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By Joel Sangronis Padrón
Consumerism is the worst pathological manifestation of that disease of human society called capitalism; It is the most formidable obstacle to the construction of a new social model in which what is understood as quality of life does not lead, almost automatically, to the degradation and destruction of the surrounding life. Economic socialism without an ecological ethic will have no future.
Act as if the pattern of your action could serve at all times as the Principle of universal legislation. - Immanuel Kant.
Ethics is nothing other than reverence for life - Albert Schweitzer
If I knew that the world would end Tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today ... - Martin Lhuter King
Human evolution has always been a source of doubts and questions for me. Since I was a child, I was deeply struck by the fact that poorly equipped primates, from a physiological point of view, could have overcome the enormous disadvantages that these conditions represented in a severely hostile environment, to survive and expand throughout the world.
Natural selection pushed the different species, and the individuals of the same, to fight, to compete with each other so that only the fittest survived, however, the hominids, by far less physically fit for the fight for life than most of its competitors, prey and predators, survived, thrived, and evolved. As Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin point out in their book Our Origins, What Makes Us Human: “In addition to technical capacity for planning, coordination and technology, social capacity for cooperation was also intensified. Cooperation, the sense of common goals and values, the desire to advance towards the common good, was something more than the mere sum of individualities. A set of rules of conduct, of morals, was embodied in an understanding of good and evil within a complex social system. Without cooperation - within the band, between different gangs, between tribal groups - our technical capabilities would have been severely undermined. "
If natural selection instinctively conditioned and pushed our ancestors to compete, to be selfish and possessive, the need to survive led them to think of the other, the others, the group rather than themselves, to counteract their physiological disadvantages through cooperation. It was the development of a community ethic that allowed and promoted the development of the intelligence necessary for survival. As Aldo Leopold points out in his essay "The Ethics of the Earth": "In ecological terms, ethics can be described as a limitation of freedom of action in the struggle for existence. …. Possibly ethics is an evolving community instinct ”. In the same vein, the great British biologist Conrad Waddington points out that: "Through evolution the human being has become an ethical animal".
Even though ethics belongs to the sphere of the "I" (rather the super-self), it is clear that since the beginning of our history as a species, the "I" has never been able to exist without the "others." The human being as “being” necessarily presupposes the existence of “others”. The relations of the "I" with the "others" is what we know as human relations or social relations.
These relationships have been determined throughout history based on the modes of production of each society at each given historical moment, that is, the way in which human beings have organized to obtain or produce what is socially necessary for their existence . The social relations of production will then generate forms and models of life, that is, they will create cultural models, and these models will determine to a high degree the behavior patterns of men in each society. When human beings move from the primitive and communal way of life (primitive communism and community ethics) to forms of organization based on hierarchy, the imposition of force, domination and power (social division of labor), the conception of Ethics in each case will reflect these changes.
The division of human society into classes will then break the primitive community ethic; the ethics of the master can never be that of the slave, nor that of the feudal lord that of the serf, nor that of the bourgeois that of the proletarian. The struggle for existence will not be then only against predators and adverse natural conditions but fundamentally against other men, the struggle of man against man: the class struggle!
Ethics will then cease to be a community value. The imperatives of the struggle for the existence of man against man will generate the conditions (creation of the state, legal systems, moral and religious codes) for ethics to become an individual problem, of how man behaves in the face of the men. Being confined to the sphere of the individual, of the private, ethics lost all forms of link with the environment, with the world outside of human society. Since then, most of the cultural models produced by the human species (among them, of course, our Western model), will understand ethics as a problem of the human being in his relationship with his fellow human beings, strictly denying the possibility of existence of an ethic in front of the rest of the living beings. The structuring and expansion of the great monotheistic, patriarchal and transcendentalist cults will contribute to this in no small measure, which will understand ethics as an appendage of religion, subordinating human conduct and freedom to their systems of revealed truths and divine laws. denying the relevance, value and even the existence of a secular ethic.
The earth and the other forms of life will be considered as accessory and temporary elements of the main element: Man! For these belief systems, man will be the center of creation and, therefore, will be above the rest of living beings and even the entire ecosystem, understood as a whole (Earth). For monotheistic religions there are no possible ethical approaches between man and other living beings, since for them man dwells on an ontologically superior plane.
In the last 300 years, the capitalist model has come to exacerbate to a paroxysm the most basic (less human) instincts of our species: possession, dominance, individualism, competitiveness, power, selfishness. This system has produced a dazzling, almost mind-boggling, technical and scientific development, but these technological and material advances have in no way been accompanied by a parallel development on the ethical and moral plane. Massive forms and techniques of destruction and death have been created and perfected to the limit of horror. Chernobyl, Tree Mile Island, Torrey Canyon, Exxon Valdez, Prestige, The Deep Horizon, Amoco Cadiz, Minamata Bay, and Bhopal, to name only the most publicized, were not mere accidents but dialectical consequences of the instrumental logic of capitalist developmentalism. . The current technical rationality carries within it, in its very nature, the unbridled impulse of domination, the violence of power, the irrational fascination for omnipotence, a childlike dazzling by the novelty. Capitalist Homo Tecnologicus combines the worst instincts of the Hobbesian werewolf with the reckless and insane fascination for technique of Dr. Victor Frankestein. The contemporary homo capitalist, son of the positivist-productivist, is, for his environment, for the rest of living beings, a kind of Mister Hyde armed with high technology.
