On 4 May 1969, Silo – the literary pseudonym of the humanist thinker Mario Luis Rodríguez Cobos – gave his first public speech. The dictatorial regime of Juan Carlos Onganía had removed him from the large urban conglomerates and the meeting took place in a remote spot near Mount Aconcagua, known as Punta de Vacas.

Surrounded by heavily armed gendarmes and an audience of around two hundred people who had gathered to hear his words, Silo presented the poetic plea “The Healing of Suffering” that day. The text, a condensation of what would later take doctrinal form in the current of New Humanism, is today, translated into several languages, printed on stainless steel plates on the steles of the Punta de Vacas Park of Study and Reflection, an enclosure located precisely on the founding site.

In 2006, on the occasion of the inauguration of a new place of this kind, this time near Santiago de Chile, Silo would characterize this event as follows: “On the 4th of May 1969, we held our first public act, which became the founding act of our current of thought. In that founding act, 37 years ago, we did not start from a declaration of principles, nor a more or less ideological document, nor an institution, but from a testimony that defied a military dictatorship and expressed itself against all forms of violence”.

This message, full of non-violence, humanism, and existential meaning, would later find an echo in thousands of hearts all over the planet, reaching the different cultures of the world.

Fifty-five years after these humble beginnings – a relatively short period in historical terms, but at a distance that allows for a brief analysis – it is worth reflecting on their initial impact and, above all, on their possible contribution to future revolutionary processes, essential in times of systemic collapse.

Provisional failure

From a temporal perspective, Silo’s proposals found initial support among a rebellious youth, eager to change the world, but also concerned about the lack of existential meaning and the oppression of a stifling and conservative morality.

In an atmosphere of mystical and psychedelic experimentation in the 1960s, strongly influenced by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, anti-colonial liberation movements, the Vietnam War, and existentialist currents, these first groups set out to explore in depth the possibilities of combining social transformation with the development of human consciousness.

Defamed or silenced by the mercenary press of the ruling regimes, suspected of trying to corrupt the youth – an argument identical to that used to condemn Socrates in ancient Greece – and persecuted for not conforming to the established order, many activists of the incipient movement had to continue the work of dissemination in exile. In this way, the humanist movement took shape and its various expressions were present in some 100 countries around the world.

But the winds of history sometimes blow in its favor and sometimes not so much. The destructive individualist fury of neo-liberalism and the rise of fundamentalism as a counterpart to the dissolution of social bonds that took hold in the world in the last decades of the century made the task of humanization difficult.

Despite the many strenuous efforts to build up structures and organizations in the social, cultural, and political fields, Universalist Humanism did not manage to become a mass movement in those years.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the movement, in the same place where it began, Silo declared: “And in this situation in which we live, we acknowledge the temporary triumph of the culture of anti-humanism and declare the failure of our ideals, which could not be fulfilled”. He went on to point to the emergence of a new spirituality, which “is not the spirituality of superstition, not the spirituality of intolerance, not the spirituality of dogma, not the spirituality of religious violence, not the heavy spirituality of old tables and worn-out values; it is the spirituality that has awakened from its deep slumber to nourish man anew in his best aspirations”.

“If today we have to announce our failure” – he proclaimed, glancing at the future horizon – “we also have to announce that a new civilization is being born, the first planetary civilization in the history of mankind. And that is why the crises that are coming and will come shortly, despite their misfortune, will serve to overcome this last stage of human prehistory… and everyone will know whether or not to accompany this change, and everyone will understand whether or not to seek a profound renewal in their own lives”.

Utopian clichés

Beyond the circumstantial failure, it is fair and necessary to appreciate the importance of Silo’s vision from a broader or meta-historical perspective. The humanization of the growing planetary civilization requires much more than the short-term successes that pragmatists are so fond of, specimens derived from the brief defeat of humanity embodied in capitalism.

The core issues raised by Silo, right from his first lecture, relate to those utopias that aspire to lead humanity to a new stage of its development.

Among these themes are the possibility of overcoming pain and suffering, non-violence as the definitive cultural conquest of the species, the image of a Universal Human Nation that embraces diversity and the emergence of a human being in solidarity and coherence, the longed-for new “man” or “woman” of previous revolutions.

