The Future of Humanity Is Being Decided Today
Director of the Felix Varela Center, a Cuba NGO. (This article summarizes part of the author's book, Tercer Milenio: Una visión alternativa de la posmodernidad).
José Antonio Blanco
The simultaneous end of the second millennium and of the 20th century calls us to reflect on the moment humanity is going through on this, its spaceship, Planet Earth.
Humanity has a few hundred thousand years of history in the planet's billions. For over 400,000 years, human beings moved from cave to cave and our generous planet responded to its growing needs to hunt, fish and gather foodstuffs. Before the agriculturally?based civilizations began—10,000 years before our era—there were scarcely four million people on the planet. By the dawn of industrial civilization at the end of the 18th century, there were already some 700 million. By 1997, after some 200 years of industrialization and modernity, we will surpass the figure of 6 billion. At the current rate of demographic growth, we are adding the equivalent of the whole US population to the planet every two?and?a?half years.
Resources Shrink As Population GrowsThis demographic expansion has been supported by the development of technologies designed to conquer and exploit—pillaging and polluting—nature. If the current population growth trends remain constant, the world population will have reached between 10 and 12 billion people by the year 2050. The world population in 1980 was about 4.5 billion people. If these demographic estimates for the year 2025 are correct, we will have added to the planet, in only a few decades, the equivalent of that total 1980 population. The consumption and contamination level this population represents—if current standards of consumption and the technologies that harm the ecosystem are maintained—will not be sustainable.
A first element for reflection, then, is that the 20th century is coming to a close with growing tension between the planet's limited resources and its rapidly expanding number of inhabitants.
The modern criteria for the viability of the conquest of and domination over nature by human reason through technologies designed for this end springs from the premise that the planet has unlimited capacity to provide resources and recycle waste. The experience of 200 years of industrial civilization indicates, however, that the technologies and cultural patterns associated with this civilization have generated, in the brief space of two centuries and most particularly in the century just now coming to an end, a crisis of sustainability of the biosphere at the world scale. Industrial civilization not only consumes both renewable and nonrenewable resources at a more accelerated rhythm than the planet requires for their natural replacement, but also generates waste in quantities greater than a natural recycling process would permit. But even this information does not fully reveal the whole drama. Industrial civilization has also created technologies that manufacture non?biodegradable and toxic products. Hundreds of millions of pounds of these substances are produced annually in the form of refrigerants, pesticides and the like, which cannot be assimilated into the life cycle of any organism. Instead, they build up, contaminating the land, water and air, and thus the planet's entire food chain.
The second element we should pay close attention to during this prelude to the third millennium is that the ecosystem that made the origin and development of human beings possible over millions of years has been brutally damaged by industrial civilization over the course of only two centuries. The growing hole in the ozone layer, global warming and the climatic changes associated with it, toxic contamination of the biosphere and the anarchic and growing consumption of both renewable and nonrenewable resources, are phenomena and tendencies associated with industrialization and which, to date, nobody has been able to detain or reverse.
The impact of biospheric degradation on the weakest species is statistically verified: the rhythm of extinction of different animal and mammal species that existed during the 17th and 18th centuries doubled in the first half of the 19th century, then doubled yet again in the second half. Today, that rhythm has increased five?fold.
On the other hand, the growing consumption of natural resources is not associated with their equitable distribution. About 20% of the world population living in the world's advanced industrial countries consume some 80% of the world's resources. The average US citizen consumes 50 times more steel, 56 times more energy, 170 times more paper, 250 times more fuel and 300 times more plastic than the average citizen in India.
Nor is the contribution to the planet's overall contamination equitable: the 57.5 million people who will join the ranks of the developed countries' population over the rest of this decade will pollute the planet two or three times more than the 911 million who will be added to the population of developing countries during the same time period.
