In these years of economic, political, social, cultural, ethical and aesthetic crisis, who believe anymore in happiness? José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano, the 40th President of Uruguay. And, listening to his words, we can even believe that happiness is instead easier to do than to say.
“Pepe” is an unusual Man and Politician, much more unique than rare. He bases the res publica, as well as his private life, on the pursuit of happiness which, in his way, is synonymous of sobriety. In this post, I try to gather his thoughts on human happiness, bringing the speech made at the UN – United Nations (Rio de Janeiro, 20th June 2012) and a part of the interview with TVE – Televisión Española (Madrid, 31st May 2013). To those who understand Spanish, I suggest to directly watch (and listen to) the two videos. In my translation in Italian, written, you won’t find the credibility-authenticity-conviction-simplicity-emotion-humility that “Pepe” conveys when he speaks. However, it’s a text from which to draw inspiration. For this new year and for the future.
And if after reading or hearing Pepe’s words, you believe like me that the sense of happiness corresponds to the sense of measure – that virtue the ancient Greeks called μετριότης (metriotes) – you’ll understand my wishes for a Sober New Year!
José Mujica aka “Pepe” was born on 20th May 1935 in Montevideo, capital of Uruguay. Tupamaro guerrilla fighter, has spent 14 years in prison during the military dictatorship. From 2010 to 2015, he’s the President of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay. He has renounced to the 90% of his salary and lives with his wife, Senator Lucía Topolansky, in a house of 50 square meters, a small “chacra” (farm) in the Rincón del Cerro, on the western outskirts of Montevideo, where he cultivates chrysanthemums to sell at the market. He loves sobriety, also because he prefers to spend time to live instead of worrying about the management of its material goods. Mujica is a Man and Politician that every people and country in the world would like to have as President. His actions and speeches are as revolutionary as simple, they are as deep as elementary truths that any human intelligence can’t share; and yet, they are also strangers, if not opposed, to politics and society we (at least, we Westerns) are used to. Mujica, as President of a small country in South America, has become a great source of inspiration for humanity. In fact, many countries around the world look and admire Uruguay with more surprised and curious eyes. So much so that the prestigious British weekly “The Economist“ has decided for the first time to name the “country of the year” and… “The Economist’s Country of the Year 2013” is the “modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving” Uruguay. And, as the magazine explains, the choice is mainly due to the merits and virtues of its President. Here I don’t intend to speak about laws: I’m not able to do so and CCT is not a place suitable to these issues. I just want to dedicate this post to the vision of a “social luchador” – (social fighter) as he calls himself – which, willy-nilly, has created a myth. And, as we were taught by our fathers, from every myth it can be taken at least one life lesson.
Below, the two videos in the original language and the text in English. Have a good listening/reading and inspiration!
José Mujica Cordano, President of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, at the General Debate of the 2nd Plenary Meeting in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (Rio+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) – 20th June 2012.
TEXT in ENGLISH:
“To all of the authorities present here, from every latitude and organization, thank you very much. I want to thank the people of Brazil and Mrs. President, Dilma Rousseff. Thank you all for the good faith undoubtedly expressed by all of the speakers that preceded me. We hereby express our innermost will as rulers, to adhere to all the agreements our wretched humanity, may chance to subscribe. Notwithstanding, let us take this opportunity to ask some questions out loud. All afternoon long, we have been talking about sustainable development, about rescuing the masses from the claws of poverty. What is it that flutters within our minds? Is it the model of development and consumption, which is shaped after that of affluent societies? I ask this question: what would happen to this planet if the people of India had the same number of cars per family as the Germans? How much oxygen would there be left for us to breathe? More clearly: Does the world today have the material elements to enable 7 or 8 billion people to enjoy the same level of consumption and squandering as the most affluent Western societies? WIll that ever be possible? Or will we have to start a different type of discussion one day? Because we have created this civilization in which we live: the progeny of the market, of the competition, which has begotten prodigious and explosive material progress. But the market economy has created market societies. And it has given us this globalization, which means being aware of the whole planet.
Are we ruling over globalization or is globalization ruling over us? Is it possible to speak of solidarity and of “being all together” in an economy based on ruthless competition? How far does our fraternity go? I am not saying any of to undermine the importance of this event. On the contrary, the challenge ahead of us is of a colossal magnitude and the great crisis is not an ecological crisis, but rather a political one. Today, man does not govern the forces he has unleashed, but rather, it is these forces that govern man; and life. Because we do not come into this planet simply to develop, just like that, indiscriminately. We come into this planet to be happy. Because life is short and it slips away from us. And no material belonging is worth as much as life, and this is fundamental. But if life is going to slip through my fingers, working and over-working in order to be able to consume more, and the consumer society is the engine-because ultimately, if consumption is paralyzed, the economy stops, and if you stop economy, the ghost of stagnation appears for each one of us, but it is this hyper-consumption that is harming the planet. And this hyper-consumption needs to be generated, making things that have a short useful life, in order to sell a lot. Thus, a light bulb cannot last longer than 1000 hours. But there are light bulbs that last 100,000 hours! But these cannot be manufactured, because the problem is the market, because we have to work and we have to sustain a civilization of “use and discard”, and so, we are trapped in a vicious cycle. These are problems of a political nature, which are showing us that it’s time to start fighting for a different culture. I’m not talking about returning to the days of the caveman, or erecting a “monument to backwardness”. But we cannot continue like this, indefinitely, being ruled by the market, on the contrary, we have to rule over the market. This is why I say, in my humble way of thinking, that the problem we are facing is political.
