Interview with Enrique Dussel: "the issue is serious and it is overall, but we are reaching limits and precisely life is once again in the near horizon because ecologically we are destroying the conditions that make life reproduction possible. The increase in temperature, the ozone gap, the plastics that invade the oceans ”.
Enrique Dussel defines himself as a "Philosopher", in addition to being a historian and theological critic. He was born on December 24, 1934 in La Paz, a small town in the province of Mendoza in Argentina. Cosmopolitan and with a restless spirit, after graduating as a Philosopher from the National University of Whose (UNC) he lived in several European countries in order to continue his studies (Spain, France and Germany, among others) and in Israel. He returned years later, having received a doctorate in Philosophy, History and studies in Religious Sciences, to settle again in his country. On October 2, 1973 - due to his ideological links with the Argentine revolutionary movements - a task force attempted against his life by placing a bomb in his own house. Since then he has lived in Mexico, where he was nationalized and has produced most of his work. Today it has more than 50 books and more than 400 articles translated into various languages, which has generated a large number of dissertations on ethical-critical and transformative thinking around the world.
The famed Philosopher, recognized as one of the creators of the Philosophy of Liberation and inspiring thousands of militants and thinkers around the world, was recently appointed to the Academy of Sciences and Arts in the United States and has received similar recognitions in all corners of the world. He received us at his home in Mexico City, to talk about various topics: life and death, health and disease, climate change and possible destinations not only in Latin America but in the world and humanity in general. We present the exceptional talk below.
Q: In your 1998 Ethics of Liberation, you quote Humberto Maturana. The famous Chilean biologist often comments that “it is not that there is something like“ life ”in the abstract sense, or as an entelechy, but that there are autopoietic living beings”. What do you think of such a statement?
ED: Well really what Maturana proposes has a lot to do with ethics as I conceive it. Life is autopoietic. Plants and animals reproduce life in a process like anti-entropic because they get the most out of the least. The physical, astronomical world is wasting energy and degrading. Instead, life is like an anti-entropic process because they create new things, higher qualitative stages. Around the human, life has achieved its greatest complexity and an undefined development towards the future. This is if we change the uses of civilization, which has already begun a geometrically developed entropic process that will lead to the extinction of the human species. Life has already killed more than ninety percent of the living 5 times and the last was the stage of the dinosaurs. We are in the fifth stage but the Anthropocene - the stage of the human being - seems to be ending if we follow the path we have undertaken. We are going to destroy human life and also much of the life that is parasitic on our life. Therefore, we are perhaps beginning to predict a sixth stage of life, which will not be the end of life, since from cockroaches and mice and other types of insects and small animals it is possible that the next stage of life will emerge where the Homo Sapiens will have disappeared because a suicidal process took place. We are on the subject of life and death.
And regarding the subject of life, central to the Philosophy of Liberation, could you offer us any definition of "human life" in particular?
- Death and life we are talking about is not the concept of life, nor the good life, but actually the fact of living and this does not need definition. A child knows very well if one shows figurines: a stone, a house, a tree and a flower to a 4-year-old boy and says: let's see, tell me which figurines are of living beings. He doesn't miss one, he knows what a living being is. Life is the starting point of everything human. Politics has to do with the affirmation of life. The economy has to do with the affirmation of life. We can say that life is the absolute and universal condition of everything that the human being does. If we kill the conditions that allow life to reproduce and grow then it is a bad act, and it is a good act if it allows the reproduction and growth of life. But of course, sometimes some exploit others and also live off others. That would be economic injustice for example but it is still a matter of the affirmation or denial of life. The bad would be a necrophiliac, the one who loves death. And biophile would be the one who loves life.
The Western medical conception thinks of "life" of the human being in a dualistic sense, the body (soma) on the one hand and the mind (psyche) on the other, each one separately with their respective "symptoms" and "ailments". Furthermore, it isolates it from its historical, social, cultural, political and philosophical context. Do you think that modern medicine should modify such an anthropology of Greek-Cartesian roots and think of the human being from another perspective?
