Monday, January 23, 2012

Everything started in Greece. Will it all end in Greece?

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)

Our Western civilization, now globalized, has its historical origins in Greece in the 6th century BC. The world of myth and religion, which had been the organizing axis of society, collapsed. To bring order in that critical moment, one of the greatest intellectual creations of mankind took place over a span of just over 50 years. The era of critical reason emerged, which was expressed through philosophy, democracy, theater, poetry and aesthetics. Some paradigmatic figures were Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the Sophists, who developed the architecture of knowledge underlying our paradigm of civilization, Pericles, a ruler on the front of democracy, Phidias, in elegant aesthetics, the great dramatists such as Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, the Olympic Games and other cultural events not included here.

The new paradigm is characterized by the predominance of reason that leaves behind the perception of the whole, the sense of the unity of reality that characterized the so-called pre-Socratic thinkers, the bearers of original thought. At that moment, the famous dualisms emerge: world-God, man-nature, reason-sensitivity, theory-practice. Reason created metaphysics which, in Heidegger's understanding, makes everything an object and sets itself as a holder of power over that object. The human being stops feeling part of nature to stand against it and submit it to his will.

That paradigm reached its fullest expression a thousand years later, in the 16th century, with the founders of the modern paradigm, Descartes, Newton, Bacon and others. With them the mechanistic and dualistic world view was consecrated -- nature on the one hand, and the human being on the other, against and above it as its "master and owner" (Descartes), the crown of creation according to which everything exists. The ideal of unlimited progress was developed, which means the domination of nature, on the assumption that progress could go on infinitely into the future. In recent decades the greed of accumulation has transformed everything into a commodity to be traded and consumed. We have forgotten that the goods and services of nature are for everyone and can not be appropriated for some only.

After four centuries of this metaphysics, i.e. this way of being and seeing, being in effect, we are finding that nature has had to pay a high price for this model of growth/development. Now we are reaching the limits of its possibilities. The scientific-technical civilization has reached a point where it could cause its own end, deeply degrade nature, eliminate much of the life-system and eventually eradicate the human species. It would be the fulfillment of an eco-social Armageddon.
It all started in Greece millenia ago. And now it seems like everything will end in Greece, one of the first victims of the economic horror, whose bankers, to save their profits, have led an entire society to despair. It has come to Ireland, Portugal, Italy, and might extend to Spain and France, and perhaps to the entire world system.

We are witnessing the death throes of a millennial paradigm that is apparently coming to the end of its historical course. It might take dozens of years yet, like a dying man who resists, but the end is predictable. With its internal resources, it cannot reproduce itself. We have to find another kind of relationship with nature, another way to produce and consume, developing a general sense of dependence upon the community of life and collective responsibility for our common future. By not starting this conversion, we are sentencing ourselves to extinction. Either we transform or we will disappear.

I endorse the words of the economist and thinker Celso Furtado: "People of my generation have shown that it is within the scope of human ingenuity to lead humanity to suicide. I hope the new generation will show that it is also within the reach of the human being to open the access road to a world where compassion, happiness, beauty and solidarity prevail." As long as we shift the paradigm.

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