Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The irrationality of reason: a disease of the mind

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 LeonardoBoff.com.

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We aren't far from the truth if we understand the current tragedy of humanity as the failure of a kind of reason prevailing over the past five hundred years. With the arsenal of resources at its disposal, it can't cope with the contradictions created by itself. We have already discussed in these pages how the split between objective reason (the logic of things) and subjective reason (self-interest) has worked since then. The latter imposed itself over the former to the point of establishing itself as the sole force of historical and social organization.

This subjective reason was understood as the will to power and power as domination over people and things. Center place is now occupied by the power of the "I", exclusive bearer of reason and design. It gestates what is innate to itself: individualism as the supreme reaffirmation of the "I". The latter becomes embodied in capitalism which is driven by individual private accumulation without any other social or ecological consideration. Trusting the structure of all reality solely to subjective reason was a highly risky cultural decision. This implied a true dictatorship of the reason that repressed or destroyed other forms of exercise of reason such as sensitive, symbolic and ethical reason, that are fundamental to social life.

The ideal that the "I" is pursuing without restraint is unlimited progress, on the unquestioned assumption that the Earth's resources are also unlimited. The infinity of progress and the infinity of resources are the ontological a priori and the foundational parti pri of this remodeling of the world.

But behold, after five hundred years, we realize that both infinities are illusory. The Earth is small and finite. Progress has reached the limits of the earth. There is no way to overcome them. Now the time of the finite world has begun. Failure to heed this finiteness implies hindering the reproductive capacity of life on Earth and thus endangering the survival of the species. The historical time of capitalism is over. Carrying it forward will cost so much that it will end up destroying sociability and the future. Persisting in this endeavor will reveal the destructive character of the irrationality of reason.

What is more serious is that capitalism/individualism introduced two logics that conflict with each other: that of the private interests of the "I"s and the businesses and that of the collective interests of "we" and society. Capitalism is, by nature, anti-democratic. It's not cooperative at all and is just competitive.

Will we have any way out? With just reforms and regulations, while maintaining the system, as the neo-Keynesians like Stiglitz, Krugman, and others among us would have it, no. We have to change if we want to save ourselves.

For this, first of all, it's important to construct a new agreement between objective and subjective reason. This implies broadening reason and thus freeing it from the yoke of being an instrument of power and domination. It can be emancipating reason. For the new agreement, it's urgent to rescue sensitive and cordial reason to be combined with instrumental reason. The former is anchored in the limbic brain, which appeared more than two hundred million years ago, when -- with the mammals -- affection, passion, caring, love and the world of values emerged. It allows us to make an emotional and evaluative reading of the scientific data of instrumental reason. The latter emerged in the cerebral neocortex only 5-7 million years ago. Sensitive reason awakens in us re-enchantment and care for life and Mother Earth.

Then, a new matter of central importance is crucial: no more private interest but the common interest, respect for the common good of humanity and the Earth for all. After that, the economy must return to being what is in its nature -- to ensuring the conditions of physical, cultural and spiritual life of all people. Next, politics should be built on endless democracy, a daily one that includes all human beings so that they are characters in history and not merely assistants or beneficiaries. Finally, a new world will not have a human face if it isn't ruled by shared ethical and spiritual values based on the contribution of many culture, along with Judeo-Christian tradition.

All these steps are very utopian. But without utopia we would sink in the quagmire of private and corporate interests. Fortunately, trials that are anticipatory of the new, are appearing everywhere, such as the economics of solidarity, sustainability and care experienced as paradigms of perpetuation and reproduction of all that exists and lives. Let's not give up the ancient longing for commensality: everyone eating and drinking together as brothers and sisters in the Great Common Home.

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