A Universalist Humanism Proposal from Chile

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on Pressenza (publish date 12/04/2023).

We publish here the paper presented by Virtual Ediciones at the 1st International Social Sciences Fair, organised by the Municipality of Recoleta in Santiago de Chile, under the title “Position and proposal of New Humanism in the face of the current crisis of civilisation”.

The presentation by José Gabriel Feres said: “On behalf of Virtual Ediciones we thank you for your presence. In our publishing house we decided a couple of years ago, at the beginning of 2021, to give life to a “New Humanism Collection”. There are currently twelve publications by two authors: ten by Mario Rodriguez Cobos, Silo – an Argentinian thinker and writer, initiator during ten by Mario Rodriguez Cobos, Silo – Argentinian thinker and writer, initiator during the 80s of this current of thought – and two by Salvatore Puledda – Italian scientist, one of the most important disseminators of these ideas.

We hope to continue adding texts by other authors in the future.

We wanted to make this collection known, and for this we considered that the best way was not to present one or several of their books, but rather to present the thought that corresponds to the theoretical formulation and proposals for action of the so-called New Humanism (or Universalist Humanism, as it is also called).

In order to fulfil this objective, we developed a paper entitled: “Position and proposal of New Humanism in the face of the current civilisational crisis”.

We worked on a common text among the four of us who are here, which will be presented by the following: Francisco Ruiz Tagle -from the Humanist Observatory of Psychosocial Reality-; Pía Figueroa -from the International News Agency Pressenza- and Guillermo Sullings -from the Humanist Movement of Argentina. What unites the four of us is our participation, since its beginnings, in the development and action of New Humanism.

I leave with you, then, our friends who will present our reflections and proposals; and after our presentation, if we still have time, we would like to hear some of your opinions on the issues raised”.

After that, the panellists read out the following text:

“Good afternoon, everyone.

We will then try to fulfil the objective of explaining the thinking contained in this Collection, and to do so, we ask ourselves what is the beginning of our reflection? Basically, the sustained advance of a profound dehumanisation of social life, which was beginning to emerge as a collective and planetary phenomenon. The origin of the problem seemed to lie in the conception of the human being and the tendency towards the reification (or animalisation) of the human being proper to a materialistic and mercantilist society such as the one that has ended up imposing itself on the whole world, as Puledda explains, in the words of Silo, in one of his books in the Collection:

…human consciousness is not a passive or deformed ‘reflection’ of the natural world, nor a container of ‘psychic facts’ existing in themselves. Human consciousness ‘transcends’ the natural world, that is, it constitutes a phenomenon radically different from it. It is intentional activity, a ceaseless activity of interpretation and reconstruction of the world. Consequently, consciousness is fundamentally power-being, it is future, overcoming what the present gives us as ‘fact’. In this reconstruction of the external world and in this leap towards the future resides the constitutive freedom of consciousness: freedom between conditionings, subject, yes, to the pressure of the past, but freedom nonetheless. On the other hand, for the naturalist interpretation, human consciousness is essentially passive and anchored to the past: it is a reflection of the external world and its future is a deterministic updating of the past. This interpretation, if it is to be coherent, leaves no room for human freedom.

This tendency to reify the human has been accentuated in the economic sphere with the transformation of productive capitalism into speculative capitalism. Whichever way you look at it, the productive must deal with human realities: concrete needs, markets, workers, aspirations, demands, relationships with localities, and so on. Finance, on the other hand, moves in the sphere of abstractions: there is no sweat, no fatigue, nothing close to reality, just an endless dance of figures that come and go, rise and fall on the screens of the world’s stock exchanges and banks. It is a completely dehumanised universe because the real human being does not exist there. Neither their daily cries nor their daily despair are heard by the indifferent technocracy that populates this kind of virtual Olympus. For them, people are superfluous and only indexes count.

The British historian Arnold Toynbee resorted to the Greek term hybris (immoderation) to explain that a civilisation collapses when its foundation or creative principle plunges into irrationality and disproportion, a phenomenon very close to what is happening in all fields and particularly with speculative capital, whose level of delirium seems to have crossed all limits.

