Friday, May 21, 2010

Two cosmologies in conflict

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 Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz recently said: "The legacy of the economic and financial crisis will be a great battle of ideas about the future of the earth." I fully agree with him. I think the big battle is about the two conflicting cosmologies present on the stage of history.

By cosmology we mean the worldview -- the cosmovision -- that underlies the ideas, practices, habits and dreams of a society. Each culture has its respective cosmology. Through it, it seeks to explain the origin, evolution and purpose of the universe and define the place of humans within it.

Our current cosmology is one of conquest, domination and exploitation of the world, with an eye to progress and unlimited growth. It is characterized by being mechanistic, deterministic, atomistic and reductionist. Because of this cosmovision, undeniable benefits to human life were created, but also perverse contradictions such as 20% of the world population controlling and consuming 80% of all natural resources, creating a gap between rich and poor as has never been before in history. Half of the great forests destroyed, 65% of arable land, lost, nearly 5,000 species of living things disappearing annually and over a thousand synthetic chemicals, most of them toxic, scattered in the soil, air and water. Weapons of mass destruction have been built, capable of eliminating all human life. The final effect is the imbalance of the Earth system, expressed by global warming. With the gases already accumulated, in 2035 we will reach fatally an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, and if nothing is done, according to some estimates, at the end of the century it will be 4 or 5 degrees, which will make life as we know it today virtually impossible.

The dominance of particularly speculative economic interests, able to reduce whole countries to the most brutal poverty, and consumerism have trivialized our perception of the danger in which we are living and conspire against any change of course.

In contrast, an alternative and potentially saving cosmology is appearing with ever greater strength. It has been developing for more than a century and reached its greatest expression in the Earth Charter. It is derived from the sciences of the universe, Earth and life. It puts our situation within the cosmogenesis, this vast evolutionary process that started from the big bang, about 13.7 billion years ago. The universe is continually expanding, organizing and generating itself. Its natural state is evolution not stability, transformation and adaptability, not immutability and permanence. Everything in it is networked and nothing exists outside of this relationship. Thus all beings are interdependent and work together to co-evolve and ensure the balance of all factors. Behind all beings, the fundamental Energy acts, that gave birth to and animates the universe and makes new things emerge. The most spectacular of these is the living Earth and we humans, as the conscious and intelligent portion of it, with a mission to care for it.

We live in times of emergency. All the current crises are creating a spiral of changes needed that, if they are not implemented, will lead us fatally to collective chaos, but if they are made, can lift us to a higher stage of civilization. It is at this point that the new cosmology shows itself to be inspiring. Instead of dominating nature, it puts us in the midst of it in deep harmony and synergy. Instead of a globalization that levels differences, it suggests a bioregionalism that values them. This model seeks to build self-sustaining societies within the potential and limits of the bioregions, based on ecology, local culture and the involvement of the people, respecting nature and searching for the "good life" which is the harmony between all, and with Mother Earth.

What characterizes this new cosmology is caring rather than domination, the recognition of the intrinsic value of each being and not merely its usefulness to humans, respect for all life and the rights and dignity of nature and not its exploitation.

The strength of this cosmology is the fact of being more in line with real human needs and the logic of the universe itself. If we choose it, it will create the opportunity for a global civilization in which care, cooperation, love, respect, joy and spirituality will be central. It will be the great saving turnaround that we urgently need.

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