Any "Victory" Is SuicideThe wisdom and even possibility of bringing the developing countries', consumption standard up to that of the United States is doubtful. Developing that level to reach the so?called American dream sometime in the 21st century could well lead to a final nightmare for all of humanity. If the world population were only 11.5 billion people in the year 2050 and all of them had made it to the 1988 US consumption level, the world's petroleum reserves would be used up in 7 years, the aluminum would be gone in 18, copper would run out in 4, zinc would be gone in 3 and coal in 34, to name only a few of the planet's important mineral reserves. In addition to the draining of the world's resources, the most serious problem would be the near quadrupling of the pollution rate throughout the world.
A third, clear element for reflection at this crossroads facing humanity at the end of the 20th century is, thus, the abyss of inequality between the 20% and 80% of the world's population in terms of wealth distribution and consumption of natural resources, as well as the unviable and undesirable notion that the poor reaching the consumption level of the rich will solve this problem.
What happens in the next 50 years will determine—irreversibly—the future of humanity and even its very survival as a species. Combining demographic growth with the prolonging of wealth at the very limit of planetary resources could very well bring with it a social and ecological catastrophe of incalculable implications. More likely to happen sooner are local, regional and world conflicts, involving fatal armaments, as millions of people, adhering to any one of many ideologies, resort to violence to contest the increasingly shrinking resource pie and reclaim that slice of wealth to which they feel they have a legitimate right.
In this spaceship that is our planet, we can no longer continue to consume, in an anarchic and accelerated fashion, the resources available for the passage, nor can we use weapons against the riots that put the spaceship at risk. We are reaching the point in which every victory over resources by a minority, at the cost of the other passengers or the very physical security of the spaceship in which we are all travelling, is sheer suicide.
Western, Rational, BourgeoisModernity is nothing but the sum of the radical technological, economic, political, military and social transformations that accompanied the revolutionary crest in the old continent of the bourgeois world. The cultural subversion of the Middle Ages that preceded those processes, more than promoting scientific and technological development, proposed a new consciousness to humanity about the meaning of its existence, its natural surroundings and the way to make history. The biblical assertion, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free," was at the center of this new historical era.
Fascination with the scientific knowledge of nature and society and unlimited optimism in the ability achieved to discover, step by step, the truth about the universe was fairly quickly associated with the understanding that knowledge implies power: power to subdue nature, to control and direct social processes.
The so?called Age of Reason was to be one of accelerated and unlimited dominion over both natural and social forces. The concepts of reason, rationality and rationalization became inextricably linked to the exercise of scientific power, to both conquer and rule over a nature considered "inferior" because it did not use reason, and over other civilizations seen as "savage" because they lacked Western, bourgeois and modern elements of reason. Modernity, initiated in Europe, coincides historically with the second great revolution of humankind: the transition from agricultural to industrial civilization. From that time forward, modernity has been identified with civilizing industrial processes and the cultural ones associated with them.
With the arrival of modernity, scientific truth replaced theological truth and was as intolerant as any other supposed truth, certainly as much as the very religion that it had just displaced. Together with the incipient industrial civilization, the prevalence of scientific truth over nature and society gave birth to something of a monopoly in Europe. The region gave itself over to scientific thinking with the same fervor that it had embraced Christianity; it felt called as the only subject of historic events and did not hesitate to make use of its newfound knowledge to exercise its dominion over other cultures still immersed in agricultural processes. Europe decided that its ascent into industrial civilization granted it, by right, a mandate to unify the world's historical tasks, until that time pluralistic and dispersed.
Modernity: History is UniversalSince 1492, modernity has come into the world as a totalitarian project, darkened in its own reason. The intolerance typical of those who believe that they possess the truth, added to the indisputable evidence of European military superiority, led Europeans to suppress all other civilizing and cultural projects existing in Africa, Asia and Latin America to thus make way for one single mode of understanding and practicing civilization.
The arrival of modernity was not much more tolerant in Europe itself. By the tens of thousands, peasants were expelled from their lands in England and concentrated in the new industrial centers where they were to be the victims of industrial excess, unaware that they were the first actors of industrial civilization.
