Blog di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA – Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa MISSIONARY ONGOING FORMATION – A missionary look on the life of the world and the church
Antoine Arjakovsky and Jean-Baptiste Arnaud
Posted Fri 17 Jul 2020
The rapid and uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, despite its low lethality rate, has brought out the anxiety of death and shaken the illusion of industrialised, individualistic, and aging societies, which believed themselves to be unshakable — even immortal. No one on the planet can feel safe from the risk of contagion.
This crisis brings to light the limits of a development model — that of the globalisation of liberal capitalism. According to economist Thomas Piketty, the COVID 19 crisis is “the tree that hides the forest” of a globalisation that is disrespectful of creation, unjust, and hypnotised by the gross domestic product index. In 2019, 29 July 29 was the day when the world’s economies exceeded the annual level of the planet’s renewable resources. In 1979, the day on which overrun occurred was 1 November.
Pope Francis recalled this diagnosis by addressing the world from an empty Saint Peter’s Square on 27 March 2020. Commenting on a passage from Mark’s Gospel (4:35-40), in which the disciples were caught off-guard by a storm that threatened to capsize their boat, Francis said:
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
Truly, the crisis born of the COVID-19 pandemic reveals both the collapse of the scientistic paradigm of modernity and its postmodern relativist challenge. In 1992, 99 Nobel Prize winners along with 1,400 other scientists issued a “call to humanity” to ask public authorities to act quickly to protect the environment. On 13 November 2017, a second warning to humanity was published. This time, more than 15,300 renowned scientists signed this declaration:
Since 1992, with the exception of the stabilization of the stratospheric ozone layer, mankind has failed to make sufficient progress in general resolution of these anticipated environmental challenges and, alarmingly, most of them are getting much worse.
Despite the commitment of numerous NGOs and a significant part of the youth in favour of a change in behaviour, no major decision has been taken by international institutions, as exemplified during the last G20 in Osaka.
The failure of contemporary economic consciousness is structural. It is the result of a blindness of modern rationality, but also of its damned soul — postmodern consciousness — with regard to its own foundations. As Charles Taylor has shown, modern thinking is characterised by a deist worldview. Unlike the classic conception which saw “God present everywhere but visible nowhere,” the Enlightenment era was ready to recognise the existence of a supreme being as soon as it no longer played any role in the space-time of the saeculum. This modern approach attributed to the state the attributes of all power that once belonged to the Creator.
The tragic succession of the two world wars engendered a postmodern consciousness which challenged in the twentieth century such a vision of the world. In postmodern thought, not only God but also the states are “dead.” Only the individual has sufficient resources to survive and transform a world characterised by power struggles, insanity, and violence.
However, another crystallisation of consciousness — which can properly be described as spiritual — occurred in the twentieth century. Carried by thinkers ranging from Nicolas Berdyaev to Kate Raworth and from Victor Frankl to Karol Wojtyła, it has challenged not only the vision of the classical and modern world but also its postmodern conception.
On 19 October 1944, the Austrian Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was deported to Auschwitz by Nazi power. After returning from deportation he gave a famous conference in Vienna, during which he explained that modern psychoanalysis failed to understand the world due to an erroneous epistemology:
Possessed of such an atomistic, energistic, and mechanistic concept of man, psychoanalysis sees him in the final analysis as the automaton of a psychic apparatus. And that is precisely the point where existential analysis comes in. It pits a different concept of man against the psychoanalytic one. It is not focussed on the automaton of a psychic apparatus but rather on the autonomy of a spiritual existence. (“Spiritual” is here used without any religious connotation, of course, but rather just to indicate that we are dealing with a specifically human phenomenon, in contrast to the phenomena we share with other animals. In other words, the “spiritual” is what is human in man.)
This evolution of consciousness, from a postmodern conception to a spiritual vision of the world, occurred in an often discreet manner in almost all disciplines in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In economics, the Austro-Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi made the same criticism of Adam Smith and Karl Marx that Frankl had addressed to Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. In 1944, in The Great Transformation, he showed the limits of classical economic theory.
Today, the economist Kate Raworth castigates neoclassical mythology and proposes an integral conception of development, in the spiritual sense of the term. Indeed, her conception takes up both the notion of common good of Western religious traditions and that of harmony of Eastern religions (like the Taoist ying-yang). The development horizon is no longer structured for her by a mechanistic conception of an airplane which takes-off and progresses constantly in the air at the expense of life on the planet and society. Neither is it weighed down by the altogether pessimistic subsequent conception of sustainable development or sustainable economy. The metaphor that she chose with the image of the “Doughnut,” a circular brioche hollowed at its centre. As she explains, it suggests a vision of balanced human prosperity in a flourishing network of life, which promote true and integral relationships between people:
What exactly is the Doughnut? Put simply, it’s a radically new compass for guiding humanity this century. And it points towards a future that can provide for every person’s needs while safeguarding the living world on which we all depend. Below the Doughnut’s social foundation lie shortfalls in human well-being, faced by those who lack life’s essentials such as food, education and housing. Beyond the ecological ceiling lies an overshoot of pressure on Earth’s life-giving systems, such as through climate change, ocean acidification and chemical pollution. But between these two sets of boundaries lies a sweet spot — shaped unmistakably like a doughnut — that is both an ecologically safe and socially just place for humanity. The twenty-first century task is an unprecedented one: to bring all of humanity into that safe and just space.
What now needs to be understood is why this significant development in economic thought, despite the power of its arguments and the growing number of its supporters (from Lord Adair Turner to Steven Keen), has not yet changed the economic consciousness of our political and economic elites. The answer, which we will explore in our next piece, is that this evolution of consciousness is only the tip of a more fundamental evolution of contemporary civilization — that of a change in epistemology.
Antoine Arjakovsky is co-director of research in the Department of Politics and Religions at the Collège des Bernadins in Paris, and founding director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies in Lviv, Ukraine.
Jean-Baptist Arnaud is co-director of research in the Department of Politics and Religions at the Collège des Bernadins in Paris.