Back to “normality”?

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By Leonardo Boff*

Times of crisis like ours, of passing from one type of world to another, are also times of big dreams and utopias

When the coronavirus pandemic passes, we will not be allowed to return to the previous “normality”. It would be, first of all, a disdain for the thousands who died suffocated by the virus and a lack of solidarity with relatives and friends. Secondly, it would demonstrate that we have learned nothing from what is or was more than a crisis, but an urgent call to change our way of inhabiting the only Common Home. We have to do with an appeal from the living Earth itself, that self-regulating superorganism of which we are its intelligent and conscious portion.

The current system puts the foundations of life at risk

Return to the previous conformation of the world, hegemonized by neoliberal capitalism, incapable of resolving its internal contradictions and whose DNA is its voracity for unlimited growth at the expense of the overexploitation of nature and indifference to the poverty and misery of the vast majority of humanity produced by it , is to forget that such conformation is undermining the ecological foundations that support all life on the planet. Return to previous “normality” (business as usual) is to prolong a situation that could mean our own self-destruction.

If we do not carry out a “radical ecological conversion”, in the words of Pope Francis, the living Earth could react and counterattack with even more violent viruses, capable of making the human species disappear. This is not merely a personal opinion, but that of many biologists, cosmologists and ecologists who systematically follow the increasing degradation of the life-system and the Earth-system. Ten years ago (2010), as a result of my research in cosmology and the new ecological paradigm, I wrote the book: Caring for the Earth-Protecting Life: How to Avoid the End of the World” (Record). The predictions advanced have been fully confirmed by the current situation.

The capitalist and neoliberal project was refuted

One lesson we gathered from the pandemic is this: if you had followed the ideals of neoliberal capitalism, -competition, private accumulation, individualism, the primacy of the market over life and the minimization of the State - the majority of humanity would have been lost. What has saved us has been cooperation, the interdependence of everyone with everyone, solidarity and a State sufficiently equipped to offer the universal chance of treating the coranovirus, in the case of Brazil, the SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde).

We made some discoveries: we need a world social contract, because we are still hostages of the outdated sovereignty of each country. Global problems require a global solution, agreed by all countries. We saw the disaster in the European Community, where each country had its own plan, without considering the necessary cooperation from other countries. It was widespread devastation in Italy, Spain and lately in the US where medicine is all privatized.

Another discovery was the urgency of a plural center of global governance to guarantee the whole community of life (not only the human but all living beings) enough and decent to live. Natural goods and services are scarce and many are non-renewable. With them we must meet the basic demands of the life-system, also thinking about future generations. Here is the place to create a minimum universal income for all, persistent preaching of the valiant and dignified politician Eduardo Suplicy.

A shared destiny community

The Chinese saw this demand clearly when they pushed “a community of shared destiny for all mankind”, text incorporated in the renewed article 35 of the Chinese Constitution. This time, either we all save ourselves or we all join the procession of those heading towards the collective grave. That's why we have to urgently change our way of relating to nature and the Earth, not as masters, mounted on top of it, squandering it, but as conscious and responsible parties, putting ourselves together and at its foot, caretakers of all life.

To the famous TINA (There Is No Alternatives), “there is no other alternative” from the culture of capital, we must oppose another TINA (There Is a New Alternative) “there is a new alternative”. If in the first alternative the centrality was occupied by profit, the market and the domination of nature and others (imperialism), in this second it will be life in its vast diversity, also human with its many cultures and traditions that will organize the new way of living the Common House. This is possible and within human possibilities: we have science and technology, we have a fantastic accumulation of monetary wealth, but the vast majority of humanity and, worse, heads of state lack awareness of this need and the political will to implement it . Perhaps, faced with a real risk of our disappearance as a species, because we have reached the unbearable limits of the Earth, the survival instinct will make us sociable, fraternal and all collaborators and solidarity with each other. The time for competition has passed. Now is the time for cooperation.

The inauguration of a biocentric civilization

I believe that we will inaugurate a civilization that is biocentered, careful, friendly to life and, as some say, “the Land of good hope”. The “bien vivir e convivir” of the Andeans will be able to take place: the harmony of everyone with everyone, in the family, in society, with other beings of nature, with the waters, with the mountains and even with the stars of the firmament.

As the Nobel Prize in economics Joseph Stiglitz said: “we will have a science not at the service of the market, but the market at the service of science” and I would add, and science at the service of life.

We will not come out of the coronavirus pandemic as we entered. Significant changes will surely be made, who knows, even structural ones. The well-known indigenous leader, Ailton Krenak, from the Krenak ethnic group, from the Rio Doce valley, rightly said: “I don't know if we are going to leave this experience the same way we entered it. It's like a stride to look at what really matters; the future is here and now, we may not be alive tomorrow; I hope we don't get back to normality” (The Globe, 01/05/2020, B 6).

