Care as central pillar of new paradigms

During these so difficult and unprecedented times, that humanity is enduring, care can become the foundation of other ways of relating among ourselves and with nature. Approaches of neurobiology, feminism, and worldviews of indigenous peoples constitute valuable contributions towards imagining and building new paradigms.

Pandemic is not a natural catastrophe and can represent a revolutionary pause

Plenty has been said and written about the pandemic from multiple perspectives—philosophical, political, economic and even religious ones—but less commented are the opinions of those who address socio-environmental causes. From such perspective, coronavirus is not the product of chance but rather an announced tragedy, another manifestation of the phenomenal crisis triggered by a civilizing model based on unlimited economic growth and compulsion towards consumption that systematically violates the integrity of Earth’s ecosystem. Devastation, deforestation, and industrial mega farms are breeding and transmission grounds for zoonotic viruses that move from animal to human being.

In the last fifty years, 300 new pathogens have emerged. Around 70% of them, including HIV, Ebola, Flu, MERS and SRAG appeared when forestall ecosystem where invaded and animals, overcrowded in industrial exploitation systems (…) thus viruses passed from animals to humans and spread new diseases such as porcine flu and bird flu, and now the coronavirus (Earth Manifesto. April 22, 2020)

Beyond diverse interpretations and multiplicity of theories, the truth is that an organism far smaller than bacteria, without life on its own as it requires the host cell to reproduce, is questioning the entire humanity. As a mirror, it places us in front of the huge disequilibria that our system of life has generated.

This can also be a time for reflection, to analyze where do we want to go as society, to review which thoughts, which feelings, which actions are no longer consistent. For example, an idea that no longer holds is the belief that we human beings are independent from what surrounds us, that we occupy a central position in the planet, we can possess, manipulate, and control at will the air, forests, water and thousands of organisms that web the fabric of life. We can no longer ignore that we humans are members of just one species, beyond the material or symbolic walls that we have created between countries, religions, cultures, ideologies. Moreover, the virus has demonstrated the tight relation that exists between human beings and the other species and ways of life that share the planet.

Time has come for acknowledging that we are facing a crossroads, we either care or perish, says Leonardo Boff. In this context, care has become a survival condition. Self-care, caring for others, and caring for nature have become an indispensable condition for the continuation of life in this planet.

Making care the pillar of the new paradigm implies deep modifications in multiple aspects of our personal and family lives, in our way of understanding and living the relationships with others, supporting political, economic, cultural, social, educational practices that threaten the maintenance of a dignified life.

Neurosciences, feminism, and the worldview of indigenous peoples represent three approaches on care that can contribute to the construction of new paradigms.

Capacity and need for caring and be cared for

Most recent findings in neurobiology and epigenetic confirm that we humans are, by nature, receptive and relational beings; neuroplasticity, mirror neurons (Rizzolati, 1996) and the importance of bonds in modelling our brain provide the biological foundation of empathy, the capacity of putting ourselves in someone else’s place. In line with this view, evolutionary anthropology highlights the ability of mutual comprehension and cooperation as fundamental elements for the survival of the human species on earth.

Daniel Siegel studies how the brain, a still immature organ when we are born, evolves from the interaction with others and how relations of care during the first years are fundamental for emotional regulation and wellbeing of people. Indifference, violence, and abuse leave traumatic marks that are very hard to overcome during adult life. For this American neurobiologist, there are no isolated brains; the entity we call mind is a flow of energy and information that circulates “within” the brain and “between brains” constituting a relational unit. With the word Yosotros[1], the process of self-organization body-mind is named, which is not limited by the skin that allows us to act in connection with others and with nature, generating health and wellbeing. Likewise, Albert Einstein states that the idea of an isolated I is an “optic illusion” that leads to all kinds of problems in the world and life.

If science that studies our genetic baggage tells us that the more isolated our sense of self is, the less happy and less healthy we are … How can we explain that after millions of years on earth human beings were not able to live together or share a territory without ones subduing others, without eradicating violence? We are still building walls, making wars, annihilating life possibilities for so many species.

Caring, a relational practice, complex, historic, contradictory

Since 1970, women philosophers and feminist movements started to discuss the problem of care as a complex and situated practice that demands effort and is the result of multiple acts, small and subtle, conscious and unconscious, that cannot be considered completely natural. They demonstrated that care is a cultural and historic construction crossed by patterns of gender, class, and ethnicity, among others. In the binary design of patriarchy—male/female, public world/private world, culture/nature, reason/emotion—care was always a women’s job, done within the private world, associated with love and unconditional commitment, invisible in the public arena and absent in national accounts.

In 1982, Carol Gillian installed the concept of ethics of care associated to women, not because this issue is exclusively theirs but because democracy and longing for justice are threatened if patriarchy survives. In a patriarchal context, care is a feminine ethics; in a democratic context, care is a human ethics.

Feminist critique introduced in the economic thought the tension between domestic work—unpaid, indispensable for the functioning of society—and extra-domestic work. By entering the market, women must conciliate responsibilities in both spheres, destining a large part of their time to caring for others. This work overload generates a double or triple working day.

Currently, development has been made in two interesting concepts:

  • Economy of care (group of goods, services, and values related with basic needs for the existence and reproduction of people)
  • Social organization of care (multi-sectorial fabric of practices, networks, and actors that interact in the provision and reception of cares) families, states, markets and communities are involved in this fabric.

In a new paradigm, it is foreseeable that states will work with all public policies transversally with the category of care, making special emphasis onto more vulnerable groups. Furthermore, it should propose specific policies for regulating relations, activities, and responsibilities of those who take care and those who receive care to eliminate structural patterns of inequality.

Good Living, an alternative idea to capitalist development

Indigenous peoples represent a little more than 6% of the world’s population, but the territories they have barely managed to retain as their own host 80% of the biodiversity of the world. It would be fundamental to recuperate historical experience of these peoples that, over centuries, have lived in harmony with nature; however, these communities are direct victims of the capitalist model that promotes indiscriminate logging of forests or burning down their territories to dedicate them to monoculture plantations or production of pasturelands for livestock.

The Good Living (Sumak Kawsay, or the splendid existence in Quechua) proposes a balanced relation with the land, combining ancestral knowledge of peoples from the Andes with philosophical, political, and cultural proposals of new Latin American movements. The horizontal living together of human beings with nature, the search for social justice, and full respect for multiculturalism are their basic principles. Austerity and self-limitation in the use of land are opposed to the concept of unlimited production and exploitation of ecosystems imposed by capitalist western modernity.

This worldview offers potential answers to many problems that are presented today by the environmental, economic, social and sanitary crises we are suffering, with concrete proposals such as environmental justice, community production at human scale, and healthy eating, among others.

Pandemic can be a bridge between times

Coronavirus made humanity stop at the edge of an abyss, but also it is showing signs that other possible worlds might be beyond the abyss. Our binary way of analyzing reality tends to confront us with absolute alternatives. We oscillate between an unwavering faith in technological solutions (the vaccine will come and everything will be solved) and adhering to apocalyptic philosophies that consider it is too late to try transforming reality.

More and more people feel in their bodies, in their hearts, and in their minds the impulse to connect in other ways with oneself, with others, with the earth, with life. It makes sense to make care the primal law, develop the intelligence to bond and relate around reciprocal trust to imagine and build renascent worlds.


[1] . T.N. Word game in Spanish, creating a neologism by mixing the words I and We.

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