Friday, August 17, 2012

What to demand of neoliberal capitalism in crisis

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 crisis of neoliberalism has reached the heart of the core countries that arrogated to themselves the right to run not only economic and financial processes but also the very course of human history. It is the crisis of the political ideology of the minimal state and the privatization of public goods, but also the capitalist mode of production, extremely exacerbated by a concentration of power as never before seen in history. We believe that this crisis is systemic and terminal.

The genius of capitalism has always found a way out for its purpose of unlimited accumulation. For that, it has used every means, including war. It profits from destroying and profits from rebuilding. The 1929 crisis was resolved not via the economy but via the Second World War. That recourse now seems impractical, because wars are so destructive that they could wipe out human life and much of the biosphere. But we aren't sure that, in its insanity, capitalism won't use this means.

There are two insurmountable limits this time, which justify saying that capitalism's historical role is concluding. The first is the full world, that is to say that capitalism has occupied all the space for its expansion at the global level. The other truly insurmountable one is the limits of planet Earth. Its goods and services are limited and many, non-renewable. In the last generation we have burned more energy resources than in all previous generations, Italian analyst Luigi Zoja tells us. What will we do when these reach a critical point or simply run out? The shortage of drinking water could put mankind face to face with the destruction of millions of lives.

The regulations and controls proposed so far have simply been ignored. The United Nations Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, whose coordinator was the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz (the so-called "Stiglitz Commission") made a great effort starting in January 2009 to present intrasystemic reforms along Keynesian lines.

It proposed a reform of the international financial organizations (IMF, World Bank) and the WTO (World Trade Organization). It provided for the creation of a Global Economic Coordination Council at the same level as the Security Council, the establishment of a global reserve system to counter the hegemony of the dollar as benchmark currency, the institution of international control, the abolition of tax havens and bank secrecy and, finally, a reform of the certification agencies. All were rejected. The UN accepted only the permanent constitution of an Expert Group on the Prevention of Crises, to which no one attaches any importance, because what really counts are the stock markets and financial speculation.

This disappointing fact convinces us that the logic of the hegemonic system could make the planet no longer friendly to us, and lead to very serious socio-ecological catastrophes to the point of threatening our civilization and the human species. The truth is that this type of capitalism, which at Rio +20 was dressed up in green with the aim to put a price on all natural common goods and services of mankind, is not in a position in the medium or long term to ensure its hegemony. A different way of inhabiting planet Earth and using its goods and services ought to emerge.

The big challenge is how to process the transition towards a post-liberal capitalist world, understood as a social system that is guided by the common good of mankind and the Earth, that sustains all life, and that expresses a new relationship of belonging and synergy with nature and the Earth.

It's necessary to produce, but respecting the scope and limits of each ecosystem, not merely to accumulate but to meet human demands sufficiently and decently. It is also important to care for all forms of life and seek social equilibrium, without ceasing to think about future generations that are entitled to a preserved and habitable Earth.

It's not the place here to throw out alternatives in progress. We abide by what is possible intrasystemically, since there's no way out of it in the short term.

We are witnessing the fact that Latin America and Brazil, in the international division of labor, are condemned to export what is extracted from their mines and commodities, natural resources such as food, grains and meats. To deal with this type of imposition, we should follow the steps already suggested by several analysts, especially a great friend of Brazil, François Houtart, in his recent book with other collaborators, A Post-capitalist Paradigm: The Common Good of Humanity (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2012)

First, fight within the system for international environmental standards and regulations that care as much as possible for the natural goods and services imported from our countries, that deal with their use in a socially responsible and environmentally sound manner. Soy is for feeding people first, and only afterwards, animals.

Second, care for our autonomy, rejecting the neocolonialism of the core countries that keep us, as before, on the periphery, subordinate, add-ons and merely suppliers for what they lack in natural resources. Before, we must take care to incorporate technologies that give add value to our products, create technological innovations and steer the economy, first, towards the domestic market and then, the foreign one.

Third, requiring importing countries to pollute their environments as little as possible and contribute financially to the care and environmental regeneration of ecosystems from which they import natural assets, particularly in the Amazon and the Cerrado.

It's about reforms and not yet about revolutions. But they help to create the basis for proposing a different paradigm that wouldn't be the extension of the current evil and decadent one.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Feeding ourselves with Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Web de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 15, 2012

John 6: 51-58

Acording to John's narrative, once again the Jews, unable to go beyond the physical and material, interrupt Jesus, scandalized by the aggressive language he uses: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus doesn't retract his statement, but gives his words more depth.

