A Decisive Battle

by Grian A. Cutanda

The current confrontation between the Greek government and people on one hand and the European Central Bank and the German government on the other is much more than a serious economic struggle on the board of the European Union. After more than 30 years of neoliberal hegemony in our world, advocated by Western conservative parties and eventually assumed even by European social democratic parties, the battle of the Greek government against the markets for its debt restructuring has become a critical and far-reaching turning point.

Since the beginning of neoliberalism in 1980 until 2012, the wealth gap between rich and poor countries increased from 35:1 to an incredible 74:1

The failure of neoliberal globalization is an obvious fact for the vast majority of non-neoliberal analysts since the Great Recession broke out in 2007-2008; a recession in which we are still immersed. Since the beginning of neoliberalism in 1980 until 2012, the wealth gap between rich and poor countries increased from 35:1 to an incredible 74:1;(1) while the global ecological footprint —the indicator of the environmental impact caused by human demand on existing resources on our planet— increased from near 100% of the regenerative capacity of the Earth to 150% in 2007 —in less than 30 years!(2) Furthermore, neoliberal thesis not even stand up in their own grounds —Economics— when the rates of growth of world economies had fallen from 3.2% to 2.1% since the early eighties to 2012.(3) But what is most worrying in social terms is, without doubt, the deterioration of democratic systems and civil rights that neoliberalism is producing even in Western countries, as different experts point out.(4) In view of all this, we’ll have to agree with French economists Duménil and Lévy when they say that “neoliberalism is a predatory system.”(5)

However, it is very worrying that, in political debate, the depth of the crisis of neoliberalism is not recognized, perhaps because the neoliberal unique way of thinking still has broad support in the world media. Should be noted that about 85% of the media are in only 6 private hands.(6) and even a long, prestigious public media such as the BBC is spreading the neoliberal thesis worldwide. This is the conclusion reached by a study from the Cardiff School of Journalism,(7) in which it is stated that BBC debates are dominated by the political and economic elites, while alternative voices scarcely are heard in them. This in itself is already a serious damage, if not a clear danger, for democratic systems, inasmuch these media are capable of generating public opinion and changing trends in voting intentions, so undermining the democratic processes.

Should be noted that about 85% of the media are in only 6 private hands, and even a long, prestigious public media such as the BBC is spreading the neoliberal thesis worldwide

For all these reasons we should consider that the current conflict between Greece and the European neoliberal powers represented by the Troika is a crucial turning point, a decisive battle in which what is at stake is nothing less than the future of humanity and the planet.

If the Greek government, under the leadership of Tsipras and Varoufakis, fails to crack the neoliberal monolithic block —while respecting, remember, the sovereign will of their people at the polls—, the neoliberal hegemony will be strengthened not only in Europe, but worldwide; and trends of impoverishment of the poor, savage exploitation of nature, and retreat of democracy and civil rights could continue their advance till bringing us to the abyss of dystopia, if not the collapse of our civilization.(8)

If, on the contrary, Greece is able to break the fierce demands of the Troika, it is quite possible that Spain, also severely battered by this model of policies, will also join the trend started in Greece in their own elections (November 2015). Together, they could form a common block in southern Europe, conveying to European social democratic parties the message that, if they do not return to their sources and give up the economic neoliberalism, they will be in danger of disappearing from the political scene. The debacle of the Greek PASOK is a serious warning.

The future of global society and Earth’s ecosystems is now in the hands of a handful of Greek rulers and more than two million people who gave them their confidence at the polls

In conclusion, the future of global society and Earth’s ecosystems is now in the hands of a handful of Greek rulers and more than two million people who gave them their confidence at the polls (and who yesterday protested in Syntagma Square to demand the end of the Troika’s blackmail). Unfortunately, we have not been able to see the significance of the moment to support from the rest of Europe that small number of European citizens who are in this moment in the front line trying to breach the irrationality of neoliberal power.