The new civilization demolished, bit by bit, the cultural forms that had characterized the world prior to the onset of modernity. The key industrializing agent, the bourgeoisie, knew just how to make use of all forms of exploiting labor—including slavery—that could in turn contribute to the exploitation and expansion of new colonies. And it fought against all hierarchies, social stratification, values, family structures, customs, sexuality, etc., that had characterized the agricultural cultures it set about to dominate.
Nota:Inicio | Contactenos | Archivo | Suscripciones Even when it was in the interest of world capitalism and its needs for economic exploitation that the "periphery" remain largely dedicated to agricultural activity, the societies there were closely tied into the Western "modernizing" project. The new colonies—and, later the neo?colonies—could continue to be eminently rural and agricultural societies but they essentially formed part of a modern industrial civilizing project occurring on a planetary scale, in that it was in the colonies that the main gears of the capitalist accumulation machinery were found.
The precolonial cultures were transformed, gradually or abruptly, into modern cultures. This modernization was the process of civilization?building and cultural change to bring those cultures—in a subordinate and dependent fashion—into the world capitalist system. Putting moral considerations about the inhumane and totalitarian character of the modernizing project to one side, it has unquestionably been one of the most all?embracing, integral and revolutionary processes in the history of humanity.
A Mechanized WorldWith modernity, a process of universal history began that recognizes only one civilization?building project: the change to an industrial society, with one single culture, capitalist culture, promoted by one protagonist, the bourgeoisie. Step by step, agricultural civilization was forced to yield to an industrial way of life.
The bourgeois intellectual subversion of the medieval world required the rationalistic and enlightened prelude of the 17th and 18th centuries to express itself as a coherent ideology, in a political, technological and economic context that changed over the next century and a half.
The architects of the modern paradigm were exceptional thinkers. Among them are Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Locke, Rousseau, Adam Smith and Darwin. For over three centuries, the new world vision that these and other thinkers helped forge was the underpinning of virtually all political, scientific or economic discourse.
The material processes of change that accompanied the modern intellectual revolution were no less impressive: the transition to an economy based on nonrenewable fossil fuels, the emergence of mass production, the appearance of large population centers around industry, the change from emphasis on the extended family to a nuclear family, the separation of the children—with the disappearance of family?based industries—to work at various other tasks in search of subsistence, the massification of communications, universal basic education, and the transition from economic power based on land to that based on the control of capital, raw materials, energy and the labor force.
The modern paradigm that made these processes possible was increasingly drawn as a mechanical vision of nature and society. The natural and human universe was constituted by machines that could be studied and understood in pieces, just as the laws that regulated their functioning could be studied. Both nature and society could be understood—and thus conquered and subdued—by human reason which, converted into their absolute master, would rationally control and direct them for its own benefit.
Jeremy Rifkin states it this way: "The Modern Age is the Age of the Machine. The primary values are precision, speed and exactness. We regulate our daily routine with a machine: the clock. We communicate through a machine: the telephone. We learn with machines: the calculator, the computer, television. We travel in machines: the car, the airplane. And we even see with machines: electric light. The machine is at once our form of life and our vision of the world. History for us is an ongoing exercise in engineering."
The Five Foundations ofModern man, imbued with science as the newest of religions, expelled God back to the celestial kingdom and decided to conquer, dominate, control and direct the natural and social world on earth to his liking.
Modernity in Crisis
At the end of the 20th century, on the threshold of the third millennium, humanity has certainly come closer to divine powers, but not to the knowledge of their love. Nuclear energy, the genetic revolution and informatics grant humanity the power to create new forms of life or destroy all those existing, as well as to manipulate human thought and behavior.
Ecological destruction, fratricidal and interventionist wars, the increasing impoverishment of the world's population, would all seem to indicate that technological progress has reached the point that it can be expressed only in barbaric terms within an already worn?out cultural framework of the modern paradigm. Reason has been divorced from human emotion. The MIT engineer who calculates how many pounds of napalm are needed to efficiently wipe out a Vietnamese village must be guided by reason and not "primitive" human instincts.
