We should live in a simple way for others to be able to live as well.
He who is richer is not who has more, but who needs less.
Zapotec saying, Oaxaca, Mexico
We suffer the severe effects of climate change, of the energy, food and financial crises. This is not the product of human beings in general, but of the existing inhuman capitalist system, with its unlimited industrial development. It is brought about by minority groups who control world power, concentrating wealth and power on themselves alone.
Concentrating capital in only a few hands is no solution for humanity, neither for life itself, because as a consequence many lives are lost in floods, by intervention or by wars, so many lives through hunger, poverty and usually curable diseases.
It brings selfishness, individualism, even regionalism, thirst for profit, the search for pleasure and luxury thinking only about profiting, never having regard to brotherhood among the human beings who live on planet Earth. This not only affects people, but also nature and the planet. And when the peoples organize themselves, or rise against oppression, those minority groups call for violence, weapons, and even military intervention from other countries.
Living Well, Not Better
Faced with so much disproportion and wealth concentration in the world, so many wars and famine, Bolivia proposes Living Well, not as a way to live better at the expense of others, but an idea of Living Well based on the experience of our peoples. In the words of the President of the Republic of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, Living Well means living within a community, a brotherhood, and particularly completing each other, without exploiters or exploited, without people being excluded or people who exclude, without people being segregated or people who segregate.
Lying, stealing, destroying nature possibly will allow us to live better, but that is not Living Well. On the contrary, Living Well rather means complementing one another and not competing against each other, sharing, not taking advantage of one’s neighbor, living in harmony among people and with nature. It is the basis of the defense of nature, of life itself and of all humanity, it’s the basis to save humanity from the dangers of an individualistic and highly aggressive, racist and warmongering minority.
Living Well is not the same as living better, living better than others, because in order to live better than others, it is necessary to exploit, to embark upon serious competition, concentrating wealth in few hands. Trying to live better is selfish, and shows apathy, individualism. Some want to live better, whilst others, the majority, continue living poorly. Not taking an interest in other people’s lives, means caring only for the individual’s own life, at most in the life of their family.
As a different vision of life, Living Well is contrary to luxury, opulence and waste, it is contrary to consumerism. In some countries of the North, in big metropolitan cities, people buy clothes they throw away after wearing them only once. That lack of care for others results in oligarchies, nobility, aristocracy, elites who always seek to live better at other people’s expense.
Nobody says : I will only take care of myself
Within the framework of Living Well, what matters the most is not the individual. What matters the most is the community, where all the families live together. We form part of the community as the leaf forms part of the plant. Nobody says: I will just take care of myself; I don’t care about my community. It is as absurd as if the leaf said to the plant: I do not care about the community; I will only take care of myself. It is just as preposterous as if the leaf would tell the plant: I do not care about you, I will only take care of myself.
We are all valuable, we all have a space, duties, and responsibilities. We all need everybody else. Based on complementing each other, the common wealth, organized mutual support, the community and the community life develop their ability without destroying man and nature.
Work is happiness
Not working and exploiting our neighbors will possibly allow us to live better, but that is not Living Well. When one is living well, work is happiness. Work is learning to grow up, melting into the fascinating reproduction of life. It is an organic action such as breathing or walking. Within the Living Well framework, work is general, for everyone and everything, from a child to a grandfather. It’s for men, women and even nature itself. Among us, nobody lives to benefit from the work of others. Private accumulation is unknown and unnecessary. Community accumulation always fills the warehouse.
In our communities we do not seek, we do not want anyone to live better, as development programs tell us. Development is related to living better, and all the development programs implemented among different States and governments, starting from the church, have encouraged us to live better.
Development depends on an ever-increasing use of energy, primarily oil. We have been led to believe that development is the salvation of mankind and that it will help us to live better, but without oil there is no development. And for us, with or without oil, sustainable and unsustainable development means anti-development, which is the cause of major disparities in nature and between people.
Development can be a disaster
Consequently, Living Well is contrary to capitalist development and goes beyond socialism. For capitalism, what matters the most is money, making a profit. For socialism, what matters the most is the man, because socialism tries to meet the increasingly growing needs of man, both material and spiritual.
Within the Living Well framework, what matters the most is neither man nor money; what matters the most is life. But capitalism does not care about life, and the two development models, the capitalist and the socialist, need rapid economic growth, causing a dissipation of energy and an insatiable use of fossil fuels to boost growth.
Therefore, development has proved to be a failure, as evidenced by the crisis of nature and the severe effects of climate change. It is now the leading cause of global crisis and the destroyer of planet Earth, because of the exaggerated industrialization of some countries, addicted consumerism and irresponsible exploitation of human and natural resources.