(1) Hickel, J. (2011). How to Occupy the world. Pulse (15 Dec 2011). Blog entry. Retrieved from http://pulsemedia.org/2011/12/15/how-to-occupy-the-world/#more-34599

(2) Global Footprint Network (2010). Ecological Footprint Atlas 2010. Oakland, CA: Ewing, B; Moore, D.; Goldfinger, S.; Oursler, A.; Reed, A. & Wackernagel, M. Retrieved from http://www.footprintnetwork.org/images/uploads/Ecological_Footprint_Atlas_2010.pdf

(3) Hickel, J. (2012). A short history of neoliberalism (and how we can fix it). New Left Project. 9 April 2012. Retrieved from http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/a_short_history_of_neoliberalism_and_how_we_can_fix_it

(4) Giroux (2005), MacEwan (2005), Massey (2012), Rustin & Massey (2014), Wacquant (2001)

(5) Duménil, G. & Lévy, D. (2005). The neoliberal (counter-)revolution. In Saad-Filho, A. & Johnston, D. (eds.), Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press, 9-19

(6) Mayor Zaragoza, F. (2011). Indignant Speech. Video. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/5u6wOmFhp7U

(7) Berry, M. (2013). Hard evidence: How biased is the BBC? The Conversation (23/08/2013). Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/hard-evidence-how-biased-is-the-bbc-17028

(8) Homer-Dixon, T. (2006). The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada

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Climate Change Action

2014.12.06_001_Edinburgh
We, a group of climate activists in Edinburgh, have been sending a message to world politicians who are meeting now in Peru to agree a deal to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Among us, a polar bear, whose habitat is threatened by rapidly melting ice due to rising temperature, dressed as Paddington Bear, a native of Peru but had to leave his homeland.

We were also collecting signatures supporting the Edinburgh Climate Action Pledge which also calls on the City of Edinburgh Council to take urgent steps to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Edinburgh Council has a target of 42% cut in carbon emissions by 2020.

Picture by Matthew Crighton

New Ways of Being

by Grian A. Cutanda

In December 1997 I wrote a fictional story that I would then publish, in 1998, under the title of Beyond the Rainbow. I told the story of a young man who, feeling a deep sorrow for the injustice, violence and the destruction of nature he sees in the world, was considering the idea of devoting his life to working for a better world. But, what could he do, a young man in the prime of his life, unknown to the world, to change things?

Looking for answers to his questions, the young man —whom I named Amadan, “idiot” in Gaelic, connecting with the traditions of the idiot savants, those sages whose wisdom comes from their simplicity— would begin an inner journey toward understanding by conversing with the Wind, Eagle, Oak, Lake, Fire, Moon… In one of those conversations, the Eagle says:

“A new world requires new people and new ways of being, thinking, feeling, and doing,” the Eagle continued. “And it must be built minute after minute, day after day. You must be impeccable.”

This is in no way an original idea, since what we call collective thinking leads many people around the world to develop the same kind of ideas more or less in the same timeframes. Moacir Gadotti, a Brazilian philosopher of education, wrote in his book Pedagogía de la Tierra (Pedagogy of the Earth) (emphasis in bold is mine):

“The ’emerging paradigm’ (Gutiérrez & Prado, 1997: 29) is supported by new interpretative categories: it went from a mechanistic conception towards a holistic and ecological vision; from a mechanical science which conceived the world linearly towards a quantum and complex dimension of reality. ‘Categories such as space and time, and even matter, are giving way to a holistic dimension, which forces us to consider the world from the point of view of relationships and integrations, and not from that of isolated entities’ (Gutiérrez & Prado, 1999: 30). (…) …this new way of signifying the world means new ways of thinking, being, feeling, acting… brings new values and new behaviours.” (Gadotti, 2000: 167)

And well before he had written:

“Ecopedagogy aims to develop a new view of education, a global perspective, a new way of being and living in the world, a way of thinking in everyday life, seeking meaning every time, in every act…” (ibid: 72)

These ideas, therefore, were not mine, nor Gadotti’s; they were not Gutiérrez’s and Prado’s, nor did they belong to others who perhaps have expressed similar ideas over the last two decades. Personally, I think these ideas were developed by humanity in the collective unconscious, and from there we are all drawing them out to point the way that could take us out of the serious social and environmental crisis which we are living.

