Modern civilization and its spiritless people


Previously published in Spanish in La Jornada, September 22, 2020 | Victor M. Toledo

Translated by Jane K. Brundage

“The world is at a most dangerous time in human history,” says Noam Chomsky, a leading American intellectual. His statement could not be more daring. Today, in addition to the global climate crisis, there is the danger of a nuclear war, the incapacity of democratic mechanisms (the United States and Brazil, inhabited by more than 500 million, are governed by two mad beings elected by their own citizens) and Covid-19. The pandemic has not only changed the world; it has also brought humanity completely to its knees.

The human species has knelt before an unstoppable phenomenon claiming nearly a million victims. In addition, as we have argued and demonstrated, it is nature’s reaction to all the irrationalities of industrial food production systems, the ultimate source of zoonoses. At least until the vaccine appears, humans will have to deal with fear of the unknown, just like our ancestors. [in Mexico] done with lightning, with volcanic eruptions or with earthquakes. The entire hyper-technological apparatus of the modern world has been overwhelmed by the impacts of an invisible being. The machines have again been defeated by an organism. Is there a lesson to be learned? There are many, but one is central, the mother of all lessons.

The civilization (industrial, technocratic, capitalist and patriarchal) which today dominates much of the planet was built on spurious foundations. If one attribute marks human evolution, it is that of the community, the collective organization based on mutual aid, in solidarity. This trait has not only enabled the survival of the human species for 296,000 years, but it is considered a logical derivation of the evolutionary line drawn by species of social animals, a subject meticulously studied by sociobiology.

The community, defined by P. Kropotkine (1907) as institutions of mutual aid, was present through the tribal organization, the village commune, the guilds, the city of the Middle Ages, and it remains today a center of resistance. in communities of indigenous cultures and cooperatives. (rural, urban and industrial). Modern civilization operates, on the contrary, under a rationality which is at the opposite extreme. Competition between individuals is considered the greatest dogma, a fallacy constructed from a dubious interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution which made it possible to justify the deployment of private property, the concentration of wealth and the capitalism.

This dichotomy on the meaning of social organization is in turn closely linked to two radically opposed conceptions of nature. The community is founded on a sacred idea of ​​nature as a living entity, as the source of life and the recipient of the dead, like Mother Earth. The modern world has demolished this image and, thanks to science, has constructed an idea of ​​nature as an inanimate mechanical system: a machine to scrutinize, control, dominate, and ultimately operate.

“Both animistic thought and mechanistic thought are metaphorical,” says R. Sheldrake in his famous book The rebirth of nature, “… but while mythical and animistic thought is based on organic metaphors drawn from life processes, mechanistic thinking appeals to metaphors drawn from artificial machines.”

The idea of ​​conquering nature is inseparable from sexual imagery, as feminist studies have shown, but also from two opposing behaviors.

When human beings have humbly accepted the existence of a superior being, the product of a collective intuition and the fruit of a direct connection with life itself, they have facilitated dialogue, reciprocity, compassion and, through therefore, the solidarity that the commons allow. In other words, spirituality (not religiosity) and community are inseparable.

But under the pretext of conquering nature, being became sovereign, and in its current version (the wolf of Wall Street) individualistic, arrogant, materialistic and hedonistic. Beings made to compete and win at all costs are beyond laws, rules, principles and scruples. Masters in the art of simulation and lying. If the world is upside down and on the verge of chaos, it is because of the power that these spiritless beings wield in all areas every day. Those of the economy, politics, diplomacy, the army, science, religion and intellectual creation.

Only conscious beings will save the species. They are already doing it.

In memory of Álvaro Aguilar-Ayón, his conscience and his spirit.

Teaser photo credit: Houses nestled against the sacred massif of Tepozteco in Tepoztlán, Morelos. Photo: Roseau Brundage