Friday, March 13, 2009

Leonardo Boff: The current globalization requires a new paradigm -- cooperation

By Sergio Ferrari and Beat Tuto Wehrle
English translation by Rebel Girl
El Mercurio Digital

If globalization is the prevailing logic on the planet; if the earth is the only common area, and human beings are a deeply interdependent species, then the old notion of North-South cooperation should be redefined. "It's time to find a new paradigm that overcomes the old and energizes the new. It should be an essential part of global relations," says Leonardo Boff, liberation theologian and one of the most prominent contemporary Latin American thinkers. In an exclusive interview, Boff supports a "universal social contract," where just relationships, a culture of dialogue and consensus, and, in particular, real solidarity and cooperation rule.

Q: The human race lives in an increasingly global world. What are the present and future challenges for the relationship between the hemispheres, continents and people?

A: This globalization represents a new stage in the history of humankind and the earth, which is characterized by the fact that all peoples, cultures, traditions, and religions are in a single place -- a common home -- planet Earth.

So we must share. There is no alternative. This concept, perhaps, is the unique aspect of this moment. Now more than ever, the human being is recognized as a species, a family that inhabits a space that has limited resources, with overcrowding and in a world that is sick because of global warming and the pronounced imbalance of ecosystems.

This global finding requires a global solution. Global action can only result from the collaboration, the solidarity that every culture, religion, human being, person, church, and country can promote for the benefit of all.

Therefore, the current globalization requires new cooperation and solidarity.


Q: That is to say ...

A: Without cooperation and solidarity we would remain prisoners of the old paradigm that is characterized by competition rather than collaboration. A world of conflicts, confrontations, of a large accumulation of wealth by a tiny part at the cost of the exclusion of the other part, the majority.

For the first time, I think that, given the magnitude of the crisis, there is the possibility of understanding that the earth's resources should be distributed equally among all human beings. This requires a conscious and comprehensive management of the resources on which we depend. And hence the central place of cooperation and solidarity. Concepts that do not depend on the individual virtue that one may or may not have. Cooperation and solidarity in the light of what astrophysicists, biologists, and scientists in general have already confirmed. Those who argue that the most universal law of the universe is the cooperation of all with all. As the German physicist Heisenberg used to say: the greatest law is that everything is related to everything else, in any moment or circumstance. The whole is the sum of all virtual and real entities. The entire energy of all beings. There cooperation and mutual solidarity rule so that all can live and coexist while ensuring respect for biodiversity.

Q: You hold up the image of the planet as a common home and all human beings as the great human family, no matter in which continent they may be?

A: The notion of the nation-state exists and has its role, but in some ways it is a category from the past. Now the only Nation is the earth. And all human beings are citizens of the same. Preserving the experiences they have had throughout the centuries, in their cultures, ecosystems, world values and spirituality. All bring something and find that these dimensions are all human. It means that human beings can be humans in a thousand different ways. That there is not only the western Christian way. All these various manifestations are worthy and express the richness of what it means to be human. And there is the human family, with different faces, brothers and sisters, different ways of living, but all are members of the same.

There are many species of living things, among them the human being, that form said family. And the great dream of the family, however small, is to meet, rejoice together, and celebrate the generosity of nature. And this is the dream of the human family that sits around the table of the common house, to enjoy what the earth can offer and the cultural goods we have created. And so, in this case, the family will feel happy. Not in a valley of tears but in a field of beatitudes.


Q: Unlike your humane and humanist vision of cooperation, what now prevails, however, is the reproduction of mechanisms of domination of the South by the North ... And sometimes, in this context, cooperation appears to be a formula to soothe consciences.

A: It is the strategy of the old paradigm. That there are nations that have hegemony, where one of them is imperial, dominating others and setting the course. This paradigm does not seek to change the system but, in sum, reduces the negative effects of it. Therein comes the traditional view of cooperation that does not change the relationships of power and privilege. The land crucified, divided among many countries, exploited. With an existing cooperation but one that is not the very axis of the global society, one that serves to soothe the guilty consciences of some, that tries to calm those who suffer so that they won’t rebel, while the system that creates marginalized people remains intact. That view, I think, is wearing away. And either we make an outright change of direction and reference points or we will move towards widespread conflict.


Q: In this challenge of paradigms, an especially weighty concept appears that was much discussed in the various World Social Forums: the Global South. What is your view?

A: There are two major tasks and attitudes. The first, to strengthen the countries in the South so they have more negotiating power with the North. Demanding, for example, better prices for their products in international trade; influencing international policies.

The second is to realize that the world is contradictory: globalization and Balkanization co-exist.

In that sense it is very important that there be this expression of the global South, because it is precisely in the South where all the elements required by the North exist: fresh water, oil, diversity. All this is in the South, but ever more re-colonized by multinational corporations.

Although there is this North-South contradiction, it is important to see the earth as the astronauts do, as a single entity and with it the human race as one. From up there, you do not see the north-south differences, whether this or that human being is Catholic or Muslim ...