The old thinkers – Epicurus, Seneca and even the Aymaras (indios) – used to say: “A poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more”. This is a cultural issue. So I salute the efforts and agreements being made. And I will adhere to them, as a ruler. I know some things I’m saying are not easy to digest. But we must realize that the water crisis and the aggression to the environment is not the cause. The cause is the model of civilization that we have created. And the thing we have to re-examine is our way of life. I belong to a small country well endowed with natural resources for life. In my country, there are a bit more than 3 million people. But there are about 13 million cows, some of the best in the world. And about 8 or 10 million excellent sheep. My country is an exporter of food, dairy, meat. It is a low-relief plain and almost 90% of the land is fertile. My fellow workers, fought hard for the 8 hour workday. And now they are making that 6 hours. But the person who works 6 hours, gets two jobs, therefore, he works longer than before. But why? Because he needs to make monthly payments for: the motorcycle, the car, more and more payments, and when he’s done with that, he realizes he is a rheumatic old man, like me, and his life is already over.
And one asks this question: is this the fate of human life? These things I say are very basic: development cannot go against happiness. It has to work in favor of human happiness, of love on Earth, human relationships, caring for children, having friends, having our basic needs covered. Precisely because this is the most precious treasure we have; happiness. When we fight for the environment, we must remember that the essential element of the environment is called human happiness.
Entrevista a Jose Mujica, presidente de Uruguay, en Los Desayunos
Interview, during Mujica’s visit in Spain, at the Embassy of Uruguay in Madrid, made by the Spanish public television rtve.es, published on 31st May 2013.
TEXT in ENGLISH:
“(…) Europe – this is my impression, and I may be wrong – it has an economic crisis but also political one. (…) The events govern men, men don’t govern the events. (…) Politics has to do with the social life of the polis, and the way I see it, politics is the struggle because the majority of people live better. And I would add this: to live better is not only to have more, but also to be happier. And sometimes this has to do with material things but also with something else. (…) If the economy doesn’t grow is a tragedy. But man needs also other things.
(…) On my way to live sober… I don’t want to use the word “austerity” because has been prostituted in Europe. I support a personal way to live sober, because you have to have the freedom to live and to have freedom you have to have time. (…) If I care too much of my things, the big house, the service, of this and that… I do not have time because I have to take care of these things. And if I have a lot of money to have all these things, I have to worry about not being robbed. (…) Therefore, I prefer to have the greatest margin of time available to do what I like and this is freedom. (…) I am free when I do with my time what I like and what motivates me. So I’m sober to have time. Because when you buy with money, you’re not buying with money, you’re buying with the time of your life that you have spent to get that money. And the only thing you can not buy on earth is life, then you have to be stingy in the way you spend it. Today, people don’t have time. When you are young, you don’t have time for your girlfriend, then you don’t have time for your children… and when you realize it you’re a rheumatic old who has spent his life to pay the bill. (…) When you die, you don’t carry the money you have accumulated or other things. I think this is a stupid way to live. And in the world there is a lot of stupidity. Too much.
(…) The globalization includes all, we’re all on the same ship. What happens is that Europe has functioned as a kind of center of civilization, there are more centers now, but Europe won’t quit to be one of the most important. But the world is multiple and is being globalized. We have to learn and accept the diversity that exists in this world, even if it’s difficult. And I think it’s difficult because we are slaves of our national State, of our vision, and it costs us enormously to be “liberal” (in quotation marks) in the civil sense, which means accepting the existence of other civilizing keys, distinct from ours.
(…) And you know what. No one can give you back what you have lost. (…) In life you have to learn to keep on your shoulder a backpack of pain. But you don’t have to live looking at this backpack, you have to look forward. Life is so beautiful that we have to defend it and love it. You can fall a thousand times, the important si to have the courage to stand up and start again. Re-start. (…) The only losers in the world are those who stop fighting, dreaming and loving. It’s the difference that human life has: you can give it a content.
And in the end we return to the beginning, the concept of spending your life with a sense of happiness. (…) I’m a social fighter. I’ve been all my life (…) and I keep dreaming because I think it’s worth fighting so that people can live a little better and with a greater sense of equality. And I believe that man has the resources to create a better world, but it must be a world rich in material factors but much more rich in culture and knowledge.
NOTE: Interesting is also Mujica’s point of view, always profound as pragmatic, even on complex issues such as abortion and legalization of marijuana. Here I haven’t reported all of the parts of the interview to not leave the topic of this post – neither the editorial line of CCT (which doesn’t deal with politics) – but, if you have time and curiosity, you can always delve on the web… (and, who understand Spanish, can listen to the entire interview in the video above).
In the end, anyone who’d like to know more about Mujica’s lifestyle and politics, can see the video-reportage by repubblica.it: “Pepe Mujica, lo chiamavano sobrietà” (published – in Italian – on 8th November 2013). Here, interviewed at his home, “Pepe” remarks his idea of happiness:
“My idea of life is sobriety. Quite different concept from austerity, a term that you have prostituted in Europe, cutting everything and leaving people without jobs. I consume the necessary but I do not accept the waste. Why when I buy something with money, I don’t buy with money, but with the time of my life that has served to earn it. And the life time is a good for which you have to be stingy. We have to spend it for the things that we like and that motivate us. This time for ourself, I call it freedom. And if you want to be free you have to be sober in consumption. The alternative is enslaving you to work to afford conspicuous consumption, but this takes you away the time to live.” – Pepe.