Nicanor Perlas’ Acceptance Speech for the Right Livelihood Award 2003
Acceptance Speech by
December 8th, 2003
Before anything else, I would like to express my deep gratitude for having been found worthy by the jury of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation to be one of the recipients of their prestigious Right Livelihood Award for 2003. I humbly accept this great honor and distinction as it will be important in the on-going and incoming struggle to create a better world for humanity and the planet.
Inner and Outer Journey
The journey that took me from my place of work to standing here before you has been long and hard but inwardly enriching. It started 35 years ago in Manila, Philippines when I was around 18 years of age. I grew up in a relatively sheltered life of ease and leisure and educated in one of the two top elite schools of the country, a school whose students’ parents determined the direction of Philippine economic and political life. This world drastically changed when I realized that such a sheltered and privileged life was totally empty and meaningless amidst the sea of poor and oppressed people that was and is the Philippines. This feeling was so strong that I chose agriculture as my career because it would give me a direct access to helping the poor.
My classmates were horrified. They thought I was crazy, wanting to give up a life of ease. They thought I was mad, giving up sure fame for winning the Athlete of the Year award and an invitation to be part of the Philippine Olympic team, a sure road to stardom in a country which adores outstanding athletes.
Ignoring this insult, I organized one mass mobilization after another to challenge oppressive structures in Philippine society and to create a more just and sustainable reality. At the same time, as I started receiving death threats, I had to develop inner strength and courage to carry through with my decision that I was willing to die for my principles.
We shut down our university and made it more relevant to the needs of the country. We prevented the Marcos dictatorship from building 12 nuclear power plants located near active volcanoes and earthquake faults. In the process, we launched the largest global protest movement at that time against nuclear plants in a so-called “Third World” country. We banned 32 pesticide formulations that were dumped on unsuspecting countries like the Philippines, harming the lives and the economic livelihood of millions of rice and other farmers. Bomb threats did not stop this work which instead triggered the large scale application of sustainable agriculture practices in the Philippines, benefiting the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmers.
We moved on and organized the largest network of civil society organizations consisting of over 5000 member organizations. This became the third power in Philippine society, counterbalancing the often unjust and harmful policies and programs of the State and the Market. With this social force, we developed Philippine Agenda 21 as the sustainable development framework of the Philippine government and blunted the radical neo-liberal agenda of the United States in APEC. In a tactical partnership with government, we introduced an innovation called social threefolding, where civil society, business and government dialogued and debated the future of world development within the Commission on Sustainable Development in the United Nations. This innovation was one of two streams of influences which enable the tri-sectoral approach to become a major policy approach adopted by the UN Millennium Summit. And recently, amidst great dangers to our lives, we ousted a corrupt Philippine President from office, using the threefolding approach to mobilize key leaders from civil society, government, and business.
Brave New World of the Future
You will note that I have given a sense of the inner process that has accompanied me all these years in the different areas of contention, an inner process that ultimately resulted in some form of good for people in a specific part of our planet and for humanity in general. I did this with a particular concern and purpose in mind. We are entering a “brave new world”, totally alien to history, totally alien to our present experience of the world. This “brave new world” will require more than ever our harnessing inner resources if we are not to plunge ourselves into the abyss of destruction.
We are in the midst of elite globalization, that promises to destroy nature and wipe out most of what we traditionally hold dear, especially all the diverse identities of the world. Instead of a mutual understanding of cultures and identities, we have a “clash of civilizations” spreading like wildfire in many parts of the world, ensuring unending strife and battle. We are also seeing in our time the radical alteration of the nation state and their relationships, including, but not limited to, the increasing Atlantic divide between the U.S. and Europe, as well as the divide between the two and the rest of the world. We are also witness today to the newly emerged U.S. Empire, embodied in the Bush Doctrine, which seeks to dominate the other nations of the world as well as outer space, through its new and more deadly weapons of mass destruction.
