Friday, July 20, 2012

We Westerners, the main ones responsible

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)

The whole of crisis that is overwhelming the human race makes us stop and take stock. It's the philosophizing moment of any critical observer, whenever he wants to go beyond conventional and intrasystemic arguments.

Why have we reached the current situation that objectively threatens the future of human life and our civilizing work? We respond without further justification: the main causes of this course are those who in recent centuries have held power, knowledge, and possession. They set out to dominate nature, conquer the world, subject people, and put everything at the service of their interests.

For this, they used a powerful weapon -- technoscience. Through science, they identified how nature works and through science they made interventions for human benefit without noticing the consequences.

The gentlemen who did this were Western European. We Latin Americans were added to them by force as an appendix -- the Far West.

Those Westerners, however, are now enormously perplexed. Stunned, they ask themselves "how could we be in the eye of the crisis if we have the best knowledge, the best democracy, the best economy, the best technique, the best movies, the greatest military might and the best religion, Christianity?"

Now these "conquests" are being challenged because, their value notwithstanding, it's undeniable that they don't provide us any horizon of hope. We feel that the West's time has run out and is now past. That's why it has lost any legitimacy and persuasive power.

Arnold Toynbee, analyzing the great civilizations, noted this historical constant: whenever the arsenal of answers for the challenges is no longer sufficient, civilizations enter into crisis, beginning to decompose until they collapse or are assimilated by others. This brings renewed vigor, new dreams, and new personal and collective meaning of life. What's coming? Who knows? Here is the crucial question.

What is aggravating the crisis is persistent Western arrogance. Even in decline, Westerners imagine themselves to be the obligatory reference point for everyone.

In the Bible and for the Greeks, this behavior was the supreme deviation, since people put themselves on the same pedestal as the divine, thought to be the supreme point of reference and the Ultimate Reality. They called this attitude hubris, that is, arrogance and excess of ego.

It was this arrogance that led the United States to intervene for untruthful reasons in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, and earlier in Latin America, supporting for many years dictatorial military regimes and the shameful Operation Condor through which hundreds of leaders in various Latin American countries were kidnapped and assassinated.

With the new president Barack Obama, we were hoping for a new course, a more multipolar one, respectful of cultural differences and compassionate towards the vulnerable. Gross mistake. He is carrying out the imperial project along the same line as the fundamentalist Bush. He hasn't substantially changed anything in this strategy of arrogance. On the contrary, he has initiated something unheard of and evil: an undeclared war using "drones", unmanned aircraft. Guided electronically from cold rooms on military bases in Texas, they attack, killing individual leaders and whole groups among which they assume there might be terrorists.

Christianity itself, in its various forms, has distanced itself from ecumenism and is assuming fundamentalist traits. There's a dispute in the religious marketplace to see which denomination is able to gather the most faithful.

At Rio+20, we witnessed the same arrogance of the powerful, refusing to participate and seek minimal points of agreement that could alleviate the crisis of the Earth.

And to think that, deep down, we are only seeking the simple dream, well expressed by
Pablo Milanés y Chico Buarque: “A História é um carro alegre. Cheio de um povo contente...” ("History is a cheerful car. Full of contented people...").

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