International Encounter “Viable Alternative of Development”
Brownsberg (Suriname), August 9-14, 2008
Opening Address on August 8, 2008, at the Institute of Graduate Studies and Research of the Anton de Kom University of Suriname
TO RESCUE THE FUTURE
Organized and sponsored by
Caribbean Reality Studies Center (CRSCenter), Aruba
Proyecto Atlantea of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR)
Stichting Wetenschappelijke Informatie (SWI), Suriname
TO RESCUE THE FUTURE
The life of human societies and the shaping of their reality always revolve around five interrelated questions that are crucial to the flow of history.
Where do we come from?
Where are we standing now?
Where are we heading to?
What future are we dreaming of?
What actions do we take to build the future of our desire?
Together these five questions make up the fusion of history (to understand and learn from our past), diagnosis (to know our current condition), trends (to identify what will happen, if we don’t change course), vision (to map feasible futures), and, most important, agency (to take action to shape the future of our desire).
The balance of today does not look encouraging. Humanity is living one of the most illogical moments ever to occur on this planet. For the first time in known evolution, a species is threatened with extinction long before nature is demanding it. Planet earth is still eager to host us, and to feed and shelter the human species. It is willing to nourish us for times to come. If nature cooperates, no animal should have problems to survive and find its way to develop as a species. Today is different, because the most talented species on earth has turned development into self-destructive growth. The untrained eye can see the result all over the place. There is a huge discrepancy between the intellectual-technological evolution of humanity and its social evolution. Humanity has not been capable of controlling the products of its own intelligence. The outcome is that the merciless pursuit of wealth and the aggressive defense of dogmatic ideas turned planet earth into a looted place, a dustbin, and an uncompromising battlefield.
But why should you and I take the burden of a whole planet on our shoulders? Our primary concern is our life, our family and kids, our career and our future. That is true. We will work on our individual goals, while our country may collapse by corruption, insecurity and misgovernment. We may even build a successful country on a planet that collapses ecologically and is destroyed by mutual fundamentalisms. To mind your own business, for that reason, means to mind the business of your country, of your region, of your continent, of humanity and to mind the business of the planet.
The irrefutable conclusion of today is that we are being globalized into extinction, physical, socially, culturally, spiritually and economically. Three agonies are haunting humanity today: the ecological problem, fundamentalism and the abortion of development for the vast majority. While we are exhausting the oxygen that is required to survive, religious and economic fundamentalisms are spiraling down into the abyss of self-sustained global wars. The big tragedy of humanity of all times lies in the absurd destructive principle that peace can only be reached through war. Is there still a way out? And how should we deal with these troublesome issues and haunting questions?
Two of the five questions are already sufficiently addressed. We know where we are standing now. Al Gore knows it, the Eskimo sees it, the ice bear feels that the waters are disturbed, and the omens are in the air. The answer can be read on the four corners of the globe. Humanity is in huge trouble. We know where we stand, but we also know where we are heading to? There is worldwide consensus that we are heading for disaster. Nature is weary of humanity and starts to speak through our own environment to tell us that enough is enough. Yesterday we had global warming; today it has pathologically turned into global fever. Omens have become tokens , and there is no mystery left. The time that will tell has already told.
We live in a world where birth is more worrisome than death. Time has come to take action to rescue the future. It is time to restore command over our destiny. If we don’t respond to history, history will respond to us, because history never waits. We should not brush aside the hints of nature. We should not flout the warnings of history, because the price tag will be unacceptably high. Turning off the thermostat of pain has triggered the fall of the greatest empires.
Since, there is no such thing as a universal law that the human species is always bound to survive, one vital issue should figure on top of all agendas. Are we about to become the humanosaurus of tomorrow, or is there still a survival option left? Is human extinction already on the roll of history? The key question is then: Is there still a viable alternative of development? That brought us together here. No better place to discuss the answer to that critical question than the quiet mountain peak of Brownsberg in the midst of the pristine Amazon forest, where we will retreat for the next four days to identify a viable alternative of development. Development is not a civilized Eskimo behaving like a Frenchman. Development is the mobilization of the own potentialities in interactive response to nature, habitat and environment for the realization of a project of one’s own. Development is not an invention of man but a condition of nature,. Sorry for economists and sociologists who have dedicated their life without discovering what nature is telling all the time. Development, as we will discuss, is the most important single factor to shape the universe. In Agwago Kun, the actual name of Brownsberg, we will place the path of humanity on the operation table to find out when and how the wrong turn was taken that brought our species today at the rim of the abyss.
