Monday, December 17, 2012

To not perish, conviviality is necessary

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)

Conviviality, as a concept, was introduced by Ivan Illich (1926-2002), one of the great prophetic thinkers of the 20th century, who lived in PetrĂ³polis a while. Born in Vienna, he worked with Latinos in the United States and later in Mexico. He became famous for challenging the paradigm of medicine and conventional school. Through conviviality he attempted to respond to two crises -- that of the industrialist process and the ecological one.

With the industrialist process, the mastery of man over tools has become the mastery of tools over man. Designed to replace the slave, technological tools have ended up enslaving human beings by focusing on production and mass consumption. They have given rise to a society full of appliances, but without a soul. Current industrial production is not combined with the dreams and creativity of workers. It doesn't love them. It just wants to use their labor, whether muscular or intellectual. When creativity is encouraged, it's with a view to the overall quality of the product to benefit the company even more and the workers even less.

However, many employers have become aware of this distortion and have realized the degree of dehumanization of industrial society. They have started to put on the company's agenda social and environmental responsibility, the importance of subjectivity and spirituality, cooperative relations between all -- employers and employees -- rather than pure competition and accumulation.

What is meant by conviviality? Conviviality (the word does not appear in the famous Brazilian Portuguese dictionary "Aurelio") means the ability to make live together the dimensions of production and caring, compassion and effectiveness, product modeling and creativity, freedom and fantasy, multidimensional equilibrium and social complexity -- all to strengthen the sense of universal belonging as opposed to selfishness.

The technical value of material production must go side by side with the ethical value of social and spiritual production. After having built the economy of material goods it's important to urgently develop the economy of human goods. Isn't the big capital, infinite and inexhaustible, perchance, the human being, spiritual capital?

Human values of love, tenderness, caring, commensality and veneration might impose limits on the voraciousness of domination-power and exploitation-production-accumulation.

Conviviality also seeks to be an appropriate response to the ecological crisis, caused by the manufacturing process of the last four centuries. The process of depredation of natural goods and services can cause dramatic devastation of the Earth system and all organizations which manage it, a real planetary crush.

This scenario is not unlikely. It happened before, with the collapse of stock market on Wall Street in 1929. At that time it was only a partial crisis of the capitalist system and didn't affect the physical limits of the planet. Now the crisis is of the global system.

Surely in a context of widespread breakdown the first reaction of the ruling system will be to increase planetary control and use massive violence to ensure the maintenance of the existing economic, financial and military order. Such a measure, rather than alleviating the crisis, will aggravate it because of growth in technological unemployment and the ineffectiveness of fiscal adjustments. It's what we are witnessing in the crisis in the countries that are the core of the system.

Some have hypothesized a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions. But this would not be fatal. It's important to leave open the possibility of a convivial use of technological tools to serve the preservation of life, the good life of mankind and the protection of our civilization.

That new stage will possibly experience a terrible Good Friday that will precipitate into the abyss the dictatorship of the work-material-production way of being to make way for a Sunday resurrection: the reconstruction of a world society on the basis of caring and real sustainability.

The first paragraph of the new social contract between the people will be the sacred principle of self-restraint and just measure, and then the essential caring for all that exists and lives, gentleness with human beings and reverence towards Mother Earth.

Then human beings will have learned to use technological tools as means and not ends, they will have learned to live together with all things, knowing to treat them with reverence and respect. Would that not be the real opening of the new millennium?

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