The industrialization and consumerism of Western “civilization” threatens Mother Nature and the subsistence of the planet, to such a degree that it must not be spread to the whole of humanity, because natural resources are not enough for all of us nor renewable at the same pace in which they are being exhausted.
Living Well in the Global Crisis
The most important crises are:
- The exponential increase of human-induced climate change affecting all regions of Earth;
- The water crisis, where urbanization, industrialization and increased use of energy is lowering the level of groundwater resources;
- The crisis in food production by the impact of climate change and the increasing production of biofuels;
- The imminent end of the era of cheap energy (we are reaching the peak of oil production). In the lapse of 100 years we are finishing fossil energy created over millions of years, and this is bringing about dramatic changes in all the theories about the operation of society;
- The significant depletion of other key resources both for industrial production and for human welfare, including fresh water, genetic resources, forests, sea and wildlife, fertile soils, coral reefs, and most of the local, regional and global elements we have in common.
On the verge of catastrophic change
Climate chaos and global warming threaten the loss of much of the world’s most productive lands, physical upheavals in many places caused by storms and rising waters, desertification of many agricultural lands, and economic and social tragedy that will last for long in the future, with very severe problems for the most impoverished nations and peoples.
Without having found alternative sources of energy that can replace inexpensive oil and gas supplies in the amounts to which we have become accustomed to (and alarming new evidence regarding the limits of accessible coal), Peak Oil threatens the long term survival of industrial nations and industrialism itself, at its present scale. Long distance transportation, industrial food systems, complex urban and suburban systems, and many commodities basic to our present way of life —cars, plastics, chemicals, pesticides, refrigeration, etc— are all rooted in the basic assumption of an ever-increasing inexpensive energy supply.
Other scarce resources — fresh water, forests, agricultural land, biodiversity of many kinds, are dramatically decreasing in number due to the overuse of industrialized nations that every year surpass 30 percent of the resources that the Earth can regenerate, rendering the survival of humans and other species far more difficult than at any other time throughout the history of mankind. We also face the possible loss of 50% of the world’s plant and animal species over the next decades.
So the planet’s ecological, social and economic systems are on the verge of catastrophic change, and very few societies are prepared for this. Efforts by governments to respond to the impending emergency are thus far grossly inadequate. Efforts by corporations and industries to reform their behaviors remain largely enclosed by structural limits that require continued growth and profit above all other standards of performance.
Living Well Life to counteract against the Global Crisis
In this Global Crisis, all the problems have the same structural base, and can be faced using the same structural changes. The solution for each one is the solution for all. All the new models must begin by accepting there are fundamental limits to the capacity of the Earth to sustain us. Within those limits, societies must work to set new standards of universal economic sufficiency and a Living Well conception that does not depend on the excessive use of the planet’s resources.
The construction of a Living Well vision to counteract Global Crisis in this era of climate chaos and diminished resources in our finite planet, means ending consumerism, waste and luxury, consuming only what is necessary, achieving a global economic “power down” to levels of production, consumption and energy use that stay well within the environmental capacities of the Earth.
It also means stopping energy dissipation, i.e. bringing about a rapid withdrawal from all carbon-based energy systems, and rejecting large-scale so called “alternative” energy systems designed to prolong the industrial growth system. These include nuclear energy, “clean” coal, industrial scale biofuels, and the combustion of hazardous materials and municipal waste, among others.
Equally important is a dramatic increase in the practices of energy conservation and efficiency, i.e., powering down, decreasing the personal consumption in countries where it has been excessive, and reorienting the rules of economic activity — trade, investments, norms. It is also important to modify all of society’s main activities that are related to those norms (transport, manufacture, agriculture, energy, building design, etc). Our current dependence on export-oriented production, enormous amounts of long distance transportation, ever-expanding use of resources and global markets, cannot possibly be sustained in a finite planet.
Local production for local consumption
In order to adapt ourselves to the true reality of a post carbon era, we will have to satisfy our fundamental needs such as food, housing, energy, production, and means of support, from local systems and resources. This means encouraging regional and local self-sufficiency, sustainability and control; economic localization and community sovereignty, local production for local consumption, local ownership using local labor and materials.
Thus Living Well means redesigning urban and non-urban living environments, the restitution of the local, regional and national communal goods, and a quick transition towards renewable energy at a small scale, that must be oriented to the locality and also owned by the local community, without hampering the natural balance, and including wind, solar, small scale hydro and wave, local biofuels.
