Guido Dalla Casa: we need to go beyond the way of living of industrial civilization

20.10.2019 - Olivier Turquet

This post is also available in: Italian

Guido Dalla Casa: we need to go beyond the way of living of industrial civilization

Guido Dalla Casa is an Italian scholar and essayist active in the ecologist movement promoting a radical critique of the current system.

What are the main points of your critique and your proposals for change?

The most significant points:

  • We must become profoundly aware that we humans are an animal species which can be easily classified (Class: Mammals, Order: Primates). We are like a kind of cell in an organism, which is the Ecosphere or Earth. Therefore, the first value must be the good health of the entire organism;
  • This planet can support a maximum of 2 or 3 billion humans that are mostly vegetarians like the other primates, and with a level of consumption lower than at present.
  • All sentient beings (other animals, plants, ecosystems, collective beings) have the right to a life worth living. Natural entities have their proper value, they are not merely a function related to humans;
  • Any reasoning about possible processes must be carried out in the framework of a systemic-holistic paradigm which is non-linear;
  • Nature must be considered in its profoundly spiritual aspect.

It is obvious that these points are far from the current philosophy of western anthropocentric culture, and from the present phase of industrial civilization.

Proposals for change:

  • First of all: awareness. Starting from school, teaching at all ages what we know through Science, but only through those sciences which are close to philosophy and not those dominating today which are linked to technology, having become slaves of the economy and industry;
  • Diffuse throughout the world contraceptives in order to enhance birth control. The aim must be a reduction of the human population. When the snowy owl gets aware that there are few mice around, it stops producing eggs. Other animals who do not have predators create very little offspring.
  • Get rid of economic growth, which is a phenomenon impossible on Earth, except for short periods. In fact, economic growth replaces living organisms (forests, swamps, savannah, marine ecosystems) by inanimate matter (buildings, machines, roads, factories), thus destroying Life. Economic indicators must be banned from any discourse because they are harmful. Economic growth is a serious pathology of the Planet;
  • Forget competition which, although present in Nature, is not a principal factor;
  • Introduce the principle according to which a process is sustainable only if it does not significantly alter the functioning (or Life) of the bigger system of which it is part.

How do you see the current ecological crisis and the rise of new movements such as Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, both rather different from classical ecologism?

I consider the movements Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion to be very important for the large following they achieved, for the age of their adherents, and for the unexpected success they are enjoying. Another essential feature is that they are profoundly different from traditional ecologism for which it is enough to obtain a sewage plant or the preservation of some small natural area (parcs) to leave to “future generations”. Classical ecologism which is anthropocentric and fully integrated into the system, follows a superficial ecology completely different from Profound Ecology, of which we can find traces in the pleas of the two movements you mentioned. Of course, the action of classical ecologism is very useful, mainly in the safeguard of endangered species which will be able to recover in a world adopting new ways of living, overcoming the current stadium of decadence. But classical ecologism will not produce a real change: its rejection or indifference regarding the ideas of Profound Ecology is symptomatic. The two movements you mentioned might represent the beginning of that unexpected and wonderful event which is our only hope to cope with the transition to new models in a way that would not be exceedingly traumatic. Hopefully these new models should not be materialistic or anthropocentric, but eco-centric. The current ecologic crisis is so serious that it can’t be overcome by the limited requests of classical ecologism.

It seems that the need for a radical change of paradigm is not clear. Do you agree? And what actions do you propose?

I agree: the need for a true and profound change of paradigm is not yet clear in any movement. The discussion remains within the current cartesian-newtonian and anthropocentric paradigm and the need to overcome completely the ways of living of industrial civilisation is not clearly stated. However, the declarations of the two movements mentioned before contain some proposals inherent to the new paradigm, although maybe they are not fully aware of it. A change of world-view is essential.

What actions? We need to make the two movements become aware of what their requests mean: a change that is much deeper than they realise. It means the end of industrial civilisation and its corollary, economic growth. But we must not be so optimistic as to believe that industrial civilisation and economic growth are at their end. If business continues as usual and there will be an economic recovery, we will have a terribly deteriorated world, and we will see serious consequences that are unimaginable. Another thing we must do is to make these two movements become so influential that they can foster a radical change in the way of living.

