December 21, 2012, will be remembered as yet another date when the always feared “end of the world” failed to happen. Theories ranging from massive earthquakes to floods, fire, and collision with massive asteroids and planets circulated proved to be wrong. It looks that the world is still spinning, and our duty to elevate this world to make it a better place is still valid and in place – and will remain as such for a while.
The rumours about the end of the world, then, turned out to be only that – rumours. But here is an interesting perspective to reflect upon: Why should the world end violently as a result of a natural disaster? Unfortunately, our species has taken a materialistic and selfish view of life, which has resulted in greed, war, and consumerism. Are we not, then, slowly contributing to the end of the world as it was meant to be?
On this regard, Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay, shared his views about this subject earlier this year during the Rio+20 conference. His views helped to deliver one of the most beautiful, memorable and thought-provoking speeches recorded. I invite you to analyze his speech not from a purely economical/political perspective, but from a humanistic point of view. What should be our life priorities, as individuals?
The speech is in Spanish and it’s worth to listen from beginning to end. I have translated the full speech further below.
“Authorities attending from every latitude and organization, thank you very much. And thanks very much as well to the people of Brazil and its President. And thank you to all preceding speakers for showing their likely good intentions.
We, as governments, express the most intimate will to support all agreements that this, our poor human kind, can sign. However, let us ask loudly to ourselves some questions. This whole evening we have been talking about sustainable development, and about rescuing immense masses of people from poverty. What do we have in our minds? The development-consumption economic model observed by rich nations?
I wonder, what would happen to this planet if people in India had the same ratio of cars per family than Germans do? How much oxygen would be left for us to breathe? To be clear: Does the world today have enough material elements to make possible that 7 or 8 billion people can have the same degree of consumerism and waste that the most affluent western societies have? Is it feasible, or we might have to have a different type of discussion someday? Because we have created a civilization that is product of markets, product of competition, which has doomed itself to a purely materialistic and explosive development.
What have been market economies have created market societies, and has led us to this globalization. But are we ruling globalization, or is globalization ruling us? Is it possible to talk about solidarity and unity within an economic model that is based solely in ruthless competition? How far does our fraternity reach?
I don’t say any of this to deny the importance of this event. It’s all the opposite: The challenge that lies ahead of us is of a colossal magnitude, and the big crisis is not environmental, but political. Man does not rule today the forces that he has unleashed, but those forces that man has unleashed rule over man and life. Because we don’t come to this planet just to develop on general terms, we come to this life to be happy, because life is short and it goes by. No commodity is worth more than life, and this is basic. But life will pass by me while I work and work only to obtain a surplus, and the consumerist society is the engine -because, definitely, if demand is paralyzed or stopped, then economy is stopped, and if economy is stopped, the phantom of stagnation is all upon us.
But that hyper consumerism, in turn, is an aggressor to our planet, and in that model of hyper consumerism we need to produce goods that last short because we have to sell lots of them. Then a lightbulb cannot last longer than 1000 hours on – even when we have developed lightbulbs that can last 100,000 or 200,000 hours on. But those ones cannot be manufactured because market is an issue, because we have to work and we have to sustain a use-and-dump civilization. We are in a vicious cycle. These are political problems that tell us about the need to start fighting for a different culture.
This is not about coming back to becoming cavemen, nor to build a monument to backward mentalities. It is just that we cannot continue to be ruled by the markets indefinitely. It is us who have to rule the markets. That’s why I say that this is a political issue in my humble way of thinking. Because ancient thinkers -Epicurus, Seneca, the Aymara people- defined that “a poor person is not he who has few goods, a real poor person is he who needs infinitely a lot”, and wants and needs more and more and more. This is a cultural key, then.
I salute the efforts and agreements that are made, and as a head of state, I will support them, because I know that a few of the things I am saying here are “creaking”. But we need to realize that the crisis of water, the crisis of aggression to the environment are not the causes of the problem. The cause is the civilization model that we have shaped, and what we need to revise is our lifestyle.
Why? I am from a tiny country blessed with natural resources to live. In my country, there are 3 million inhabitants – slightly more, 3.2 million. But there are some 13 million cows, some of the best in the world, and some 8 or 10 million sheep. My country exports food, dairy products, meat. Almost 90% of its territory is arable. My worker fellows fought a lot to get 8 hours of work per day, nowadays they are getting 6 hours per day! But he who gets 6 hours of work a day is also getting an additional job and, therefore, works more than he did before. Why? Because he has to pay numerous bills: the little scooter he bought, the little car he bought, and he pays installments, and he pays more installments, and when he wants to change that… he realizes that he has become a rheumatic old man like myself, and his life is begone. And the immediate question comes to mind: Is that the fate of being a human?
These concepts are very basic, development cannot go against happiness. It has to work in favour of happiness, of love, of human relations, of looking after our children, of having friends, of having the very basic! Precisely, because that is the most important treasure that we have. When we fight for environment, the first element in the environment is called ‘Human Happiness’. Thank you.”
Rio de Janeiro, June 22, 2012