A minimal humanism

Image: Paweł L.
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

What is it about us that makes us enemies of one another, homicidal, fratricidal, ethnocidal and ultimately biocidal?

My feeling of the world tells me that possibly never in the history of recent times have we experienced, on a universal level, so much inhumanity. When I talk about inhumanity I want to express total contempt for the value of human beings towards other human beings who are different, whether ethnic (black, indigenous, Palestinian), political (fundamentalists, conservatives), religion (Muslims, Candomblé), or gender (women and LGBTQ+). Someone gets killed for a pair of sneakers. A small traffic dispute can end in a gunshot murder.

Not to mention the Russia-Ukraine war (behind it are the USA and NATO), the most appalling inhumanity is being witnessed by all of humanity, through digital media, in the open: the decimation of an entire people, Palestinians from the Gaza, hundreds of women and thousands of innocent children sacrificed by the vengeful fury of the current far-right Israeli Prime Minister, Banjamin Netanyahu. His Minister of Defense has explicitly declared that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip (especially the Hamas military branch that perpetrated a terrorist act against Israel on October 7, 2023 with around 1200 victims) are like animals, they are sub-human and should be so treated, eventually exterminated.

Surrounded on all sides, as in an extermination camp, those living in the Gaza Strip are permanently attacked day and night by air, land and sea by the Israeli government's war forces. Many die of thirst, hunger, under the rubble and from their injuries, as everything was denied to them.

The idea that we are all human, of the same kind of beings, is not even remotely supported and, therefore, there is an undeniable bond of brotherhood between everyone. Everyone breathes, everyone eats, everyone walks on the same soil, everyone receives the same sun rays and raindrops. Everyone, no matter how high their position, has to meet the needs of nature. The king of England cannot say to his servant: go pee in my place. At this point, the most radical democracy reigns at zero degree, including kings, queens, popes, millionaires, simple people, men and women, children and the elderly.

Why are we unable to treat each other humanely? That is to say, welcoming us as members of the same species homo, respect ourselves in the different ways of organizing social and personal life, in habits, traditions and religious expressions and sexual practices? What is it about us that makes us enemies of one another, homicidal, fratricidal, ethnocidal and ultimately biocidal? There are some who claim that Neanderthal man, also a thinking human, would have been exterminated by the homo sapiens.

It has already been observed by bioanthropologists that we are an extremely active, restless, violent and possibly short-lived species on this planet. On the other hand, geneticists and neurologists confirm that love, solidarity, cooperation and the feeling of belonging belong to our DNA (cf. Watson, Crik, Maturana). Are there ways to equate these apparently contradictory data? Why have we reached current levels of inhumanity?

I don't know of any satisfactory answer. What we can say, as so many thinkers have maintained, is that the human being, due to his existential condition, is simultaneously sapiens and demens. He is driven by contradictory impulses, but which coexist in the same person, one of destruction and the other of construction. I have been working with two categories: the symbolic dimension of the human being (that which unites and brings together) and the diabolic dimension (that which disunites and disaggregates). Both coexist, confront each other and bring dynamism to the story.

For a time, for multiple reasons that cannot be discussed here, the symbolic dimension predominated. Thus emerges a society of peaceful and cooperative coexistence. In another, the diabolic dimension prevails, tearing apart the social fabric, producing violence and even wars. I fear that we are currently under the predominance of the diabolical, repressing the symbolic as fundamentalist, fascist thinking and the use of violence to solve social problems prevail.

It is not enough to describe this phenomenology of duality. We have to dig deeper. I estimate that the main cause of current and historical inhumanity lies in the erosion of the Relational Matrix (relational matrix). That is to say, throughout history, slowly but finally completely, we broke the feeling that we are all interconnected, that relationships are established between all beings, forming the great whole of nature, the Earth and even the cosmos.

With the irruption of reason and its use as a power of domination, we broke with the Relational Matrix. We have considered ourselves masters and owners of things. We can use them unscrupulously to our advantage, with the false assumption that they have no value in themselves and, therefore, are devoid of purpose, including planet Earth. This is how the paradigm of modernity was founded.

This rupture is proving to be extremely damaging today, as nature, or the Earth, is turning against us, sending us extreme events, a range of lethal viruses and, in recent times, global warming that has become pointless. It introduced a new and dangerous phase of planet Earth and human history.

The rupture of the Relational Matrix with the beings of nature led to a rupture with its origin, with the Creator of all things. What was called “the death of God” means that we lost that link that gave cohesion and a sense of plenitude to our living and the existence of an ultimate meaning of life and history. The proclamation of God's death (his absence in personal and collective consciousness) gave rise to many humans being uprooted and plunged into deep loneliness. The opposite of a humanistic-spiritual vision of the world that states that life has meaning and history does not end in emptiness is not materialism or atheism. It is uprooting and the feeling that we are alone in the universe and lost, something that a human-spiritual vision of the world prevented.

Today we have to return to our own essence to refound a minimal humanism. That is, placing as guiding marks of our existence and coexistence on this planet the care for each other and for the community of life, love as the greatest congregating and humanizing force in all relationships, unearthing our power from within. of cooperation and solidarity especially with those left behind, a collective option for co-responsibility for the common destiny, and, finally, opening ourselves to that powerful and loving Energy that we intuit within ourselves as the reason and support of all reality. We can give you a thousand names or none at all.

Religions call it God, cosmologists call it the abyss that feeds all beings, or what I prefer, “that Being that makes all beings exist”. Let us forget the names and focus on this Intelligent and Supreme Energy that sustains and underlies all beings and phenomena. It is a human-spiritual view of things.

On these assumptions we will be able to found a minimum humanism, by which everyone will recognize each other as companions on the same journey on this planet and as brothers and sisters of all things (as we have the same genetic basis) and of each other. To be realistic, the symbolic and diabolical data will be present, but under the regency of the symbolic.

In this way we will build a human coexistence in which it will not be so difficult to welcome each other and in which essential solidarity, cooperation and love “that moves the sky, all the stars” and our hearts can flourish. Either we will take this step or we will devour each other.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Mature Earth: A Theology of Life (Planet).


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