Friday, March 5, 2010

The World Society of Blindness

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The poet Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna and the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner for literature José Saramago made blindness the subject for severe criticism of contemporary society, which sits on a reductionist view of reality. They showed that there are many allegedly sighted people who are blind and few blind people who can see.

Today it is pompously spread about that we live in a knowledge society, a kind of new era of light. Indeed it is. We know more and more about less and less. Expertise has colonized all areas of knowledge. The knowledge of one year is greater than all knowledge accumulated over the past 40 thousand years. On the one hand, it brings undeniable benefits, on the other, it makes us ignorant about so many dimensions, putting scales over our eyes and thus preventing us from seeing the whole.

What is at stake today is the totality of human destiny and future of the biosphere. Objectively, we are paving a road which could lead to the abyss. Why is this brutal fact not being seen by most specialists and heads of state or the mainstream media that claim to project the possible scenarios of the future? Simply because, for the most part, they are enclosed in their specific knowledge, in which they are very competent and, therefore, make themselves blind to the glaring global problems.

Which of the major centers of global analysis in the 60s predicted the climate change of the 90s? Which Nobel prize-winning economic analysts foresaw the economic and financial crisis that devastated key countries in 2008? All were eminent experts in their limited field, but idiots on basic issues. It is usually like this: we see only what we understand. As the experts only understand a small part of what they study, they end up only seeing this tiny part, being blind to the whole. Changing this kind of Cartesian knowledge would dismantle sacred scientific habits and a whole world view.

The independence of the territories of physics, chemistry, biology, quantum mechanics and others is illusory. All territories and their knowledge are interdependent, a function of the whole. The science of the Earth system was born of this perception. The Gaia theory is derived from it, which is not a New Age subject but the result of careful scientific observation. It provides the basis for comprehensive policies to control global warming of the Earth that, in order to survive, tends to reduce the biosphere and even the number of living organisms, not excluding humans.

The COP-15 on climate change in Copenhagen was emblematic. Like most of our culture, it was hostage to the habit of atomization of knowledge — what predominated in the speeches of the heads of state were partial interests: carbon taxes, levels of warming, investment quotas and other partial data. The central question was different: what fate do we want for the entity that is our common home? What can we do collectively to ensure the necessary conditions for Gaia to continue to be habitable for us and for other living things?

These are global problems that transcend our paradigm of expertise. Life does not fit into a formula, or care into an equation for calculation. To understand this whole, one needs a systematic reading along with kind and compassionate reasoning, since it is this reasoning that moves us to action.

We must urgently develop the ability to sum up, interact, reconnect, rethink, redo what was undone and innovate. This challenge is addressed to all the experts so that they become convinced that the part without the whole is not a part. From the joining together of all these pieces of knowledge, we will redesign the global panel of reality to be understood, loved and cared for. This totality is the main content of planetary consciousness, it IS the era of greater light that frees us from the blindness that afflicts us.

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