Friday, August 19, 2011

Governed by the blind and the irresponsible

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)

Tweaking the many analyses done on the set of crises that plague us, we come to something we think is central and about which to reflect seriously: societies, globalization, the production process, the economic-financial system, the predominant dreams and the explicit object of desire of the majority, which is to consume and consume without limits. A culture of consumerism, propagated by all means, has been created. You need to consume the latest model of cellphone, athletic shoes, computer. Sixty-six percent of the United States' GDP comes not from production but from widespread consumption. The English authorities were surprised to find that among those promoting unrest in several cities, were not only the usual foreigners in conflict with each other, but many university students, unemployed Englishmen, teachers and even recruits. They were angry people because they didn't have access to such bandied consumption. They didn't question the paradigm of consumption, but the forms of exclusion from it.

In the United Kingdom, after M. Thatcher, and the USA after R. Reagan, as in the world at large, a great social inequality is growing. In that country, the income of the richest in recent years increased 273 times more than that of the poorest, according to Carta Maior on 8/12/2011. So the disappointment of those frustrated with a "social software" that denies them access to consumption and with cuts in social budgets, on the order of 70%, which punished them severely, is no wonder. Seventy percent of the recreational facilities for young people were simply closed.

What is alarming is that neither Prime Minister David Cameron nor the members of the House of Commons bothered to ask why the looting in the various cities. They responded with the worst choice: more institutional violence. Conservative Cameron spelled it out: "We will arrest the suspects and post their faces in the media without any phony concerns about human rights." Here is a solution of ruthless neo-liberal capitalism: if the order that is unequal and unjust demands it, democracy is made void and human rights are passed over. And this is happening in the country where the first declarations of the rights of citizens were born.

If you look closely, we are entangled in a vicious cycle that can destroy us: we need to produce to allow such comsumption. Without consumption, the companies will go bankrupt. To produce, they need the resources of nature. These are increasingly scarce and we have spent 30% more than the earth can replenish. If we stop extracting, producing, selling and consuming, there is no economic growth. Without annual growth, countries enter a recession, causing high unemployment. With unemployment, explosive social chaos, depredations and all kinds of conflicts erupt. How do we get out of this trap we have prepared for ourselves?

The opposite of consumption is not non-consumption but a new "social software" in the felicitous expression of political scientist Luiz Gonzaga de Souza Lima. That is, a new agreement between a supportive and frugal consumption, accessible to all, and the impassable limits of nature, is urgent. How can this be done? There are several suggestions: the "sustainable way of life" of the Earth Charter, the "right livelihood" of the Andean cultures, based on the man/Earth balance, the solidarity economy, the bio-socio-economy, "natural capitalism" (an unfortunate expression) that attempts to integrate biological cycles in economic and social life, and others.

But when the heads of affluent states meet, they don't talk about these things. There it's about saving the system that is leaking everywhere. They know that nature can no longer afford the high price charged by the consumerist model. It's already about to jeopardize the survival of life and the future of coming generations. We are governed by the blind and the irresponsible, unable to realize the consequences of the political-economic-cultural system they are advocating.
A new global course is imperative, if we want to ensure our lives and those of other living beings. The scientific-technical civilization, that has allowed us exaggerated levels of consumption, can end itself, destroy life and degrade the Earth. Surely it isn't for this that we have come to this point in the evolutionary process. It's urgent to have courage, daring to make radical changes, if we still have any love for ourselves.

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