To Return to “Normality” is to Condemn Oneself

Leonardo Boff

When the coronavirus pandemic passes, we will not be allowed to return to the previous “normality”. It would be, first of all, a contempt for the thousands of people who died from suffocation by the virus and a lack of solidarity with their family and friends. Secondly, it would be the demonstration that we have learned nothing from what, more than a crisis, is an urgent call to change the way we live in our only Common Home. It is a call from the living Earth itself, that self-regulating superorganism of which we are its intelligent and conscious part.

The current system endangers the foundations of life

Return to the previous configuration of the world, hegemonized by neoliberal capitalism, unable to resolve its internal contradictions and whose DNA is its voracity for unlimited growth at the cost of the over-exploitation of nature and the indifference to poverty and misery of the great majority of humanity produced by it, it is to forget that this configuration is shaking the ecological foundations that sustain all life on the planet. To return to the previous “normality” (business as usual) is to prolong a situation that could mean our own self-destruction.

If we do not make a “radical ecological conversion”, in the words of Pope Francis, the living Earth will be able to react and counterattack with even more violent viruses capable of making the human species disappear. This is not a purely personal opinion, but the opinion of many biologists, cosmologists, and ecologists who are systematically studying the increasing degradation of life-systems and the Earth-system. Ten years ago (2010), as a result of my research in cosmology and in the new ecological paradigm, I wrote the book Caring for the Earth-protecting life: how to avoid the End of the World (Dabar, Mexico). The predictions that I put forth have been fully confirmed by the current situation.

The capitalist and neoliberal project has been rejected

One of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic is this: if the ideals of neoliberal capitalism – competition, private accumulation, individualism, the primacy of the market over the life and minimization of the State – had been followed, most of humanity would be lost. What has saved us has been cooperation, the interdependence of all with all, solidarity and a State sufficiently equipped to offer the universal possibility of coronavirus treatment, in the case of Brazil, the Unified Health System (SUS).

We have made some discoveries: we need a “global social contract”, because we remain hostages to the obsolete sovereignty of each country. Global problems require a global solution, agreed to by all countries. We have seen the disaster in the European Community, in which each country had its plan without considering the necessary cooperation with other countries. It has been a widespread devastation in Italy, in Spain and lately in the United States, where medicine is totally privatized.

Another discovery has been the “urgency of a pluralistic center of Global Government” to assure the whole community of life (not only the human but that of all living beings) is sufficient and decent to live in. Natural goods and services are scarce and many of them are not renewable. With them, we must satisfy the basic demands of the life-system, also thinking about future generations. It is the opportune moment to create a universal minimum income for all, the persistent preaching of the brave and honorable politician Eduardo Suplicy.

A community of shared destiny

The Chinese have clearly seen this demand by promoting “a community of shared destiny for all humanity”, a text incorporated in the renewed article 35 of the Chinese Constitution. This time, we will either all be saved, or we will swell the procession of those heading to the mass grave. That is why we must urgently change our way of relating to nature and the Earth, not as lords, riding on it, squandering it, but as conscious and responsible parties, putting ourselves next to her and at her feet, caretakers of all life.

To the famous TINA (There Is No Alternative), “there is no (other) alternative” of the culture of capital, we must confront with another TIaNA (There Is a New Alternative), “there is a new alternative”. If in the first alternative, centrality was occupied by profit, the market and the domination of nature and of others (imperialism), in this second, it will be life in its great diversity, also human life with its many cultures and traditions that will organize the new way of inhabiting the Common Home. That is imperative and within human possibilities: we have science and technology, we have a tremendous accumulation of monetary wealth, but missing to the vast majority of humanity and, even worse, the Heads of State are aware of this need and the political will to implement it. Perhaps, at the real risk of our disappearance as a species, for having reached unbearable limits for the Earth, is the survival instinct that makes us sociable, fraternal, collaborative and in solidarity with each other. The time for competition has passed. Now is the time for cooperation.

