Covid-19 Forces us to Think, What is Essential, Life or Profit?

By Leonardo Boff on September 21, 2020

Photo: Bill Hackwell

As the renowned German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas said in an interview on Covid-19: “We never knew so much about our ignorance of the past as we do now. Science is indispensable for survival and for dealing with the complexity of modern societies, but it cannot be arrogant and pretend, as certain scientists postulate, that it could solve all problems. To tell the truth, what we do not know is infinitely more than what we do know. All knowledge is finite and perfectible. This is now being proven on the occasion of the unbridled search for an effective vaccine against Covid-19. We do not know when it will be available, nor when the epidemic will disappear.

Such a fact has the effect of diminishing a horizon of life and hope and causes what the judge and writer wrote so well on her twitter (“Life is not fair”) Andréa Pachá: “The pandemic has wreaked much havoc. Some physical, concrete and definitive. Others subtle, but devastating. It took away from us the desire to go, to play, to make plans, even those only utopian and idealized, which would never be realized, but which fed the soul”.

We observe that there is a deep collective dejection, melancholy, depression and even rage against an epidemic about which we know very little and can do little. We all feel surrounded by the ghost of contamination, intubation and death.

The fact is that we are not living under an extraordinary emergency like the tsunami in Japan, which affected the nuclear power plants, one of which continues to emit radioactivity, affecting the coasts of India, Thailand, Indonesia to the coasts of California, or the great burns of the Amazon, the Pantanal and the forests of California. With the Covid-19 we are facing an extreme emergency, which affects the entire planet, a consequence of a deep ecological erosion caused by the voracity of large companies that seek exclusively material gain with the destruction of forests, extractivism, the expansion of monocultures such as soybeans or cattle raising and the excessive urbanization of the entire world.

That intrusion of the human being in nature, without any sense of respect to its intrinsic value, taken as a mere means of production and not as something alive of which we are part and not owners or lords, refusing to respect its limits of endurance, has produced the destruction of the habitats of thousands of viruses in animals and plants that have moved to other animals and to human beings.

We have to incorporate new concepts: zoonosis (a disease that comes from the animal world: birds, pigs, cows, bats) and zoonotic transfer: an animal condition transmissible to humans. From now on they will enter our vocabulary, not only the scientific one.

One of the greatest specialists in viruses, David Quammen (Montana USA), warns us in his 2015 video “Spillover: the next human pandemic”  that it is inevitable there will be a great pandemic again. It may kill tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of people, depending on the circumstances and the way we react, but any of these things will happen. It will certainly be a zoonotic agent. It will originate from non-human animals. It will certainly be a virus. Let’s look at the seriousness of this warning from a remarkable scientist.

In the face of this extreme emergency increased by low national and international mobility, social isolation, alienation among people and the use of the mask, we are led to ask the most fundamental questions of our lives: in the end, what is ultimately important? What is definitely essential? What are the reasons that led us to such an extreme emergency? What should and can we do after the pandemic passes, if it does? These questions cannot be postponed.

Then we discover that there is no greater value than life, our life and that of the whole community of life. It emerged 3.8 billion years ago and human life about 8-10 million years ago. It went through several devastations but always remained in existence. And along with life, the livelihoods without which it cannot sustain itself; the water, the soil, the atmosphere, the biosphere, the climates, the work and the nature that offers us everything we need to live and survive. And the human community that welcomes us and offers us the foundations of the social and spiritual order that keeps us together as humans. The accumulation of material goods, the individual appropriation, the pure and simple competition is worthless. What saves us as living and social beings is solidarity, cooperation, generosity and care for each other and the environment.

These are the human-spiritual values, contrary to those of the culture of material capital, on which Covid-19 represents a kind of ray that is reducing it to pieces. We cannot return to it so as not to provoke Mother Earth and nature, which, if we do not change our relationship of respect and care, will send us other viruses, perhaps even more lethal or even the last one (The Big One) that would decimate the human species.

This time of forced retreat is a time of reflection and ecological conversion, a time to decide what kind of Common House we want for the future. We need to grow in solidarity and love for all that is created, especially for humans, our brothers and sisters.

We will be “the homo solidarius”, the beginning of a new era, the era of bio-civilization, in which life in its diversity will have centrality and everything else will be at its service. There will be no ECOnomy without ECOlogy. Life has value in itself. Together in the Common House, we will enjoy the joyful celebration of life.

Source: Leonardo Boff, translation Resumen Latinoamerica