The essence of the modern paradigm, the notion that science will make us free—and therefore happy—through the conquest and submission of nature and society to human reason, constitutes the intellectual foundation of modernity's two key cultural alternatives: capitalism and socialism as they emerged in Europe. Today, with the crumbling of the European socialist system, the capitalist societies, at their very moment of triumph, run the risk of not seeing the thoroughgoing crisis that cuts through the civilization?building and cultural process sparked more than five centuries ago.
Capitalism could well overlook the fact that the crisis of socialism is not the consolidation of the end of history in its favor, but a partial and incipient expression of the universal crisis of the very modernity to which capitalism itself belongs.
What is ending is not history, but modernity. But, if it is not understood this way and the intellectual radical revolution that this crisis demands is not touched off, we may well be coming close to the end not only of history but of humanity and of the ecosystem that has sustained life for tens of millions of years.
This intellectual revolution also requires putting aside the axioms upon which the modern paradigm is built, together with the myths that have gone into crisis in the 20th century. The belief that humanity will find freedom—and happiness—through reason has served as the central paradigm of modernity. This "truth" demonstrated its efficacy throughout the nearly five centuries in which it promoted the radical world transformation implied by the advent of industrial civilization. Nonetheless, the processes that facilitated and were at the same time promoted by this transformation have become obsolete and we thus now find false the beliefs—once seen as indisputable criteria—upon which the modern paradigm was constructed.
Five key assertions underpinned the vision of the modern universe:
The ecosystem is inexhaustible and has an unlimited capacity to naturally recycle the waste generated by society.
Technological process brings social progress.
Humanity can reach happiness if it subjects nature and its own behavior to Reason.
Economic growth at the expense of nature has no limits and allows for an infinite expansion of human consumption, which in turn generates happiness.
The family based on a monogamous, patriarchal and heterosexual model is the final and superior form of anthropological organization.
The two great cultures of modernity—capitalism and socialism—were constituted and organized upon this common platform of beliefs. They in turn were structured upon the three great myths of modernity: the market, liberal democracy and the bureaucratic state as instruments of reason favoring the common good. After five centuries guided by these beliefs and myths, the development model they sketched out has reached a critical juncture: modern civilization today puts nature at risk and modern culture threatens the millenarian humanism that helped it emerge.
Postmodernism?In the mid?20th century, humanity reached a new stage of development with respect to scientific knowledge. Simultaneous breakthroughs in genetic engineering, microelectronics and nuclear physics opened a new era and a new civilization?building process, like those that had taken place with agriculture or with the invention of the machine.
The qualitative impact of the two key modern cultures (capitalism and socialism) on the technologies associated with just one of these scientific achievements—the telecommunications revolution as a consequence of microelectronics—is only comparable to that of agricultural techniques some 10,000 years ago or of mechanical physics some centuries ago on humanity's way of understanding the world and organizing life to live in it.
Human scientific and technological progress may be cumulative at some point in time. That is what happened with the evolutionary framework of the agricultural and industrial civilizations. But, in finding new revolutionary paradigms over the course of development, these paradigms may make way for a new civilization?building process and a new historical era, which bring about the appearance of new cultures that carry within their diversity the new vision of the world.
Today, the world is witness to one of these moments of crisis, rupture and civilizing change. The industrial civilization so characteristic of the Modern Age is yielding, in some areas of the planet, to the civilization of information, which leads us to a new historic era: an age so far dubbed "post?modern" because a name agreed upon by universal consensus is still lacking.
From Agricultural to Modern industrial cultures, which so efficiently allowed the industrial processes to develop, today are increasingly obsolete in terms of dealing with the dynamic of the economic, social, cultural, political and military processes set off by the new technological civilization. The same happened two centuries ago with the emergence of industrial civilization.
