The empire’s extreme arrogance: universal spying

The kidnapping of the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, by barring his plane from entering European air space, and the revelation of universal spying by the organs of intelligence and control of the Northamerican government, (NSA), cause us to reflect on a cultural topic of grave consequences: arrogance. The above mentioned facts show the level of arrogance reached by the Europeans, under pressure from the United States. Arrogance is a central theme of Greek reflections, whence we come. In modern times it has been extensively studied by Luigi Zoja, an Italian thinker with a background in economics, sociology and analytical psychology, whose book, Historia da Arrogância, (Axis Mundi, São Paulo, 2000) was published in Brazil.

This dense book traces the history of arrogance in world cultures, especially in Western culture. The Greek thinkers, (philosophers and dramatists) noted that rationality, as liberated from mythology, was inhabited by a demon that would lead to unbounded knowledge and desire, in an endless process. That energy tends to destroy all limits and ends up as arrogance, the true sin that the gods punished harshly. The excess in any field was called hubris, and Nemesis was the divine principle that punished arrogance.

The imperative of old Greece was meden agan: «nothing to excess».  Thucydides would have Pericles, the genial politician from Athens, say: «we love beauty but with frugality, we use wealth for active projects, without useless ostentation; poverty shames no one, but it is shameful not to do everything possible to overcome it». The Greeks looked for the just measure in everything.

Oriental ethics, Buddhist and Hindu, preach the imposition of límits on desire. The Tao Te King already said: «there is no greater disgrace than not knowing how to be content»  (cap.46); and «it would have been better to stop before the glass overflowed» (cap.9).

The hubris-excess-arrogance is the major vice of power, be it personal, of a group, or of an empire. Today that arrogance is embodied in the Northamerican empire, that subjugates all, and in the ideal of unlimited growth, that underlies our culture and political economics.

Excess-arrogance has presently reached its peak in two fronts: in unlimited vigilance, that consists of the capacity of an imperial power to control everyone, by sophisticated cybernetic technology, violating the rights of sovereignty of a country and the unalienable right to personal privacy. It is a sign of weakness and fear, that an empire can no longer convince by its arguments, or attract by its ideals. So it uses direct violence, lies, disrespecting rights and statutes internationally consecrated.  According to the great cultural historians, Toynbee and Burckhard, these are the unequivocal signs of the unrestrained decadence of empires.  But they cause unimaginable destruction as they decline.

The second front of the hubris-excess resides in the dream of unlimited growth through the merciless exploitation of natural goods and services. The West created and exported to the whole world this type of growth, measured by the quantity of material goods (GNP).  It breaks with the logic of nature, that always self regulates, maintaining the interdependence of all with all. Thus a tree does not grow endlessly to the sky, and in the same way, the human being knows its physical and psychological limits. But this development causes humans to impose their arrogant process on nature: thus consuming until they sicken, while simultaneously seeking total health and biological immortality. As the limits of the Earth are being felt, because it is a small and sick planet, humans employ new technologies to force the Earth to produce even more.  She defends herself through global warming, with its extreme events.

Soja correctly says: «growth without end is nothing more than an ingenuous metaphor for immortality» (p.11). Samuel P. Huntington, in his controversial book, Clash of Civilizations, (El choque de civilizaciones, Paidos 1998) affirmed that Western arrogance constitutes «the most dangerous force for instability and possible global conflict in a world of multiple civilizations» (p.397). The surpassing of all limits is aggravated by the lack of sensible and cordial reason. Through it, we emotionally read the data, listen to the messages of nature. and perceive the humane of human history, dramatic and hope-filled.

The acceptance of limits makes us humble and connects us to all beings. The Northamerican empire, through the very logic of dominating arrogance, distances itself from everyone, creating distrust, rather than friendship and admiration.

I end with a story by Leo Tolstoi, in the style of João Cabral de Mello Neto: How much land does a man need? A man made a pact with the devil: he would receive all the land he could walk on foot. He began to walk, day and night, without stopping, from valley to valley, from mountain to mountain, until he fell dead from exhaustion. Tolstoi comments: had he known his limits, he would have known that he only needed a few meters; he would not need more than that, to be buried.

To be admired, the United States would not need more than its own territory and its own people. They would not need to distrust everyone, or always to be prying into the lives of all the world

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,


Can the Roman Curia be Reformed?

The Roman Curia consists of all the organs within the 44 hectares surrounding Saint Peter’s Basilica that assist the Pope in governing the Church. There are just over three thousand functionaries. It began small, in the XII century, but in 1588 it was transformed by Pope Sixtus V into a body of experts, created especially to confront the reformers; Luther, Calvin and others. Paul VI, in 1967, and Pope John Paul II, in 1998, tried in vain to reform it.
Is considered to be one of the most conservative governmental administrations in the world, and is so powerful that in practice it delayed, filed away and annulled the changes introduced by the two previous popes, and blocked the progressive line of Vatican Council II, (1962-1965).