- Medicine, like all sciences, directly touches the subject of life. It is the art of healing, that is, avoiding disease to prolong life. This should be the essence of medicine. But since the exercise of the affirmation of life occurs in ideological, political, economic and other structures, we have to see that medicine itself first responds to a concept of life. Among the Greeks the body was life. The soul gave life to the body but medicine somewhat healed the body. Of course he said: a healthy mind in a healthy body. But the mind was not the proper object of medicine but rather the body. And many times the current medicine, due to the mode of intervention, also continues to think that the fundamental issue is the suffering corporality -as a disease- that supposes an unfulfilled life. And then I could define medicine as a science, an institution and instruments that affirm life and fight against disease. But in turn, the disease is also defined in another way in history. In the Middle Ages it was thought that a sick person could be subjected to a demonic action. Then an exorcism of the demon was done to heal someone because evil was inhabited by an evil spirit. We are rather going towards a more material vision. I do not say corporal because that is different.
What do you think are the factors and interests that determine the notions of Disease and Health today?
- There is a great influence of pharmacology. Drugs are produced that are produced by an industry that heals disease with sometimes violent intervention from the doctor. Now what we do not think many times is that these drugs form a system of transnationals - for example Bayer - that produce not only transgenic seed grains but also drugs. But being a capitalist transnational corporation, its underlying purpose is to make a profit. So I could say that pharmacology is something like the technique by which capital makes profit through the exploitation of disease. Thus, the poor cannot buy the most exquisite medicines to be able to heal the new diseases that occur. It means then that there is also an economic problem that determines the use of medicine and the doctor is in a certain way an instrument of a great system of exploitation of disease.
We should start to see how that works. Today a doctor usually charges a visit whatever it costs or works for a clinic. Laín Entralgo who was a Spanish doctor has a history of medicine. Since when does a doctor collect privately from a sick client? Since when and why did you do it? Did that happen in all cultures? Did that happen beyond the Middle Ages? Since when is the service of a Doctor economically quantified?
You were Rector of the UACM and you are a University Professor. What is the role of University training and the production of knowledge on these issues?
- The doctor's service works to prevent illness. And therefore the doctor becomes an instrument of a system. Anatomy, physiology, and a number of parts of medical science are studied in the School of Medicine to fight disease. But the whole system of exploitation of the disease is not studied. That would already be metaphysics, or ethics, and it seems that it does not correspond to Medicine. But it is just the issue. The doctor is an instrument of capital, and that is why there is a medicine for the upper classes that can pay and a “mass medicine” for those who cannot pay, who of course die sooner even though life has grown in terms of its duration. quantitative.
Which in turn creates another problem, suddenly the earth becomes too small for an expansion of the Homo species. The Earth was no longer made for that number of people, we began to be too many. Of course, the way in which the issue is resolved today is that the poor die. Actually, the rational thing would be not to conceive so many new born so that we would lower the demography and the earth would grow again. There are political and economic situations that determine Medicine and it sometimes does not capture all that complexity. That is why the ethical issue in medicine and in the training of health professionals is to go back to the origin. Affirming the life of the human being and not so much exploiting the disease that may seem the same but it is not the same because the exploitation of the disease becomes increasingly expensive for those who face the last days of life. But at the same time the economic system produces poor people who die before their time because they cannot really afford that kind of medicine. Of course, you have to somehow socialize Medicine. It means that there is a problem of injustice in the fight against the disease.
How could the Western-modern discourse in the field of Health be decolonized - conditioned as already mentioned by strong economic interests - from the perspective of the popular majorities and from the perspective of the Philosophy of Liberation?
For the Philosophy of Liberation, the first ethical principle valid for all human actions and also for medicine would be to deal with affirming life and effectively prolonging it in time in a happy way. That is the material principle of ethics. The second principle is how we will affirm life and here comes the consensus, the political organization that is formulated in a democratic principle. It is not a matter that the dictator says how life is affirmed, but rather that the people can define how they are going to distribute that life. And then the third principle is that of feasibility, that is to say that what has been decided on how to affirm life is possible. Those three principles in Medicine work very well, but as we said there is injustice. There we have a number of problems that guide a reflection on the transformation of the health system: that it is the affirmation of life and the fight against disease but within a fair distribution of the means to reach those ends.
