‘The starting sign of a civilization is solidarity’ - Editorial - Alliance Newsletter No 6 - April 2020

Yolanda ZIAKA, Yolanda Ziaka, April 2020

The CoVid-19 pandemic hitting the world today, threatening our lives, challenging our health systems, the way we produce and consume, our way of life, highlighting the profound inequalities of the economic establishment, is at the same time questioning the very values upon which human societies are based. Here is an inspiring story for the era of coronavirus.

One day a student asked anthropologist Margaret Mead what was the first sign of civilization in a given culture. The student expected Mead to tell him about a hook, a pottery or a grindstone. But Mead replied that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a thigh bone that had been broken and then healed. She explained that in the animal kingdom, when an individual breaks its leg, it dies. It can no longer escape danger, neither go to the river to drink water, nor seek food. It becomes an easy prey for the beasts on the alert. No animal can survive with a broken leg, the time it takes till the bone is tied again. A healed thigh bone is the proof that someone spent time to stay with the patient, tied his wound, transported him to a safe place and helped him. Margaret Mead said that the starting point of a civilization was the help to someone in difficulty, the first sign of solidarity.

(More on Margaret Mead here)

Alliance for responsibility in an interdependent world

Newsletter No 6 - April 2020


The pandemic spreading around the globe gives rise to conspiracy theories stating that the virus has intentionally ‘escaped’ from secret laboratories, in an organized plan to control human population by killing some hundreds of thousands of people. In fact that was exactly the theme on which the plot of ‘Inferno’ was based, the novel by the renown novelist Dan Brown, in this sense, a ‘prophet’ of today’s speculations.

And, it’s all the more interesting that the famed primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, addressing the world leaders in a press conference during the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, in January 2020, remarked that overpopulation is the cause of most today’s environmental problems. However, as exactly Heather Alberro points out, in her article presented here below, ‘the overpopulation argument is based on a misreading of the underlying causes of the current crises’: ‘The real culprit is wealth inequality’.

Is the most crucial issue of social inequality considered while designing the policies to tackle the global threat of climate change? Citizens Assemblies flourishing in a number of European countries, gathering people from all social origins, are vowed to design public policies to face climate change. What is these experiences’ effectiveness in addressing, at the same time, global environmental threats and social issues? The debate among sociologists and politists is under way, while an unconventional proposal to address climate change is put forward by Pierre Calame here below, focusing the social equality imperative.

A crucial though underestimated dimension of the climate change threat is that climate change is not only harming the planet, but may be harming our mental health too. In fact, as recent studies point out, climate change anxiety is growing among the general public and, most importantly, among children and youth. Here lies the main challenge for educators today: what could they propose so to help people coping with the feeling of an overwhelming hopelessness? Raising people’s awareness to help leading to citizens mobilization and action, could it be a way through?

Current multidimensional crisis calls us to revisit the overpopulation argument, propagated by Malthusians, both old and “neo”, and its deep links to the unlimited growth model. In fact, as G. Kallis, a proponent of the “degrowth” movement, explains in his last book, Malthus invoked the specter of limits to advocate for growth. And in the name of growth, he rejected redistribution. Based on his teachings, the supposed population science has been used to teach us to see and believe that we should consider a world of scarcity where we must frenetically work for unlimited growth, instead of a world of abundance in which we should practice limits.

As Betsan Martin points out, a degrowth economy has been inaugurated during the coronavirus era; ‘it is seen as temporary but could we make it the beginning of the transformation we seek’ towards regenerative ways of living and working?

Let us hope that in the new, uncharted world, emerging after the coronavirus wave, solidarity becomes the leading value in the transition to sustainable societies.