For his part, as early as 1933 José Ortega y Gasset referred to a “historical crisis” in his “En torno a Galileo” (On Galileo):

… Because if it is true that we are living in a situation of profound historical crisis, if it is true that we are leaving one Age to enter another, it is very important for us: 1°. to take proper charge, in a rigorous formula, of what this system of life that we are abandoning was like; 2°. what it is to live in historical crisis and 3°. how a historical crisis ends and we enter a new time.

In turn, Silo, in June 1992 in Moscow, in his conference on “Crisis of Civilisation and Humanism”, calls this a “crisis of civilisation”, pointing out:

… we are talking about the vital situation of crisis in which we are immersed and, consequently, the moment of rupture of beliefs and cultural assumptions in which we were formed”, and explains: “… To characterise the crisis from this point of view, we can look at four phenomena that have a direct impact on us, namely: 1. There is a rapid change in the world, driven by the technological revolution, which is clashing with the established structures and with the habits of life of societies and individuals; 2. This gap between the acceleration of technology and the slowness of social adaptation to change is generating progressive crises in all fields and there is no reason to suppose that it will stop but, on the contrary, that it will tend to increase; 3. The unexpectedness of events makes it impossible to foresee what direction events, the people around us and, in short, our own lives will take. In reality, it is not change itself that preoccupies us but the unpredictability that emerges from such change; and 4. Many of the things we thought and believed no longer serve us, but neither are solutions in sight that come from a society, institutions and individuals suffering from the same malady.

And in recent years, in his latest book, The End of Societies, the sociologist Alain Touraine gives a very accurate description of the relationship between globalisation and speculative economics, as well as the rupture that has occurred between economy and society, and asks himself who can resist globalisation?

…In the post-social era that is opening up before us there are no revolutions possible since there are no longer any political actors or social forces organised enough to provoke them. Capital is taking its revenge on work and eroding the gains made by social democracy in the second half of the 20th century. Apart from the analysis of the situations, this diagnosis leads us to ask an extremely pressing question: what forces are capable of opposing the unchecked power of finance?

And further on, he says the following:

…It is therefore a matter of asking oneself in the name of what and for what reasons actors can emerge; but in the face of the invasion of social life by the economy, which imposes its own logic on all domains of life, both personal and collective, where can resistance to the might of the globalised economy come from?

We are aware that such a question does not only require political responses; it carries within it a general conception of social life, just as religions, the proclamation of universal rights and the critique of capitalism did in the past.

The economy is undoubtedly one of the fields in which the brutal dehumanisation with which decisions are taken is most transparently evident, but the same is experienced in other areas of human coexistence in which the same evil is manifested, as in the case of the very serious, almost irreversible deterioration of the planet’s environment, the migratory crisis, the danger of a nuclear confrontation, as we are exposed to today, the possible food crisis, etc… In short, everything indicates that we are no longer dealing with isolated or local problems but with a global crisis, produced by the closed system regime into which the world has entered as a result of globalisation.

The characteristics of this crisis are described and explained with considerable precision in several of the books in this Collection that we are presenting here today, and if they were realised thirty years ago, they have only been confirmed with time.

At that time New Humanism presented its proposals as a possible “fire escape”, an “escape hatch” or an “emergency exit”, in the event that the situation at that time continued to deteriorate or got out of control.

If, regrettably – and here we assume the responsibility of those of us who have participated in this movement since its beginnings – we were not able to present these developments with greater force and clarity, we consider that the worsening of the crisis over the last few decades has created a better condition for understanding its roots and accepting the profundity of the changes that need to be made.

Today, the accelerated decomposition of a system that has become universal and of which we are witnessing its de-structuring is clearly visible. In general terms, this means that the links that gave cohesion and coherence to the various dimensions of social life are being broken, which necessarily implies that the civilising intention behind this form of coexistence and the project derived from it are becoming unviable.

Silo, in his Seventh Letter, defining the humanist revolution that he will be proposing for this time, says:

…In this system which is beginning to be globally closed, and there being no clear direction of change, everything is left at the expense of the simple accumulation of capital and power. The result is that in a closed system nothing else can be expected but the mechanics of general disorder. The paradox of the system informs us that in attempting to order growing disorder, disorder will be accelerated. There is no other way out than to revolutionise the system, opening it up to the diversity of human needs and aspirations. Put in these terms, the theme of revolution acquires an unusual grandeur and a projection that it could not have had in earlier times.

