Friday, April 9, 2010

The win-win principle

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)

Looking at the world as a whole, we realize that almost nothing works properly. The Earth is sick. And since, being human, we are also Earth -- human comes from humus --, we also feel somewhat sick.

It seems clear that we can not continue in this direction, since it would lead to an abyss. We have been so foolish in the past generations that we have built the beginning of self-destruction, to which irreversible global warming must be added. This is not a Hollywood fantasy. Between appalled and perplexed, we ask ourselves: how have we come to this? How can we escape this global problem with no exit? What contribution can each person bring?

First, we have to understand what the core structure of world society, which is primarily responsible for this dangerous route, is. It's the kind of economy that we have invented, with the culture that accompanies it, which is private accumulation, consumption without solidarity at the cost of sacking nature. Everything has become merchandize for competitive trading. Within this dynamic, only the strongest win. The others lose, or are added as junior partners or disappear. The result of this logic of competition of all against all and the lack of cooperation is the great transfer of wealth to the few strong, the big corporations, at the cost of general impoverishment.

We must recognize that for centuries this competitive trading has been able to shelter all, willy-nilly, under its umbrella. It created a thousand facilities for human existence. But today, the possibilities of this type of economy are being depleted as the economic and financial crisis of 2008 has highlighted. The vast majority of countries and persons are excluded. Brazil itself is nothing more than a junior partner of the big ones, for which is reserved the role of being an exporter of raw materials and not a producer of technological innovations that would give it the means to shape its own future. We have not yet fully decolonized ourselves.

Either we change or the Earth is in danger. Where to look for the articulating principle of living together, a new dream for the future? In times of total structural crisis we must consult the original source of all: nature. She teaches us what earth science and life have been telling us for a long time: the basic law of the universe is not competition, which divides and excludes, but cooperation, which adds together and includes. All energy, all elements, all living beings, from bacteria to more complex beings are interdependent. A fabric of connections surrounds them on all sides, making them cooperative and supportive people, the main content of the socialist project. Thanks to this fabric we got here and we can have a future ahead.

Given this fact, we are able to develop an exit for our societies. We have to consciously make cooperation a personal and collective project, something which was not seen in the COP-15 on climate in Copenhagen. Instead of competitive trading where only one wins and others lose, we must strengthen complementary and cooperative exchange, the great ideal of the "good life" (sumak kawsay) of the Andes, in which everyone wins because everyone participates. We must take up what the brilliant mind of Nobel mathematician John Nesh formulated: the win-win principle, through which all, talking and giving, are better off, without there being any losers.

To live together humanly, we have invented the economy, politics, culture, ethics and religion. But we have distorted these "sacred" things by poisoning them with competition and individualism, thus tearing apart the social fabric.

The new social centerpoint and the necessary and saving new rationality are based on cooperation, empathy, the deep sense of belonging, of familiarity, hospitality and brotherhood with all beings. If we don't make this conversion, we must prepare for the worst.

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