Living Well also means promoting an orderly reconstruction of the countryside and the revitalization of communities by way of an agrarian reform, education and application of eco-agricultural microfarming methods, based on our cultural and communal practices, the wealth of our communities, fertile land, clean water and air. All of these approaches are in preparation for the inevitable de-industrialization of agriculture, as cheap energy supply declines.
Furthermore, Living Well means reallocating the trillions of millions destined for war in order to heal Mother Earth who is injured by the environment issue.
Less will be more
Our Living Well proposal emphasizes on harmony between humans and with nature, and the preservation of “natural capital” as primary concerns. It is well known that the protection and preservation of balance in the natural world, including all its living beings, is a primary goal and need of our proposal, and that mother nature has inherent rights to exist on the Earth in an undiminished healthy condition.
Living Well also means unplugging the TV and internet and connecting with the community. It means having four more hours a day to spend with family, friends and in our community, i.e., the four hours that the average person spends watching TV filled with messages about stuff we should buy. Spending time in fraternal community activities strengthens the community and makes it a source of social and logistical support, a source of greater security and happiness.
For societies that now accept the images of “the good life” widely promoted in the media, this “good life” is based on hyper consumption of commodities, the new strategies to use less resources, to accumulate less, and to be ruled by modest standards of living also become arguments for greater personal fulfillment. Driving less and walking more is good for the climate, the planet, and our health. Buying less means less pollution, less waste, less time working to invest in shopping. Less stress, more time for the family, friends, nature, creativity, recreation and leisure which are activities on which people spend little time nowadays.
Among presently over-consuming societies, less really will be more. Basic compliance with Living Well conditions include sufficient food, shelter, clothing; good health and the values of strong community engagement; family security; meaningful lives; and the clear presence and easy access to a thriving natural world.
We are part of Mother Nature
In this context, Living Well means living a sovereign and communal life in harmony with nature, where we can work together for our families and for society, sharing, singing, dancing, producing for the community. It means living a modest life that reduces our consumption addiction and maintains a balanced production.
Rather than eroding the Earth, depredating nature and within 30 or 50 years ending with gas, oil, iron, tin, lithium and all other non-renewable natural resources required for a living better, Living Well guarantees life for our children, for the sons and daughters of our children and for those that will come after them, saving the planet using our rock, our quinoa, potatoes and cassava, our beans, broad beans and corn, our mahogany, coconut and coca.
In the construction of Living Well, our economic and spiritual wealth is tied directly to a high regard for Mother Earth and a respectful use of the wealth that she gives us. The only alternative for the world in this Global Crisis, the only solution to the crisis of nature, is that human beings acknowledge that we are part of Mother Nature, that we need to restore the complementary relationships, the mutual respect and harmony with her.
Boosting community energy with creativity and collective action
For this new experience of facing global crisis, for this new experience of Living Well to be successful, it will be necessary to boost local and international actions. We should follow the example of the millions of people on this Earth who are not waiting for official recognition of the global crisis, we should follow the example of the uncountable numbers of people and communities across the planet who, with creativity, enthusiasm and joint action are already actively trying to create or update a great variety of alternative practices at local, community and regional levels, in both rural and urban contexts.
Out of our own initiatives in our communities and also with help from governments that boost Living Well, with a broad unity of forces and social movements, we have to wake up community energy, boost community energy in our communities, which is the main capacity we’ve got to transform society and build a Living Well vision. We have to follow the example of these people and communities, starting to rebuild our communities and nations OURSELVES, with our own hands, our own hearts and our own brains, starting to take responsibility for the building of a Living Well Life for all within the limits of nature. We cannot rely only on governments and international movements to solve our problems.
Out of our own initiatives in our communities and also with help from our governments, let us begin to regain our ancestors’ harmonious living, strengthen our own way of life, the identity and spirituality in our communities. Let us begin to organize our productive and community life in the countryside and in our neighborhoods, making education work, as well as communication and health, let us build our schools and roads, resolve between all of us our internal relations and the issues of land and territory, water, forests, and so on.
Let us build a Living Well vision and the sovereignty of our communities within the balance between man and nature, where we can rebuild our bonds, respecting everyone’s right to consultation when making our own decisions, where we can freely determine our own aims, our forms of organization, the joint planning of our communities, the designation of our authorities, all based on the knowledge we have of ourselves and with full awareness of the responsibility that this entails.
To start powering down, we can reduce significantly our energy use: driving less, flying less, turning off the lights, buying local seasonal food (food takes energy to grow, package, store and transport), wearing a jumper instead of turning on the radiator, use a clothesline instead of a dryer, going on holiday closer to home, buying second hand things or borrowing them before buying new ones, recycling.