The concept of labour must also change. 5000 different human cultures existed, and only very few of them were based on labour or cared about economy and growth. That means we can live even without these obsessions. Many of those cultures lived without money and didn’t know the concepts of richness and poverty. The fact that these cultures existed for long periods proves that the unlimited increase of goods is not a natural desire of humanity. It brought about malaise and unhappiness, as demonstrated by the increase of suicides and psychopathy. But no human cultural model is capable to conceive its own end.

The well-known Italian journalist and philosopher Tiziano Terzani wrote about twenty years ago: “The battle of the future will be the battle against economy”.

With all this I want to tell you how profound the change must be.

Do we still have enough time to deviate from a wrong and dangerous direction for the planet and its inhabitants?

In my opinion we don’t have any more time to deviate, without traumatic events, from the current direction that has been going on for the last two centuries. But we have time to become aware of what is happening and reduce to a minimum the seriousness of those events which will be the transition towards different models based on an eco-centric vision compatible with Life on Earth.

After the recent massive protests and a certain media success by the figure of Greta, there has been a proliferation of diverse “ecologist declarations” by many politicians among whom the Italian Prime Minister. How do you judge this phenomenon?

Politicians start to show a certain sensibility toward a problem only when they see that the number of those who are concerned is becoming substantial. So, they started to talk about it. I think that their strategy is to say: “Go ahead Greta! Follow her! We are with you and your supporters”. Then they won’t do anything about it, because they will never accept the end of economic development: they don’t even have the power to do it, because the system has gone too far, beyond their capacities of control. They would lose their positions of power in a few days. We cannot expect anything from politics.

All supporters of industrial development (multinationals, politicians, economists, manufacturers, trade unions) have adopted more or less that strategy. Expressions such as sustainable development, circular economy, green growth, green economy have been forged in order to continue business as usual. The Italian Prime Minister wants to make us believe that “environment and development are not a contradiction” or that he supports the “union between economy and ecology”, absurd statements because economic growth is a phenomenon incompatible with the functioning of the bigger system of which we are part, i.e. the biological system of our planet, or rather Earth itself.

As an ecologist humanist what strikes me and makes me reflect is your critique of anthropocentrism. It seems to me however that it is not a critique of the centrality of the person in human society but of that ideology which does not place the Human Being at the centre but some humans who in the name of a purported human superiority justify their misdeeds against the vast majority of human beings and against the other living beings. Can we say that in any case the Human Being as a living species narrowly linked to and profoundly empathic towards others (living as well as not living) has the responsibility and the duty to resolve this situation caused by a violent and greedy minority?

The critique of anthropocentrism is a critique of that part of humanity which considers itself “at the centre” and which unfortunately invaded the whole world. Basically, it is the way of thinking that derives from the Old Testament, from the jewish-christian-islamic thought (and some more), which has no consideration whatsoever for other sentient beings and for all the relationships with the so called inanimate world (which is all but inanimate). Many human cultures (usually those we call “native” but also several oriental currents) had a profoundly different vision of the world. Sadly, anthropocentrism is no longer the basic thought of just a “violent and greedy minority” but has become very diffused. I believe that this situation will be resolved in the first place by the Earth itself, whether you interpret it as Gaia, or “The Big Unconscious” or Ecological Unconscious, or whether you consider it simply as a Complex System much bigger than all of us.

Once Silo, the founder of the Humanist Movement, proposed to meditate on Life. He said: “meditate on a flower, or even better meditate on this rock”. I was strongly impressed by that.

I like very much this proposal to meditate on Life, meditating on a flower or, even better, “on this rock”, because these entities are also “animate” and are fully part of the “Complex of sentient beings” which is One, a Wholeness that cannot be divided. We can meditate on any of these natural entities.

Translation from Italian by Thomas Schmid

Categories: Ecology and Environment, Europe, Humanism and Spirituality, International, Interviews
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