It continues undetered, as if it worked not for the times but for eternity. However, the moral and financial scandals that took place within its confines have been of such magnitude that a cry has arisen from all the Church, requesting that the new Pope Francis undertake to reform it as one of his missions. As Giancarlo Zizola, the prince of the specialist on the Vatican, sadly now gone, wrote: «four centuries of counter-reformation have nearly extinguished the revolutionary chromosome of the original Christianity, as the Church established herself as a counterrevolutionary organism» (Quale Papa, 1977, page 278).  It rejects everything that is new. In a February 22, 1975 speech to the members of the Curia, Pope Paul VI went as far as to accuse the Roman Curia of having «an attitude of superiority and pride towards the Episcopal College and the People of God».

Will Pope Francis succeed in transforming the Curia, combining Franciscan sensibility with Jesuit rigor? He has wisely surrounded himself with eight experienced Cardinals, from every continent, to work with him to realize this colossal task, and the purges that necessarily must be realized.

Behind all this there is a historic-theological problem that greatly hinders the reform of the Curia. It is expressed by two contradictory visions. The first comes from the fact that, after the 1870 proclamation of the infallibility of the Pope, with the consequent Romanizing, (uniformization), of the whole Church, there was a maximum concentration at the top of the pyramid: namely, the papacy, with «supreme, total, immediate» power (canon 331). This means that all decisions are concentrated in him, a load that is practically impossible for a single person, even with absolute monarchical power, to carry alone. No decentralization is acceptable, because it would reduce the supreme power of the Pope. The Curia, then, surrounds the Pope, who becomes its prisoner; sometimes blocking initiatives that are contrary to its traditional conservatism, or simply putting aside projects until they are forgotten.

The other vision recognizes the weight of the monarchical papacy. It seeks to breathe life into the Synod of Bishops, a collegial organism created by Vatican Council II to assist the Pope in governing the Universal Church. But John Paul II and Benedict XVI, pressured by the Curia, who saw it as destroying the centralism of Roman power, turned it into a consultative rather than a deliberative organism. It meets every two or three years, but with no meaningful effect on the Church.

All indications are that Pope Francis, by convoking the eight Cardinals in order to reform the Curia, with him and under his leadership, will create an organism through which he will preside over the Church. Let’s hope he enlarges this collegiate organism, including representatives not only of the hierarchy but of the whole People of God, women included, because women are the majority of the Church.  Such a step does not appear impossible.

The best way to reform the Curia, in the opinion of experts on Vatican affairs and also of some important leaders, would be a major decentralization of functions. We are in the era of globalization, and of real time electronic communications. If the Catholic Church wants to adapt to this new period of humanity, nothing would be better than to undertake an organizational revolution.  Why not transfer to Africa the Secretary (dicasterio) for the Evangelization of the Peoples?  Relocate the Secretary of Inter-Religious Dialogue to Asia? That of Justice and Peace to Latin America?  Couldn’t the Secretary for the Promotion of Christian Unity be in Geneva, close to the World Council of Churches?  Some secretariats, those involved with the most immediate things, would remain in the Vatican. Through video-conferences, skype and other communication technologies, they could maintain direct daily contact. This would avoid the creation of an anti-power, at which the traditional Curia is a great expert. It would make the Catholic Church truly universal, not just Western.

As Pope Francis is always asking us to pray for him, we have to, in effect, pray deeply, so that this wish becomes reality, for the benefit of all.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,

Il profeta analizza il presente e prevede il futuro

Il profeta, in senso biblico, non è in primo luogo quello che prevede il futuro. È  colui che analizza il presente, identifica tendenze, generalmente devianti, ammonisce e perfino minaccia. Annuncia il giudizio di Dio sul corso presente della storia e fa promesse di liberazione dalle calamità.

A partire dalla captazione delle tendenze, fa previsioni per il futuro. In fondo, afferma: se continuerà questo tipo di comportamento da parte dei dirigenti del popolo, fatalmente succederanno delle disgrazie. Queste sono conseguenza delle violazioni delle leggi sacre. E a questo punto proiettano scenari drammatici in funzione pedagogica: condurre tutti alla ragione e all’osservanza di ciò che è giusto e retto davanti a Dio e alla natura.

Leggendo alcuni profeti dell’Antico Testamento e anche premonizioni di Gesù sulla situazione dei tempi futuri, quasi spontaneamente ci ricordiamo dei nostri dirigenti e del loro comportamento irresponsabile davanti agli scenari che si stanno preparando per la Terra, per la biosfera e per l’eventuale destino della nostra civiltà.

