Another (world) agenda: free life or another civilizational paradigm?

                               Leonardo Boff                          

Previous note: An international group was organized that proposed “another world agenda to liberate life”. The first session was held on 5/5/2022. Each participant (about 20 in all, but not all participated) had 10-15 minutes to present his or her vision of the issue. The basic purpose is how to democratize the scientific knowledge that strengthens the search for an agenda that aims to liberate life. I present here my short presentation, made in French, with the ideas that I have proposed and defended in other writings. So far, as it seems, the new agenda is still situated within the old paradigm (the dominant bubble), and the question of the profound crisis that this paradigm, that of techno-scientific modernity, has provoked and that is putting at risk the future of our life and our civilization, has not been raised. Hence the opportunity to clearly expose a critical and totally unbelieving position regarding the virtuality of this paradigm of liberating life, which is rapidly destroying it. Lboff

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Let me get straight to the point: within the current civilizing paradigm, of modernity, is another Agenda possible, or have we reached its insurmountable limits and must we seek another civilizing paradigm if we want to continue living on this planet?

Inspired by three statements of great authority.

The first is from the Earth Charter, adopted by UNESCO in 2003. Its opening sentence assumes apocalyptic overtones: “We stand before a critical moment in Earth’s history, at a time when humanity must choose its future…Our choice is: either to form a global alliance to care for the Earth and each other, or to risk our own destruction and the destruction of the diversity of life” (Preamble).

The second severe statement is from Pope Francis in the encyclical Fratelli tutti (2020): “we are in the same boat, no one is saved by himself,either we all save ourselves or no one is saved”(n.32).

The third statement is from the great historian Eric Hobsbawn in his well-known work The Age of Extremes (1994), in his final sentence: “We do not know where we are going. However, one thing is certain. If humanity wants to have an acceptable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on this basis, we will fail. And the price of failure, that is, the alternative to changing society, is darkness” (p.562).

In other words: our way of inhabiting the Earth, which has brought us undeniable advantages, has reached its exhaustion. All the traffic lights have turned red. We have built the principle of self-destruction, being able to exterminate all life with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by multiple different ways. The techno-science that has brought us to the extreme limits of the planet Earth’s supportability (The Earth Overshoot) is not able, by itself, as Covid-19 has shown, to save us. We can file the wolf’s teeth down, thinking that we are taking away its voracity. But this does not reside in the teeth, but in its nature.

Therefore, we have to abandon our boat and go beyond a new world agenda. We have reached the end of the road. We have to open a different one. Otherwise, as Sigmunt Bauman said in his last interview before his death, “we will join the procession of those who are heading for their own grave”. We are forced, if we want to live, to recreate ourselves and reinvent a new paradigm of civilization.

Two paradigms: that of dominus and that of frater

I see at this moment the confrontation between two paradigms, well exposed by the encyclical Fratelli tutti:  the dominus paradigm and the frater paradigm. In other words: the paradigm of conquest, expression of the will to power as domination, formulated by the founding fathers of modernity with Descartes, Newton, Francis Bacon, domination of everything, of peoples, as in the Americas, Africa and Asia, domination of classes, of nature, of life, and domination of matter up to its last energetic expression by the Higgs Boson.

The human being (Descartes’ maître et possesseur) does not feel part of nature, but its lord and master (dominus) who in the words of Francis Bacon “must torture nature as the torturer does his victim until she gives up all her secrets”.He is the founder of the modern scientific method, prevalent until today.

This paradigm understands the Earth as a mere res extensa and purposeless, transformed into a chest of resources, considered as infinite that allow an infinite growth/development. However, today we know scientifically that a finite planet cannot support an infinite project, which is the great crisis of the capital system as a mode of production and of neoliberalism as its political expression.

The other paradigm is that of the frater: the brother and sister of all human beings among themselves and the brothers and sisters of all other beings of nature.All living beings have, as Dawson and Crick showed in the 1950s, the same 20 amino acids and the 4 nitrogenous bases, from the most original cell that appeared 3.8 billion years ago, passing through the dinosaurs and arriving to us humans. This is why the Earth Charter says, and Pope Francis strongly emphasises it in his two ecological encyclicals, Laudato Si’ on the care of the common home (2015) and Fratelli tutti (2020): a bond of brotherhood unites us all, “to brother Sun, sister Moon, brother river and Mother Earth” (LS n.92; CT preamble). Human beings feel part of nature and have the same origin as all other beings, “humus” (the fertile earth) from which homo is derived, as male and female, man and woman.

If the first paradigm is one of conquest and domination (the Alexander the Great and Hernan Cortes paradigms), the second shows the care and co-responsibility of all for all (the Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta paradigms).

Figuratively speaking, we can say: the dominus paradigm is the clenched fist which subdues and dominates. The paradigm of the frater is the outstretched hand that intertwines with other hands for the essential caress and care of all things.

The dominus paradigm is dominant and is at the origin of our many crises and in all areas. The paradigm of the fratern is nascent and represents the greatest longing of humanity, especially of those great majorities mercilessly dominated, marginalised and condemned to die before their time.

But it has the strength of a seed. As in any seed, it contains the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves, the flowers and the fruit. That is why hope passes through it, as a principle more than virtues, as that indomitable energy that always projects new dreams, new utopias and new worlds, that is to say, that makes us walk towards new ways of inhabiting the Earth, of producing, of distributing the fruits of nature and of work, of consuming and of organising fraternal and sororal relationships between humans and with the other beings of nature.

The passage from a dominus paradigm to a frater paradigm

I know that the thorny problem of the transition from one paradigm to the other arises here. It will be done processually, with one foot in the old paradigm of dominus/conquest because we must guarantee our subsistence and the other foot in the new paradigm of frater/care in order to inaugurate it from below. Here several assumptions should be discussed, but this is not the moment to do so. But we can advance in one thing: by working the territory, the bioregionalism, the new fraternal/care paradigm can be implemented regionally in a sustainable way, because it has the ability to include everyone and create more social equality and environmental balance.

Our great challenge is this: how to move from a capitalist society of overproduction of material goods to a society that sustains all life, with human-spiritual, intangible values such as love, solidarity, compassion, fair measure, respect and care especially for the most vulnerable.

The advent of a bio-civilisation

This new civilisation has a name: it is a biocivilisation, in which life in all its diversity, but especially personal and collective human life, takes centre stage. Economy, politics and culture are at the service of maintaining and expanding the virtualities present in all forms of life.

The future of life on Earth and the destiny of our civilisation is in our hands. We have little time to make the necessary transformations because we have already entered the new phase of the Earth, its increasing warming. The heads of state are not sufficiently aware of the ecological emergencies and it is still very rare in the whole of humanity.

Leonardo Boff, brazilian theologian, philosopher and wrote: Ecology: cry of the Earth, cry of the poor, Orbis Books 1999/2018; Inhabit the Earth: what is the way to universal brotherhood? Vozes 2022, Catelvecchi,Rom 2022.

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