The core of his exposition allows us to delve into the experience of the early Christian communities when they celebrated the Eucharist. According to Jesus, the disciples not only have to believe in him, but they have to feed and nourish their lives with him himself. The Eucharist is a key experience for Jesus' followers.

The words that follow only serve to highlight its fundamental and essential nature: "My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." If the disciples don't feed themselves with him, they might be able to say and do many things, but they must not forget his words: "You do not have life within you."

To have life within us, we need to feed ourselves with Jesus, nourish ourselves with his vital breath, internalize his attitude and life criteria. This is the secret and the force of the Eucharist. Only those who commune with him and feed themselves with his passion for the Father and his love for his sons and daughters, know this.

Jesus' language is highly expressive. To anyone who feeds themselves with him, he makes this promise: "That one remains in me and I in him." Whoever nourishes themselves with the Eucharist finds that their relationship with Jesus isn't something external. Jesus isn't a role model we imitate from outside. He feeds our life from within.

This experience of "dwelling" in Jesus and letting Jesus "dwell" in us can transform our faith from the roots. That mutual interchange, this close communion, difficult to express in words, is the true relationship of the disciple with Jesus. This is following him, sustained by his life force.

The life that Jesus imparts to his disciples in the Eucharist is the same one he himself receives from the Father who is the inexhaustible Source of full life. A life that doesn't go out with our biological death. This is why Jesus dares to promise his own, "The one who eats this bread will live forever."

Undoubtedly, the most serious sign of the crisis in the Christian faith among us is the widespread neglect of the Sunday Eucharist. For anyone who loves Jesus, it's painful to observe how the Eucharist is losing its attraction. But it's even more painful to see that we are witnessing this fact from the Church without daring to react. Why?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Teresa Forcades: the ARA interview

By Carles Capdevila (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Diari ARA

We haven't heard from you in days. What are you preparing?

Hey! I haven't been preparing anything. I didn't seek out the flu thing; it was the result of a personal and shared concern that spread unexpectedly. The uproar isn't over; I've had a lot of requests for help I want to respond to, both from individuals and the media, conferences...I'm preparing a book on medicalization.

Can you summarize the the thesis for me?

The title could end up being "La desmedicalització" ("Demedicalization"), because it's possible to do it differently. In the modern era, medicalizing was introducing hygienic measures, antibiotic treatments and, as such, the more medicalized a society was, the healthier it was. Today, the more medicalized a society is, the more disease there is, because we put a diagnostic label on phenomena of daily life that years ago would not have occurred to anyone to label as a pathology, such as "social phobia", which we used to call being shy. Moreover, lifelong drug treatment is proposed for it. Why, since it's a character trait?...

More examples.

Sex, with pharmacological reductionism that says, "This is a medical problem and there's a pill that can make you better." Another example is death, which is reduced to conversations of this type: "Has the doctor been by? Have they raised the oxygen? Have they given him the pill yet?..." And hours go by with this, and there isn't social space to address the spiritual or human reality. Another case, hyperactivity in children. There have been initiatives -- paid for by the houses that sponsor a drug -- that are the information on which we rely to say that there's a large percent of children who have this problem and have to buy such and such a pill.

It could be that we're the ones who demand labels, an easy solution for everything.

Both. There are some outside interests but human consciousness is always more powerful -- they can't sell you something if you don't let them. But Illich has said that "the medical system has become a danger to health" and that "the obsession with health has become a pathology." They would have filled Jesus with pills today, because I don't think he was fully well socially and physically. Rightly, nobody lets the priest tell them how to live, but yet you go to the doctor and it seems that he can tell you what you have to do and not do. That is if you want.

Aren't you afraid of criminalizing a whole industry that has saved many lives?

Health care can't go on being a business -- I'm radical about this. Obviously, the industry isn't stupid and, if there's a university that's doing good research, it goes there and buys the patent, but the one who has benefited mankind is the one who invented it -- that an industry comes along and makes a deal doesn't do us any good.

But the researchers do it, hoping that someone buys from them.

If they're doing it with that hope, they won't discover anything good. There's a crisis in innovation because they're making drugs that are repetitions with slight molecular variations so that they can patent them as new ones. To really innovate, you have to have an open heart and mind, you have to be a bit ingenuous and not think about money.

What do you think of homeopathy?

Homeopathy and alternative medicine have been a discovery for me since I've been in the monastery. Conventional medicine is very disappointing for chronic diseases. Plus, now I'm an acupuncturist. A 90-year old sister with osteoarthritis has side effects from the pill, and with the needles, the pain goes away just the same.

The pharmaceutical industry isn't as untouchable as they say. You touched it and nothing happened to you. Or did it?

