Indigenous thinker and leader, Ailton Krenak, exposes the destructive tendencies of our ‘civilization’ in Life is not Useful (Polity, 2023), which is translated by Jamille Pinheiro Dias & Alex Brostoff. The problematic symptoms of our modernity include rampant consumerism, environmental devastation, and a narrow and restricted understanding of humanity’s place on this Earth. For many centuries, Brazil’s Indigenous peoples have bravely faced threats of total annihilation and, in extremely adverse conditions, have reinvented their lives and communities.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the rest of the world to reconsider its lifestyle, Ailton Krenak’s clear and urgent thinking emerges with newfound impact and offers a vital perspective on the enormous challenges we face today: the ravages of the pandemic and the devastation caused by global warming, to name just two. Krenak questions the value of going back to normal when ‘normal’ is a vision of humanity divorced from nature, actively destroying the planet and digging deep trenches of inequality between peoples and societies. The ‘civilized’ world insists on giving life a purpose but life is not ‘useful’ and ‘civilization’ is not destiny. We must learn to embrace the joy of living life to its fullest, and inhabit the stillness that comes with not always being useful. In the wake of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to create deep and meaningful change in the way we live: this, more than ever, is a time to listen to voices that are one with the body of the Earth.
Takeshi Morisato is philosopher and sometimes academic. He is the editor of the European Journal of Japanese Philosophy. He specializes in comparative and Japanese philosophy but he is also interested in making Japan and philosophy accessible to a wider audience.