In short, this “civilisational model” (let’s call it that) is no longer working. By the way, there have been many decadences throughout history, so what we are living through is nothing new, except for one factor: it is the first time that the historical process has led to a single, universal system. We are all in the same boat which, given the conditions we have described, looks very much like the Titanic. It is quite obvious that the current institutionalism is not being able to find the responses or design the paths to overcome this crisis, because its parameters are obsolete, they are part of that past in crisis.

For New Humanism, sociological criteria such as social Darwinism, or the notion of passivity with respect to human consciousness, considering it as a mere receiver of the data of reality, are all concepts that must be overcome if new responses are to be found that will allow us to go beyond this difficult moment that humanity is living through. As we have already said, we find ourselves in a social situation of a closed system that is also unique, so that there are no external references that could be imitated and thus make it possible to break the inertia to change the direction of the process.

If in previous historical moments there was talk of processal determinisms, of hegemonies, of objective conditions, concepts many of them inspired by classical mechanics, today physics is beginning to speak of the end of certainties, of probabilities. If this is true for physics, it is all the truer in the human world, where the margin of freedom takes a gigantic leap. The great possibility of opening up this closed system is to be found in the vision we have of “the human” and in the recognition of its diversity as an expression of this active subjectivity.

It is stated in the various texts we are presenting today that a new definition of the human being must be assumed. It is explained that although human beings participate in the natural world insofar as they possess a body, they are not reducible to a simple natural phenomenon, they do not have a “nature”, an essence defined once and for all, but are a “project” of transformation of the natural and social world and of themselves. If we wanted to define it anyway, we could say that “the human being is that historical being who transforms his own nature by means of social activity”.

In a 1983 talk in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which he entitled About the Human, Silo develops two aspects of this theme: the understanding of the human phenomenon in general and the register of the humanity of the other.

In part of the first of these he points out:

…we are at a great distance from the idea of human nature. We are at the opposite. I mean, if the natural had suffocated the human, thanks to an order imposed with the idea of the permanent, now we are saying the opposite: that the natural must be humanised and that this humanisation of the world makes man a creator of meaning, of direction, of transformation. If this meaning is liberating from the supposedly “natural” conditions of pain and suffering, the truly human is what goes beyond the natural: it is your project, your future, your child, your breeze, your dawn, your storm, your anger and your caress. It is your fear and your trembling for a future, for a new human being free of pain and suffering.

Already in relation to the register of the other, he points out in turn:

…As long as he registers from the other his “natural” presence, the other will not pass from being an object-like, or particularly animal presence. As long as he is anaesthetised to perceive the temporal horizon of the other, the other will only make sense as a for-me. The nature of the other will be a for-me. But in constructing the other as a for-me, I constitute and alienate myself in my own for-me. I want to say: “I am for-me” and with this I close my horizon of transformation. Whoever reifies reifies himself, and thereby closes his horizon.

…As long as I do not experience the other outside of the for-me, my vital activity will not humanise the world. The other should be to my internal register, a warm sensation of an open future that does not even end in the reifying meaninglessness of death.

Very much in synthesis, we will find in these texts a proposal that we could enunciate by saying: “…only by developing a new look at “the human”; assuming that today the problems and their solutions are no longer restricted to the geopolitical ambit of the nation-state, but are universal and refer to the Human Nation; and, finally, the need to open the system to human needs and aspirations; we can try to positively resolve this crossroads between “chaos and evolution” to which we have arrived as a species”.