We can also nurture a Zero Waste culture at home, within our school, workplace, church, community. This means developing new habits, such as using both sides of the paper, carrying with us our own mugs and shopping bags, making compost out of food leftovers, avoiding bottled water and other over packaged products, repairing and mending rather than replacing…
Our own health, learning and communication
Out of our own initiatives in our communities and also with help from governments that boost a Living Well vision, let us start to run our own health system taking after the ways that have always kept us healthy, where the health of the community is as important as that of our own body and where abundant healthy food free of chemicals is our medicine. Faced with the growth of increasingly manipulated consumption, let us rebuild the healthy domestic food production. Let us prevent diseases instead of looking for drugs to cure them, and let us use our own natural medicine which will not cure a disease by creating another.
Let us start to run our own education, or rather our own communication, learning in the way that we have always taught our children in our communities as part of the community practices and responsibilities, i.e. through community learning, through which we create communal energy and learn through daily work, within the social school that would be the community, where we learn that we cannot live outside of communal life. Rather than education, let us re-establish our own communication; strengthen the real communication between father and son, between students and teachers.
Let us protect our own seeds
Let us defend the women, traditional defenders of the seeds and food safety, custodians of natural variety and of local and quality food for our families, whose life revolves around fertility, child care, countryside, seeds, the care of water, trees and other resources, and whose farming practices in the communities are part of communal life in harmony with nature.
We do not solve world hunger with Terminator seeds from agricultural business, but bringing back and protecting our rich ancestral seeds, storing them and fighting against their usurpation by large transnational corporations that defend themselves through intellectual property, patents and the use of transgenic seeds having as an excuse productivity increase.
Let us protect the life of indigenous country communities, which allows the cycle of seed and inputs to be closed within the very same communities, freeing us from the need to import them. Let’s practice a small-scale production, which will protect natural resources for the present and future generations, and give us all healthy and varied food.
Let us build a Living Well vision, retaking our own appropriate technologies, which are not expensive and can be managed through community administration, monitoring and control, using our own funds from our own savings banks or credit unions. We can do our own self-training, which can mature if we bring together researchers and professionals who have a vision of sympathy, support and respect for reorganization processes of the communities and the peoples.
To strengthen all our procedures…
Living Well means giving back fertility to the planet, now in the hands of sterile corporations, reforesting the world, living a modest life close to soil in communities or small family farms, which are those that have preserved the trees and the harmonic variety of species, that have more water at their disposal and survive better.
Waking up the ethical and moral values of our peoples and cultures, we can make this new millennium, a millennium of life and not of war, a millennium for Living Well, for balance and complementarity. Together we can build a culture of patience, the culture of dialogue and fundamentally the Culture of Life, a way of life that is not dependent on excessive consumption of non-renewable energy that emit greenhouse gases but is based on the harmonious relationship between man and nature.
In order to strengthen all the procedures that may lead us to Living Well, we encourage a broad discussion and debate regarding this proposal, so we can find a common approach that will lead to a fundamental change in the way societies operate, and how we live, as communities, families and individuals.
Article distributed in English by the Bolivia delegation at the UN. April 2010
Editorial NotesGreat remedy for Western myopia about sustainability. Other peoples were here before us!
Related: "Living Well" in Harmony with the Environment (IPS)
Pachakuti: Indigenous perspectives, degrowth and ecosocialism (Climate & Capitalism) - from which we got the teaser text for this posting.
This is something of a mystery document. I ran across a mention of it in a Climate and Capitalism article we just posted. The article was originally posted on the Bolivian UN site, but article and site have since disappeared. Copies of it remain at International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development (June 2010) and a cached page for Asia Alliance for Solidarity Economy. We can't find mention of the author or authors.
The document is also available in:
(Courtesy International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development).
Pachakuti: Indigenous perspectives, degrowth and ecosocialismOctober 6, 2010
To enter this dialogue with respect, we need an introduction to this movement, which some call the “Pachakuti”, a term taken from the Quechua “pacha”, meaning time and space or the world, and “kuti”, meaning upheaval or revolution.
By Bob Thomson
In its efforts to exert some political influence on solutions to the current world financial and climate crises the nascent international ecosocialist movement should direct some attention to a synthesis of the western ecosocialist discourse with the growing Latin American indigenous discourse that is making exciting progress, albeit in fits and starts, toward an international charter for the protection of the planet, Mother Earth, and all forms of life on it.
Put less academically, we have to talk to, learn from and support the indigenous movements which have inserted ecosocialist and degrowth like concepts into the formal constitutions of the Bolivian and Ecuadorian states, who convened the “Peoples World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights” held in Cochabamba, Bolivia from April 19-22, 2010 and who presented numerous workshops and proposals at the Fourth Americas Social Forum in Asuncion, Paraguay from August 11-15, 2010.
