The most important thing: what crisis are we talking about?

08.01.2021 - Santiago de Chile - José Gabriel Feres

This post is also available in: Spanish, French, Catalan

The most important thing: what crisis are we talking about?
(Image by © Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)

If we have anything to thank the COVID-19 pandemic for, it is that it has precipitated and made transparent a crisis that has been predicted by many for quite some time. We all talk about crises today, but the degrees of breadth and depth that each one gives to it are of great variability. Some are of the opinion that the current problems derive almost entirely from the repercussions generated by the health crisis and that resolving this crisis (with the production and application of the vaccine), although it will take some time, will finally recover the growth and development that was present before the pandemic. They even claim that, thanks to the pandemic, labour, technological and social order aspects will have been improved, allowing for a better situation in the future. Of course, those who propose this are those who are in a privileged position today in the current system. Others, somewhat more critical and not so optimistic, declare that the COVID-19 has shown certain existing deficiencies – some important, such as: weakness in the health systems; precariousness in the situation of many families; excessive subsidiarity of the state and abandonment of the necessary social protection, etc. – but that this is going to allow new rules to be established and a state of solidarity to be created. Those who advocate this believe that by returning to a kind of welfare state, with an active role for the state in certain areas, we can move towards a better situation, avoiding those factors that make it impossible to reinstall schemes typical of the last century. Finally, there are those – including ourselves – who consider that the crisis generated by the COVID-19 has only accelerated a direction that had been causing crisis in various fields – economic, environmental, labour, educational, health, migration, etc. – which was reflected in the growth of protest – mainly by young people – all over the planet. They warned of the dangers of a major setback in the evolution of human beings and proposed a value and cultural change that would allow progress to be made towards a new moment in civilisation. Without doubt, how this situation is judged and interpreted will correspond to the importance we give it and the type of responses we imagine or formulate.

The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), as early as 1933 in his course “En torno a Galileo”, which he taught at the Central University in Madrid, referred to the crisis, which he already saw at the time, as a “historical crisis” – similar to that experienced in Europe from the end of the 14th century to the beginning of the 17th and which ended with Galileo’s inauguration: “… (Galileo…) is placed in a precise quadrant, housed in a large piece of the past that has a very precise shape: it is the initiation of the Modern Age, of the system of ideas, evaluations and impulses that has dominated and nourished the historical soil that extends precisely from Galileo to our feet. And he adds further on: “… But it is said, and perhaps with no little foundation, that all those constitutive principles of the Modern Age are today in serious crisis. Indeed, there is every reason to assume that European man is pitching his tent on the modern soil where he has been camping for three centuries and is beginning a new exodus towards another historical sphere, towards another way of life. This would mean: the land of the Modern Age that begins under the feet of Galileo ends under our feet“. Finally, in this regard, he points out some recommendations: “… Because if it is true that we are living in a situation of deep historical crisis, if it is true that we are leaving one Age to enter another, it is very important to us: 1. to take good care, strictly speaking, of this system of life that we are abandoning; 2. what is it to live in historical crisis; 3. how a historical crisis ends and one enters a new time”. (1947, p. 10-11)

Six decades after these words by Ortega, Mario Luis Rodríguez C., Silo (founder of Universalist New Humanism, Argentina, 1938- 2010) refers to a “crisis of civilisation” and in his lecture on “The Crisis of Civilisation and Humanism” at the Moscow Academy of Sciences, in June 1992, he clarifies “… we are talking about the vital situation of crisis in which we are immersed and, consequently, the moment of rupture of beliefs and cultural assumptions in which we were formed“, and explains: “… To characterize the crisis from this point of view, we can attend to four phenomena that impact us directly, namely: 1. There is a rapid change in the world, driven by the technological revolution, which is clashing with established structures and with the living habits of societies and individuals; 2. this gap between technological acceleration and the slow pace of social adaptation to change is generating progressive crises in all fields and there is no reason to assume that it will stop but, on the contrary, will tend to increase; 3. the unexpected nature of events makes it impossible to predict what direction the events, the people around us and, ultimately, our own lives will take. In reality, it is not the change itself that worries us but rather the unpredictability that emerges from such a change; and 4. many of the things that we thought and believed no longer serve us, but neither are solutions in sight that come from a society, institutions and individuals that suffer from the same evil. On the one hand we need references, but on the other hand traditional references are suffocating and obsolete“. (1994, p. 199-200) Two years later, in May 1994, in Chile, presenting his writing “Letters to my friends, about the social and personal crisis of the present moment”, he asks himself: “…And what is this process of crisis like? where does it lead?“, answering: “...In the various letters he exemplifies the same model. The closed system model“. (1994, p. 183)

Unfortunately, no thought is being given to the terms proposed here and the analyses carried out use tools that have been dragged out since the last century. This crisis will not be properly understood as long as the facts continue to be interpreted externally – as is done up to here in history books – and the historical process is not considered and related to the meaning of human life. Both the questions and the answers do not consider, by those who ask them, that they arise from a cultural landscape that is proper to the historical moment that has to be left behind.