Certainly, when we speak of crossroads, and ask ourselves about possible ways out, interrogative adverbs inevitably arise: Who, how, where and when? Silo always considered the generational struggle as the engine of change, and today we see that a new sensibility is growing among the new generations, a sensibility that rejects violence and wars, that repudiates discrimination of minorities and injustice, that questions patriarchy and resists the predatory voracity that is destroying our planet. Perhaps in these new generations we will find the force to overcome the crisis of civilisation. With regard to the how, we will surely have to advance towards forms of Real Democracy that truly empower the people when it comes to shaping structural transformations, and therein lies a real challenge, because we have seen how on numerous occasions the revolutionary force of powerful social movements ends up being diluted in the bureaucratic labyrinths and possibilities of formal democracy, manipulated by politicians who are hostages or partners of a Real Power that opposes change. And with regard to when and where, it is very difficult today to glimpse a response, precisely because the characteristics of the global crisis make chaos penetrate everywhere; nevertheless, it is worth recalling in this sense the first paragraphs of the “Tenth Letter to my friends”, written by Silo almost 30 years ago:

What is the destiny of current events? The optimists think that we will enter a world society of abundance in which social problems will be solved; a sort of paradise on earth. Pessimists believe that the current symptoms show a growing sickness of institutions, of human groups and even of the global demographic and ecological system; a kind of hell on earth. Those who relativise historical mechanics leave everything to our behaviour in the present moment; heaven or hell will depend on our action. Of course, there are those who are not the least bit interested in what will happen to those who are not themselves.

Among so many opinions, we care about the one that makes the future depend on what we do today. However, even in this position there are differences of opinion. Some say that since this crisis has been caused by the voracity of banks and multinational companies, when it reaches a point that is dangerous for their interests, they will put in place recovery mechanisms, as has happened on previous occasions. In terms of action, they favour gradual adaptation to the processes of capitalist reconversion for the benefit of the majority. Others, on the other hand, indicate that it is not the case of making the whole situation depend on the voluntarism of minorities, therefore it is a matter of manifesting the will of the majorities through political action and clarification of the people who are being extorted by the dominant scheme. According to them, there will come a time of general crisis of the system and this situation must be exploited for the cause of revolution. Beyond that, there are those who argue that capital, work, cultures, countries, organisational forms, artistic and religious expressions, human groups and even individuals are caught up in a process of technological acceleration and destructuring that they do not control. It is a long historical process that is now a global crisis and affects all political and economic schemes, with neither general disorganisation nor general recovery depending on them. The advocates of this structural vision insist that it is necessary to forge a global understanding of these phenomena while acting in the minimal fields of social, group and personal specificity. Given the interconnectedness of the world, they do not argue for a successful gradualism that would be socially adopted over time, but seek to generate a series of “demonstration effects” sufficiently strong to produce a general inflection of the process. Consequently, they exalt the constructive capacity of human beings to engage in transforming economic relations, modifying institutions and fighting relentlessly to disarm all the factors that are provoking an involution with no return. We adhere to the latter position. It is clear that both this and the previous ones have been simplified and, moreover, the multiple variants deriving from each of them have been avoided.

Ultimately, nothing is determined and the future is open in one direction or another; although at times the urgencies can make us despair and spill out into pessimism, since the threat of nuclear war, accelerated ecological disaster and economic catastrophe are imminent, while the possibility of change is not yet on the horizon. And indeed, nothing and no one assures us that change will come, or that it will come in time, nothing guarantees that civilisation will not regress into a new middle age of obscurantism and precarity. But perhaps the acceleration of the crisis will also accelerate the reaction of the populations and, not only because of a revolutionary vocation but also because of the need for preservation, the populations will rebel and the demonstration effects will begin to multiply.

We would like to end this presentation of the New Humanism Collection with the no end paragraph of one of the books in the Collection we are presenting today, Salvatore Puledda’s Interpretations of Humanism:

In the few years remaining before the end of the second millennium, the silhouette of the first planetary civilisation may begin to emerge. In such a situation, New Humanism may find fertile ground for the development of its ideas. However, this emerging civilisation will gain momentum amidst conflicts and crises that will affect us in profoundly. It will be then that we will begin, as a human organisation and as individuals, to ask ourselves seriously about the destiny of our species and the meaning of our actions. New Humanism, precisely, seeks to provide a response to these questions.

Nothing more, thank you very much.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of:
  2. https://www.pressenza.com/2023/04/position-and-proposal-of-new-humanism-in-the-face-of-the-current-crisis-of-civilisation/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.