Friday, July 13, 2012

The impossible pact between the wolf and the lamb

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)

Post festum, we can say that the final document of Rio+20 presents a generous menu of suggestions and proposals without any obligation, with a touching dose of goodwill but with a dreadful,, even lamentable I would say, analytic naivete. It isn't a compass that points to "the future we want" but towards an abyss.

Such a failed result is due to the almost religious belief that the solution to the current systemic crisis is in the poison that produced it -- the economy. This isn't the economy in a transcendental sense, that is, as that entity -- the mode matters little -- which ensures the material basis of life, but the categorical economy -- the actually existing one -- which in recent times has dealt a blow to all other entities (politics, culture and ethics) and has been installed, sovereign, as the only motor that makes society run. It's the "Great Transformation" that the Hungarian-American economist Karl Polanyi already strongly denounced in 1944. This type of economy covers all areas of life, it aims to accumulate as much wealth as possible, taking from all the ecosystems, to the point of exhausting them, all that is marketable and consumable, governed by the fiercest competitiveness. This logic has skewed all relationships with Earth and among humans.

Facing this chaos, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, doesn't tire of repeating at the opening of the conferences: this is the last opportunity that we have to save ourselves. In 2011 in Davos, he stated emphatically to the "lords of money and economic warfare", "The current global economic model is a global suicide pact." Albert Jacquard, a well-known French geneticist, titled one of his latest books thus: Le compte à rebours a-t-il commencé? ("Has the countdown begun?" -- Stock, 2009). The decisionmakers don't pay the slightest attention to warnings from the scientific community. We have never seen such a sizable gap between science and politics or between ethics and economics as we currently do. This brings me to Napoleon's cynical comment after the battle of Eylau on seeing thousands of soldiers dead in the snow: "One night in Paris will offset this." They go on reciting the creed: a little more of the same, of the economy, and we'll get out of the crisis. Is a pact between the lamb (ecology) and the wolf (the economy) possible? Everything indicates that it is impossible.

They can add any adjectives they want to the type of economy in force -- sustainable, green...and others; they won't change its nature. They think that filing the wolf's teeth takes away its ferocity, when the latter resides not in its teeth but in its nature. The nature of this economy is to want to grow forever, even at the cost of the devastation of the nature-system and life-system. Not to grow would be dictating its own death.

But it happens that the Earth is no longer tolerating this systematic assault on its goods and service. Add to this social injustice, which is as serious as environmental injustice. A rich half consumes 16 times more than a poor half. And an African has thirty years less life expectancy than a European (Jacquard, 28).

In the face of such crimes, how can one not be outraged and demand a change of course? The Earth Charter offers us a sure direction: "As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning....This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility...[to reach] a sustainable way of life locally, nationally, regionally, and globally." (end) A change of mind implies looking at the Earth in a new way, not as "machine-world" but as a living organism, Mother Earth to whom we owe respect and care.

A change of heart means overcoming the dictatorship of technical and scientific reason and regaining sensitive reason in which deepest feelings, the passion for change, and love and respect for all that is alive and exists, dwell. Instead of competition, experiencing global interdependence, another name for cooperation; and instead of indifference, universal responsibility, that is, the decision to face global danger together.

The words of the Nazarene are worthwhile: "If you don't convert, you will all perish." (Lk 13:5)

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