Friday, August 5, 2011

Latin America's contribution to a geosociety

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)

There is growing resistanceall over the world to the system of domination of global capitalism by big multinationals over the nations, specific people, and nature. For better or worse, a trend towards environmentally oriented practices and projects that are now trying something new, is emerging. The base is always the solidarity economy, respect for the cycles of nature, synergy with Mother Earth, economics in the service of life and not profit, and a policy of hospitality, tolerance, cooperation and solidarity among the different peoples, thus removing the basis for religious and political fundamentalism, and for the terrorism that we have seen in the United States and now in Norway.

Of the many existing projects in Latin America, such as a solidarity economy, family organic agriculture, clean alternative energies, the Via Campesina, the Zapatista Movement and others, we want to highlight two because of their universal significance: the first is "Right Livelihood" and the second is "Communal and Earth Democracy" as an expression of a new type of socialism.
"Right Livelihood" is present throughout the Abya Yala continent (the indigenous name for the South American continent), from the far north to the deep south, under many names, of which these two best known are suma qamaña (from the Aymara culture) and suma kawsay (from the Quechua culture). Both mean "the process of life in its fullness." This comes from personal and social life in harmony and material and spiritual balance. The first thing is knowing how to live and then knowing how to live together -- with others, the community, with the Divine, Mother Earth, and her energy present in the mountains, waters, forests and jungles, in the soil, sun, moon and every being. Harmony is sought, not accumulation of wealth but production of what is sufficient and decent for everyone, respecting the cycles of the Pachamama and the needs of future generations.

This "Right Livelihood" has nothing to do with our "good life" or "quality of life." Our good life is accumulating the material resources to be able to consume more within the dynamics of unlimited progress which is driven by competition and a merely utilitarian relationship with nature, without respecting its intrinsic value or recognizing ourselves as part of it. So that some can be well off, millions have to live badly.

"Right Livelihood" is not simply identified with our "common good" thought of only in terms of human beings in society, in an unconscious anthropo- and socio-centrism. "Right Livelihood" covers everything that exists, nature with its different beings, all humans, the search for balance among all, also with the spirits, with wise people (grandmothers and grandfathers who have died), with God, so that all can live together harmoniously. We cannot think of "Right Livelihood" without the widest possible human, natural, earthly and cosmic community. The "minga", which is communal labor, expresses this spirit of cooperation well.

This category of "Right Livelihood" and "Living Well" has gotten into the constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia. The great task of the state is to create the conditions for this "Right Livelihood" for all beings and not just for humans.

This perspective, born on the periphery of the world, with all its utopian charge, is aimed at all because it is an attempt to respond to the current crisis, which will be able to guarantee the future of life, of mankind and Earth.

The other Latin American contribution to another world possible is "Communal and Earth Democracy." It's a kind of social life, existing in the cultures of Abya Yala, suppressed by colonization but now, with the indigenous movement rescuing its identity, it is catching the eye of analysts. It's a form of participation that goes beyond traditional European-style representative and participatory democracy. It includes them but adds a new element: the community as a whole. The latter participates in the development of projects, in their discussion, in consensus building and implementation. It presupposes an already established community life in the population.

It is distinguished from other types of democracy because it includes the whole community, nature and Mother Earth. It recognizes the rights of nature, of animals, forests, and water, as shown in the new constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia. It expands legal identity to other beings, especially Mother Earth. Because of the fact that they are living beings, they have intrinsic value and are bearers of dignity and rights, and therefore deserving of respect.

Democracy will then be social-earthly-planetary, Earth democracy. Some say all this is utopian. And it is. But it is a necessary utopia. When we have overcome the crisis of the Earth (if we overcome it), the path of humanity will be to organize ourselves globally around "Right Livelihood" and "Earth Democracy", Biocivilization (Sachs). There are already early sign of this future.

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