Giorni fa, in alcuni luoghi del Nord del mondo si è spezzata la barriera ritenuta come la linea rossa che dovrebbe essere rispettata a qualsiasi costo; non permettere che la presenza del biossido di carbonio nell’atmosfera arrivi a 400 parti per milione. E purtroppo c’è arrivata. Arrivato a questo livello, difficilmente il clima riscaldato tornerà indietro. Si stabilizzerà e potrà diventare un paziente cronico. La Terra resterà calda per all’incirca di +2 °C  o più ancora. Molti organismi vivi non riescono ad adattarsi, non possiedono strumenti per minimizzare gli effetti negativi e finiscono scomparendo. La desertificazione si accelererà; i raccolti saranno persi; migliaia di persone dovranno abbandonare  il loro paese a causa del calore insopportabile per poter sopravvivere e garantire la loro alimentazione.

È in un contesto del genere che leggo passi del profeta Isaia. Vissuto nel secolo ottavo a.C., in uno dei periodi più turbolenti della storia. Israele si trovava spesso schiacciata tra due potenze, Egitto e Assiria che si disputavano l’egemonia su quella regione. Era invaso a turno da una di queste due potenze. L’una e l’altra lasciavano  sempre una una scia di devastazione e di morte.

In questo contesto drammatico, Isaia scrive un intero capitolo, il 24º, tutta una linea di devastazione ecologica. Le descrizioni assomigliano a quel che potrebbe succedere da noi se le nazioni del mondo non si metteranno d’accordo per creare un’organizzazione che blocchi  il riscaldamento globale. Specialmente quello improvviso già pronosticato da notevoli scienziati e che potrà avvenire prima della fine di questo secolo. Se questo effettivamente avverrà, la specie umana correrà il grande rischio di decimazione e di distruzione di gran parte della biosfera.

Dobbiamo prendere sul serio i profeti. Essi decifrano tendenze in una prospettiva che va al di là dello spazio e del tempo. Per questo anche la nostra generazione potrà essere inclusa nelle loro minacce. Trascrivo qualche breve registrazione del capitolo 24 come ammonizioni e materiale di meditazione.

“La stessa cosa succederà al creditore al debitore; la terra sarà totalmente devastata. Essa è stata profanata dai suoi abitanti perché hanno trasgredito le leggi, hanno calpestato i precetti. Hanno rotto l’alleanza eterna. Per questa ragione, la maledizione ha divorato la terra e sono colpevoli tutti quelli che in essa abitano. La Terra si rompe, trema violentemente e fortemente è scossa. La Terra barcolla come un ubriaco, è agitata come una capanna… La luna sarà confusa e i il sole avrà vergogna”.

Gesù, ultimo e maggiore di tutti i profeti avverte: “Una nazione si solleverà contro un’altra e un regno contro un altro. Ci saranno fame peste e terremoti in diversi luoghi” (Matteo 24,7). “Sulla terra  l’angustia s’impadronirà delle nazioni perturbate dal fragore del mare e delle onde. Le persone sverranno a causa della paura e dell’ansia per quello che avverrà su tutta la Terra, perché le forze del cielo saranno scosse. (Lc 22,25-27).

Non avvengono scene simili negli tsunami del sud-est dell’Asia, a Fukushima, in Giappone, con grandi tornados e tifoni come Kathrina o Sandy ne gli Stati Uniti e in altri luoghi del pianeta? Le persone non sono prese da paura assistendo alla devastazione, a vedere il suolo coperto di cadaveri? Queste catastrofi non succedono per caso ma avvengono perché abbiamo rotto l’alleanza sacra tra la Terra e i suoi cicli. Sono segnali e analogie che ci richiamano alla responsabilità.

Curiosamente nonostante che tutti gli scenari di decimazione la parola profetica sempre termina con la speranza. Dice il profeta Isaia: “Dio toglierà il velo di tristezza che copre tutte le nazioni. Lui stesso asciugherà le lacrime da tutte le facce… In quel giorno si dirà: questo è il nostro Dio, noi speriamo in lui e lui ci salverà” (25,7.9). E Gesù fa le rifiniture promettendo:”Quando cominceranno a succedere queste cose, fatevi coraggio e alzate la testa perché si avvicina la liberazione” (Lc 21,28).

Dopo queste parole profetiche, ogni commento sarebbe fuori luogo, eccetto il silenzio dolente e pensoso.

