“Good living” and the Recuperation of Indigenous People’s Heritage:

A Response to the Crisis of Progress

2008-05-16 00:00:00

Rethinking the current way we live and taking on the negative consequences that modernity has generated were central themes at the forum “Postneoliberalism, Mother Earth, Development and Good Living.” The forum was part of the Indigenous Summit currently taking place in Lima, Peru.

The destruction of life and nature, along with the fervent consumerism and competition propagated by the current economic model, has damaged human life and the development of biodiversity. These topics were discussed as part of the Indigenous Summit’s first meeting, where a variety of indigenous speakers and representatives of Latin American organizations gathered.

“Criticizing the idea of progress is a fundamental part of encouraging practices that expose consumerism and valorizes indigenous knowledge,” said Candido Grabowski of the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE). “We have to break with the productivist and consumerist vision, which defines success as the accumulation of more things. We can’t continue with this. We need critical and scientific thought in the universities, but there is also an accumulated knowledge that has a lot to offer, which is not scientific. It is a life knowledge, a knowledge of that which has been expropriated and privatized, from which we have much to learn.”

In this sense, it is of critical importance to recuperate indigenous peoples’ knowledge and way of life and to reconstruct human relations and relationships with nature, and in this way change the way of life that modernity brings. “We need,” according to Grabowski, “interpersonal relations that are removed from paternalism. We need a plurality of visions and to recuperate the ways of life developed by indigenous peoples and, in doing so, achieve good living.”

Magdalena León of the Americas Social Forum Committee also discussed the need to change the modern way of life. León said that the legitimacy achieved by the indigenous movement has allowed for the extension of a way of life based on the harmony between human beings and nature.

The current situation demands that we work towards this perspective that, according to León, is united by two converging fields of study. On the one hand, ecological economics has questioned the current model’s definition of wealth. Feminist economics, on the other hand, argues that the economy must be centered on the care for and procreation of life.

Nevertheless, León pointed to a number of obstacles—rooted in the idea of accumulation—presented by the new “good living” paradigm. “Ever present is the idea that we just need to modify distribution and don’t need to get rid of accumulation. The challenge is to be capable of seeing what type of social relations will allow for good living.”

Progress and Changes in Human Life

The neoliberal model’s effects on the world are evident today. There is no longer any doubt that the costs have been incomparably higher than the benefits.

Edgardo Lander of the Universidad Central de Venezuela reflected on this problem, and said that if we don’t change the current model then life on earth will become impossible. “Today the discussion has changed. It is no longer a question of whether or not there is climate change. The discussion is what to do about it. And what want to argue here is that the answers provided by governments, science and corporations are more of the same. They are prepared to discuss everything except the dominant way of thinking, everything aside from the concepts of progress and development.”

According to Lander, the processes of improvement and appropriation of the conditions for living occur in an unequal manner, as some sectors of the planet are using the entire planet’s carrying capacity far above its capacity for recuperation. In this sense, the answers are shared and both point towards recuperating ancestral ways of life. “The answer is the radical transformation of ways of thinking and the ways of being part of nature. This is the only guide left. In this way indigenous peoples’ organization has weight. These are people keeping watch not only over their right to life but over the entire planet.”

The forum’s last speaker was Toma Huanacu of the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qollasuyos, who launched a criticism of modernist Western philosophy as a precursor to the capitalist vision that today condemns the world.

“What comes after neoliberlism? The imposition of socialism? For us, in this moment the debate is philosophical, about life. Which of these occidental philosophies ensure life on this planet? Our conception is that we, as children of mother nature, have to take care of this life. This is why we are worried about how to change the way of thinking. We have to get Socrates, Aristotle and Kant out of our minds and insert the wisdom of our grandparents, the knowledge of our past.”

All of the speakers agreed on the necessity of protecting ancestral cultures and preserving their customs. For the crisis produced by the ideas of progress implemented in Latin America by the West, today there is evidence of the damage caused to the environment and cultures of the Americas.