This also supposes a state that deals with health as a human right and that creates the instruments so that medicine really reaches people as it should be. The issue is that it is necessary to change the structures not only of medicine but also of the economy, where the aim would no longer be to increase the rate of profit but to increase the quality of life. There is a dilemma between increased profit and increased quality of life, happiness. In Argentina there is a saying that says that a thief approaches and tells someone: the bag or life. The bag would be money and life well, I shoot it. But if we take the proposal seriously, it would be either the Wall Street stock market or human life. The world system puts one in our heads. Then suddenly medicine is linked to the economy but at the same time the economy is linked to politics because changing the economic system today involves very strong political measures.
This reality supposes a new theory and of course one can also say an ethic, but it is not an ethic of values or an ethic of individual honesty to say that I am good. Nerd. It has to be an ethic really thought from the real structures. Who is going to invest a peso if he does not get more annual percentage than if he invested it in something else? Rationality is the increase in the rate of profit, that is real. And whoever does not do that is melted, and if it is founded, then the company that had closes and those who worked in that company are left without work. So the issue is serious and it is overall, but we are reaching limits and precisely life is once again in the near Horizon because ecologically we are destroying the conditions that make life reproduction possible. The increase in temperature, the ozone gap, the plastics that invade the oceans. Now even the richest super millionaire on Wall Street is also going to breathe polluted air, drink plastic, and die like the last poor man. Sure, not so fast. The poor will die first, but so will the others. And also when the poor die, what are the others going to do? We are facing an apocalyptic time, at the end of time in a half mythical sense. Because there is not much future for humanity if it continues as it is and in that already then medicine goes to ecology. Ecology is transformed like the medicine that now treats the disease of the earth that is ecological destruction. That is the great disease. And how then to ensure that life continues for the next generations. That is why the sixteen-year-old Swedish girl who addressed an assembly of scientists the other day is ethically but rationally moving. They were like a thousand and the little girl in very good English says we future generations are asking her to change the order or we are going to die. And when he said that to the little girl the tear came out. Then they said: this is new. There had never been a rebellion of children in history. But not with jokes, but at the heart of the matter: they are going to destroy the Earth and we are going to be the victims. This supposes a strong ethics and a redefinition of Medicine as well.
How do you evaluate the reality of Latin America in light of these debates? What impact could the irruption of the AMLO government have in Mexico and what things are at stake in Argentina's presidential election at the end of the year?
- Mexico today is in the middle of a political and economic battle. Because if it takes a certain measure, capital is withdrawn, the currency goes down, the country goes into crisis and it is a hecatomb. Politics has to see how it handles the economic issue. It is not easy today to say we are going to do what Lenin did, a state where the producers are owners of the company and defines the socialism of the 20th century. That is not so easy, today capital is very organized and already knows the experience and knows how to fight against them.
At the beginning of this century there was what we call a political spring. I wrote my little book "20 Politics Theses" saying that after 500 years we are living a political spring with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, the piqueteros, the landless, the cocaleros. Also with the governments of Ecuador with Correa, Bolivia with Evo Morales, Guatemala, the Porto Alegre World Forum. Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Lula in Brazil. Well, it seemed that we were in a new stage. And in a few years, Raff! I think there were two steps forward and one step back. But it's not just us, the US was distracted by the Middle East wanting to suck up all the oil and carrying out the orders of Zionism. Not from Israel, but from Zionism shattering everything that could be a danger to Israel. And then he got into the Middle East, and he was defeated! Because he didn't win any battle and now he goes out and takes his soldiers out of Iraq and he hasn't won the battle. In Syria either. It has destroyed Libya, but it has not conquered it. Then he said well, we already made enough trouble, let's get back to our business. And unfortunately he returns to Latin America and we have the Empire in front of us as always. It has set us back, and always with new methods. Before it was military dictatorships, now it has managed to corrupt the judicial system. And now the coups d'état are judicial, who would have thought it !? Lula is imprisoned, Cristina Kirchner is also wanted to be imprisoned. Well, we'll have to see how we clean up the legal system. There has been a step backwards, but it has also been disastrous for Neoliberalism. Macri is a disaster, Bolsonaro to speak! Another Trump. And this has no solution, because they are delivered to the US. And the US does not have any co-responsibility and since they are delivered it exploits them better. They do not have a medium-term doctrine. But now comes immigration from Central America. That the USA produced it! They have made a dictatorship in El Salvador. The pineapple from Costa Rica has a terrible price. They pay very low the value of bananas in Guatemala. So poverty comes as immigration.