And in the new paradigm that vision is essential. And preventing what is promoting the existing exploitation of resources: the bifurcation of the great human family. The great risk now is that the powerful will build a Berlin Wall that separates North and South. That they will use all the technologies and advances such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, so that those in the North live 130 years, leaving the rest of humanity outside.

And I think one of the key human challenges today – one that is also the responsibility of the churches -- is to keep the human family united, to prevent the bifurcation.

And here again I emphasize the value of the new concept of cooperation. We must not think of it as one more given but as a personal and collective project, which encourages the relationship between people and holds the human family together. Otherwise it will be deeply torn apart.

Q: Then, seeing the Global South as the union of the marginalized in the South and the North ...

A: This is very important. We should not see North and South as geographical categories only, but as sociological ones. And the union of this global South is essential because it gives it the strength to cry out against injustice. It would be important to establish a kind of peoples’ diplomacy. That people visit each other, meet, sit down, look at their respective wishes to love, to build ... And then preconceptions quickly disappear. We discover that we are all human, fragile, full of wishes, that we want happiness. And all that is worth much more than a large account in a bank. And that the human being is more important than any technological project. All this is only possible, I would stress, with face to face contact. Why not promote a real global social contract, which currently does not exist, a contract that arises from below, from the people?


Q: Could you further define this new paradigm of global society? Some key concepts of the same?

A: More than precepts or rules, it seems to me that we need to be thinking of courses and directions.

First, the belief that we have only one earth as human home.

Then, that land-humanity is one big unit. Land is life and does not just have life on it. This land-humanity must be protected because it is threatened by the irresponsible activities of human beings, especially in the last three hundred years by the generalized spread of an industrial way of production.

Third, that the fundamental ethic is caring. Every living thing requires care. We ourselves would not exist without the care of our mothers at birth.

Another key point is to develop compassion. Not pity but encouraging the ability to feel what the other is feeling. And create structures that allow the earth to exist.

The fifth aspect is that of universal responsibility.To realize the consequences of our actions. We cannot start a war today because it would mean the destruction of the human species. We cannot use genetically modified organisms because they produce enormous consequences for the structure of life. This implies promoting an ethic of life. And having in each country or region ethical bodies to study the consequences of acts. Promoting science with a conscience. Not science for development, but for life, that would be good for the majority.

Complementary, and a sixth aspect, I believe that ethics cannot be imposed unless there is an aura of spirituality. A broader meaning of life. We are hooked to something that transcends the world, we are beings in an infinite series of actions who only rest when we identify that more transcendent reality and see what is behind everything. Allowing life to continue. Putting order in the chaos of the universe. Something that human beings respect and value. Religion has given this the name "God." In any case without that spirituality man feels a great void.

And a warning: it is good that cultures develop all that. We do not have to let spirituality be the monopoly of religion, but an anthropological fact.


Q: Going back to the subject of cooperation. You spoke earlier of the importance of “face to face” contact for the building of a new planetary culture. There is a tendency in the North to underestimate the cooperation that promotes the exchange between people. What is more important is technology transfer and measurable quantitative results.

A: The criticism comes from an old model of development that is only material, that seeks efficiency above all, that sees the material relationship with nature as more important than social transformation. And that is a weak vision. Because in fact what guarantees human happiness, what unites the human family, is not the accumulation of material goods or a more developed technology, but rather the feeling of happiness, self esteem, recognition, respect, love between people and nations. That is not in the bank or the stock market but in the human heart.

There is a struggle between two paradigms that also touches on cooperation. The old is materialist, calculating, efficiency-driven.

In fact we need technology, science, production. We do not want to be obtuse in our thinking. But we want a model which can integrate science and poetry, where production is integrated with worship and celebration. A complex combination that makes for the fulfillment of human beings.

Q: Another trend of cooperation has not managed to transcend the framework of North and South. No one understands that there is real potential in the South-South exchange and that there are new areas, such as the global networks, the social forums, which significantly enhance a different future form of cooperation ...

A: Accepting our world view is contradictory to this trend because it is anti-systemic. And those valid categories such as exchange, mutual intercultural enrichment etc. do not fit into the mental universe of those who support numbers, accounts, profitability.

It is essential to build a common platform, a humane one, based on dialogue. What can facilitate the dialogue between the high-level manager of a Swiss transnational and a working class person in a Latin American country is not rationality, but common sense, emotional intelligence.

Given that the world is globalized, ways to talk must be widespread. Everybody talking, sharing. And on that basis, stress the common points, the convergences in diversity.

The design that does not prioritize this interpersonal exchange, often ends up supporting violence as a means of imposing the will, whether military, ideological, or informational, etc…

Q: One final thought ...

A: Sharing with you a belief that I think is mutual. In my case, after many years of struggle, many of them lost because the system beat us more than once, I have salvaged two important elements. One, that despite everything, we have carried on, persevered, continued, without giving in on anything. The other, that we think of ourselves as seed. And that is important. So that together with others we can become a large tree ...

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