Industry, the printing press, means of communications and transportation, and the great cities all changed the geographical and material landscape of agricultural civilization, while the family structure, the division of labor, and political, economic and legal organization within the emerging nation?states set on their heads the values, customs, beliefs, habits, common sense and languages of their cultures.
Industrial civilization sounded and even smelled different than agricultural civilizations. While it may not be hard to imagine the contrasting sounds between a bucolic agricultural civilization and the squealing of machines of all kinds that accompanied the emergence of the industrial era, it is particularly interesting to think about the contrasting smells between these two eras.
As Patrick Suskind wrote, in El Perfume, "In the era under discussion, the 18th century, a foul smell barely imaginable to modern man permeated the large cities. The streets reeked of dung; the stairwells stank of rotten wood and rat excrement; the kitchens, of rotting cabbage and mutton grease; the unventilated rooms were thick with the smell of moldy dust; the sleeping quarters had a stench of greasy sheets, damp comforters and the penetrating odor of the urinals. The chimneys smelled of sulphur; the tanneries of caustic lye; and the slaughterhouses, of coagulated blood. Men and women smelled of sweat and their dirty clothing, their mouths smelled of infected teeth, their breath of onion and the bodies of those who were no longer young of rancid cheese and malign tumors. The rivers stank, the plazas smelled, the churches were filled with a bad odor and the stench was the same under bridges and inside palaces. The peasant smelled like the cleric, the artisan like the teacher's wife, the entire nobility stank and even the king smelled like a butchered animal and the queen like an old goat, in both summer and winters, because during the 18th century, the corrosive activity of bacteria had yet to be checked and thus there was no human activity, neither creative nor destructive, no manifestation of incipient or decaying life, that was not accompanied by some sort of stench."
The new industrial civilization shared a common element with the agricultural civilization that preceded it: both were marked by the spirit of conquest and domination of nature and society. While some may manipulate this axiom one way and some another, the basic fact remains unalterable: civilization's progress—based upon the development of science and technology—is not aimed at preserving the ecosystem and human liberation, but at new forms of culturally organized domination.
Civilizations and cultures based on the concept of domination—whether based on "God's will" or "reason"—cannot help but gradually convert each technologically progressive step into a greater degree of social barbarity.
Genetic, Informatic and In the past, civilization—this process of the growing accumulation of divine powers via technology—had not appropriated the material capacity to create the economic basis for a culture of human liberation. But today, the technical means exist to liberate the world from famine, illness and ignorance. The technological possibilities reached in the 20th century, which place us squarely on the threshold of a new era and civilization?building process, are potentially capable of liberating the human species from helplessness and poverty. However, if cultures of a liberating nature do not emerge out of this information era, humanity and the planet that we inhabit could well perish. A fairly broad consensus exists: the currently available technologies will allow for overcoming any shortage except two—time and knowledge, which is not equivalent to information.
The use of new genetic, informatic and nuclear technologies in the interest of dominating nature and society may well end up annihilating the ecosystem and humanity itself, either gradually or abruptly. A genetic accident or a nuclear war could provoke, in one moment, a catastrophe similar to the one gradually unfolding as the result of the widening hole in the ozone.
For scientific and technological development to have an authentic progressive sense, it would have to take place within the framework of new civilization?building process of the Information Age within postmodern cultures of liberation rather than domination. Only a culture of liberation could facilitate this liberating and thus progressive process. Industrial civilization and its cultures have led humanity to a point at which technological progress will not be possible unless it takes place within a context of social progress. Today, every technological advance leads to a greater degree of savagery against the ecosystem and against humanity itself. Only the establishment of cultures that are truly socially progressive could reinstate a degree of authentic progressivism to technological advances.
Liberate, Not DominateThe key error many ecological and philosophical movements critical of "progress" make today is to fail to establish the key connection between technological (civilization?building) and social (cultural) processes. Technological advances cannot lead to human progress as long as they are at the service of domination. It is not an issue of halting the advance of science and technology, but of creating a qualitatively new culture in which science and technology serve human progress.
