Every individual has the right to life, liberty and security of person. (Art. 3. Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
The dominant social groups persevere in their work of destruction of the life of the Earth and exclusion of the rights to life of all the inhabitants of the Earth, in the name of their interests and their domination. They claim that their domination and its devastating effects, unacceptable, are justified by their scientific and technological capacities (knowledge, skills…) acquired since the last century. These would have freed humans from the temporal and spatial constraints which, according to them, blocked people ingenuity and action. The only logic that guides them is their own life and survival, their power, and their enrichment.
The inadmissible is the result of a triple mixture of dominants’ irresponsibility, incompetence, incapability.
Since the 1970s, the dominant ones knew. The planet’s resources were going to run out if economic growth continued at the prevailing rate and way. Then they were warned that the devastation caused by the negative impact of economic growth on the global climate and environment and biodiversity would become the major problem for the life of the Earth. Nothing was done. They denied and rejected the evidence, the knowledge. Today, the Earth is burning everywhere, the polar ice caps and mountain glaciers are disappearing, the sea level has risen by more than one meter, water good for human use is becoming increasingly scarce. The reduction of biodiversity is galloping. But, the dominants do not stop the destruction of the life of the planet because the global PIL continues to grow!
On July 23 this year, the G20 failed to agree on the principle of limiting the increase in the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere to 1.5 degrees by 2050. They are irresponsible.
The same conclusion applies to the subject of wars. The dominant ones know it: wars do not solve any conflict, but they increase the reasons for conflicts all over the world (recent textbook cases: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine…). They know that spending 2 trillion dollars on armaments is criminal because it increases the insecurity of the world. The powerful of the United States know that their thousand military bases abroad are not a factor of peace, but an instrument of domination at their service. The same goes for NATO. The dominant economic groups don’t care about this because the military business is the third main source of wealth creation (for the rich), after the computer /AI and pharmaceutical industries.
The dominant ones consider themselves responsible only for their interests, powers, and survival. In India, they were able to build the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in 2017 at a cost of more than $1.7 billion and annual maintenance of $1 billion, but they did not want to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to prevent the death of hundreds of thousands of people by Covid-19 in 2020-21 due to lack of oxygen tanks!
The reality is that while claiming the techno-economic monopoly and the political-scientific leadership of the “global” response based on the commitment “no one will be left behind”, less than two years after the beginning of the contagion, more than 60% of the population of the so-called “developed” (rich) countries of the world has been vaccinated while only between 1 and 3% of the population of the low-income countries has been vaccinated. For billions of people in the world, vaccination will not reach the minimum level of herd immunity until 2024, while the admitted profits of the large American and Western multinational companies have already exceeded 50 billion.
Everyone knows that if Western private companies hold patents on vaccines, there will be no global health justice or global health security for all. Inequalities in the right to health between rich and poor will become more dramatic. And the dependence of billions of human beings on the science and technology of the dominants and their “help” will only add to the ridiculousness of the situation.
Finally, since the beginning of the 1970s, the dominant powers have declared through their key financial institution – the World Bank – that their social objective was to reduce to zero by the year 2000 the number of people with an income of less than one dollar a day (the so-called extreme poverty line). At the time, the figure was about 1 billion people. Today the threshold is 1.90 dollars. The World Bank itself recognizes that it will be difficult to reduce the almost 1 billion people still living in extreme poverty to zero by 2030! This figure is also “relatively low” because it considers the official data provided by China (which declares that there are no more poor people in the country!) and India (which reports a reduction of several hundred million extremely poor).
Beyond the figures, it is irresponsible to be satisfied with the reduction of extreme poverty when the major fact of the last 20 years is the increase of relative poverty and income inequalities: a handful of billionaires (8 for the precision) own the same monetary wealth as half of the world’s poorest population (i.e., 3.6 billion people); the 1% of the world’s population owns and controls 90% of the world’s wealth.
It is clear: the dominant system considers itself irresponsible for the life and security of all the inhabitants of the Earth. Therefore, it acts illegally, disregarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (although not very binding).
One of the structural reasons for the irresponsibility of the dominant classes is their vision of life and the world, which is essentially mercantile, productive, techno-scientific, subservient to efficiency, conquering, elitist, violent. This has led them to instrumental conceptions and practices of knowledge.
