Commentary. The principle of care involves thinking in biological time, coexisting with empathy with all living things and demanding universal rights, which are not dependent on market functions or on the conveniences of a growth determined by profit margins.

Social and climate justice, against the fury of the right

It should not surprise us that four years after its publication on June 18, 2015, Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sì still has the same relevance that caused it to break through the confines of the religious sphere and into a political landscape rooted in the present.

It is being re-read and revisited today, as we are faced with the abrupt acceleration of climate change, the insuppressible domination of capital over workers and the most atrocious cruelties being inflicted upon migrants. This encyclical is showing itself to be the most organic and constructive analysis to enable us to properly deal with these emergencies, instead of merely exorcising them.

It starts with a revaluation of the “peripheries,” which the digital age has deprived of time, discarding the rhythms related to biological functions as insufficiently productive, as they are much slower than the frenetic pace of electronic technologies. These technologies are establishing themselves as centers of reference, while humans pay the price of this most complete alienation.

We are not just at the end of a cycle, but close to a catastrophe, which we can only avoid by a break with the capitalist system which, as shown by the earlier and earlier occurrence of Overshoot Day every year, is based on a model which uses up the resources of the biosphere nearly twice as fast as they can be renewed.

In order not to succumb to the fury of the right, which has set itself up in all the nerve centers of economic and political power and whose support is still growing, we must be able to recognize once again the social value that the environment inherently possesses, while highlighting the current dramatic situation in which we are running out of time to restore it in order to be able to live a healthy life. If we take our example from the courage shown by Pope Francis—who sometimes makes the left too uncomfortable and unable to properly appreciate his efforts—it becomes possible to try to create a powerful alliance of those who are “left behind” in a competition that is only getting more ruthless and less inclusive by the day.

This could lead to the affirmation of an alternative path, not one imposed from above, but one enriched and strengthened by particular experiences and conflicts which, even though they are developing separately in territories that don’t directly communicate, are converging toward an understanding of the world and the present historical phase, of which the Laudato Sì offers an authoritative interpretation such as is very seldom found (and not solely confined to the ethical dimension).

Two of the messages of the encyclical are yet to be taken up to their full extent: first of all, adopting the principles of care and solidarity as new forms of rationality, which would be able to rescue the Earth and all living things, fight inequality and restore the meaning of work and the rights that come with it; then, the imperative to start again from the “peripheries,” understood not only as geographically defined marginal areas, but as metaphors which can serve as a counterpart to the “islands of domination” that are blocking the indispensable cultural, political and social change.

The principle of care involves thinking in biological time, coexisting with empathy with all living things and demanding universal rights, which are not dependent on market functions or on the conveniences of a growth determined by profit margins. This approach is so profoundly different than the current policies that there are many things it must overcome: determinism, the principle of growth, anthropocentrism, the patriarchal order and the domination of capital over labor.

Those who are “peripheral” are all the subjects and classes who have been socially marked for expulsion, exclusion, getting lost within the cracks. Sometimes, these are places, or intangible hierarchies, which are the products of a stage of development which is now in irreversible crisis, as it implies excess production and inequitable consumption, the predatory exploitation of labor and nature and a shrinkage of democratic representation to only the major economical and geopolitical centers, to the detriment of the health of the biosphere.

Today, many things are reduced to “the periphery” as opposed to “the center”: to give a few examples, labor as opposed to capital, refugees from the whole of Africa as opposed to the residents of the northern shores of the Mediterranean, nature as opposed to production imperatives, the rhythm of life as opposed to the rhythm of work, the future of the climate as opposed to maximum profit right now, the critical spread of scientific knowledge as opposed to technocracy—and, for a very specific one, I’d go as far as pointing to the Val di Susa itself as opposed to the abstract cost-benefit calculations of those who have never lived there, and, similarly, the union leaders freely elected by the workers as opposed to the “team leaders” designated by the corporation.

In Milan, an association has been set up based on the principles of the Laudato Sì, which, both in terms of the methods adopted and the involvement of individuals, aims at creating conditions and experiences which can allow the peripheries to develop forms of self-governance and self-organization, as part of an overall program which is being built, structured around the theme of caring for the Earth, climate and social justice. It is a program with many points, open for improvement and not at all set in stone, with which one doesn’t have to agree in every single particular, but which can lead us out of the current vicious circles and which can become something worth striving for.

The aim is to build a coherent theoretical framework, but one that would be worked out collaboratively by individual people who will then live it out in the territories. All the materials regarding this ongoing effort can be found here.

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