Many analysts predict that the post-pandemic could usher in an extreme radicalization of the previous situation, a return to the system of capital and neo-liberalism, which seeks to dominate the world through electronic surveillance (big data) of every person in the planet, which is already being done in China and the United States. We then would enter an era of darkness, risking our own destruction, as suggested by Rachel Carson in her famous book, “Silent Spring”. Hence the demand for a radical ecological conversion, whose centrality must consist of the Earth, life and human civilization: a bio-civilization.
The possible risks in the post-covid-19 period:
We must not, however, underestimate the power of systemic violence. Sigmund Freud, replying to a 1932 letter by Albert Einstein in which Einstein asked if it was possible to overcome violence and war, left an aporia. Freud replied that he could not say which tendency would prevail: the instinct of death (Thanatos) or the instinct of life (Eros). They are always in tension and we cannot be sure which will triumph in the end. And he concluded, resigned: “Starving, we think of the windmill that grinds so slowly that we can die of hunger before we get the flour”.
There is the non optimistic opinion of Noam Chomsky, one of the greatest Northamerican intellectuals and a severe critic of the imperialist system, who says: «The coronavirus is very grave indeed, but it is worth remembering that something even more terrible is near. We are headed towards disaster, something worse than anything that has ever happened in human history, and Trump and his lackeys are leading us towards the abyss. We are facing two immense threats. One is the ever growing threat of nuclear war, exacerbated by the tension of the military regimes; and the other, of course, is global warming. The two threats could be resolved, but there is not enough time; the coronavirus is terrible and can have terrible consequences, but it will be overcome, while the others will not. If we do not resolve them, we are condemned».
Chomsky has affirmed that President Trump is insane enough as to unleash a nuclear war, without caring what would happen to all of humanity.
Notwithstanding this dramatic vision of the prestigious linguist and thinker, our hope is that if humanity were to run a truly grave danger of self destruction, the life instinct would prevail. But that presumes that we had constructed a new form of inhabiting the Common Home, on bases that are neither those of the past, nor of the present.
Some good lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic
In any event, the coronavirus has shown us that we are not the “little gods” who claim to be able to do anything; it has shown us that we are fragile and limited; that the accumulation of material goods does not save life; that financial globalization alone, in the competitive mold of capitalism, precludes the creation, as the Chinese propose, of “a community of common destiny for the whole humanity”; that we must create a global a pluralistic center to discuss world problems; that cooperation and solidarity of one an all rather than individualism are the central values of a geosociety.
The limits of the Earth-System which does not tolerate a project of unlimited growth must be recognized and respected; we must take as good care of nature as of ourselves, because we are part of nature and she gives us all the goods and services needed for life. We must seek a circular economy that fulfills the famous “3-Rs”; reduce, reuse, and recycle everything that has entered into the process of production.
The economy must be one of dignified and universal subsistence and not of accumulation by some at the expense of everyone else and of nature. An economy of subsistence reduces our needs and leads to sobriety, and thus in great measure reduces social inequalities. The new economic order will not be ruled by profit but by economic rationality with ecological and social sensitivity.
It would be highly rational and humanitarian to create a minimum universal income; for medical attention to be a universal human right (One World-One Health) that should not be left unattended. It is important to ensure that the state regulates the market, to promote the necessary development and satisfy collective demands, be they of health or natural disasters.
We must encourage human-spiritual capital, always unlimited, based on love, solidarity, the search for the just measure, fraternity, compassion, feeling the enchantment of the world and the tireless search for peace.
A road map to rescue life: The Earthcharter
These are, among others, some of the lessons we can draw from the coronavirus. Quoting the Earthcharter, (UNESCO), one of the most inspiring official documents for the transformation of our form of being on planet Earth, «fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions and forms of life… Our environmental, economic, political, social and spiritual challenges are interconnected and together we can forge inclusive solutions» (Preamble c).
What world vision and which values should be included?
To know and have knowledge of information about reality is not yet to act. What moves us to act? What world vision (cosmology) and which values (ethics) we should include? An important text in the final part of the Earthcharter, in whose editing I also took part, can guide us.
“As never before in history, the common destiny calls us to search for a new beginning. This requires a change of mind and heart. It demands a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility. We must develop and apply with imagination the vision of a mode of sustainable life at a local, national, regional and world levels” (The path ahead).
Let us note that it is not just about improving the path we have taken. This would lead us to the cyclical crises that we already know, and eventually to disaster. It is about “searching for a new beginning”. We are called to rebuild the “Earth, our home, that is alive with a unique community of life” (Earthcharter, Preamble a). It would be deceitful to cover the wounds of the Earth with bandages, thinking that we could cure her that way. We must revive her and remake her so that she may be our Common Home.
“This requires a change of mind”. A change of mind means a new way of looking at the Earth, according to the new cosmology and biology. She is at a moment of the process of evolution that is 13.7 billion years old, and for the Earth, 4.3 billion years. After the big bang, all the physical-chemical elements were forged over more than three billion years, in the heart of the big red stars. On exploding, they launched in every direction the elements that formed the galaxies, the stars like the Sun, the planets and the Earth.
The Earth is teeming with life that began some 3.8 billion years ago, a continuously self creating and self organizing systemic super-organism. In an advanced moment of her complexity, some 8-10 million years ago, a part of the Earth began to feel, to think, to love and to worship. The human being emerged, man and woman. They are Earth, conscious and intelligent, that’s why they are called homo, made of humus.
This cosmovision changes our conception of the Earth. The UN, on April 22, 2009, officially recognized her as Mother Earth, because she creates and gives us everything. This is why the Earthcharter calls us: “To respect the Earth and life in all its diversity and to take care of the community of life with understanding, compassion and love” (Earthcharter 1 and 2). We can buy and sell the Earth as land. However, as Suquamish-Duwamish Grandfather Sealth, a.k.a., Seattle, stated, “we neither buy nor sell our Mother; we love and venerate her”. This attitude must be restored to the Earth, our Mother. This is the new mindset that we must make our own.
“It requires a change of heart”. The heart is the dimension of profound feelings (pathos), of sensibility, love, compassion and the values that guide our life. Especially in the heart is found caring, the friendly and affectionate form of relating with nature and her beings. It has to do with the sensible or cordial reason, with the limbic brain, that arose some 220 million years ago when mammals emerged in evolution. All of them, like the human being, have feelings, they love and care for their offspring. That is pathos, the capacity of affecting and of being affected, the human beings’ most profound dimension.
Reason (logos), the mind we have referred before, appeared only some 8-10 million years ago, with the neo-cortical brain, and in an advanced form as homo sapiens (present day humans) about a hundred thousand years ago. In modern times, it has developed exponentially, dominating our societies and creating techno-science, the great instruments of domination and the transformation of the face of the Earth, including a death machine in the form of nuclear weapons and other things that can end human life and the life of nature
The elevation of reason, rationalism, has created a kind of lobotomy: the human being has difficulty feeling the other and its suffering. We need to complete the rational intelligence, necessary to solve the needs of survival of our life, but we must to complement it with emotional and sensible intelligence. so that we may be more complete and we undertake with passion the defense of the Earth and of life.
We need the heart to make us hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, and to forge, as the Prime Minister of China, Xi Jinping, says: “a society moderately supplied” or as we say: a society with sober, frugal and solidarian consumption. (to be continued).
*Leonardo Boff is an ecotheologian and philosopher that has written: The Human Being, Satan or the Good Angel. Record,Rio 2008.