The dominant ones have attributed to knowledge purposes and values linked, on the one hand, to utility in relation to the material and economic existential needs of the solvent social groups and, on the other hand, to power in relation to the principles of survival and political and social freedom in a world seen as an immense, open field of tensions and conflicts. In this world, evil is given priority over good. Hence a knowledge that is all turned towards the exterior according to the logic of competitive relations (think of the major influence played by meritocracy and, therefore, by the inequality between humans, social groups, peoples) and of battle (think of the omnipresent ideology of competitiveness that the dominants have made their gospel since the 1970s).
The dominants aim at producing, using and disseminating useful and power-generating knowledge and skills for their private activities, their position and control of markets, and the growth of their ROI (Return On Investment). They do not seek to become competent in safeguarding and promoting the right to health for all. The obstinate (hypocritical and intolerable) refusal of American and European companies to abolish patents on life expresses, in a way that is “coherent with their conception of life, the nature of the knowledge to which they give importance. The skills they need are not those desired by more than 100 States, thousands of scientists, Nobel Prize winners, organizations of great ethical influence such as the Catholic Church of Pope Francis, thousands of associations and civil society movements from all over the world. With the complicity of the political powers of their countries, the companies that own the patents want above all to remain the owners of their skills. First, to defend themselves from competing companies on the markets. Secondly, to keep their power in terms of market capitalization thanks to the generous dividends that their economic monopoly of knowledge guarantees them. For them, knowledge cannot be open, shared, diffused. They would lose their profits and their power.
The dominants are opposed to a global public common good. They have no interest in acquiring skills to contribute to the construction of peaceful, non-violent, just social systems, promoting universal rights and values such as respect for others, friendship, gratuity, sharing. They send young people to management and administration schools, where they learn the skills to conquer markets, eliminate competitors, maximize short-term ROI, make others cover the negative externalities of their activities, increase the power of arms. In recent years they have prioritized investment in artificial intelligence, especially in the field of robotic vision, because their goal is to quickly achieve the manufacture of robot soldiers. The R&D for military purposes is a paradigmatic case of the inversion of the value of knowledge.
In principle, knowledge is the spirit of life, is the universal common good. Religions have equated God with knowledge and knowledge with wisdom, the “truth”. Knowledge is spiritual wealth in all areas of individual and collective creativity. It unites life in its variety, plurality and differentiation. But, the more the life and AI industry appropriate knowledge privately and for profit, the more knowledge is confused with and reduced to “science”, especially “exact”, and technology. The useful and powerful science – the technoscience – has thus taken over society and politics, until submitting them to its logics of division, struggle, exclusion, predation.
Since 2000, the science and R&D policy of the United States has been strictly dictated by the imperative of re-establishing the world technological leadership of the United States in the alibi of “national security”. In the European Union, the priority that unites the 27 countries of the Union is given to research programs that are useful for increasing the efficiency of Europe’s energy, smart technologies, production systems and global competitiveness. “Efficient Europe” is the most sponsored and predicated “political” EU target.
It is not surprising that education and innovation policies are strictly focused on the objective of training human and technological “resources” to acquire the knowledge and skills that “local” companies need to win the competitive wars on the world markets. It is rare to read that the priority objectives of education and innovation are to foster the capacity of our societies to concretize universal rights, collective responsibility for general well-being, the security of humanity, and fraternity.
Our dominants are quite happy with their incompetence in matters of justice, equality, peace, a different kind of development, a different kind of agriculture, a different kind of health (think also of the PFAS…), a different kind of education. On the contrary, they only sponsor, promote and finance the competencies intended to foster what they call “the transitions” (energetic, environmental, economic…), i.e. an elegant, mystifying way of continuing to develop the same competencies which were at the origin of the crises and the disasters in progress.
Incompetent, the dominants are incapable of solving the problems they have created. They cannot admit it. So, they hide it by evoking it as the main source of the difficulties – oh irony! – the selfish, individual human nature, the increase of the world population and the seriousness and exceptionality of “climate change”. Arguments that, separately and together, do not hold water. The last one, for example, forgets to consider that climate change is not a “natural” endogenous phenomenon, but the result of human action, as the last IPCC report on climate and energy of last August 6 has given solid evidence.