Beyond the concrete and manifest aspects of the crisis – economic, environmental, political, etc. – the possibility of a response lies in understanding the need to transform the basic belief system that underpins this model. It is equally necessary to agree that this is “a historical crisis” – in the words of Ortega,- or “a civilisational crisis” – in the words of Silo. As long as there is no agreement on these terms, any dialogue will be irrelevant, ineffective, unnecessary and useless.

Nor are these the issues being discussed by the “opinion formers” – or rather those published by the official press – or even less by the politicians – who fortunately form little opinion at present – who are concerned, in Chile at least, about how to fit into an institutional and electoral calendar that is inconclusive and postpones the basic problems.

Rather, it is common to find, when it comes to raising these issues, that contrary to what is explained, it is argued: but then what is the way out, what is the proposed solution? In the words of the Italian Marxist theorist A. Gramsci (1891-1937): “… The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old dies and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum the most varied morbid phenomena are verified“. As in every crisis situation, the response does not exist beforehand and, particularly at this time, it is necessary to be open to the diversity of points of view and possibilities. Moreover, because of the global characteristics of the current situation, individual responses will not be sufficient, but will require a convergence in the understanding of the roots of the crisis and coordination to implement responses jointly. But we reiterate that the condition is that there should be agreement on the interpretation of the moment and on the definition of the crisis.

It would be of great importance and help if at least some of those who have greater scope in their decisions were to take this situation into account and decide, beyond maintaining privileges or spaces of power, to convene specialists and experts in the different fields to study how to produce a change of direction that would prevent a civilisational collapse -before reaching a point of no return that would prevent an evolutionary response to exit to another stage of human development.

We must consider that these changes will not be possible without the decision of the peoples, who are, without a doubt, the subjects of history. But, as a result of the process of general destructuring in which we are now involved, we are not in a position today, possibly in any part of the planet, to fully assume this role. We should all apply ourselves to building a social fabric – organised, decentralised, autonomous and coordinated – so that it can exercise its sovereignty and be the protagonist of the future we build. This political direction is fundamental for developing a response that is strategic and not just circumstantial.

We recognise that none of this is alien to each of us personally, since we are part of the historical moment and, just as in the social sphere, the same system of beliefs and values operates within us. This is well explained in the Dictionary of New Humanism (Silo, 2004) when it defines “Formative landscape” and says: “... the f.l. acts as a ‘background’ of interpretation and action, as a sensitivity and as a set of beliefs and values with which an individual or a generation lives”. (2004, p.200)

Understanding this, the difficulty of being able to deal with reality, so to speak, in “a new way”, is understandable, but an effort should be made to detach oneself from the facts, to take a distance and observe them beyond the mere conjuncture. It is necessary to study the depth of the crisis, the diversity of fields in which it manifests itself and the common elements that are present in all of them.

Finally, it is totally absurd to try to maintain what has evidently failed and prevent the manifestation of the new. Why hinder the possibility of human beings advancing in their evolution – towards greater social complementation; development of their consciousness; registration of the other and belonging to the greater sphere of the human species – beyond the limitations imposed by the current conception that “naturalizes” them, denying or ignoring their “unnatural” and intentional dimension?

In the case of Chile, we are optimistic about the continuation of the grassroots dialogues that began with the social revolt of October 18, 2019 and that continue to develop despite the repression – coordination that advances and weaves the threads of an active and deliberative social base. Likewise, we put our faith in the new generations all over the planet – those who were born at the end of the last century and the beginning of the current one – who are illuminating the possibility of a change of direction that will allow a qualitative leap: from the individual to the collective; from competition to collaboration; from differentiation to complementarity; in short, to the recognition that the personal future is conditioned by the joint future and that there will only be progress “if it belongs to everyone and for everyone…“.

Categories: Humanism and Spirituality, International, Opinions
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