Logically, we cannot imagine that the transformations will take place overnight. It is understandable that factories and production chains will want to return to the previous logic. But they will no longer be acceptable. They will have to undergo a reconversion process in which the entire industrial and agro-industrial productive apparatus will have to incorporate the ecological factor as an essential element. Corporate social responsibility is not enough. There will be a social responsibilityorganic farming.

 Alternative energies to fossil energies, which have less impact on ecosystems, will be sought. More care will be taken of the atmosphere, the waters and the forests. Safeguarding biodiversity will be fundamental for the future of human life and food and the entire community of life.

What kind of Earth do we want for the future?

There will surely be a great discussion of ideas about what future we want and what kind of Earth we want to inhabit. What will be the most appropriate conformation for the current phase of the Earth and of humanity itself, the phase of planetization and the increasingly clear perception that we have no other Common Home to inhabit but this one. And that we have a common destiny, happy or tragic. For it to be happy, it is important to take care of it so that everyone can fit inside, nature included.

There is a real risk of a polarization of binary models: on the one hand integration movements of general cooperation and on the other, the reassertion of national sovereignty with its protectionism. On the one hand, “natural” and green capitalism and, on the other, reinvented and third-generation communism, as predicted by Alain Badiou and Slajov Zizek.

Others fear a process of radical brutalization on the part of the “owners of economic and military power” to guarantee their privileges and capital. It would be despotism in a different way, since it would rely on cybernetic means and artificial intelligence with its complex algorithms, a surveillance system for all the people on the planet. Social life and freedoms would be permanently threatened. To every power there always emerges an anti-power. They suggested major clashes and conflicts because of the exclusion and misery of millions who, despite vigilance, will not be content with the crumbs that fall from the tables of the wealthy epulons.

There are not few who propose a glocalization that is to say, the accent will be placed on the local, in the region with its geological, physical, ecological and cultural specificities but open to the overall that involves everyone. In this bioregionalism, real sustainable development could actually be achieved, taking advantage of local goods and services. Practically everything will be carried out in the region, with smaller companies, with agroecological production, without the need for long transports that consume energy and pollute. Culture, arts and traditions will be revived as an important part of social life. Governance will be participatory, reducing inequalities and reducing poverty, whenever possible, in complex societies. It is the thesis that cosmologist Mark Hathaway and I defend in our joint book the tao da Libertação (2010), which was well received in the scientific community and among ecologists to the point that Fritjob Capra offered to write an instigating preface.

Others see the possibility of a planetary ecosocialism, capable of accomplishing what capitalism, due to its competitive and excluding essence, proves itself incapable of doing: a global social contract, egalitarian and inclusive, respectful of nature in which the we (community and corporate) and not Me (individualism) will be the structuring axis of societies and the world community. He found his most brilliant formulator in the Franco-Brazilian Michael Löwy. Finally, as the Earth Charter reaffirms, as well as the encyclical of Pope Francis “on care for our common home”, a truly sustainable way of life and not just sustainable development.

In the end, we will move from an industrialist/consumer society to a life-sustaining society with sober and solidary consumption; from a culture of accumulation of material goods to a humanistic-spiritual culture in which intangible goods such as solidarity, social justice, cooperation, affective bonds and, not least, love and logic du coeur  will be on its foundations.

We do not know which trend will prevail. Human beings are complex and indecipherable, they are moved by benevolence but also by stupidity. It's complete but it's not quite ready yet. You will learn, by trial and error, that the best conformation for human coexistence along with all other beings on Mother Earth must be guided by the logic of the universe itself: this is structured, as notable cosmologists and quantum physicists tell us, by complex networks of inter-retro-relationships. Everything is relationship. It does not exist outside of the relationship. Everyone helps each other to continue existing and to be able to co-evolve. The human being himself is a rhizome (root bulb) of relationships in all directions.

If I may say so in theological terms: it is the image and likeness of the Godhead that emerges as the intimate relationship of three Infinites, each one singular (the singularities do not add up) of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who eternally exist for each other , with the other, in the other and through the other, constituting a God-communion of love, goodness and infinite beauty.

Times of crisis like ours, of passage from one type of world to another, are also times of big dreams and utopias. They are the ones that move us towards the future, incorporating the past, but making our own footprint on the ground of life. It's easy to step on the footprints left by others. But it no longer leads us down any hopeful path. We must make our footprint, marked by the unavoidable hope of life's victory, because the path is made by walking and dreaming. So let's walk.

*Leonardo Boff he is an ecologist, a philosopher. Author, among other books, of Caring for Earth-Protecting Life: How to Escape the End of the World (Record).

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