Traduzione di Romano Baraglia

Desafío urgente: la responsabilidad socioambiental de las empresas

Ya hemos dejado atrás el economicismo del Nobel Milton Friedman que en el Time de septiembre de 1970 decía: «la responsabilidad social de la empresa consiste en maximizar las ganancias de los accionistas». Noam Chomsky es más realista: «Las empresas son lo más cercano de las instituciones totalitarias». No tienen que dar explicaciones al público o a la sociedad. Actúan como depredadoras, teniendo como presas a las otras empresas. Para defenderse, las poblaciones disponen solamente de un instrumento: el Estado. Pero hay sin embargo una diferencia que no se puede pasar por alto: «mientras que, por ejemplo, la General Electric, no debe satisfacer a nadie, el estado debe dar explicaciones a la población con regularidad » (en Le Monde Diplomatique de Brasil, nº 1,  agosto 2007, p. 6).

Ya hace décadas que las empresas se han dado cuenta de que son parte de la sociedad y que tienen una responsabilidad social en el sentido de colaborar para que tengamos una  sociedad mejor.

Puede definirse así: La responsabilidad social es la obligación que la empresa asume de buscar metas que, a medio y largo plazo, sean buenas para ella y también para el conjunto de la sociedad en la cual se encuentra.

Esta definición no debe ser confundida con la obligación social que significa el cumplimiento de las obligaciones legales y el pago de los impuestos y de las obligaciones sociales de los trabajadores. Esto es simplemente lo exigido por ley. Ni es la respuesta social: la capacidad de una empresa de responder a los cambios producidos en la economía globalizada y en la sociedad, como por ejemplo, el cambio de la política económica del gobierno, una nueva legislación y las trasformaciones del perfil de los consumidores. La respuesta social es aquello que una empresa tiene que hacer para adecuarse y poder reproducirse.

La responsabilidad social va más allá de todo esto: es lo que hace la empresa, después de cumplir con todos los requisitos legales, para mejorar la sociedad de la cual forma parte y garantizar la calidad de vida y el medio ambiente. No sólo lo que hace para la comunidad, lo que sería filantropía, sino lo que hace con la comunidad, con la participación de sus miembros en proyectos diseñados y supervisados en común. Esto es liberador.

En los últimos años, sin embargo, gracias a la conciencia ecológica despertada por el desajuste del sistema-Tierra y del sistema-vida, ha surgido el tema de la responsabilidad socioambiental. El hecho principal se produjo el 02 de febrero de 2007, cuando el organismo de la ONU que reúne a 2.500 científicos de más de 135 países, el Grupo Intergubernamental de Expertos sobre el Cambio Climático (IPCC), después de seis años de investigación, dio a conocer sus datos al público. No estamos yendo hacia el calentamiento global y los profundos cambios climáticos. Ya estamos dentro de ellos. El estado de la Tierra ha cambiado. El clima va a variar mucho, si no hacemos algo, puede aumentar hasta 4-6 grados centígrados.

Este cambio, con un 90% de certeza, es antropogénico, lo que significa que es causado por los seres humanos, más bien, por el tipo de producción y de consumo que ya cuenta con cerca de tres siglos de existencia y que hoy en día se ha globalizado. Los gases de efecto invernadero, especialmente el dióxido de carbono y el metano, son la causa principal del calentamiento global.

La cuestión que se plantea a las empresas es la siguiente: ¿en qué medida contribuyen a limpiar el planeta, a introducir un nuevo paradigma de producción, de consumo y de reciclado de residuos, de acuerdo con los ritmos de la naturaleza y la red de la vida, y no sacrificando los bienes y servicios naturales?

Este es un tema que se está discutiendo en todas las grandes empresas globales, sobre todo después del informe de Nicholas Stern (ex-economista principal del Banco Mundial), del informe del ex-vicepresidente de Estados Unidos, Al Gore: Una verdad incómoda, y de las varias convenciones de la ONU sobre el calentamiento global. Si de ahora en adelante no se invierten unos 450 mil millones de dólares al año para estabilizar el clima del planeta, en los años 2030-2040 será demasiado tarde y la Tierra entrará en una era de grandes extinciones, que afectará en gran medida a la especie humana. Una reciente reunión de la Agencia Internacional de la Energía destacaba que las decisiones tienen que ser tomadas ahora y no en 2020. El año 2015 es nuestra última oportunidad. Después será demasiado tarde e iríamos al encuentro de lo indecible.

Estos problemas ambientales son de tal importancia que se anteponen a la simple cuestión de la responsabilidad social. Si no aseguramos primero el planeta Tierra con sus ecosistemas no hay manera de salvar a la sociedad y al conjunto empresarial. Por lo tanto: ¡responsabilidad socio-ambiental!

Leonardo Boff ha escrito: Sostenibilidad: qué es y qué no es, Vozes 2012.