Simultaneously while this commodification and domination of the world is taking place, the revolutions in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive technology are moving towards “technological singularity”. This is the term scientists use for the convergence of these four technologies aimed at physically re-engineering the human being and creating super-intelligent machines, with capacities far exceeding the ordinary logic of humans. In short, technological singularity will dominate the very physical make-up of the human being. When this happens within the horizon of most of the lives of people gathered here tonight, then Francis Fukuyama’s greatest nightmare will come true. We will experience the “end of history” not because capitalism and liberal democracy has triumphed permanently over communism, but because it will be the end of humans as we know them. For human history will have ended, because conventional humans, Homo sapiens, will have disappeared, superceded by human cyborgs and super-intelligent machines.
In our collective journey as humanity in this planet, we have clearly entered a totally unprecedented era. The problems we face are complex and extraordinary. In my forthcoming book, Spirit or Empire; Societal Revolutions of the 21st century, I have called this complex of problems the “Empire-Cyborg Matrix”. I am introducing the discourse of “spirit” back in social activism because the problems we face, dear friends, cannot be solved by the same kind of mind and heart that created these problems in the first place. We are in fact faced with very deep spiritual social problems, which require spiritual responses from us. Ordinary, secular, materialistic answers will not do. The plea for human rights, for example, makes no sense if we truly believe that humans are simply complex biochemical machines that we can alter, patent, and clone. If we believe in materialistic concepts of evolution, we really can have no valid objections to the Empire Project of the United States and the technological singularity of scientists who want to transform humans into cyborgs.
This is the reason why I gave a glimpse of the inner journey that took me here from the Philippines to Sweden tonight. For behind every act of social resistance and creativity is a spiritual act. Spiritual revolution must have happened first within us before we can create the new world we all long for. Failing this act of spiritual revolution, we will face the future powerless to redeem and transform the mechanical, totalitarian world we have created out of our societies, our selves, and Nature.
In the Impossible Lies the Seed of the Future.
As I reach near the end of my Acceptance Speech, I would like to share a very brief story and a lesson which can lead us hopefully and with courage into a better future.
In January 2001 we had mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to rise up in protest against the scandalous, corrupt, and criminal government of Philippine President Ejercito Estrada. At the same time we were concerned that the 15 different scenarios would most likely lead to a civil war. To make a long story short, we in civil society made elaborate preparations, in cooperation with the top business leaders of the country, to bring the whole transportation system of the Philippines to a halt. No planes, no ships, no buses. We aimed to paralyze the national economy. We were on the verge of implementing this move, when, unexpectedly, the whole military sided with us and that signaled the end of the corrupt regime of Estrada.
This event taught me a valuable lesson which I have never forgotten. I realized, right there and then, that in the impossible is the real; in the impossible is the future waiting to be born. From the perspective of the past and the present, the future that wants to be born is “impossible”, distant, and but a dream. But the future cannot be a mere continuation of the past, no matter how that past seems so familiar and rational to us. The future, of necessity, will appear in the garb of the “impossible”, and only people with vision and deep spiritual creativity can know this and act on this, visionary individuals often called “crazy” by their friends, and even their loved ones. But, dear friends, the “impossible”, a more human future wanting to be born, calls us all to resist and transform the Empire-Cyborg Matrix.
From Winter to the Spring of Life
We are gathered together in the depths of the darkness and cold of winter. It is a good context for our discussions and a perfect symbol of the present world and human situation. However, we know that, after Winter, comes Spring; and with it the re-birth of Nature, the blossoming of the flowers, the chirping of the birds, the re-awakening of life in a grand scale.
In this Winter of our history, we will also have a Spring. But it is a Spring that we will have to create for this kind of Spring will not come automatically. It is a Spring that we must bring forth through effort and courage. Through our free decision to suffer with and engage the world. It is a Spring we can create by so loving the world, that we bring forward the best we can be for the world and for others.
Dear Friends, we face the future confident that we have one thing in us that the Empire-Cyborg Matrix does not have and can never defeat. This is the unconquerable world of the creative Spirit. With this inner power, we can abandon our conditioned habits of mind and heart that energize the Empire-Cyborg Matrix, habits that have been so destructive of the world and of all life. With this inner power, we will unite and move together to realize the “impossible” to halt the decline of human civilization and create a new world. Nothing less is expected of us as we face this great trial of humanity. Nothing less.
For my part, I will work, to the last gasp of my breath and with others from the farthest ends of the planet, to create a different world. Then we will have truly embarked on the urgent journey to give birth to a new civilization, truly worthy of our planet and truly worthy of our dignity as human beings.