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Victor Toledo: From Capitalism to 'Buen Vivir'
Back to the future with indigenous-style 'good living'
By Victor M. Toledo Jane K. Brundage Posted in Esperanza Project, Politics on July 15, 2021
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Faced with the crisis that humanity is experiencing, does politics make any sense? We have repeatedly pointed out that every political project will gradually become a policy for or against life. This sharp demarcation results from the deepening of the crisis of modern civilization, which is increasingly evident. All the ideological positions captured by political science will be aligned on one side or the other, depending on the extent to which exploitation is carried out by a rapacious minority against the work of both nature and humans. Doing politics for or against life is to be aware that what is at stake are two radically different ways of conceiving and acting in the world. Two contradictory human attitudes that become political practice.

The modern world — capitalist, technocratic, rationalist, anti-ecological and patriarchal — nurtures an ideology based on individualism, secularism, competition, faith in technology and economics, verticality and dominance over women and nature. Its icon or symbol is the pyramid, since all the structures that support it (companies or corporations, State, Church, parties, army, family, etc.) assume the dominance of some over others. Its ideal figure is the Wolf of Wall Street, voracious and insatiable for accumulating wealth or capital. If the world today is marked by corruption in all spheres of social life, it is the result of the moral breakdown of the system’s winners, proud and lonely beings dedicated to buying and selling. The end result is the commodification of what exists, in which everything (including God, the country and life itself) is sacrificed if it proves profitable. This is the final and profound goal of every citizen anesthetized by neoliberal ideology.

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Image by Henning Westerkamp from Pixabay 

Against this background, of enormous interest is the emergence, or rather the rediscovery, less than two decades ago, of an idea that the thinkers of the modern world had overlooked. It is about the philosophy of the so-called buen vivir | good living that had remained obscured for centuries. Apparently, it is inextricably linked to the traditional world and, more specifically, to the worlds of indigenous peoples. This concept is intrinsic to the world’s seven thousand indigenous peoples, who number only about 500 million inhabitants, and it has just been demonstrated that their territories are equal to no less than a quarter of the planet.

To seek good living is to adopt an ethic of the collective, communality, solidarity and mutual aid, in which the behavior of the individual is marked by the values ​​of balance with himself, with others, with nature and with immanence or cosmic essence. Achieving good living supposes a sacred or spiritual attitude of rigorous respect for others and for nature, a behavior toward coexistence and an ethic directed to the common good. In Mexico, the study of good living has been carried out in various cultures, by both indigenous and mestizo thinkers, especially in Chiapas.

Today, the concept of good living | buen vivir is becoming the primal furnace within the cultural, spiritual and civilizing reserve that is putting together a genuine alternative to the crisis of the modern world. It is beginning to replace the ideas of development, progress and growth — the ideological battering rams of neoliberalism that are less and less credible. Living well means learning to exist collectively and in permanent communion with nature. These two requirements induce a conscience and a behavior in individuals that lead them to practice a politics for life. In this way, arises a tremendous paradox: in an emergency, the traditional minority sector normally dominated and marginalized becomes the savior of the dominant society. And it does so for a simple reason: it is the one that still possesses and practices the modalities that have allowed the human species to survive and remain for 300,000 years. And that secret formula is the one that true humans practice: solidarity, communality and mutual aid in tune with Nature.

Victor M. Toledo, research scientist at the Institute for Ecosystem and Sustainability Research (Instituto de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas y Sustentabilidad), Morelia Campus UNAM, is a Mexican biologist with PhD from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Dr. Toledo has combined his scientific training with studies in economic policies, agrarian cultures and rural sociology. An expert in ethnoecology (the cross-cultural study of how people perceive and manipulate their environments), his studies and theoretical contributions regarding the relations between indigenous cultures and the natural world are recognized internationally. Dr. Toledo served as head of the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) in the administration of Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador from May 2019 to September 2020. See also: Victor M. Toledo, Biologist, Ethnoecologist: “Passionate for Life”.

This article was translated by Jane K. Brundage. It was originally published in Spanish in La Jornada and in English at Voices for Mother Earth and is reposted here with permission.

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