in heart”. The heart is the dimension of deep feeling, sensitivity, love, compassion and the values ​​that guide our lives. Especially at the heart lies the care that is a friendly and affectionate way of relating to nature and its beings. We have to do with sensitive or cordial reason, with the limbic brain, which emerged 220 million years ago when mammals erupted in evolution. All of them, like human beings, have feelings, love and care for their offspring. This is the pathos, the ability to affect and be affected, the deepest dimension of the human being.

The reason (the Logos), the mind we referred to earlier, emerged only 8-10 million years ago with the neocortical brain and in the advanced form as Homo sapiens (modern man) about a hundred thousand years ago. It, in modernity, was developed exponentially, dominating our societies and creating technoscience, the great instruments of domination and transformation of the face of the Earth, including creating a death machine with nuclear weapons and others that can put an end to human life. and of nature.

The excess of reason, rationalism, created a kind of lobotomy: human beings find it difficult to feel the other and their suffering. We need to complete the rational intelligence, necessary to take care of the survival needs of our life, but it is necessary to complete it with the emotional and sensitive intelligence to be more complete and to assume with passion the defense of the Earth and of life.

We are worth the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical on integral ecology “On Care for our Common Home”: “We must nurture a passion for caring for the world. It is not possible to commit oneself to great things only with doctrines, without a mystique that animates us, without an inner drive that impels, motivates, encourages and gives meaning to personal and community action”(n.216) And adds:”It also implies the loving awareness of not being separate from other creatures, but of forming with the other beings of the universe a splendid universal communion”(n.220).

Therefore, it is the heart that leads us to simultaneously hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor and leads us to help them, changing the way we relate to them, how we produce and how we consume, with this ideal formulated by the Prime Minister Chinese XI Jinping: “create a moderately well-stocked society” or as we say: a society with sober and supportive consumption.

The text of the Earth Charter also follows: “A new sense of global interdependence is required”. The relationship of everyone with everyone and therefore global interdependence represents a cosmological constant. Everything in the universe is relationship. Nothing and no one are out of touch. The cosmos is constituted by the set of relational networks rather than by the innumerable number of celestial bodies. It is also an axiom of quantum physics that all beings are inter-retro-related. We human beings ourselves are a rhizome (bulb with roots) of relationships facing all relationships. This implies understanding that all ecological, economic, political and spiritual problems have to do with each other. Touching one we touch the whole network of relationships. The action we take affects the entire network of actions.

This holistic understanding overcomes the atomization of knowledge and the fragmentation of human activities. We will only save life if we align ourselves with this universal logic, which is the logic of nature with its splendid diversity. All beings help each other, even the weakest ones, because they also have a value in themselves and communicate some message from the universe.

The text of the Earth Charter follows: universal responsibility”. Responsibility means realizing the consequences of our actions, whether they are beneficial or harmful to all beings. Hans Jonas wrote a classic book about the “Principle Responsibility”. It includes the principle of prevention and the precautionary principle. In prevention we can calculate the effects when we intervene in nature. The precautionary principle does not allow us to measure the consequences and therefore we should not take risks with certain actions and interventions because they can have highly harmful effects on life.

Responsibility must be universal, for everyone. It is not like this that a group or a company assumes its socio-ecological responsibility, protects the air and guarantees the purity of the waters, while others do not take care of these harmful effects and consider them simply as externalities (things that do not enter into business accounting). Either everyone assumes a responsible attitude, therefore universal, and thus we practice ecologically beneficial behaviors or else we will continue accumulating problems for life and the future of our existence.

Furthermore, the Earth Charter says:develop and apply with invention the vision (in a sustainable way of life). Nothing great in this world could be done without the invention of the imaginary that projects new worlds and new ways of being. Here is the place of viable utopias. Every utopia broadens the horizon and makes us inventive. The human being himself emerges as a utopian being, as he is an infinite project and a being inhabited by desire, whose nature, according to the ancients and Freud, is unlimited. Utopia takes us from horizon to horizon, always making us walk in the happy expression of Eduardo Galeano.

To overcome the customary way of inhabiting the Common House, without even having discovered it (this only happened after space travel), exploring its ecosystems, neglecting the forests, the waters, the pure air and the fertility of the soils and relationships fair and fraternal societies, we need the invention that is born of a utopia or a dream. Every utopia is, by nature, unrealizable. But there are viable utopias, those that we can together bring to reality. So we need to dream of the planet as “The Land of Good Hope” (Ignace Sachs) before we get our hands on its making. This utopia is achievable by humanity, when it wakes up from its sleep of a hand-to-hand world and opens itself to the great possible dream of another possible and necessary world.

