Crisis and Survival in the New Century

From Mirada Global, an essay from Colombia on the need for a new ethical framework for the 21st century:

Nowadays, we live according to the rules of a consumerist neo-liberal system which dominates the techno-scientific society with its false assertion, that our planets possesses both biotic and abiotic resources in unlimited quantity, and that human beings can exploit this supply without any ethical problem. Economic value, it maintains, can be generated by converting natural resources into tradable goods. The more astute people within this neo-liberal system appropriate the export benefits and pass on the damage and the costs to others.


The logic of capitalism is incapable of rescuing the planet from the environmental crisis. Human beings are responsible for this ecological impasse since the end of the Middle Ages, with the rise and intensification of commerce and the first industrial revolution. Moreover, capitalism has become responsible for the exploitation of natural resources, environmental contamination, and global warming.

Simultaneously, it is responsible for the ruinous human ecology that becomes visible in the ongoing commodification of life, in individualism, in the concentration of economic wealth and power, in increasing arms traffic, social injustice, and the loss of existential meaning. This thinking insists that short-term enjoyment, along with the use and abuse of material goods, is the only path to prosperity and quality of life, as if happiness consists of possessing things merely to waste them, and not in ensuring development of better human beings and improving the condition of humankind.

It belongs to the logic of capitalism to appropriate the arguments of its opponents, presenting them as its own discourse, and to believe that such fallacies can correct its own mistakes. This fallacy is feared by those leaders who are preparing an alternative model of the Green Economy that is to be discussed at the forthcoming Rio+20 Summit. All those who still trust in the capitalist model are victims of this fallacy: perhaps they confuse capitalism with freedom and democracy, even if they blame their failures on capitalists: that is, those who profit dishonestly, corrupt politicians, reject the close regulatory intervention of the state, practice an ethics of double standards, and harm the citizens. They are always those who keep their capital in tax havens and leave local economies in ruins.

Our contemporary lifestyle, determined by both scientific and technical knowledge, is an undesirable ethical path. The high demand for goods and the intense consumption of natural resources are unsustainable, and we are putting at risk the future of life and its meaning. How we can overcome this situation? What are the characteristics of a desirable ethical path?

We urgently need a new ethical framework that adopts other priorities, such as the protection of life, natural resources and above all, the promotion of the common good. This new ethical path should transcend considerations of custom, of commercial, medical or aesthetic benefit. We therefore need a new ethic, a “bio-ethic”, which privileges the intrinsic value of “the biotic community” over any narrowly human interest, so as to overcome the current civilization crisis. We appeal for the support of all world religions, that people of faith may be the carriers of this life-giving and deeply desirable ethos.

Also available in Spanish.

Tim Reidy


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Stanley Kopacz
6 years 8 months ago
How dare you cow tip the great sacred cow of neoliberal capitalism.  I'm sure you will be rapidly admonished for your impiety,
Thomas McCullough
6 years 8 months ago
''Money doesn't talk, it swears.''
Bob Dylan
6 years 8 months ago
You can substitue 'socialism" for the word "capitalism" in this article and both could be true.  The question is what is the better system.  The corrupt government officials won't solve the "environmental crisis" better than capitalist free market forces.
Des Farrell
6 years 8 months ago
Do we have a 'current civilization crisis'? The wealthy are getting wealthier. The church is ridding herself of nuisance liberals. The Chinese oligarchies are spending heavily abroad, here in Europe we even export our rubbish abroad. The new markets of Russia and the East are being baptized in the 20 year old religion of digital wonders! I would say things are going swimmingly!
There are a few minor problems. The mass migrations of North Africans, mostly Muslims, into Europe seems to be getting the French tetchy of late. Unemployment has hit 25% in Spain and the Greeks seem upset but then the masses are always revolting.
Whats most important is that Corporate Gaia is kept fueled and moving so she can pay her taxes. If it wasn't for that damn Aids problem in Africa threatening to move out of the poor neighborhoods everything would be nice and dandy. 
Nobody seems to want to play along in the seminaries in the 'developed world any more either but we can always import a few nice priests from the 3rd world to keep the mammies happy , we'll soon get used to their funny accents and they to their grinding loneliness.
J Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago
This is basically a very un-Christian article by someone who lack love and understanding and appears driven by resentment.  He distorts the world to fit the harsh viewpoint he holds.  He throws the term ''capitalism'' around like many use the term fascist to denigrate those he does not like and obviously from his comments does not understand.  Maybe something got lost in the translation from the Spanish but this is not a charitable person, but one who makes blanket attributions to a large part of society who have done more to help the poor than any other group in the history of mankind.

