Friday, July 1, 2011

A new society or a social and ecological tsunami?

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

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

In my last article I tossed out the idea, supported by a minority, that we are facing a systemic and terminal crisis of capitalism, and it's not a cyclical crisis. In other words, the conditions for its reproduction have been destroyed, either because the goods and services it can offer have reached the limit because of the devastation of nature, or because of the radical disruption of social relations dominated by a market economy in which financial capital is predominant. The dominant tendency is to think we can get out of the crisis, returning to what we had before, with minor revisions, ensuring growth, regaining employment and guaranteeing profits. Therefore, business will go on as usual.

The billion dollar interventions of the industrial states saved the banks and avoided the collapse of the system, but they have not transformed the economic system. Worse, the state injections facilitated the triumph of the speculative economy over the real economy. The first is considered the main trigger for the crisis, being led by real thieves who put their enrichment over the destiny of peoples, as seen now in Greece. The logic of maximum enrichment is corrupting individuals, destroying social relations and punishing the poor, who are accused of hindering the establishment of capital. The bomb with its fuse is still there. The problem is that anything could light the fuse. Many analysts wonder with fear if the world order would survive another crisis like the one we had.

French sociologist Alain Touraine says in his recent book Apr├Ęs la crise ("After the Crisis", Seuil 2010) that "crisis either accelerates the formation of a new society or becomes a tsunami, which can wipe out everything in its path, thereby threatening our very existence on planet Earth." All the more reason to support the thesis that we are facing a terminal situation for this type of capital. We urgently need to think about the values and principles that can be the foundation for a new way of inhabiting the Earth, of organizing the production and distribution of goods, not only for us (anthropocentrism must be overcome) but for the whole community of life. This was the objective in developing the Earth Charter, encouraged by M. Gorbachev who, as former head of state of the Soviet Union, knew the lethal instruments available to destroy up to the last human life, as he stated in several meetings.

Adopted by UNESCO in 2003, the Earth Charter in fact contains "principles and values for sustainable living, as common criteria for individuals, organizations, businesses and governments." It's urgent to study and be inspired by it, especially now, in preparation for Rio+20.

No one can predict what will come after the crisis. There are only hints. We're still in the diagnostic phase of its root causes. Unfortunately, it's mostly economists who are analyzing the crisis, and less sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers and scholars of cultures. What is becoming clear is this: there has been a threefold separation: financial capital is disengaged from the real economy, the economy as a whole from society, and society in general from nature. And this separation has created such a cloud of dust that we no longer see the road ahead.

The "outraged ones" who fill the plazas of some European countries and the Arab world, are putting the system in check. It is a bad system for most of humanity. Up to now they were silent victims, but now they cry out loudly. They are not just seeking jobs, but mainly demanding basic human rights. They want to be subjects, that is, actors in another type of society where the economy is at the service of policy and policy at the service of living well, of people among themselves and with nature. Surely it's not enough to want. Global coordination is called for, creating organisms that would make a different way of living together feasible, and political representation linked to general longings and not to the interests of the market. We must rebuild the social life.

For my part I see signs in many parts of the emergence of an ecocentric and biocentric global society. Its axis is the life-system, the Earth system and humanity. Everything must focus on this. Otherwise, it will be hard to avoid a potential ecological and social tsunami.

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