The new education, the new pedagogy that we need in order to build a new humanity and finally resolve injustices, violence and environmental destruction, must necessarily lead to a new way of thinking, feeling, acting… In short, a new way of seeing and understanding the world, a new way of being and living on Earth, to be based on our everyday acts and gestures, minute after minute, day after day, trying to be impeccable in everything we do.

It is not an easy task at all, but it is the only path that can lead us to the world which we have all dreamed of. And, in that sense, it is important to not stop dreaming…

“We live in a time of paradigmatic transition of society and school. (…) …in this context of paradigmatic crisis, we need to assert our same old utopias.” (Gadotti, 2000: 152)

A New Worldview

by Grian A. Cutanda

The preamble of the constitution of UNESCO says:

“That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

This is something that almost everyone researching in the field of social and human sciences could say. And, above all, this is something that we —those involved in the study of inner dimensions of peace and sustainability— emphasize over and over again. But we not only think that war has its origin in the minds of human beings. We are also convinced that the big problems that plague us as a species and plague the planet on which we live —among which climate change stands out for its urgency— are rooted as well inside us; specifically, in our worldview.

The worldview of every society and civilization is deeply marked and determined by the myths in which they are based

As the leading authors in cultural studies pointed out, the worldview of every society and civilization is deeply marked and determined by the myths in which they are based. In the case of Western culture, which has largely imposed its worldview on this emerging global civilization, our founding myths tell us that, after creating man and woman, God said: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth” (Genesis, 1:28).

What worldview emerges from a creation myth that says this? What image or pattern of relationship between humans and the world around them has been infused through hundreds of generations with this story about how things were set up in the beginning?

We could compare this story with one of the creation myths of Australian Aboriginal cultures, the one known as The Secret of Dreaming, which ends by saying: “So this is why the Land is sacred and Man must be its Caretaker” (Pulter, 1988)

Obviously, from these creation myths would emerge two very different worldviews and cultures, with two very different ways of understanding the relationship between human beings and the universe. In one of these worldviews, man is the master of all that is, he can do and undo at will and make use of all forms of life as he pleases. In the other worldview, human being is seen as a steward who should take care of all the living and non-living things around him, inasmuch as the Earth is sacred.

However, we cannot put all the blame about our worldview on our founding myths. The philosophy of Descartes and the physics of Newton arose a concept of the universe that, together with its mythic basis, defined the image of the world that we all, collectively, hold today

However, we cannot put all the blame about our worldview on our founding myths. Although myths largely determine our way of contemplating reality, and even thinking, there are other cultural factors involved in it. In our case, from the 17th century, our worldview has been heavily influenced by the philosophy of Descartes and the physics of Newton. From them not only emerged modern science but, also and above all, arose a concept of the universe that, together with its mythic basis, defined the image of the world that we all, collectively, hold today: the mechanistic view of the universe.

Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm led us to believe that the world around us is something like a huge watch in which each gearwheel meets a simple task and can be studied in isolation to discern the working of the whole mechanism. This led to a reductionist approach to reality where the important thing ceased to be the entire set to become its parts or elements, so fading from sight the critical importance of the overall functioning of the alleged “mechanism”. Objects were isolated from each other (atomism), from their environment (antiecological perspective) and from the observer (objectivist perspective). And thus we end up fragmenting a reality that essentially is one, giving prominence to the analysis and division of reality —rather than to the contexts and processes, relationships and integration— and giving too much importance to reason, at the expense of emotion and intuition.

Now, we not only took for granted that we could behave at will with the natural world around us. Now, in addition, we could divide it, dissect it, an analyze it in its isolated components, regardless of the critical importance of existing relationships and processes among those elements. And worst of all is that this allowed us a remarkable control over the world, giving us the illusory conviction that we had finally found the key that would allow us to impose, once and for all, on nature.