To enter this dialogue with respect, we need an introduction to this movement, which some call the “Pachakuti”, a term taken from the Quechua “pacha”, meaning time and space or the world, and “kuti”, meaning upheaval or revolution. Put together, Pachakuti can be interpreted to symbolize a re-balancing of the world through a tumultuous turn of events that could be a catastrophe or a renovation. The main form that this indigenous perspective seems to be taking is the presentation of a “model” called “Live well, but not better”: Vivir Bien or Buen Vivir in Spanish, Sumak Kawsay in Quechua and Suma Qamaña in Aymara.
The following necessarily sketchy overview of some indigenous perspectives on “buen vivir” is my modest contribution to this dialogue. I hope this may encourage others to read the texts synthesized here.
Pre-colonial indigenous societies were in part organized with relationships of reciprocity and complementarity, and a respect for plurality, coexistence and equality. To be sure, there were and still are elements of inter and intra ethnic conflict, conquest and differences over tactics, and it would be dangerous to romanticize the “noble savage” and some forms of indigenous fundamentalism. Nevertheless, indigenous societies offer us much to learn from, as they contain elements central to the degrowth and ecosocialist movements’ calls for a new economic, cultural, environmental and political paradigm.
Following a distinct historical path from “modern” anti-capitalist struggles, indigenous anti-colonial rebellions and victories managed to achieve certain degrees of legal, land tenure and cultural rights and autonomy in the face of exceptionally brutal colonial conquest and latterly capitalist exploitation. Today Victor Wallis notes, it is amongst the peasants and indigenous peoples of the global South that “the most radical expressions of environmental awareness” has arisen.
Andean and other amerindian indigenous peoples have navigated a complex historic path as both subjects and objects, a path in which both negotiations and armed rebellion have played a role. Their still incomplete and inadequate victories have nevertheless preserved a historical “memory” which Cusicanqui notes could nourish the struggles for a new equilibrium in Bolivia and elsewhere today.
One of the results of these struggles, Sumak Kawsay, has been defined as “a complex concept, non linear, historically developed and constantly under revision, which identifies as goals the satisfaction of needs, the achievement of a dignified quality of life and death, to love and be loved, the healthy flourishing of all in peace and harmony with nature, the indefinite prolongation of cultures, free time for contemplation and emancipation, and the expansion and flourishing of liberties, opportunities, capacities and potentials.”
Racist western ideas, including those of some parts of the “traditional” left, have often portrayed indigenous cultures and their sophisticated cyclical appreciations of time, as “turning back the clock” or even barbaric. Yet the time has clearly come when humanity and the planet, to survive, must return to a balance based on current solar energy flows. We have depleted some three hundred million years of accumulated solar energy flows in the form of plant based fossil fuel stocks in less than 300 years of the industrial era. Indigenous culture and knowledge of and respect for planetary flows and cycles could be crucial to our survival. This does not mean a return to the cave as some have argued. Democratically negotiated syntheses with elements of western knowledge and science can complement indigenous knowledge in new pluralist paradigms which stop destructive western over consumption and accumulation while redistributing sustainable “income” to the heretofore exploited global south.
The western discourses on degrowth, steady-state economics, deep ecology, ecosocialism, climate change and others, based on an analysis of energy, entropy and economics, and to a lesser degree on their social and cultural manifestations, has generated a large volume of scientific work on historical energy flows in the development of modern capitalism and globalization which is crucial to understanding the old paradigm. Appendix C to this paper provides a sample of works which clearly show that the past several hundred years of homo industrialis, but a blip in our 200,000 year sojourn on the planet, has brought us to the brink of an environmental precipice.
However, convincing northern consumers of the need for a new paradigm and new lifestyles, given the impossibility of endless growth on a limited planet, will not be an easy task. A synthesis, of elements of sometimes overly holistic indigenous wisdom and of excessively compartmentalized western science, seems to me the a fruitful combination to provide guidance for a way out of the current crises which threaten the planet, our Mother Earth.
Appendix B provides a sample of references to indigenous perspectives on ecosocialism and degrowth. Below is my synthesis of a few examples of these contributions.
Xavier Albó , Catalan-Bolivian Jesuit and founder of CIPCA, a peasant research and education centre, looks at the Aymara roots of Good Living (Suma Qamaña) in order to help us understand it’s full meaning and potential to guide us to “the good life”. Living well but not better (than others), now a central element of Bolivia’s national development plan, outlines the virtues the new Bolivia should have – respect, equality between all, solidarity, harmony, fairness, etc. – “where the search for living well predominates”. Albó’s review of the Aymara semantic origins of “Suma Qamaña” parallels the degrowth movement’s debate over the terms “decroissance” vs “degrowth” as to their adequacy in describing the new paradigm we seek.
