Edgar Morin defines a crisis as an event that reveals what had remained invisible, and through such a revelation provokes change. Prompted by the multifaceted crisis of the pandemic, the Spanish media are engaging in a debate about how to live on Planet Earth by bringing the voices of various Hispanic and European intellectuals into the fold. All these voices attempt to understand the virus in the context of our economic systems, cultures, and environments. They search for the origins of our current problems in history, consider future scenarios, and put together a list of necessary changes to sustain social life on Earth.
The Mexican economist Enrique Leff writes that “the virus carries a question about life” and asserts that in planetary politics the instinct of life should overcome the instinct of death (131). Leff suggests that if Camus’ Plague was an allegory of Nazism, today’s pandemic is an allegory of capitalism. He reminds his readers that indigenous people were destroyed by plagues, but that those plagues were brought by the colonizers and colonization. In other words, that there was a particular relationship between people and the world that gave rise to the apocalyptic epidemics of the 17th century. In Leff’s analysis, this relationship, having been responsible for reducing the population of the Americas by 80% in just one hundred years, was defined as the archetype of Conquest.
The Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar similarly sees the origins of the current crisis in the Spanish conquest of the Americas: “The pandemic …shows us the therapeutic possibility to stop behaving like conquerors and begin behaving like noble and humble gardeners of Mother-Earth.” In “The Cruel Pedagogy of the Virus”, the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls for us to urgently rethink our relationships with the environment and he announces that our future begins now. In the same vein, Machado Aráoz claims that the pandemic “has put into question our civilizational model”, and he suggests in order to recover democracy, we first need to heal the Earth.
Various future scenarios are considered by these theorists. Philosopher Frederic Neyrat warns against eco-fascism: “The most likely kind of eco-fascism would then be the one that would try to save the ruling class by eliminating the rest of the population, if necessary, reduced to the minimum necessary for the technical maintenance of capitalist technologies still capable of functioning” (np). In the nightmare of eco-fascism, the discourse of alliance with the decaying planet becomes an excuse for yet another stage of politics of triage where elites save themselves at the expense of all those who will have to die to save “civilization.” The Argentinian anthropologist Gaston Gordillo writes: “Any collective attempt to create a future not defined by a planetary ruination, in this regard, has to face that the un-doing of imperial and capitalist relations will require the reinvention of the metropolis as a collective constellation that does not depend for its existence on the creation of sacrifice zones” (np).
While finding a politics that avoids sacrifice zones has been the macro-challenge, various sacrifice zones take their economies into their own hands to build resilience and resist the global system of triage on a micro-scale. These local grassroots transformations have adopted diverse names: alternative or solidarity economies based on local social currencies, time banks, cooperatives (including P2P cooperative networks), Towns in Transition, slow cities, ecovillages, and social enterprises. Their emergence of these alternatives is often prompted by problems resulting from the triage of the neoliberal market, such as unemployment, homelessness, and contaminated or destroyed ecosystems. The grassroots projects of these alternative economies incorporate the unemployed, provide opportunities for the excluded, clean polluted areas, and restore destroyed habitats. They also attempt to reestablish an organic model of democracy based on social deliberations where all the stakeholders participate and vote, and where the interests of the nonhumans are often also considered. In these initiatives, high levels of cooperation, postulated equality, and a fair gender division of labor and domestic care are the contributions offered by feminist economics.
In these local alternative economies, like in Escobar’s writing, the figure of the gardener replaces the figure of the conqueror, and urban gardens begin to form a significant part of city life. These gardens are spaces where herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers are substituted with a mixture of old and new bio-mimetic solutions designed by permaculture and agroecology. The culture of communal gardening, cooperation, and exchange of care based on local currencies establishes bonds in the communities and slow down the pace of life. Slowing down is not only a result of gardening, but rather it is an important feature of the degrowth or steady-state economic design that most of these alternative movements see as most compatible with their focus. Slowing down allows for reflection on how to privilege the community needs rather than incrementing productivity and efficiency for their own sake. The emblematic feature of Slow Cities is the elimination of food production and transportation technologies that frame life around the goal of efficiency. The alternative communities are often conceived as interspecies, caring not only for the garden plants, but also for the denizen animals and wild ecosystems neighboring urban spaces.
The Spanish writer and internet activist Manuel Casal Lodeiro stresses the significance of the conception of the human as integrated into nature, as an idea that is emerging in these alternative economies. These movements shape humans who know that they are ecodependent and interdependent (Jorge Riechmann). Inspired by the observation that rural areas resist better the spread of the coronavirus, Casal Lodeiro proposes to rethink and recreate the rural cultures of life. He suggests protecting local seeds, biodiversity, and forests, while moving away from monocrops. At the same time, however, he stresses the significance of “work online with the criteria of energetic rationality in all the professions where it is possible”. In the future society, science and technology needs to weave seamlessly into the eco-social tissues. The gardener of the future needs to have the technological expertise of a hacker to refocus technologies toward the sustainability of life.