It is this worldview that has led to the way of thinking, attitudes, values, behaviours and lifestyles which have brought us to this profound social and environmental crisis. It is that feeling of being owners and masters of everything, and that not taking into consideration the global nature of the world, but only its parts, what has led us to this situation in which “we can’t see the forest for the trees.”

The source of the problems lies in the minds of human beings, but also the solution is in our own minds. This solution lies in the need that we urgently adopt a new worldview

Indeed, the source of the problem lies in the minds of human beings, but also the solution is in our own minds. This solution lies in the need that we urgently adopt a new worldview, an understanding of reality that leads to a different way of thinking, and to attitudes, values, behaviours and lifestyles consistent with this more accurate perception of the universe.

During the 20th century, and once again from the discoveries of physics —specifically particle physics—, a new paradigm began to unfold. It was a paradigm which, without denying or excluding the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm, is offering now not only a new mode to understand science, but also a new way of seeing and understanding reality. And, what is even better, a new way of thinking and understanding our relationships with the world around us.

Starting from the formulations of the Austrian biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the 1950’s and his General Theory of Systems, this new view of reality was developed to reach the field of social sciences, through the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, and philosophy of science and epistemology with Ervin Laszlo and Edgar Morin, with his Theory of Complexity.

From the complex systems paradigm, we begin to see reality as a whole of which its various elements are integrated and interrelated

From the complex systems paradigm, the Cartesian-Newtonian principle of fragmentation becomes a principle of interrelationship and interdependence, which distinguishes but does not separate, taking into account the context and the processes that happens within the system. Thus, we begin to see reality as a whole of which its various elements are integrated and interrelated; and in which, unlike the mechanistic paradigm, the “watch” as a whole is much more than the sum of its components.

For example, from the complex systems thinking, complex system Earth could not be explained as a sum of biological, mineral, and atmospheric components, because all of them together would give rise to a larger and more complex entity than the sum of parts. And the same is true of the human beings, because the sum of its various biological subsystems gives rise to some emergent properties —such as the consciousness— that could not be explained from the mere sum of its parts.

The complex systems thinking does not separate reality from its contexts, and hence you cannot understand from there humans as something separate from the planet Earth and the community of life that inhabits her

The complex systems thinking does not separate reality from its contexts, and hence you cannot understand from there humans as something separate from the planet Earth and the community of life that inhabits her. In short, the complex systems worldview allows you to “see the forest through the trees.” And, from that new worldview, a new thinking, new values, behaviours and lifestyles emerge, all of them adjusted to reality and therefore more suitable for survival: the shared survival of the entire community of life and the planet that sustains it.

If we want to reach the root causes of climate change, if we are to overcome the serious social and environmental crisis in which we are living —in short, if we want to survive—, we will need to urgently develop this new worldview and this new way of thinking. It is a revolution of the human mind to the scale of the revolution brought by Descartes and Newton just over three centuries. Even it could be much more than a historical revolution, because it would end denying some of our founding myths. But it is a necessary revolution in our way of seeing reality, in the way we think and relate to the world around us and, ultimately, in our way of living and being in the world.

Perhaps then we will be in a good position to reach that dreamed world in which peace and social justice prevail, that world in which human being could finally be the Caregiver of his brothers and sisters in the community of life, and a worthy son of his mother, the Earth.

The Time of Civil Society

by Grian A. Cutanda

Published on 19th September 2014, in People’s Climate March Edinburgh

“The origin of all the serious problems of the current crisis is mainly caused by the dissociation between the scales of economy and politics. Economic forces are global, while political powers are national. This imbalance, which devastates laws and local references, turns the increasing globalization in an ominous force.”
—Zygmunt Bauman (2011)

The renowned sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, author of the theory of liquid modernity, points in just a few lines to the root of the serious social and environmental problems we are facing, climate change being the most pressing of them.

