Friday, December 3

University and ecosocial crisis: on anti-capitalist parrhesia and unfair dismissal

Last August a leak revealed that the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC, the UN expert group for climate change, pointed out that the only way to avoid climate collapse is to move away from any social and economic model based on perpetual growth. That is, capitalism, in addition to being unsustainable, is the main cause of the climate emergency in which we live. Naomi Klein describes it masterfully in This changes everything where he calls into question free market policies as a solution to the ecological crisis and proposes to rebuild local economies in the face of neoliberal globalization in recent decades, a wrong antidemocratic and devastating path for societies and ecosystems.

Never has the environmental movement had so much scientific support in its criticism of the prevailing production and consumption model since we entered the Anthropocene / Capitalocene era, and yet in academia it is still very difficult to hold anti-capitalist, anti-commercial or critical positions regarding the false technological solutions of the eco-social crisis. This is demonstrated by the dismissal (unfair but of low economic and political cost) of our colleague Adrián Almazán at the beginning of September.

Fifty years ago the Romanian economist and mathematician Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen published his magna The law of entropy and the economic process, in which, starting from thermodynamic laws, he laid the foundations for ecological economics. José Manuel Naredo, statistician and economist from Madrid, tells us that, despite the half-century that has passed, the triumph of the “scientific revolution” suggested by Georgescu-Roegen in economics has not arrived and yet it is a necessary condition for the eco-social transition to succeed. of which today is spoken.

Naredo taught us that in Stockholm, in 1972, on the occasion of the first UN world “summit” on environment and society, the term “ecodevelopment” was coined, which was abandoned by the diplomatic pressure of Henry Kissinger and later turned upside down. in “sustainable development”. In Stockholm, the official representatives of the then Soviet Union boasted that the ecological crisis was a problem for the capitalist countries, while they possessed the weapons to combat this crisis: the communist party and the socialist state. The Chernobyl disaster, the Aral Sea disaster, and many other ecological mishaps have proven otherwise.

Georgescu-Roegen and Naredo are two high examples for the necessary economic paradigm shift. The ancient Greeks esteemed the virtue of parrhesia: to speak freely that implies not only freedom of expression but also the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even facing individual danger. We need the parrhesia of teachers such as Naredo and Georgescu-Roegen guide the work of teachers, as well as the work of researchers critical of the prevailing production and consumption model and of official neoclassical economic science.

At this time, when COP26 is held in Glasgow to find political solutions and compromises to address the climate emergency, stopping the talk and taking the warnings of science seriously is a key question to change course. The concatenation of the scientific discourse and the mobilization and pressure of civil society and the environmental movement is clearer than ever, but it does not guarantee that the necessary policies will be put into practice because the economic system in which we live, capitalism, needs grow relentlessly to be able to stand. Denouncing the infeasibility of green capitalism or eco-capitalism is something that is not well seen in our political institutions and in our universities.

For decades we have seen how neoclassical (not ecological) environmental economics attempts to integrate environmental externalities into state accounting without questioning their “valuation” as part of gross domestic product. The greenwashing or green “facelift” is a fraudulent tool to continue to produce dubiously eco-bio-green goods that enable economic growth at any price. And in the energy field, the passage from denialism to “negotiationism” (Bordera and Turiel) is assuming a huge avalanche of renewable energy macro-projects that invade the rural world and question its future, with the intention of making money at any cost. No less important is the technological field where digitization, robotization and artificial intelligence are offered as the immaterial panacea to face the ecosocial crisis.

Opposing these types of approaches and strategies is not acceptable in many universities, and our friend and colleague Adrián has cost him his job. Those who hired him at the University of Deusto in September 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, knew very well what his ideas and his curriculum were. They have not fired him for being a bad teacher or a lazy researcher: on the contrary, the evaluations of his teaching and research are excellent. The problem seems to have more to do with parrhesia of the young researcher: perhaps the leaders of the Center for Applied Ethics and the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences thought that they would channel their radical ecologist ramblings and after a whole year without succeeding they have opted for an ideological dismissal, something that (as a jurist told us of this prestigious university) violates a constitutional right.

The Jesuits founded the University of Deusto in 1886 in the port of Bilbao because it is a privileged commercial and economic enclave. This private and expensive university has been and is the center of academic training for the Basque and Spanish ruling and economic elites for the last century. Institution that says “to fulfill its mission of service of faith, through its service to science and culture, avoiding any instrumentation of culture and being a university student”. And in its commitment to University Social Responsibility (RSU) “it renews and specifies its mission of service to society, promoting a responsible and committed citizenship, aware of social problems and its ability to transform reality.” This was precisely the role of Adrián Almazán as a professor of ethics: but radical ecological ethics, anti-capitalist criticism and positions opposed to technophilia do not seem to fit on the walls of the Biscayan university.

The list of people (both students and teachers) retaliated and expelled from the University of Deusto for their ideas is long. Adrián’s case is the last to date; many things will have to change in the institution of the Society of Jesus for it to be truly the last. But, in the meantime, the Basque and Spanish political institutions should take action on the matter and stop financing an educational center that attacks and infringes academic freedom.



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