They withdrew funding from a conference where I was going to speak. If I were in medical practice in the system, things would have happened to me.


Promotion and funding are increasingly dependent on these industries, both in the Faculty of Medicine as well as with respect to the possibilities of biomedical research parks, which increasingly depend on private capital. When talking about public-private partnership, if the decision-making capability is private, it's a scam on the public purse.

What the drug industry is doing -- first scaring us and then selling us the solution -- isn't that what the Church is doing too?

Yes, and when it does it, it's an abuse of power. Fear is the worst argument you can use. Selling a God who judges, who punishes, who watches you to see if you do wrong and who has representatives who are watching you more closely, is a perversion that makes me angrier than the drug companies. What I like about the Gospels is the liberating message -- that you are made in the image of God, that God is absolute love and freedom and you are an embodiment of God's love and freedom in space and time, you are unique and He has loved you from the beginning, He made you out of love and out of love, He waits for you -- I love this!

Your parents weren't believers, were they?

My father clearly called himself an atheist, although I don't know if he would now, and my mother wouldn't call herself an atheist but she taught me to be suspicious of the Church. Before I was 15, I didn't consider it. They sent me to a secular Catalan school. But later, my experience at the Sacred Heart school was critical because the nuns did everything in Spanish; I took notes in Catalan and they called me a "red"...But there, in some gatherings where they put a Bible in my hands, it had a very big impact and I was annoyed. "I lost 15 years of my life! Nobody explained this to me!"

You still took some time to become a nun.

Yes, it wasn't until years later, I came to the monastery to prepare for exams in medicine and this inner struggle began, which was a mixture of fascination and horror. "Is what I'm feeling God speaking to me? If it is, it's fascinating, and if not, maybe I'm going crazy."

And seeing that the Church hasn't progressed on issues like homosexuality and the role of women ...

I'm faithful to what has seemed to me to be from God and I'm critical of the institution. Monasteries are places of women's fullfilment, independent of the patriarchal society. This is a women's environment in which traditional masculine and feminine roles can't play any part.

But when you see the Pope at Sagrada Familia and see those nuns there acting as maids, or when you can't preside at a Mass...

I side with all the criticism, and with the awareness that I would not expect things to change from above. If women in the Church wanted it, this would change in 24 hours. If they just didn't attend Church, everything would fall down. And that's where we are. I don't think this will stand much longer.

You must be in favor of all veils, if you're wearing one.

The basic criterion is: "Is this what women want or is it what someone says they must want?" If I'm living in a Muslim society where if I don't wear a veil or burkha, I'm whipped or burned, this can't be.

Do you read newspapers?

I mistrust the current independence of the media. That Libya business, it's a shame how it went. It was a brazen assassination, it was unwarranted intervention and it was a way to go to make saviors out of a country that caused the same thing in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are much worse now. The lack of critical capacity in international political news is outrageous.

Are you an independentista?

Yes, I could perfectly well be an independentista. What I find ridiculous is that this can't be considered as an option. The exercise of political responsibility for me is to be part of structures of increasing solidarity. There has been sufficient historical experience gathered to know that the closest government is the one you can make take responsibility most directly. And the higher you go -- and it now goes to Europe -- the bureaucracy is more complex and removed from decisionmaking. The Trinity already tells us that diversity is optimal, that there's a unity beyond diversity.

So, the Spanish Church hasn't understood the Holy Trinity?

Not at all. This idea of uniformity is absolutely contrary to what is deduced from the Christian worldview.

Will Catalonia get independence?

If we want it, yes. This is the same as women in the Church. If we want it, in 24 hours. And I'm not saying this jokingly. I believe it; I believe it's essential. If you're waiting for them to move, not in 24 hours or in 24,000 years.

Are you optimistic despite the crisis?

I'm worried. I think the levels of suffering, abuse, and injustice that are occurring are a major scandal and will get worse. We need to heed the most basic demands of the movement of the outraged ones.

With so much work and your leadership ability, doesn't it seem strange to you to be staying quietly at the monastery?

Monastic life isn't an independent feminist republic where we don't care about what's happening. We have many ties; it's not a walled-in refuge.

Do you see yourself at Sant Benet for the rest of your life?

God willing. But if at any time I have to say something that might jeopardize my being able to remain here, I'll have to say it. It's a requirement I have of myself -- consistency and faithfulness to the truth. I've found my home here and I can grow and be myself, but I have to be able to put it on the line. The Christian has to look towards Jesus, and things didn't go too well for Jesus. I know things could happen to me that I don't expect.