A human relationship with nature, based on technological systems aimed not at "conquering" it but at integrating harmoniously with it, would be the very essence of a liberating civilization?building process. However, only when humanity relegates the culture of domination to prehistory and thus abandons the use of technology on behalf of social domination will the basis for progressive civilization?building be created. Without a culture of liberation, no liberating civilization?building process can be installed. Only a culture dedicated to liberate—not dominate—will allow humanity to develop an ecologically responsible civilization.
A civilization of liberation or domination. Cultures of liberation or domination. Progress or barbarism. These are the dilemmas facing humanity on the eve of the third millennium.
Redefining RationalTechnological development has made obsolete many axioms that sustained the modern paradigm:
Given the rhythm of contamination of the ecosystem and the capacity of the new technologies to exploit it, it is no longer true that the ecosystem has the capacity to naturally absorb and recycle the waste and devastation caused by our societies.
Economic growth is facing a crisis that springs from the industrial and consumption patterns on which it is based. The impoverishment of most of the world's population, product of the economic system wherein the developed countries exploit the periphery, clearly highlights this crisis.
Technological progress, far from bringing social progress with it, has already been put at the service of two world wars and a whole series of dramatic conflicts and has left humanity hanging by a fragile thread, due to the possibility of either a nuclear or a genetic accident.
Growing consumption has not made life happier even for that minority of the population able to consume with abandon at the expense of most of the planet's other inhabitants, whose lives are increasingly miserable and unhappy. The notion that "man does not live by bread alone" becomes increasingly true in highly developed technological societies subject to increasing alienation, as well as in those socialist cultures that based their political premise on satisfying basic human material needs without taking people's spiritual needs into account.
Modern reason, fed by the myth of the market and liberal democracy, or by the myth of a paternalistic, bureaucratic state, has not materialized into the kingdom of freedom, equality and fraternity that it promised would sweep away the preceding world.
The future of the ecosystem and of humanity itself are today "out of all rational control" precisely due to the zeal in continuing to apply the concepts of modern reason to a world that has already been radically changed by this Reason.
The economic and socializing functions of the patriarchal, monogamous and heterosexual family model has been thrown into crisis by the social, economic and cultural dynamic brought by the new technologies in the Information Age.
By the mid 20th century, the modern paradigm—belief in the supreme value of rational knowledge as a vehicle for progress and happiness through rational domination of the natural and social processes—was showing signs of depletion.
The new historical era in which we find ourselves demands a redefinition of what we have to date understood by rationality and reason. It calls for the redefinition of its function with respect to individual and universal duties.
Cuba: Basis for an AlternativeHumanity is going through a crucial moment in its history. Whether or not it survives will depend on its ability to socially redesign its life style.
Redesigning human societies implies basing them firmly on axioms and principles other than those of industrial civilization. It requires participatory political systems, inclusive and democratic economies, ecumenical and holistic cultures, recyclable technologies and sustainable lifestyles.
If real socialism demonstrated its inability to contribute to this new civilization?building culture, it does not logically follow that capitalism will be able to promote this new culture.
The bold search for a new paradigm that would offer an alternative to capitalism and the terminated socialism is the main challenge facing humanity today, if in fact the fascinating technological world that humanity created is to serve to make the transition to material and spiritual freedom in the coming millennium. Capitulating to this new challenge facing human imagination would be equal to accepting an inevitable fatal denouement.
In countries with autochotonous revolutions and a tradition enshrined in humanism, such as Cuba and Vietnam, a third alternative of a popular character could be found: the rectification of mimicry and the search for an alternative project to capitalism and socialism in accordance with national realities and histories.