The inauguration of a bio-centered civilization

I believe that we will inaugurate a bio-centered, careful and life-friendly civilization, as some say, “the land of good hope.” The “well live and live together” of the Andean peoples can be achieved: the harmony of all with everyone, in the family, in society, with the other beings of nature, with the waters, with the mountains and even with the stars of the sky.

As Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz has rightly 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 get out of the coronavirus pandemic as we got in. There will surely be significant changes, perhaps even structural ones. The well-known indigenous leader, Ailton Krenak, from the Rio Doce valley (of Rio Dulce, Brazil), has rightly said: “I don’t know if we will leave this experience the same way we entered. It is like a jolt to see what really matters; the future is here and now, we may not be alive tomorrow; Hopefully, we will not return to normal ”(O Globo, 05/01/2020, B 6).

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

Alternative energies to fossils will be sought, less impactful for ecosystems. More care will be taken with the atmosphere, the waters and the forests. The protection of biodiversity will be fundamental for the future of life and food, human and the entire community of life.

What type of Earth do we want for the future?

There will surely be a great discussion of ideas about what future we want and what type of Earth we want to inhabit. What will be the most suitable configuration for the current phase of the Earth and of humanity itself, the phase of planarization and the increasingly clear perception that we have no other common home to inhabit than this one? And that we have a common destiny, happy or tragic. To make her happy, we must take care of her so that we can all fit inside, including nature.

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

Others fear a process of radical brutalization by the “owners of economic and military power” to secure their privileges and capital. It would be despotism in a different way because it would be based 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. But every power will always have a counter power. There would be great confrontations and conflicts due to the exclusion and misery of millions of people who, despite the vigilance, will not settle for the crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich Epulons.

Many propose a glocalization that is to say that the accent be placed locally, in the region with its geological, physical, ecological and cultural specificity but open globally, that involves everyone. In this bioregionalism, true sustainable development could be achieved, taking advantage of local goods and services. Practically everything will be carried out in the region, with smaller companies, with an agro-ecological 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 making less poverty, always possible, in complex societies. It is the thesis that cosmologist Mark Hathaway and I defend in our joint book The Tao of Liberation (2010) that was well received in the scientific environment and among ecologists to the point that Fritjof Capra offered to do an interesting preface.

Others see the possibility of a planetary eco-socialism, capable of achieving what capitalism, due to its competitive and exclusive essence, is incapable of doing: a world social contract, egalitarian and inclusive, respectful of nature in which the we (the community and society) and not the self (individualism) will be the structuring axis of societies and the world community. The planetary eco-socialism found by the Franco-Brazilian Michael Löwy, in his most brilliant formulator (O que é ecossocialismo?, available in the network). We will have, as reaffirmed the Earth Charter as well as Pope Francis’ encyclical “on the care of the Common Home”, a truly sustainable way of life and not just sustainable “development”.

In the end, we will move from an industrial / consumer society to a sustainable society for all life with a sober and supportive consumption; from a culture of accumulation of material goods to a humanistic-spiritual culture in which intangible assets such as solidarity, social justice, cooperation, affective ties and not ultimately love and logique du coeur (logic of love) will be at its foundations.

We do not know which trend will predominate. The human being is complex and indecipherable, it moves by benevolence but also by brutality. It is complete but still not totally (finished). It will learn, through mistakes and successes, that the best configuration for human coexistence with all other beings on Mother Earth must be guided by the logic of the universe itself: it is structured, as notable cosmologists and quantum physicists tell us, according to complex networks of inter-retro-relations. Everything is relationship. There is nothing outside of the relationship. They all help each other to continue existing and to co-evolve. The human being himself is a rhizome (root bulb) of relationships in all directions.

Times of crisis like ours, of passing from one type of world to another, are also times of great dreams and utopias. They are what move us towards the future, incorporating the past but leaving our own mark on the ground of life. It is easy to step on the footprint left by others, but it does not lead us to any hopeful path. We must make our own footprint, marked by the inexhaustible hope of life’s victory, because the path is made by walking and dreaming. So, let’s walk.

Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher of  the Earthcharter Commission

Translation by Red en Defensa de la Humanidad – Cuba