By Leonardo Boff*
Many analysts predict that the post-pandemic could mean an extreme radicalization of the previous situation, a return to the capital system and neoliberalism, seeking to dominate the world with the use of digital surveillance (big data) on every person on the planet, something that is already underway in China and the United States. There we would enter the era of darkness, with the risk, suggested by Rachel Carson, of our self-destruction. Hence the demand for a radical ecological conversion, whose centrality must be occupied by Earth, by life and by human civilization: a bio civilization.
However, we shall not underestimate the strength of systemic violence. Sigmund Freud, answering a letter from Albert Einstein in 1932, in which he asked him if it was possible to overcome violence and war, left an aporia. He replied, reflecting that he could not say which instinct could prevail: whether the instinct of death (thanatos) or the instinct of life (eros). They are always in tension and we cannot be sure which one will triumph in the end. He ended with resignation: “Hungry, we think of the mill that grinds so slowly that we can starve to death before receiving the flour.”
There is an un optimistic view from one of the greatest American intellectuals, a severe critic of the imperialist system, Noam Chomsky, who says: “The coronavirus is serious enough, but it is worth remembering that something much more terrible is approaching, we are running towards the disaster, towards something much worse than anything that has happened in human history and Trump and his lackeys are at the forefront of this, in the race to the abyss. There are two immense threats that we are facing. One is the growing threat of nuclear war, exacerbated by the tension of military regimes, and the other, of course, is global warming. Both can be solved, but there isn’t much time; the coronavirus is terrible and can have terrible consequences, but it will be overcome, while the others will not. If we do not solve this, we will be doomed.”
Chomsky has claimed that President Trump is demented enough to unleash a nuclear war, regardless of what may happen to all of humanity.
Despite this dramatic vision of the prestigious linguist and thinker, our hope is that if humanity were in serious danger of actually destroying itself, the instinct to live would prevail. However, only on the condition that we have built a different way of inhabiting the Common House, on other bases that are neither those of the past nor those of the present.
Some Good Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Anyway, the coronavirus has shown us that we are not “small gods” who claim to be able to do everything; that we are fragile and limited; that the accumulation of material goods does not save life; that financial globalization alone, in the competitive mold of capitalism, prevents creating, as the Chinese propose, “a community of common destiny for all humanity”; that we have to create a global and plural center to manage world problems; that the cooperation and solidarity of all with all and not individualism are the core values of a geosociety
Limits of the Earth-system that does not tolerate a project of unlimited growth must be recognized and respected. We must take care of nature as we take care of ourselves, because we are part of it and it provide us with all the goods and services necessary for life; that we must seek a circular economy that meets the famous three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle everything that has entered the production process.
The economy must be of dignified and universal subsistence and not of accumulation of some at the expense of all the others and of nature; that this type of subsistence economy reduces needs to lead to sobriety and thus greatly reduce social inequalities; that the new economic order should not be governed by profits but by economic rationality with a social and ecological sense.
That it would be highly rational and humanitarian to create a universal minimum income; that medical care is a universal human right (One World-One Health) that we cannot disregard; that it is important to guarantee a state that regulates the market, that promotes the necessary development and is equipped to satisfy the collective demands, be they of health or natural disasters.
We must encourage human-spiritual capital, always unlimited, based on love, solidarity, the search for the right measure, unity, compassion, feeling the charm of the world and in the tireless search for peace.
A Map to Rescue Life: The Earth Charter
These are, among others, some of the lessons we can learn from the coronavirus. Quoting the Earth Charter (2000), one of the most inspiring official documents for the transformation of our way of being on planet Earth, “Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions and ways of living… Our environmental, economic, political, social and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions” (Preamble c).
Which Vision of the World and What Values to Include?
Knowing and having knowledge of reality data is not yet doing. What drives us to act? What vision of the world and what values should we include? We are guided by an important text from the final part of the Earth Charter, in whose drafting process I also participated.
“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. We must imaginatively develop and apply the vision of a sustainable way of life locally, nationally, regionally, and globally” (The Way Forward).
Let us note that it is not just about improving the journey. This will lead us to the cyclical crises that we already know and eventually to disaster. It is about “looking for a new beginning”. We are challenged to rebuild the “Earth, our home, which is alive with a unique community of life” (EC, Preamble a). It would be misleading to cover the Earth’s wounds with bandages, thinking that we can heal it. We have to revitalize it and remake it for it to be the Common House.
“This requires a change of mind.” A change of mind means a new look at Earth, just as the new cosmology and biology present it. It is a moment in the evolutionary process that is already 13.7 billion years old and the Earth that is 4.3 billion years old. After the Big Bang, all the physical-chemical elements were forged for more than three billion years at the heart of the great red stars. By exploding, they launched in all directions these elements that formed the galaxy, stars like the Sun, planets, and Earth.
It is alive with a life that erupted 3.8 billion years ago, a systemic super-organism that continually self-organizes and self-creates. At an advanced time of its complexity, about 8-10 million years ago, a part of it began to feel, think, love and adore. The human being, man and woman emerged. He is conscious and intelligent Earth, that is why he is called homo, made of humus.
This worldview changes our conception of Earth. The UN, on 22 April 2009, officially recognized her as Mother Earth because she generates and gives us everything. This is why the Earth Charter says: “Respect the Earth and life in all its diversity and care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love” (EC Principles 1 and 2). We can buy and sell the earth as soil. However, we do not buy or sell the Mother, we love and venerate her. Such attitudes must be transferred to the Earth, our Mother. This is the new mindset that we have to make ours.
“It requires a change of heart.” The heart is the dimension of deep feeling, sensitivity, love, compassion and values that guide our lives. Especially in the heart is care, which is a friendly and affectionate way of relating to nature and its beings. It has to do with the sensible or cordial reason, with the limbic brain, which arose 220 million years ago when mammals broke into evolution. All of them, like the human being, have feelings, love and care for their young. That is the pathos, the ability to affect and be affected, and the deepest dimension of the human being.
Reasoning (the logos), the mind to which we have previously referred, appeared only 8-10 million years ago with the neocortical brain and in advanced form as homo sapiens (modern man) about a hundred thousand years ago. This, in modernity, has developed exponentially, dominating our societies and creating techno-science, the great instruments of domination and transformation of the face of the Earth, including creating a death machine with nuclear weapons and others that can end human life and nature.
The inflation of reason, rationalism, has created a kind of lobotomy: the human being has difficulty feeling the other and his suffering. We need to complete rational intelligence, necessary to solve the survival needs of our life, but it must be completed with emotional and sensitive intelligence so that we are more complete and passionately assume the defense of Earth and life.
We need our hearts to lead us to listen to both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, and to forge, as Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping says: “a moderately supplied society” or as we say: a society with sober consumption and solidary.
* Leonardo Boff is an eco-teologist and philosopher. He has written: The Human Being, Satan or Good Angel, Record 2008.
Translation by Mª José Gavito Milano