The paradigm of care

Raffaella Bollini

[Español] In the last days on the media has been given prominence to a recent discovery: on the contrary of what for a long time has been believed, Neanderthal women were hunters as well as men, and artists.

The ancient and more and more pressing question returns: when did the human being begin to build the hierarchy that governs the world, the one that puts the man above the woman, the dominant man above the dominated, the human being above nature? Where does our destructive lust for power and domination stem from, which is driving us straight into ecocide and suicide?

Experts argue about when it happened, but one thing we can say with certainty: we are the only living beings who have been able and willing to refuse to be part of the chain of life that binds all living things on the planet: instead of being part of it and accepting to be a link of it, we put it at our service.

The sophisticated and complex mechanisms of the planet are all oriented to the reproduction of life itself and of the balance that allows it. We have repudiated this balance.

Nature has throughout history become functional only to our species. It became a thing and then it became a commodity – inanimate, exchangeable and saleable, a property of humans, or rather to the strongest of humans.

We removed ourselves from the chain and balance of life, and performed a disruptive act of domination. Domination of men over nature and other human beings. Domination over women, who have so much power in nature.

Power, separation of life forms, patriarchy and construction of a hierarchy functional to domination go together and hand in hand, in human history – in all human history, well before the capitalist system. With exceptions and resistances, of course. Even great ones. And all defeated.

In the modern era, this has been radicalized in the transitions from mercantile capitalism to industrialization to neoliberal globalization, and even in the socialist experiences that have become government and state.

Now, we have arrived at a crossroads in human destiny on earth: we can continue following the path that has brought us here, believing ourselves the masters of the world, continuing to saw off the branch on which we stand.

We can go on like this, allowing the logic of domination not to recognize the value of life nor of nature nor of the majority of the human species – with the peak of inequality and exclusion becoming more extreme every day.

Or we change road but really – questioning the meaning of our being in the world in a profound and total way. The pandemic has told us that no matter how hard we have tried to get out of it, we are still only one component of the chain of life on the planet, and that we depend on the health of the planet’s life. It told us that we are interdependent – to stay safe, all life on the planet must be safe.

This is why the paradigm of care is truly and utterly revolutionary. It re-establishes the absolute primacy of the physical and social reproduction of life on earth over the production of commodities. It puts back at the center the care of all life and the relationships that bind it, instead of domination. It breaks down hierarchies and rebuilds unity and interdependence between the destiny of humans, all living things, the land and the planet.

It puts us back where we belong, within the chain of life and within the dimension of community, which is made up of humans, non-human living beings, natural elements – water, land, sea, vegetation – as well as of the identities and cultures produced by the interrelationship between all these elements.

It saves women from the condemnation of caring, because all of society is about caring and nurturing ourselves, others, and the planet. If we are able to impose this revolution, we are offered a way out of the culture of extermination.

It is revolutionary, the paradigm of care, and so it will not assert itself without conflict. But it is the only conflict worth practicing. It will certainly not be easy.

In the time punctuated by climate collapse, the time for necessary change is not infinite. The commitment to accelerate it is part of this generation’s historical responsibility, unlike those of past generations.

And now we are also aware that the means must be adequate to the ends, and therefore the forms of struggle cannot include forms of domination and oppression.

So, how do we reconcile the long times of democracy with the urgency of the radical change needed? This is the great dilemma of these unprecedented times.

Certainly, we need to forcefully reinsert other knowledge into political thought, denying the monopoly of economic thought, and rebuild a holistic thought that includes history, anthropology, ethology, biology, psychology, educational and relational knowledge, feminist and eco-feminist thought.

The spheres of ethics, emotions, feelings and spirituality must be recovered from politics, because we and nature are not just matter – and the search for meaning is not compressible. We need non-western, peripheral, ancestral and original thought and practices, because we must have the courage to de-colonize our thinking.

We need to give a greater cultural value and political dimension to all social, relational and productive practices that care and take care of the world, the planet, the commons, the sick society, the excluded. And make sure that alternative and self-management practices assume, and are recognized, in their constituent value of a new society.

We have to mend all the threads that make up the fabric of natural and social life of which each individuality is a part, restoring meaning to our being in the world, reuniting the false separation of individual and collective needs, reuniting the self with the we.

Interdependence instead of self-sufficiency. Human, social and ecological security instead of selfish and excluding security. Love instead of hate. And difference as the basis of a full, not homologating, equality. It is a real revolution, deep, anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, that of care. And it can save us.

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