Monday, May 6, 2013

Liber-action: an action that liberates

Leonardo Boff
Earthcharter Commission

Liberty is more than a faculty of the human being, the faculty of being able to choose, to have free will. Liberty is part of the essence of the human being. A slave, even without the ability to choose, does not stop being in essence a free human being. A slave can resist, can refuse, even rebel, and accept death. No one can take that liberty from a slave.

Among the many definitions of liberty, I believe this is to me the most correct: Liberty is the capacity for self-determination.

All of us are born within a group of determinates: our ethnic group, social class, within a world already built and always being built. They are our determinates. No one is free of some dependency. It can be oppression, such as slave labor or salaried work. A type of liberty is exercised by struggling against this: the liberty of rejecting this situation. It is the struggle for in-dependence and autonomy. One self-determines: accepts the determinates, but only to overcome and to be free of, to be free from, them.

But there is yet another meaning of liberty as self-determination: it is a strength that is internal, belonging only to that person, which allows one to be free to, to build one's own life, to help transform the conditions of work and to create another type of enterprise where it is less difficult to be free from and to. Here is seen the singularity of the human being, the builder of one's own self, beyond the surrounding determinations. Liberty is a liber-action, this is, an autonomous action that creates the liberty that was once captive, or absent.

These two types of liberty have a personal, a social, and a global expression.

At the personal level, after the gift of life, liberty is the most precious gift we have: to be capable of self expression, of coming and going, of building our own vision of things, of organizing our lives, work and family to our taste and to choose our political representatives. The greatest oppression is to be deprived of this liberty.

At the social level, it shows its two faces: liberty as independence and as autonomy. The countries from Latin America and the Caribbean were independent from the colonizers, but that still did not bring autonomy and liberation. They remained dependant on the national elites, that maintained the bonds of domination. With resistance, protest, and organizing by the oppressed, a process of liberation was created, that, when victorious, gave autonomy to the popular classes, the liberty to organize another type of politics, one that benefits those who were always excluded. This happened in Latin America, beginning with the end of the military dictatorships that represented the interests of the national and international elites. A process of liberation to is also happening, not yet completed, but it is advancing a democracy born from below, and of a popular nature.

We also now need a double liberation: from economic-financial globalization, which exploits nature and the marginalized countries all over the world, and which is dominated by a group of large companies, that are stronger than most countries. And a liberation towards a world government arising from this globalization in order to confront global problems such as climate change, water scarcity and the hunger of millions and millions of people. Absent such a collegial global government, we run the risk of a bifurcation of humanity between those who eat and those who do not, or who lack many necessities.

Finally, there is now an urgent need for a special type of liberty from, and liberty for. We live in the anthropocene geological era. This means that the greatest risk is not a low flying meteor, but the irresponsible and eco-murderous activity of human beings (anthropos). The prevailing system of capitalist production is destroying the Earth, and has created the conditions for the destruction of the civilization. Either we change, or we will face an abyss. We need to be free from this bio- and eco-cidal system, that threatens everything, in order to accumulate, and consume, more and more.

We also need a liberty to: liberty to teach alternatives that guarantee the production of what is necessary and dignified for us and for the entire community of life. This is being sought and demonstrated by the good living of the Andean cultures, by eco-agriculture, by ecological family agriculture, by the index of happiness of society and by other aspects that respect the cycles of life. We want a bio-civilization.

As Christians we must also liberate the faith from fundamentalists visions, from authoritarian and machista ecclesiastical structures, so as to accomplish a liberty for women to be priests, for the lay to be able to decide the destinies of their community, together with the clergy, and for those who have a different sexual orientation. We need a Church that, together with other spiritual paths, helps educate humanity to respect the limits of the Land and to venerate Mother Earth, who provides us with everything. Let us hope that Pope Francis honors the legacy of Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived a great liberty from the traditions and for new forms of relating to nature and with the poor.

The struggle for liberty never ends, because it is never bestowed, but conquered, through an endless process of liber-action.

Leonardo Boff
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,

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