In Cuba's case, not only does this country have the advantage of a patriotic, intellectual and spiritual tradition that guided the nation from its birth towards its emergence as an independent republic based on social justice ("with all and for the good of all," as Martí said), but it is also nourished by the humanistic roots of Latin American culture from which those today are resisting and rejecting the postmodern discourse of selfishness, demobilization and absence of all hope. Cubans are encouraged not only by the writings of their ancestors and intellectuals but also by those who have since made of humanism and redemptive utopia a current of resistance which the forces of domination have never been able to suppress.
With the myth of socialism broken as an alternative culture to make the transition towards the future, we see a resurgent fundamentalism today that converts the myths of the market and liberal democracy into the only feasible recipe. But both myths are part of an industrial civilization submerged in crisis. The new technologies that have opened the way to a new civilization?building process could bring us the future of Huxley and Orwell or the utopia of Moro, resonant in a number of ways. But our intellectual exercise can no longer be that of the utopian socialists of the past century nor that of the reformist Cartesians, although the socialists showed us the normative value of an utopian imagination and the Cartesians the utility of their political perspective at certain historical moments.
Our duty is to alert both oppressors and oppressed that our time is up in the coming century. With nearly double the number of inhabitants the planet has today by the year 2050, people will be competing for resources that are much scarcer than they are today, poverty will have taken over virtually half of humanity, and people will live in a planet far more contaminated than the one we live in today. Can so many human beings coexist peacefully with our current degrading and toxic technologies and in the context of the polarizing social structures that still define the world?
We are navigating our way through space on this shrinking planet of limited resources being consumed and contaminated at an alarming rate. We are consuming the future that we should leave to our children. What will be the scope of the ecological and social crisis our children and grandchildren will have to face? Will some 80% or 90% of the population be resigned to living with scarcity, only to contemplate the hedonism of a few? Will a country like China try to reproduce the "American dream," thus triggering an irreparable ecological catastrophe?
In this world in crisis and a convulsive and uncertain transition towards the future, what meaning—if indeed there is any—can our existence as a species and as individuals have in the infinity of the universe? Why and for what—if in fact for anything—are we here and what meaning can we give to our existence in a world that reduces some to desperation and others to the condition of docile consumers?
In this planet of such abundance and such scarcity, the three elements most lacking as this millennium comes to a close are hope, imagination and wisdom.
True wisdom is not measured by the quantity and quality of accumulated knowledge, but by the prudent use we make of it. Imagination is the key that can open the escape hatch in a context of ideas already surpassed by the reality of the end of the century. Hope in the possibility of constructing for ourselves an alternative to the future that currently awaits us—that is the spirit that can sustain us in the struggle for the future even when we can see no light in the long, dark tunnel of the present.
Our proposal is to make use of the end of this second millennium, a second historic moment of reflection that would allow us to reappropriate the wisdom, imagination and hope that are so indispensable to the survival of our species. So that our species can adapt to the circumstances it has created for itself in the last 200 years of the half million that it has walked the face of this planet Earth.
Homo sapiens survived in struggles against other hostile species, climatic changes, plagues and natural disasters, but today it must take on what could well be mortal challenges: contamination and exhaustion of the biosphere and its resources on the one hand, and increasing social conflicts on the other.
As we move closer to the divine powers—creation and destruction of different forms of life—we human beings are losing the humility so necessary to our interactions with other species and with nature itself. As we become more and more powerful, we also become less and less wise. That is our main vulnerability at the moment of confronting this new, and perhaps final, challenge of planetary adaptation.
Our ability to take on the current evolutionary challenge will be measured not genetically, but culturally. Will humanity be able to transcend a narrow vision of conflicts of interest and accept the reality that, if it doesn't reorganize its culture and civilization upon new foundations, it will be unable to meet this new challenge of adaptation? Will it be possible for homo sapiens to understand the novel nature of the challenge today and face it in time for it to react successfully?
With the end of the second millennium only five years away, the response to both questions must be hammered out within the framework of legitimate skepticism. Let these words be a humble contribution to transcending the realism of our current pessimism.