Letter of The Earth Commission

Leonardo Boff

When I consider the state of the Earth and the world political scene, I
become fearful. We could be headed towards an encounter with total
disintegration. That is because, as noted by several analysts, starting
with Marx, with Karl Polanyi, the Northamerican economist of Hungarian
descent, and in our midst, with Brazilian Michael Löwy: the economy has
become divorced from society. Separated and detached of all social
control, human or state, the economy has run amok. It functions
according to its own logic, that of maximizing profits, minimizing
investments and reducing the payments on one’s debts to the greatest
extent possible. And that is occurring on a world scale, with no concern
for ecology. Everything is turned into a huge «Big Mac», all is thrown
together into the market: health, culture, organizations, religion...
It is a sign of the «general corruption and universal venality», as Marx
said in 1847 («The Misery of Philosophy»). It is «The great
transformation» - as Polanyi characterizes it - something never before

The most disastrous effect of this transformation lies in the reduction
of the human being to a mere producer and simple consumer. Everything
else is a worthless economic zero: persons, social classes, regions and
whole nations. Inanimate work (machines, equipment, robots) takes the
place of living work (laborers.) Everything is reduced to markets that
must be conquered to facilitate limitless accumulation. Competition, the
more ferocious the better, is the motor that governs this logic. Only
the strong survive; the weak do not resist: they desist into

It so happens that this ferocity will collide with a limit: nature,
whose resources are limited and whose capacity of resistance is not
infinite. And nature is not respected. If it were, the economy would
destroy itself... This is why it must cut down the Amazon jungle, to
keep generating profits. The Earth is of late showing her displeasure:
Global warming, hurricanes, droughts, floods ... and, at the human
level, a growing violence in social relations. A Pentagon study on the
climate warns: in the next three decades, the changes in the weather
will be more dangerous than terrorism. Humanity is teetering on the
brink of generalized disarray, chaos. It has to change direction. But...
Is humanity willing to do so?

I see much wisdom in this sentence: the human being learns from history
who learns nothing from history, but learns from suffering. Suffering is
what makes a human being change. When submerged in water up to the neck,
a human being shakes and does what it takes to change, or dies.

As things go, a great suffering, either ecological or socioeconomic, is
coming upon us. If we were rational, we could avoid it. But, since we
appear irrational and insensitive, we do not want to change our ways;
and come ever closer to possible disintegration. But, let us console
ourselves: disintegration is always formative, and chaos brings
creation, as contemporary cosmologists are witnessing. The possibility
of other orders is opened.

What alternatives are there to disintegration? In the next reflection we
will return to this worrisome and sinister topic.