The inexistence of an ethical system that regulates or moderates the relations of homo capitalist with nature has meant that nature is seen only as a source of raw materials and as a repository for its waste and excess. In the last 200 years the capitalist model has generated a destruction of the different terrestrial ecosystems such as had not been seen in the previous million years that our species has on the face of the earth; thousands of species have become prematurely extinct, vast areas of land and sea have been contaminated and sterilized. Today, capitalism in its neoliberal aspect encourages 6,500 million human beings to own more, to compete to have more, to maintain the exponential growth of an industrial apparatus that generates products and waste 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Death advances on earth while biodiversity recedes every day.
Towards an ecosocialist ethic:
The exploitation of nature by man is based on the same logic and the same ends as the exploitation of man by man. An ethic that rethinks social relations based on cooperation and solidarity will be born in parallel to one that poses relationships with the natural environment based on respect, coexistence and durability. The compulsive desire to consume, to increase material goods, and to enslave themselves to these and to capital, makes it impossible to build within the capitalist model a new ethical system between men and their environment.
Consumerism is the worst pathological manifestation of that historical disease of human society called capitalism; It is the first and most formidable obstacle to the construction of a new social model in which what is understood as quality of life does not lead, almost automatically, (as is the case today), to the degradation and destruction of the surrounding life.
It is a serious mistake to believe that the new socialist model to be built will simply amount to a better and fairer distribution of material wealth within society. In the same vein, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (Che) pointed out that: "Economic socialism without communist morality does not interest me." Here both Marx and Che prioritize communist morals and ethics, but limit them to the human sphere. The ecological and civilizing crisis that capitalism has caused, and that is getting worse every day, requires extending these facts of conscience to the scope of the ecosphere. Economic socialism without an ecological ethic will have no future.
If the capitalist bourgeoisie has based its rule and power not only on the exploitation of man by man but also on the exploitation of nature by man, the socialism that we have to build must not only combat and eliminate the former but also the latter. second form of exploitation.
Capitalism can only be defeated when its practices and experiences (the source of its ideological dominance) are modified. The new man that Marx and Che told us about must have as fundamental characteristics a new consciousness, a new culture and a new way of relating to his fellow men and his environment, which must also be considered his similar, his equal. This new consciousness can only be built from the radical transformation of the principles on which the capitalist model is based and the Western culture that produced it: consumerism, exchange value over use value, having instead of being, developmentalism , homogenization of culture, technical rationality, verticality in the exercise of power, patriarchalism, reification of being, fetishism of objects, empire of the ephemeral, competitiveness, machismo, anthropocentrism, racism and classism. Alienation, understood as the inability of the human being to perceive and understand the reality that surrounds him, to assume himself as a stranger in his world, to reject his history, his culture, his environment and his peers, is one of the more formidable obstacles to the creation and development of a new eco-community ethic that surpasses the anti-values that capitalism has inoculated deeply into the psyche of contemporary man.
Today, more than talking about material conditions of existence, we should talk about material conditions of survival. The construction of a planetary ethic that overcomes and overcomes the overdetermination (reification) that capitalism makes of life, is a survival imperative. As a million years ago, today the survival instinct is forcing us, as a species, to develop a new ethic for life; Failure to do so, or not doing it in time, may imply the destruction of life on the face of the earth as we know it today.
The change in ethical patterns will not be driven only by changes and transformations in the modes of production and in the type of productive relations. The deep and violent metabolic breakdown that human beings are infringing on the terrestrial ecosystem will thus coercively impose a new model of ecosystem survival relations, and the very concept of production of the goods necessary for the life of the human species will have to be drastically revised and reworked (starting with energy). The new social relations of production must then be ecosystemic relations of cooperation.
We will have to create, (and this is a race against time), a new ethic between men and the rest of the terrestrial ecosystem; an ethic that paves the way for the full and non-dominant or destructive reintegration of men in their planetary home.
A new ethic among human beings (not anthropophagic), not created, mediated or conditioned by capital.
A new ethic of man towards himself. A secular spirituality, not anthropocentric or androcentric, based on respect and protection of life, of all forms of life, including, of course, that of their peers.
Refine and rethink anthropocratism (man-made government of the world), that which leads only men and their interests to decide the fate of the earth over more than 5 million living species with whom we share the planet. Overcome the instrumental rationality whose goals are productivism, capital accumulation, domination and power. Review and rethink the concept of progress. This is perhaps one of the most difficult points to address. In the last 150 years, positivism has deeply introduced the notion of infinite progress almost as synonymous with happiness in the Western cultural model (now dominant throughout the world). Capitalism completed the equation by equating progress with material consumption; Thus, whatever is done, whatever is obtained, the individual and society feel frustrated (here is the crux of consumerism); We have been educated to demand and expect always more, permanently, eternally. An exponential progression of consumption and material progress in a finite and limited ecosystem: Crazy!
Admitting that you cannot progress forever (in material terms, in consumption, in obtaining tangible goods), has a political cost that neither right-wing neoliberal governments nor progressive and revolutionary governments dare to assume. The degrowth thesis is currently a true political taboo. The creation of a socio-ecological ethic must necessarily go through delegitimizing current models, patterns and styles of life and consumption, and vindicating ancient Epicurean, Franciscan, Taoist, Buddhist values and traditions and those of our native peoples, such as frugality, solidarity, brotherhood, self-control, otherness, respect for all forms of life, today transformed by the cultural apparatus of the capitalist system into social and political taboos. Obviously, a new eco-socialist ethic cannot be imposed through force or coercion. Formal and informal education, the change in consumption patterns through the promotion of new forms of production and distribution, and the example of those who govern or hold positions of social influence, will be fundamental in this titanic task.
Joel Sangronis Padrón is a professor at the Rafael Maria Baralt National Experimental University (UNERMB), Venezuela - July 2010 - CEPRID