Indeed, the phrase “to live well but not better” (than others, or at the cost of others) is potentially confusing in English since “well” and “better” are similar if used to denote qualitative vs quantitative meaning. Language and culture are crucial elements if we are to convince others to understand and then follow this “dictum”. For example, English is a language based largely on nouns, while Anishinabe languages are dominated by verbs, resulting in cultures which focus respectively on objects versus process, with a resultant tendency to objectivize or integrate nature. This may in part explain the domination of the planet today by English dominated cultures and may make the task of undoing this domination extra difficult.
Bolivian historian Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui notes that, what a western linear perception of history condemns as a “turning back of the clock”, is viewed in the Andes as the redemption of the future, a past that can yet turn the tables. Analysing the history of indigenous rebellions and struggles over the paternalistic yet protective colonial Leyes de Indias, as well as conflicts with the traditional left earlier this century, Cusicanqui shows how indigenous autonomy is the starting point for building a new egalitarian, multi-ethnic nation. She asks: “In a complex, multi-ethnic ‘nation’ composed of diverse societies, who should constitute the umbrella authority that would link its many segments?” and speculates on whether the coming Pachacuti will lead to catastrophe or renovation.
Ecuadorian ex-legislator Monica Chuji contrasts the trillions of dollars allocated last year to save the world banking system to the “mere” $100 billion that would be needed to meet the UN’s millenium development goals to overcome world-wide poverty, to highlight the distance between the speeches and the realities of power. She notes how the discourse on globalization has been constructed in a way which has narrowed the horizon of human possibilities to the coordination of markets and economic agents and points to Sumak Kawsay as the alternative to progress, development, modernity – a notion that wants to recover the harmonious relation between human beings and their surroundings, between humanity and its fellows.
Ecuadorian economist Pablo Davalos provides a brief survey of the evolution of dependency, Marxist, world system and neo-liberal classical economics to show how we have arrived at a state of economic autism. He concludes that “Of the alternative concepts that have been proposed, the one that presents more options within its theoretical and epistemological framework to replace the old notions of development and economic growth, is Sumak Kawsay, good living.”
Ediciones MASAS provides us with a Marxist [Trotskyist?] critique of indigenous post-modernism in Bolivia’s ruling party, the MAS (Movement toward Socialism). MASAS claims that post-modern proponents downplay capitalist exploitation as the central configuration of society and pose “an infinite number of identities with no socio-economic structure” over the working class and other “standard” Marxist class identities, thus weakening the class struggle (and challenging left-wing leadership of that struggle).
The Chavez and ALBA proposal for a Fifth International has been presented as an effort to bring together a wider spectrum of traditional left political parties and social movements, including indigenous movements. Miguel D’Escoto, former Sandinista Foreign Minister and President of the UN General Assembly in 2008-2009, and Brazilian liberation theologian Leonard Boff, appear to support this call, relating it to their own proposal for a Universal Declaration on the Common Good of the Earth and Humanity following the UN General Assembly’s acceptance of Bolivia’s resolution on the declaration of April 22 as International Mother Earth Day.
The Zapatista indigenous “model” has had successes and difficulties. It is difficult however, to find evaluations of the Zapatista’s impact on health, agriculture, education and nutrition in Chiapas fifteen years after their January 1994 rebellion. The creation of “autonomous” zones of power in Chiapas, with parallel institutions of governance are said to have brought significant political transformation, but some say they have not yet created a viable model of economic autonomy for poor peasants. Others cite civil – military tensions in the Juntas of Good Governance as reducing local autonomy. Some feel that internal political organization has taken priority over social and economic improvements and weakened earlier efforts to reform the broader Mexican state and guarantee indigenous rights of self-determination. Nevertheless, the Zapatista carcoles are models of governance which include many elements implicit in the ecosocialist and degrowth paradigms and further research on these experiences is sorely needed.
In this regard too, the Vivir Bien “model” is not unlike the ecosocialist “model”. Much has been written about the need to downshift in the face of the economic and environmental crises, and even about how to change relations of production from capitalist modes to collectivism, reciprocity and complementarity, or how to measure gross domestic happiness or define genuine progress indicators. Not enough however has been offered to-date on what and how to produce, or what a new dynamic “equilibrium” would look like. Without more concrete examples and basic research or macro-economic models, it remains a laudable and even logical goal, but with still inadequate road maps on how to get there.
