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Organic Consumers Association

To Learn from Suffering: Leonardo Boff

Suffering is a great school for humans to learn. There is truth in the phrase attributed to Hegel: «the human being learns nothing from history; but learns everything from suffering.». I prefer Saint Augustine's formulation in his Confessions: «the human being learns from suffering, but much more from love.»

The love fati (love of pure and crude reality) of the ancients, and retaken by Freud, prevails in the present days when humanity is being devastated by the great crisis of meaning underlying the economic-financial crisis. We must learn again to love in a selfless and unconditional way: to love the Earth, all living beings, especially the human, those who suffer, and to respect them, with their differences and limitations. Love is a cosmic force, as Dante wrote, that «moves heaven and the stars.» Only one who loves can transform and create.

The powerful gather. They are confused and are unsure what to do. That is because they love money more than life. If there were love, they would approve the proposal: a «Universal Declaration of Humanity's Common Good,» as the basis of a «New Global and Multilateral Order», one that contemplates all humanity, and the Earth. But no. Perplexed, they basically prefer to repeat the formulas that have failed. Meanwhile, it would be good to ask: what right do 20 governments have to make decisions in the name of 172? What is their claim to legitimacy? Is it just that they are the strongest?

Even so, some useful lessons can be drawn for the next crises to follow.

The first is that, facing global danger, the powerful can unite, in spite of their differences. Even though their solutions do not present a sustainable way out to the crisis, the fact that they are unified is meaningful, because before too long we will confront a much worse crisis: the crisis of the unsustenability of the Earth and of the perverse effects of global warming. There will follow a water crisis, and crisis of food insecurity for millions and millions of persons.  In order to survive, this will force a union of peoples and governments, greater than that of the G-20 in London. The greater the danger, as a German poet would say, the greater will be the possibility of salvation, so long as this union occurs. The solution will come only from a world policy based on cooperation, solidarity, world responsibility and caring for the living Earth.

The second lesson is that we can no longer preserve market fundamentalism, the unique philosophy that so arrogantly announced that there was no alternative to the prevailing order, as if history had been frozen in its favor, and the hope-principle had been destroyed. We can not longer trust in mere functional reason detached from sensible and cordial reason, as the basis of the world of excellence and of infinite values (Milton Santos, our great Brazilian geographer) such as love, cooperation, respect, justice and others. This time, either we devise an alternative, this is, a new paradigm of civilization, with a different mode of production, one that respects the rhythms of nature, and a new pattern of consumption, solidarian and frugal, or we will have to accept the risk of extinction of our species and great damage to the biosphere. The Earth can continue without us. We cannot live without the Earth.

The third lesson is to corroborate that the economy, as the structuring axis of all the social life, has become hostile to life and to the integral development of the peoples. It has to be rerouted to its true nature, that of guaranteeing the material basis of life and of society.

We live in times of great decisions, representing ruptures that set up the new. Keynes said it well: «the difficulty is not so much in formulating new ideas, as it is in shaking up the old.» The old erode away. We need only to trust in the new.  On them depends a better future.

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