Globalization has come to pass the political powers worldwide under the yoke of financial markets, of banks and big corporations. Thus, it has plunged us into a deep undemocratic state in which decisions are made not according to voters but to the interests of the major economic forces. This is what has led to civil society in much of the world to mobilize against such blatant loss of rights and freedom, through civil grassroots movements that have spread from the countries of the Arab Spring, going through Greece and Spain, to spread around the world and culminating in the famous Occupy Wall Street.

Given the ineffectiveness of political powers, incapable of going beyond their national borders in search of political globalization, the only force that is fighting back the claims of a purely economic globalization is the global civil society

As Bauman points out, these social movements are making up for the lack of a true global political force, and are doing so by popular opposition. Given the ineffectiveness of political powers, incapable of going beyond their national borders in search of political globalization —the case of Europe in this regard is paradigmatic—, the only force that is fighting back the claims of a purely economic globalization is the global civil society. Through the World Social Forums, and especially the myriad of NGOs scattered worldwide collaborating to create vast action networks on our planet, only civil society is able to offer some outright global resistance and opposition to markets interests.

But the problem with this kind of movements, a product of liquid modernity, as correctly stated by Bauman, is that they lose strength and dissolve, that they do not acquire enough solidity to face and overcome such great powers. In this very fact, indeed, lies the hope of the established economic powers.

That means that protests such as the current People’s Climate March should not be left in an isolated expression from the planetary citizenship; yes, a powerful and global expression, but without continuity. It is crucial that these movements do not dissolve in a vacuum within a few weeks of their activation. It is also essential to perpetuate the momentum in a liquid shape, like a tide or, perhaps better, like a groundswell sea storm, able to become a permanent global movement that undermines the foundations of the anti-democratic economic powers in the background, behind the “thrones”.

If we want to give a future to our children and grandchildren, if we are to bequeath them this beautiful planet that our ancestors left for us, if we want them to live in a fair society, a society respectful of differences, in a world without wars and violence, we will have to maintain the drive over time to get enough liquid momentum to sweep and compel those powers that are hidden in the stock markets to cooperate.

Our time has come, the time of the civil society. Beyond what our political representatives can do or not, it is up to us to become a global force capable of changing the course of humanity and our planet

Our time has come, as this is our time, the time of the civil society. Beyond what our political representatives —those we have chosen— can do or not, it is up to us to become a global force capable of changing the course of humanity and our planet. We have reached, at least in a good part of societies on Earth, the coming of age of consciousness. We can’t sit and wait for our politicians-parents to resolve a problem on our behalf for which they do not have enough global strength. We alone can make the necessary change of direction in world affairs.

But this will mean doing things differently. In a liquid society, the hierarchical verticality becomes horizontality, collective leadership and collective thinking. Not that there are no leaders, but leadership should be exercised now through proximity, through equality from the base, through a sense of accompaniment, through an openness to ideas and people.

Our operating model will have to stop being a pyramidal one —rigid, vertical, based on discipline— to become a vast network of interconnections in a flexible, horizontal and closeness liquid model. And, especially and above all, our model should be in its deepest essence a non-violent model, based on Gandhi’s ahimsa, in the pursuit of truth, justice, beauty and the common good.

Now it is the time of civil society, and the enormous responsibility of leaving a habitable and just world for future generations has been placed in our hands. It is a huge responsibility. But if Life has given us such responsibility, it is because we can assume and overcome this challenge.

Now it is the time of civil society, and the enormous responsibility of leaving a habitable and just world for future generations has been placed in our hands.

Honestly, despite the deep respect I have for him, I think Zygmunt Bauman was wrong when, in 2011, analysing the emerging 15M movement in Spain, which would result in the Occupy Movement in half the world, said that this movement, being liquid, would not be a lasting one (El País 17/10/2011). Right now, three years after, a party born out of the entrails of this movement, is about to become the second party in that country’s vote intention polls, and all of this with a horizontal and participatory model, making decisions within local assemblies.

Who knows if the power of the liquid will not end up becoming a powerful wave impossible to stop? After all, water, drop by drop, is able to hollow out even the hardest rock. Only persistence is required.

Peace and Sustainability Education and Activism