Further, the Earth Charter states:a vision of a sustainable way of life. We are used to the expression that is in all official documents and in the mouth of the dominant ecology “sustainable development”. All serious analyzes have shown that our way of producing, distributing and consuming is unsustainable. That is to say, it fails to maintain the balance between what we take from nature and what we leave it to be able to reproduce and co-evolve forever. Our voracity has made the planet unsustainable, because if rich countries wanted to universalize their well-being to all humanity, we would need at least three Earths like this one, which is absolutely impossible.

The current development that means economic growth measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reveals astonishing inequalities to the point that the great NGO Oxfam in its 2019 report reveals to us that 1% of humanity owns half the wealth of the world and that 20% controls 95 % of this wealth (of the 1%) while the remaining 80% have to settle for just 5% of the wealth. Such data reveal the complete unsustainability of the world we live in.

The Earth Charter is not governed by the economy but by life. Hence the great challenge is to create a sustainable way of life and all areas, personal, family, social, national and international. For this, the need for “a new beginning” and not just improvements are imposed, keeping the system uneven.

Finally, this sustainable way of life must be realized at local, national, regional and global levels. Evidently, this is a global project that will have to be carried out with deadlines, as ecological awareness grows and we realize our responsibility for the common future of Earth and humanity. Today, the most advanced point in the search for sustainability takes place at the local and regional level. Bioregionalism is then spoken of as the truly viable way of achieving sustainability. Taking the region as a reference, not according to the still persistent arbitrary divisions, but those that nature itself made with the rivers, mountains, forests and others that configure a regional ecosystem. Within this framework, authentic sustainability can be achieved, including natural assets, local culture and traditions, the personalities that have marked that history, favoring small businesses and organic agriculture, with the greatest possible participation, in a democratic spirit. In this way, a sufficient, decent and sustainable “good life and coexistence” (the Andean ecological ideal) will be provided, with the reduction of inequalities.

This vision formulated by the Earth Charter is grandiose and achievable. What we need most is good will, the only virtue that for Kant does not have any defect and limitation, because if it does, it will no longer be good. This goodwill would impel communities and, ultimately, all of humanity to really make “a new beginning”.

Virtues for another possible world

This sustainable way of life translates into virtuous practices that make the sustainable way of life real. There are many virtues for another possible world. I will be brief, because I have published three volumes with the same title on this subject”Virtues for another possible world”(Voices 2005-2006). I list 10 without detailing their content, which would take us too far.

The first is the essential care. I call it essential because, according to a philosophical tradition that comes to us from the Romans, it crossed the centuries and gained its greatest form among various authors, especially in the central nucleus of Being and Time by Heidegger. There, care is seen as the essence of the human being. It is the precondition for the set of factors that allow life to emerge. Without care, life would never erupt and subsist. Some cosmologists like Brian Swimme and Stephan Hawking saw care as the very dynamic of the universe. If the four fundamental energies were not careful enough to act synergistically, we would not have the world we have. Every living being depends on care. If we didn't have the infinite care of our mothers, we wouldn't know how to leave the cradle and look for our food, given that we are biologically needy beings, without any specialized organ. We need the care of others. Everything we love we also take care of, everything we care for we also love. Facing nature means a friendly, non-aggressive relationship that respects its limits.

The second virtue is the sense of belonging to nature, the Earth and the universe. We are parts of a great Whole that overflows us on all sides; we are the conscious and intelligent part of nature, we are that portion of the Earth that feels, thinks, loves and worships. This feeling of belonging fills us with respect, enchantment and welcome.

The third virtue is solidarity and cooperation. We are social beings who not only live but coexist with others. We know from bioanthropology that it was the solidarity and cooperation of our anthropoid ancestors that, in seeking food and bringing it for collective consumption, allowed them to leave animality behind and inaugurate the human world. Today, in the case of the caronavirus, what is saving us is the solidarity and cooperation of everyone with everyone. This solidarity must begin with the last and invisible, otherwise it ceases to be inclusive of all.

The fourth virtue is collective responsibility. We have already explained its meaning above. It is the moment of conscience in which each one and an entire society become aware of the good or bad effects of their decisions and actions. The rampant deforestation of the Amazon would be absolutely irresponsible, as it would unbalance the rainfall pattern in vast regions and eliminate the indispensable biodiversity for the future of life. Nor do we need to refer to a nuclear war whose lethality would eliminate all life, especially human life.

The fifth virtue is Hospitality as a duty and a right. The first to present hospitality as a duty and a right was Immanuel Kant in his famous text “In view of perpetual peace” (1795). He understood that the Earth belongs to everyone, because God did not give title to any part of it to anyone. It belongs to all inhabitants who can walk everywhere. When meeting someone, everyone's duty is to offer hospitality, as a sign of common belonging to the Earth and everyone has the right to be welcomed, without any distinction. For him, together with respect for human rights, they would constitute the pillars for a world republic (Weltrepublik). This theme is very current given the number of refugees and the many discriminations due to various titles. Perhaps it is one of the most urgent virtues in the process of planetization, although one of the least experienced.

