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Thierry Verhelst

This text was presented as a contribution of Network Cultures-Europe to an international conference held in Kandersteg, Switzerland on the theme of global dialogue for peace and worldwide spiritual as well as material well-being. (…)

Structural violence

Today's major challenge is structural violence. Violence is not only what we have seen in Kosovo, Rwanda or in Manhattan on September 11. Don Helder Camara, the Brazilian bishop and liberation theologist used the term structural violence to refer to the worldwide injustice linked to our economic system : the violence of hunger, of deprivation, of lack of dignity. This is violence, perhaps less spectacular than a terrorist attack but it is more deadly. It kills 35 000 children per day, who are starving from malnutrition.
This is the structural violence brought forth by what Chandra Muzafar has called the four "M": money, market, machine, and media. Money, market, machine, and media today all pertain to one solid ideology, the ideology of neo-liberal capitalism. It does not present itself as an ideology however. On the contrary, it claims to be objective and "scientific". In actual fact, the communist ideology has not disappeared to put an end to all ideologies. It has been replaced by another materialistic ideology based on supposedly unquestionable dogmas such as deregulation, profit maximization, privatization, and the obsession of competitiveness. The Berlin Wall has been replaced by a wall of money. (…)

A new paradigm

The way out of this structural violence is a new paradigm : a change of mentality, a cultural change whereby interconnectedness is being put forth, rather than competition. The old paradigm is based on separation : separation inside oneself between body and mind, separation from the others, which allows for cut-throat competition; separation from nature, which leads to the domination and the pollution of nature; and separation from God or whatever sacred principle you may call it, which leads to a shallow, self-centered and disenchanted worldview. Interconnectedness, by contrast, has to do with a sense of marvelling, of being enchanted, of sacredness. Sacredness is not outside of daily reality but inside of it. The mystical dimension of reality is not an exception, not something to be juxtaposed to ordinary life. It is the very stuff of matter and of life. This has huge implications for science and for action. This sense of mystery cannot be isolated from reason. It goes beyond reason, while respecting its usefulness. There is a need for a non-dualistic approach which respects both the requirements of reason and of spirituality.

We need to accept interconnectedness inside oneself - body, soul, spirit, -, and of oneself with the others, with transcendance and with nature. This will allow more space for respect. If we discover this new paradigm, it will lead to a double change. One is collective. The other is personal.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: "We must be the change that we want to see in the world." Both personal and collective change are necessary. We need collective change, away from the exclusive focus on profit maximization, from the culture of separation, from brutal capitalism and from freedom without responsibility. Away from the adoration of modernity and progress as a secular religion. Muzafar calls it "moneytheism". We equally need personal transformation in our ways of consuming, saving, relating to nature and to fellow human beings.

Modern times are very "male"

We must radically challenge modernity. Its great achievements are now overshadowed by too much materialism, too extreme secularized rationalism, too aggressive individual competition. There is an excessively "male" and dominating quality to it. Modernity is too "yang". What we need is to introduce a more "female" dimension in our concept of politics and economics, a more "yin" dimension, with more harmony, not just domination. For millennia, human beings needed to conquer the outside world. The woman stayed in the cavern to cook and take care of the children, when the man was out to explore the outside world, hunt dangerous animals, kill them, bring back food. These were two different types of activity : conquest and care. Both were necessary. But today we have conquered all the surroundings of our caverns : the whole world has been explored and put under control. We have even explored the moon. We must re-discover the other quality, that of the woman in the cavern, the ability to take care of a household, to safeguard harmony, to extend hospitality. (…)

Time for change and hope

We live in a dangerous world of injustice and pollution which is so violent that it may be on the brink of catastrophe and bankruptcy. Yet, there are a number of elements in it which constitute good news.

One is human resilience. A beautiful word and a beautiful reality. Those of us who have had the privilege to see how the so-called poor, the majority of mankind, those who live in the villages or in the slums of Africa, Latin America and Asia, manage to cope with the crisis can testify about this. There is a lot of human strength and creativity in the world of the "poor". (…)

A new, more human economy may be silently spreading in the megacities and in the forgotten rural areas of the world. Also in the West alternatives are being experimented with. Nobody is able to stop and to control those millions of people. They do not obey a party line, they have no common ideology. They simply believe in the value of life and of social bonds. They believe, as was proclaimed in Porto Alegre (World Social Forum) that "another world is possible".

A matter of world democracy

The "Davos crowd" - to use a forceful expression used by Suzan George - who seeks to run the world is an uprooted minority. Maybe we are slowly awaking to the hopeful fact that the majority of the world does not believe in the dangerous myth of neo-liberal capitalist globalisation. (…)

(…) A high level expert in the European Commission, Prof. Riccardo Petrella calls for the necessity to " de-legitimate" capitalism. One of the tasks we have in front of us is to participate in the critique of an arrogant materialistic system that does not deliver the goods. This is not easy as many of us benefit from this system. Let us be clear that the critics of capitalism are not necessarily better persons than the sycophants of globalization. They simply try to take a more global and future-oriented look at the world. These so-called anti-globalists are the genuine "global" people ! To call them "anti-globalists" is therefore misleading and a sad exempla of intellectual sloppiness, if not manipulation. In actual facts, those crowds demonstrating or reflecting in Seattle or Porto Alegre are interested in another globalisation. In French they are called "alterglobalists" (alter = other).

The other reason for hope is that most of the great changes in the history of humankind have not been foreseen nor planned by experts. Nobody has foreseen the sudden fall of the Soviet Union, the French revolution, the end of slavery, the fall of the Roman Empire. These are events where the Spirit has been working to allow women and men to stand up for dignity, for freedom, for a better, more meaningful life. At the visible level, there is little reason to be optimistic. The world seems on the brink of total collapse. Yet, in the invisible, there is hope. The slow emergence of a new paradigm, with cultural transformation and spiritual growth, is the indication that, perhaps, we are heading for better times. For ourselves. And for planet earth.

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