People use the term capitalism and really do not understand just what it is about.  Jerry Muller from Catholic University has written a book on it and delivered a Teaching Company course on the free market and capitalism.  Here is his working  definition of capitalism

''a system in which the production and distribution of goods is entrusted primarily to the market mechanism, based on private ownership of property, and on exchange between legally free individuals.  Notice that this definition is not purely ''economic, '' for ''private'' property and legally free individuals exist only because there are political mechanisms that protect individuals from having their persons and property seized by others. This definition is an ideal type, an abstract model meant to highlight  certain features that exist in reality only in imperfect forms. Almost nowhere, for example, have production and distribution been determined purely by free exchange in the market.'' 

My guess is that most of what the author in this OP objects to does not fit the definition of capitalism.  Also there is rarely few situations that are true free market capitalism but  the closer the situation is to a truly free event the lest likely there will be problems.  For example, any time one of the parties in an economic event uses force it is definitely not capitalism.  Or any time one of the parties in an economic event has an unfair advantage because of third party interference, it is not a free market capitalistic event.  Also the state can legislate the conditions that all must adhere to in a free market capitalism situation and such legislation could consider the use of resources prudently but it in no way should favor any partner in an economic event.

One of the major problems with diatribes like the one above, is there is never an alternative they want one to consider.  What is the non free market capitalist system that the author recommends.  Silence!  

No one has shown that there is any system in the history of mankind that has done more to alleviate the poverty in this world than free market capitalism.  Certainly not socialism or any type of altruistic system.  A very apt description of those who constantly criticize capitalism but fail to offer a viable alternative is the great line from Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth

''It was easy enough to despise the world, but decidedly difficult to find any other habitable region.'' 

Let's not criticize anything till one can find an alternative.  Let's focus on how we can make a good system even better.
Des Farrell
6 years 8 months ago
Look at your second last sentence JR, then look at your last sentence. How can anything be improved if the problem isn't named? 
Thomas Farrell
6 years 8 months ago
Tim Reidy: I don't know how old you are, but I am sure that I am older than you are. I mention this to say that I have often heard people say things like the author says. So for me, the author is not saying anything new. My response to the author is, "OK, go ahead and write the book that develops the kind of ethic that you say the world needs now." In short, the author's editorial is just drum-roll and fanfare.

The Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984) moved beyond drum-roll and fanfare, albeit somewhat schematically, in his discussion of the structure of the human good in his book METHOD IN THEOLOGY (1972, pages 47-52).

For an excellent introduction to Lonergan's thought, I would recommend the anthology COMMUNICATION AND LONERGAN: COMMON GROUND FOR FORGING THE NEW AGE that I edited with Paul A. Soukup, S.J., of Santa Clara University (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1993; now distributed by Rowman & Littlefield).
J Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago
''Look at your second last sentence JR, then look at your last sentence. How can anything be improved if the problem isn't named? ''

I am not sure I understand what you are trying to say.  My second to last sentence was

''Let's not criticize anything till one can find an alternative.''  Does anyone doubt he is criticizing capitalism but the problem is with those who criticize capitalism, they do not specify what they want to replace it with.  The main reason this is done is because there is nothing reasonable to replace it with except incoherent wishful thinking.  Marx wrote thousands of pages criticizing capitalism but literally only offered fantasy as its replacement.  So it seems to me that my next sentence follows logically.

'' Let's focus on how we can make a good system even better.''  Whatever form of capitalism that is practiced and there are many, let's look at how to improve it.  In other words let's see how we can take advantage of human nature to make things better.  After all it is human nature that is the problem not capitalism.  The first principal of economics is that human being react to incentives.  So let's use this to get where we want to go.  What the anti capitalist propose in every situation is just the opposite, a mandate or punishment to behave in a certain way.  The incentive then is to avoid the punishment and that never works well which is one of the reasons why any system but capitalism can never work.


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