We had had a small triumph, but now the right wing is supported by the United States, especially by hitting Venezuela, making us believe that Venezuela has not solved anything. But the US itself cut Venezuela's toilet paper. What to say medicines. And they attribute it to Chavismo, but the real cause is the Empire's blockade against a small country that cannot defend itself.
So we have a US that is repositioning itself and a Trump that is increasingly absurd but that many follow because there is a right-wing common sense. But it has also lost hegemony in the hands of China. So we are in the middle of a serious political crisis and we will have to act with great intelligence. A Russian or Cuban revolution is not possible. It is how we carry out a new possibility in this hardcover of the United States and that is why something very important is being played in Mexico, which is the possibility of resisting without orthodoxy because here socialist orthodoxy no longer works. There is no Socialism of the XXI Century here, what will there be ?! Rather, it would be a weak Neoliberalism, which would already be very good. Feasibility becomes essential and the defense of one's own is the fruit of great political intelligence. Well, that's what López Obrador is showing today. But it has many internal problems: criminality, the drugs that the North American market has, the slaughter for the arms that the United States exports. So the cause of Mexico's problems is the US, and they can't even be reminded of this because they become hysterical. But Mr. Trump does not think that the problem is that all Americans are drugged, they are the largest market for drug consumption. And it is because they are a dissatisfied people.
The situation is extremely complicated and requires a political philosophy of great critical realism. With a very strong ethic on the one hand, and on the other of a great intelligence to be able to check the North American monster. Now it is a very important factor in Latin America because Mexico had always played in favor of the United States. It is fundamental due to the relevance of Mexico and its size on the continent, and I believe that Macri will fall in Argentina and Bolsonaro will also fall when he touches it. A revolutionary government will not rise, a government will rise that will change the gigantic gaps that Macri has left. People are becoming aware that the situation is difficult and that you have to compromise. We are in the fight for the Second Emancipation. The first was in 1810, and now we are in the second. José Martí said it, and also José Carlos Mariategui. And how to fight if not opening up militarily to Russia and economically to China? At least to play third place, neither one nor the other. The situation is very difficult but history continues and the peoples will continue to fight.
I say: I am not optimistic, but I do not lose Hope. When everyone said this is a catastrophe, the progressive stage of Latin America ended, I said that it was a stage in which progressivism received a deserved blow because it also did not take care of corruption and other things. Nor was a theory developed, as Frei Betto points out. Well, now you have to do self-criticism, equip yourself and move slowly. The people learn by suffering, there is no other. It is not for classes. We theorists can formulate to clarify the causes of that suffering and give it a path, but the sufferer has the most open intelligence to understand who is who. As long as the media does not misrepresent all the categories of interpretation and make you interpret reality the other way around. But in that, the cell phone networks themselves are creating a parallel mediocracy that begins to function stronger. People don't swallow everything so easily, but it's still very strong. It would be expected that if Macri falls, Clarín ends forever and they will all be imprisoned once and for all. But if they continue to want to keep them, they will have to continue to suffer.
It is the long road of History. Only now we are already seeing the process, the Americans or Europeans no longer teach us. We have our own vision and we can even teach them how to fight the empire. The Europeans themselves are clueless. They lived in the shadow of the United States and the tree moved and now they are in the sun and they have to start doing things and they realize that they are ill prepared. And in that we have more allies. I have Hope, I am not optimistic.
About the authors:
Manuel Fonseca -Doctor. Director of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of La Plata. Director of the "Ramón Carrillo" Free Health Chair of the UNLP.
Omar Garcia Corona -Doctor of Philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Member of the Association of Philosophy and Liberation (AFyL México).
Facundo Tineo - Doctor. Professor at the National University of Mar del Plata.