The sixth virtue is the coexistence of everyone with everyone. Coexistence is a primary fact, as we all come from the coexistence our parents had. We are beings of relationship which is the same as saying, we don't live simply but we live together day and night. We participate in the lives of others, in their joys and anguish. It is especially difficult for many to live with those who are different, whether of ethnicity, religion or political party. The important thing is to be open to exchange. The different always brings us something new that enriches or challenges us. What we can never do is turn difference into inequality. We can be human in many different ways, in the Brazilian, Italian, Japanese, Yanomami ways. But each form is human and has its dignity. Today, through cybernetic means of communication, we open windows to all peoples and cultures. Knowing how to live with this difference opens up new horizons and we enter into a kind of communion with everyone. This coexistence also implies nature, living with the landscapes, with the forests, with the birds and animals. Not just looking at the starry sky, but communing with the stars, because from them we come and form a great Whole. Ultimately, we form a community of common destiny together with the entirety of creation.

The seventh virtue is the unconditional respect. Each being, no matter how small, has value in itself, regardless of human use. Who developed the theme in depth was Albert Schweitzer, a great Swiss doctor who went to Gabon in Africa to treat leprosy patients. For him, respect is the most important basis of ethics, as it includes acceptance, solidarity and love. We must begin with self-respect by maintaining dignified attitudes and manners that elicit the respect of others. It is important to respect all beings of creation, because they are worth in themselves; exist or live and deserve to exist or live. Above all, it is worth respecting each human person, as he or she bears dignity, sacredness and inalienable rights, regardless of where they come from. We owe supreme respect to the Sacred and to God, the intimate mystery of all things. Only in front of Him can we fall on our knees and revere, because this attitude is up to Him alone.

The eighth virtue is social justice and fundamental equality of all. Justice is more than giving each one what is his; among humans, justice is love and the minimum respect we should devote to others. Social justice is guaranteeing the minimum to all people, not creating privileges and respecting their rights on an equal footing, as we are all human and deserve to be treated humanely. Social inequality means social injustice and, theologically, an offense to the Creator and his sons and daughters. Perhaps it is the greatest perversity existing today that leaves millions in misery and condemned to die before their time. In this time of coronavirus, the violence of social inequality and injustice has been shown. While some can live out their quarantine in suitable houses or apartments, the vast majority of poor people are exposed to contamination and, not infrequently, to death.

The new virtue is the relentless pursuit of peace. Peace is one of the most desired goods, as we live, because of the type of society we build, in permanent competition, appeals to consumption and the exaltation of productivity. Peace does not exist in itself, because it is consequence of values ​​that must be lived beforehand and that result in peace. One of the most pertinent understandings of peace comes from the Earth Charter, which says: “peace is the wholeness that results from right relationships with oneself, with other people, with other cultures, with other lives, with the Earth and with the Greater Whole of which we are a part”(n.16 f). As can be seen, peace is the consequence of adequate relationships and is the fruit of social justice. Without these relationships and justice we will only know truces but never permanent peace.

The tenth virtue is the cultivation of the spiritual meaning of life. The human being has a exteriority body with which we relate to the world and people; we have one interiority where our passions, big dreams and our angels and demons nest in the structure of desire, that we must control the latter and lovingly cultivate the former. Only in this way will we enjoy a balance necessary for life.

But we also have the depth, that dimension where life's great questions inhabit: who are we, where do we come from, where are we going, what can we expect after this earthly life? What is the Supreme Energy that sustains the firmament and preserves our Common Home around the Sun and keeps it always alive to allow us to live? It is the spiritual dimension of the human being made up of intangible values ​​such as unconditional love, confidence in life, the courage to face inevitable hardships. We realize that the world is full of meanings, that things are more than things, as they are messages and have an invisible other side. We intuit that there is a mysterious Presence that pervades all things. Religious and spiritual traditions have called this Presence a thousand names, without, however, being able to fully decipher it. It is the mystery of the world that refers to the Abyssal Mystery that makes everything that is. Cultivating this space humanizes us, makes us more humble and roots us in a transcendent reality, adequate to our infinite desire.

Conclusion: simply being human

The conclusion that we draw from these long reflections regarding the coronavirus 19 is: we must simply be human, vulnerable, humble, connected to each other, part of nature and the conscious and spiritual portion of the Earth with the mission to take care of the sacred heritage we receive, Mother Earth, for us and for future generations.

Inspiring are the last sentences of the Earth Charter: “May our time be remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, for the firm commitment to achieve sustainability by intensifying the struggle for justice and peace, in the joyous celebration of life ”

*Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian, is the author, among other books, of Virtues for another possible world (Voices).

 

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