The fatalism of the pessimist is bad. But the worst remedy for an imminent disaster is not pessimism but the anesthesia of optimism, inviting to inactivity by preaching that eventually everything will work out well. Both optimism and pessimism are forms of superstition. They try to amend reality by desperate hope or hopeless despair. Therefore, it is not optimism but realism that should guide our endeavors, for reality is the absolute point of departure to spell out options to the future. Whenever hope is detached from reality it becomes a nightmare. That counts particularly for the fifth question we posed at the beginning about what actions we are taking to realize the future of our desire. The brightest experts have no clue where to start. Many think that if only we fill the earth with windmills and other environmentally friendly devices, the ecological problem can belong to the past. Some believe in efficient professional management of a well organized global market. Others, who think the solution lies in awareness and meditation, fail to provide the translation into social and political action as the agent for change. The poor of the world are not the victims of market failure but of market success. They are the casualties of the triumph of globalization. The ecological problem is not a technological problem and, for that reason, there is no technological solution, because the core of the problem lies in our anthropocentric world view. As long as we claim that the only purpose of creation is to serve humanity that is entitled to dominate the rest, our project will be hostile and abusive towards nature and towards each other.
We will do the historical analysis and draw conclusions not adulterated by fear. We will defy the maxim of Eurocentrism that what was good for the West is best for the rest. Civilization was only the nickname for domination and imposition. Still, our focus will not be on the horrors of the past but on the promises of the future. But we should be forewarned when discussing the most recent episode of history with a critical stand against Eurocentric expansionism. Europe did not invent domination or cruelty, because violence, evil and domination are not the privilege or monopoly of a single racial of geographical entity, but an all time common threat of humanity, with merciless emperors that rise and frail empires that fall.
This regional encounter on a viable alternative of development will be an open search for options of global harmony, not hindered by dogma, ideology, tradition or established wisdom, with a readiness to ‘unlearn’ whenever required, in an atmosphere where only arguments will count. Individuals can have their share, but in the end knowledge and insights are always the accumulated work of the synergy of the collectivity. New challenges demand new responses and bring new understanding, particularly when facing the kind of problems that torment us now. It is this collective search what makes this Brownsberg enterprise so fascinating an opportunity for critical thought and mutual feedback, where a plurality of views and approaches can merge into a common goal and joint action.
But not all of our condition is bad news. The first good news is that humanity is a single species, with a common origin, one single race, a kinship, one big family. There is no need to look for roots. We will all end up with the same pair of apes standing with a club in front of the cave to reprimand us that they had other intentions than the mess we made of the planet. The second good news is that more than 95% of humanity is clear about the kind of uncomplicated peaceful world we aspire to live in with a future that is a better version of today. The third good news is that it is a law in nature that facing imminent death, all species become creative out of a survival instinct. The fourth good news is that for manmade disasters there can be manmade solutions. The fifth good news is that history is never a history of fatalities, always a history of possibilities. Instead of wasting energies in predicting the future, we should pool our energies to create the future. The best prediction of the future does not lie in statistical analysis, but in the dedicated action to shape the future we deserve.
Given the three agonies of humanity, the overarching question is whether there is still a survival option for humanity. Is it possible to rescue the future? Humanity is trapped, not because we don’t know the vital question. We don’t pose it, because we are fearful of the answer. In Brownsberg the vital questions will be high on the agenda. Is Europe the future face of all? If modern Europe is the historical destiny of humanity, like Hegel and Marx wants us to believe, then we as a prenatal Europe should indeed continue to copy, paste and imitate, as we have been doing for half a millennium now. If not, what avenues should be built to the future? Is there a global ethic that is binding for all? If the answer is no, then everyone is entitled to an own ethic, which makes fundamentalism an unsolvable problem, since all brands are right. That, in its turn, will make war the ultimate judge.
Let me end these warming up reflections with one final question. Has Western civilization failed as a project for humanity? If so, what are the contours of the new humanity and civilization where egoism and competition leading to self-destructive growth are replaced by solidarity and development? We will have to climb the five hundred meters to the top of Agwago Kun to reflect, discuss and debate during four days to find viable answers to these perilous issues. No option for change, however drastic and far-reaching, will be excluded beforehand. The reason is simple. Better a stone age than no age.