Recent New Economics Foundation books on Growth Isn’t Possible and The Great Transition are laudable western beginnings to this task. Serge Latouche points briefly to a starting place in his recommendations to reduce or eliminate negative externalities of growth such as excessive transport, obsolescence, advertising, energy conservation, drugs, disposable gadgets, his 8 Rs, etc. The Climate and Capitalism web site and the Ecosocialist International Network group/list on Yahoo are also good sources of discussion and debate on these issues.
But the ecosocialist and degrowth movements, as well as the proponents of Vivir Bien, still have much work to do to show how our new paradigm(s) would work.
Appendix A – Bolivia’s Living Well, Not Better
[My synthesis of an 8 page document on the website of Bolivia's UN Mission]
Bolivia’s Living Well proposal means living a sovereign and communal life in harmony with nature, working together for our families and for society, sharing, singing, dancing, producing for the community. It means living a modest life that reduces our addiction to consumption and maintains a balanced production.
The protection and preservation of balance in the natural world, including all its living beings, is a primary goal and need of our proposal. Mother nature has inherent rights to exist on the Earth in an undiminished healthy condition.
Faced with so much disproportion and wealth concentration in the world, so many wars and famine, Bolivia proposes Living Well, not as a way to live better at the expense of others, but an idea of Living Well based on the experience of our peoples. In the words of President Evo Morales Ayma, Living Well means living within a community, a brotherhood, and particularly completing each other, without exploiters or exploited, without people being excluded or people who exclude, without people being segregated or people who segregate.
Living Well is not the same as living better – because in order to live better than others, it is necessary to exploit, to embark upon serious competition, concentrating wealth in few hands. Trying to live better is selfish, and shows apathy, individualism. Some want to live better, whilst others, the majority, continue living poorly. Not taking an interest in other people’s lives, means caring only for the individual’s own life, at most in the life of their family.
Within the framework of Living Well, what matters the most is not the individual. What matters the most is the community, where all the families live together. We form part of the community as the leaf forms part of the plant. Nobody says: I will just take care of myself; I don’t care about my community. It is as preposterous as if the leaf were to tell the plant: I do not care about you, I will only take care of myself.
Development has proven to be a failure, as evidenced by the crisis of nature and the severe effects of climate change. It is now the leading cause of global crisis and the destroyer of planet Earth, because of the exaggerated industrialization of some countries, addicted consumerism and irresponsible exploitation of human and natural resources.
Thus Living Well means redesigning urban and non-urban living environments, the restitution of the local, regional and national communal goods, and a quick transition toward renewable energy at a small scale, that must be oriented to the locality and owned by the local community, without hampering the natural balance, and including wind, solar, small scale hydro and wave and local biofuels, not global agrofuels. Living Well means reallocating the trillions destined for war in order to heal Mother Earth.
Living Well also means promoting an orderly reconstruction of the countryside and the revitalization of communities by way of agrarian reform, education and application of eco-agricultural microfarming methods, based on our cultural and communal practices, the wealth of our communities, fertile land, clean water and air. All of these approaches are in preparation for the inevitable de-industrialization of agriculture as cheap energy supply declines.
In Latin America, particularly in Bolivia and Ecuador, a new perspective on energy, culture and “development” is coming alive, even in the form of a proposal for a UN Charter of Rights for Mother Earth, led by indigenous peoples.
See the bibliograph at http://www.web.ca/~bthomson/degrowth/draft_degrowth_bibliography.html for links to most of these references
- ALAI, “IV Foro Social Americas: Desafios para profundizar los procesos de cambio”, America Latina en Movimiento #457, July 2010
- Xavier Albó: “To Live Well = To Coexist Well”, CIPCA Notas 217, 10 February 2008
- Leonardo Boff: “The Rights of Mother Earth”, IPS, Rio de Janeiro, 1 March 2010
- Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Living Well as a response to the Global Crisis: A manual for building the good life for our communities in the face of global crisis and probable collapse of western development models.”, pp.202 (Spanish only)
- Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth: Messages from President Evo Morales Ayma about the Pachamama (the Earth Mother) and climate change 2006-2010)” (English)
- CAOI (Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indigenas), “Buen Vivir, Vivir Bien: Filosofia, Politicas, Estrategias y Experiencias Regionales Andinas”, Lima, February 2010, www.minkandina.org
- Monica Chuji G.: “Modernity, development, interculturality and Sumak Kawsay or Living Well but not Better”, Uribia, Colombia, 23 of May 2009
- Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui: “Pachakuti: The historical horizons of internal colonialism”, which NACLA published as “Aymara Past, Aymara Future” NACLA Vol 25 No 3, December 1991
- Pablo Davalos: “Reflections on Sumak Kawsay (good living) and theories of development” ALAI, 5 August 2008
- François Houtart: “Interview with François Houtart: For a general well being of humanity”, Sally Burch, ALAI, February 2010.
