Monday, November 30, 2015

Indigenous Communality: The Subversive Power of Cooperation

The First International Congress on Communality took place October 26-29, 2015. In this article, Mexico ethno-ecologist Victor M. Toledo provides a unique, comparative review not just of the Mesoamerican roots and current thinking of notable indigenous thinkers, but he sets the issue against Western European intellectual history going back to Charles Darwin.
La Jornada: Victor M. Toledo*

These days a very special event organized by the Benemérita Autonomous University of Puebla [Mexico] and many institutions will be held. It is the First International Congress on Communality, a topic that shakes up the system from the outset.

Above all, the Congress is a well-earned tribute to that group of Oaxaca indigenous intellectuals, who in recent decades have lectured and reflected on the legacy of their original cultures. The theme of the Congress is about a current of Mesoamerican thought that after five centuries of marginalization not only remains valid, but will become critical in the face of the crisis of modern industrial civilization. The Congress deals with the philosophical, ethical and political reflections of such notable indigenous thinkers as Floriberto Díaz, Benjamín Maldonado, Adelphus Regino, Mario Enrique Fuente, but especially Jaime Martínez-Luna, who has developed this concept in detail in his book This They Call Communality (transl.), Eso que llaman comunalidad (2009).

The Congress brings together some 500 participants from a dozen countries who will attend 315 presentations in 60 workshops and who together will apply the idea of ​​communality to current situations, to citizen resistance, and the construction of social and civilizational alternatives from a country and a world in crisis. It is no exaggeration to say that the concept of communality is in some ways the Mesoamerican counterpart (and perfect complement) to the Andean idea of ​​buen vivir, good living.

The future of Latin America is hence doubly illuminated, because it confirms that the solution to the crisis caused by neocolonialism and neoliberalism is feasible and must be built by bringing in as basic principles the values ​​of original, traditional cultures. As is seen, solutions will not come from the industrial and developed north, but from the deep, tropical, communal and ecological south, since there is no European solution to the crisis of modernity (O. Fals-Borda, B. De Sousa-Santos). It is a theme defended and demonstrated in my recent book Ecocidio en México, la batalla final es por la vida [Ecocide in Mexico: The Final Battle Is for Life].

Of the many definitions of communality, I prefer the one by Jaime Martínez-Luna for its enormous earthy strength and strong rebellious stance:
"We are communality, the opposite of individuality; we are communal territory, not private property; we are for sharing, not competition; we are polytheistic, not monotheistic. We are for barter, not business; diversity, not equality, even though we are oppressed in the name of equality. We are interdependent, not free. We have authorities, not monarchies. Even as the imperial forces have been based on the law and used violence to subdue us, we rest in the law and in harmony to reply, to announce what we love and who we want to be [see Indigenous Community and Communality]."
Communality is the ideology, thought and action that has allowed original communities to address and resolve challenges and problems both historical and current. Cooperation, altruism, solidarity [support], and ​​reciprocity [mutual obligation] are values that suffuse communality, dictating its future and relationship with the natural world. All in contrast to values imposed by industrial modernity, which are based on individualism, competition, the desire for power and self-interest.

Communality, then, is the secret formula of the principal resistance movements that today are confronting, arresting and overcoming the destructive forces of neoliberal modernization:
In times of high crisis, communality has even arrived in the cities, like the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City. In the modern, industrial world it takes the form of cooperatives, which are antithetical to the businesses and corporations that now dominate globally.

There is yet another dimension more of a historical and even evolutionary nature that directs reflections arising from the tangled mountains of northern Oaxaca, enclaves of non-modernity, to the universal scenarios of scientific discussion and the current political debate. Publication of Charles Darwin's work in the nineteenth century led to a controversy that is alive today:
Is the human being an individual by nature individualistic and competitive, or altruistic and cooperative? 
In full harmony with the deployment of capitalism, social Darwinism gave as scientific truth that human beings were born to compete and win in the bloody struggle for life. Pior Kropotkin was one of the first to question this idea by offering evidence of the role of mutual support in animal societies. Kropotkin was followed by the sociobiology of Edward O. Wilson and, more recently, a series of ethnographic, palaeontological, psychological, mathematical and bioevolutionary works that show that the human being is, for both genetic and cultural reasons, essentially cooperative. Among these works, the following stand out: The Evolution of Cooperation (1984) by R. Axelrod; Hierarchy in the Forest (2001) by Charles Boehm; and the monumental book by S. Bowles and H. Gintis, A Cooperative Species (2011).

So today we can declare that the triumph of neoliberal modernity and its essence, corporate capitalism, is not only morally impossible, but scientifically unviable. The modern world that seeks to impose itself—a fraction of 300 years against the supremely long journey of human history—is unnatural and a step backward. Cooperation is the kryptonite of the modern Superman. Communalism will not only reemerge, but it will be the key to the future of the species. Spanish original

*Víctor M. Toledo, Mexican biologist with Ph.D. from National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), has combined his scientific training with studies in economic policies, agrarian cultures and rural sociology. Toledo is an expert in ethno-ecology whose studies and theoretical contributions regarding the relations between indigenous cultures and the natural world enjoy international recognition. See also VME Page: Victor M. Toledo, Biologist, Ethnoecologist: Passionate for Life

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