As far as the Universal Human Nation is concerned, this image is not as distant as it may seem today. Glimmers of strong intuitions in this direction can already be seen in the proposals for a “common future for humanity” that the Chinese government has put forward in its foreign policy, as well as in the growing efforts of social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean for the integration of peoples.

To advance towards its desired utopias, siloism has equipped itself not only with transformative concepts in the social and political field but also with foundations and practices of personal transformation that accompany and give coherence to revolutionary behavior and militancy. Two central elements underpin these works: on the one hand, the certainty of man’s ability to change his nature and, on the other, the affirmation of the intimate relationship that exists between human interiority and the social landscape in which it unfolds.

These utopias – by definition “places that do not exist” – are what provide the force capable of overturning archaic limiting beliefs, a mythical fuel indispensable for generating historical moments that are considered “impossible” within the parameters of pre-revolutionary common sense.

Revolutions to come

Two opposing tendencies characterized the thought and action of earlier revolutionary currents. One held that a radical change in the external conditions of life would automatically bring about a change in human mentality and behavior. The other, on the other hand, concentrated its efforts on inner upliftment, hoping that this deepening would then have a positive influence on the social world.

Both, whose merit in advancing their specific field is undeniable, have in common a linear and segmented view of development. First this, then that, they claim.

The variant proposed by siloist humanism as a historical novelty was and is the complementary and simultaneous approach to both aspects of the revolution. This integrative vision takes into account both the inextricable link and mutual influence of each human being with the surrounding world, and the characteristics of intentionality, reversibility, and deferred action of one’s consciousness, which allow human beings to choose responses that are not mechanically determined.

On the other hand, various revolutionary strategies have focused their strategy on the seizure of political power to bring about beneficial changes for the population, especially in terms of improving the basic conditions of life that had been denied to the majority.

This path, despite important advances in terms of rights and slow successes in terms of changing attitudes, is now facing serious implementation difficulties. Neo-liberal globalization has succeeded in eroding the sovereign capacity of states to a large extent, handing over real power to multinational corporations and financial institutions that are not subject to public scrutiny.

This is compounded by the resistance of endogenous counter-revolutionary and retrograde factors and other stumbling blocks such as the centralist bureaucracies of supranational bodies, which are also not subject to popular election. Similarly, the power of penetration of communication platforms, concentrated in a few transnational hands whose interests are alien to the common good, severely hinders the generation of common meanings conducive to more just and non-violent societies.

Finally, to these current difficulties must be added the acceleration of historical dynamics, the gaps in understanding, and the differences in life projects between different generations, which are not sufficiently taken into account by “traditional” revolutions.

Conversely, the ongoing process of globalization – a phenomenon which, unlike globalization, must be understood as an increasing interweaving of cultures without the crushing control of corporate interests – means that any positive demonstration effect spreads in real time and quickly becomes a possible option to be imitated.

The role of leadership is also under discussion today. While horizontal decision-making is becoming increasingly popular, especially among the younger generation, the clamor for large groups often focuses on figures who acquire heroic qualities thanks to the enormous energy and trust that people place in them. This makes them indispensable, but also vulnerable to the attacks of the system, which undermines many revolutionary attempts.

Understanding this phenomenon, humanism is committed to promoting the emergence of this new human being and a new social environment, no longer exclusively from the top down or through the action of a single individual, but through the joint construction of a new participatory mode of social relations and organization, guided by the maxim of treating others as one would like to be treated.

A fundamental factor in this will undoubtedly be a profound renewal of the educational paradigms still marked by the Enlightenment, placing at the center the culture of non-violence and empathy, together with the affirmation of integral and unlimited human development. This is an issue to which educators and politicians can and must contribute.

On the other hand, the achievement of just social conditions that guarantee the possibility of freely choosing one’s path in life remains an urgent objective. However, this necessary condition will not be sufficient to achieve changes in the inner landscape that will allow not only the viability but also the consolidation of the transformation process.

These changes in the inner landscape of individuals and peoples require existential and spiritual components that open the doors to new senses of life, far removed from irrational fundamentalism, the return to outdated values, depression, or consumerism. Sentiments that install a new way of coexistence between human beings and their environment.

So, if the aim is to carry out profound and not cosmetic transformations, if the aim is to renew the revolutions that are already underway, if we want to add and interweave and not hegemonise, the inventory of humanist ideas and practices developed by Silo and his current of thought and action can be an excellent source from which to draw.