- Irene Leon (Editor), “Buen Vivir y cambios civilizatorios”, Fedaeps, Quito, 2010, ISBN: 978-9942-9967-3-2
- Guiseppe De Marzo, “Buen Vivir: Para una democracia de la Tierra”, Editores Plural, La Paz, March 2010, ISBN: 978-99954-1-268-5
- Ediciones MASAS: “El Postmodernismo Indigenista del MAS: Una crítica marxista”, October 2009
- “The Indigenous Postmodernism of Bolivia’s MAS: A Marxist Critique”
- Mignolo, Walter: “The Communal and the Decolonial”, Turbulence, No. 5, December 2009
- “Indigenous De-Colonial Movement in Latin America” Wikipedia
The energy/entropy history of the planet and Homo Sapiens’ impact on it are the subject of a number of new and not so new western studies and reviews.
See the bibliography at http://www.web.ca/~bthomson/degrowth/draft_degrowth_bibliography.html for links to many of these references
- Frederick Soddy, Cartesian Economics: The Bearing of Physical Science upon State Stewardship, 1921
- Ester Boserup: The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure 1965
- Nicolas Georgescu-Roegen: The Entropy Law and the Economic Process 1971
- Meadows, Randers and Behren: The Limits to Growth 1972
- Herman Daly, Steady-State Economics 1977
- Jeremy Rifkin: Entropy: A New World View 1980
- François Partant: L’économie-monde en question, Genève – 1984
- Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies 1997
- Serge Latouche: In the Wake of the Affluent Society: An Exploration of Post-Development, Zed Books, London, 1993
- Lester Brown: Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress & a Civilization in Trouble 2003
- James Lovelock: The Revenge of Gaia 2006
- Thomas Homer-Dixon: The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity & the Renewal of Civilization 2007
- Alan Weisman: The World Without Us 2007
- Herman Daly: A Steady State Economy 2008
- Peter Victor: Managing without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster 2008
 Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, “Pachakuti: The historical horizons of internal colonialism”, published by NACLA as “Aymara Past, Aymara Future” in December 1991
 See Francois Houtart, “For a general well being of humanity”, ALAI March 2010 for a discussion of “Living Well” or “Buen Vivir” or “Sumak Kawsay”
 Cited by Cy Gonick in “Exploring Ecosocialism as a System of Thought”, Canadian Dimension, Vol. 44 No. 5, Sept/Oct 2010
 Carol Smith in the same December 1991 NACLA issue, cites Mayan resistance as one root of this historical “memory”.
 Rene Ramirez in Ecuador’s “National ‘Buen Vivir’ Plan”, cited in Irene Leon, “Re-significaciones, cambios societales y alternativas civilizatorias”, America Latina en Movimiento #457, ALAI, Quito, July 2010
 Immanuel Wallerstein has said this “may turn out to be the great debate of the twenty-first century.”
 Even convincing sympathetic colleagues in the progressive “development” discourse is proving difficult based on one response to a January 2010 London UK public meeting.
 Xavier Albó: “To Live Well = To Coexist Well“, CIPCA Notas 217, 10 February 2008
 Ministry of External Affairs of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, “Manual de construcción del Vivir Bien” pp.202
 Some French proponents of “decroissance” actually believe English speakers are incapable of understanding the concept.
 Personal conversation with Mireille Lapointe and Bob Lovelace, traditional leaders of the Ardoch Algonquin, June 2010
 See also “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?”, Guy Deutscher, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 29 August 2010
 Ibid, NACLA December 1991
 Monica Chuji G.: “Modernity, development, interculturality and Sumak Kawsay, or Living Well but not Better”, Presentation to the International forum on Interculturality & Development, Uribia, Colombia, 23 May 2009
 Pablo Davalos: Reflections on Sumak Kawsay (good living) and theories of development ALAI, 5 August 2008
 Ediciones MASAS: “El Postmodernismo Indigenista del MAS: Una crítica marxista“, October 2009
 See also “Two Takes on the Bolivian Uprising in Potosi”, Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 404, August 20, 2010
 See for example the report of an April 2009 conference “Fifteen Years After the Zapatistas”
 The Zapatistas Break Their Silence, January 2003
 See Degrowth: Is it useful or feasible? a provocative blog review of a January 2010 public degrowth meeting in London
 NEF, “The Great Transition” and “Growth Isn’t Possible”
 Journal of Cleaner Production, April 2010, “Growth, Recession or Degrowth for Sustainability and Equity?”