The dominant ones are incapable because they do not have the necessary competencies, and they are irresponsible (in the sense defined above), because, neither at the scientific, nor technological, nor economic-financial, nor political level, they have not given themselves the principles, the rules, the institutions, the means to be capable. And they will not do so in the years to come. The blockage is total, structural. If we can speak of the betrayal of the political class, it is precisely in this sense: the absence of political will to reverse the trends due to the abdication of politics from playing its fundamental role of defending and promoting the general interest and the global common good.
Their submission to the strongest private economic and military powers has been desired, chosen. This makes their incapacity even more unacceptable and condemnable. In 1990, for the first time in history, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized the patentability of living organisms by private and profit-making subjects. The European Union followed in 1998 with a directive going in the same direction, giving as arguments not scientific and human/social reasons but commercial and economic reasons. According to the report presented by the five European academies of science, the non-patentability of the EU would have led in a few decades to the disappearance of the independence/autonomy of the European food, chemical and pharmaceutical industries to the advantage of the US industries.
De facto, the real loss of independence and autonomy of Europe but also of the United States (and, of the States, everywhere in the world) was that of the public authorities and, therefore, of the citizens and the peoples, who became subjugated to the big private world corporations. In this context, the commodification and privatization of knowledge, promoted by the public authorities, has destroyed the capacity of politics / the State to act according to its prerogatives, its missions, and its obligations.
What can be done? For another agenda: rethinking knowledge, the spirit of life, a universal common good
First, it is up to the citizens to answer the question. Attempts to answer must be made by social groups and peoples who are excluded, impoverished, dominated. It is time for the “South of the world” to take up the path of resistance, revolt and daring in common. Likewise, the time is ripe for “progressive” and alternative associations and movements in the “North of the world” to work for the recovery and reinvention of cultural autonomy, that is, the capacity of citizens, peoples and humanity to elaborate narratives of the world and of life free from the narratives of the dominants.
Knowledge is the field where this process of liberation can and should, in my opinion, mainly manifest itself and develop.
A first step would be to continue the struggle for the abolition of patents on life and AI on a more global basis and with a stronger determination. The G2O ministerial conference on health seems a modest opportunity. It is not a question of asking the G2O member states for abolition, but of inviting the world civil society (Friday Strikes for the Future, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Via Campesina), the alternative movements of the World Social Forum nebula, and the countries of the “South of the world” to fight for the abolition of patents in order to break the private monopoly of knowledge. It is also of primary importance to liberate the debates on patents from the very narrow framework of the rules of the international trade (the WTO) imposed by the dominants. Patents concern intellectual property in all the domains of life as well and the government of the future of life.
It is necessary to carry the revolt to the heart of the power and the foundations of the dominant system: the private property of knowledge on a world scale. The work of building “The Other Agenda” passes through the rejection of patents in the name of an economic interest-free ethic, of a culture inspired by universal values (liberty, justice, equality, fraternity).
It is not a question of remaining in the optics of a criticism of a part of the world knowledge – science and technology (S&T) represent only a part of the knowledge – from their uses and their effects. The debate on the “dual-use” of S&T is important bus insufficient and, mostly, mystified. Nor is it a question of working on how to force private companies and public authorities to practice greater and more transparent “social responsibility” and “environmental responsibility”. The history of the last 80 years shows that, unfortunately, this objective is an illusion within the dominant system.
We need to start from an understanding of the knowledge crisis that underlies our dominant economies and societies, especially their political, economic, and social agenda. We must work to rethink what knowledge is and must be in the era of the globality of the human condition and of the Anthropocene.
Knowledge can no longer remain mainly a set of theoretical and technical knowledge focused on the means and their mastery such as the stock market capitalization of university laboratories. It is necessary to work on the construction of imaginations and utopias concerning the meaning of life, of societies, of power, of justice, of living together. The “world index of competitiveness” should not be longer sponsored by public authorities and orient their knowledge policies. The same applies to a wide panoply of indices that value inequality, violence, financial power and technological strength.
A considerable work of reconceptualization concerning knowledge awaits the new generations. To this end, the only possible way for humanity is to free the future of life from submission to the dominant system.