Buen Vivir, which can be translated to “well-being”, is a concept inspired by various Andeans’ cosmovisions like the “Suma Quasaña”, among the Aymaras’ people, or the “Sumak Kasay” for the Quechuas’. These concepts were visualized at an international level by their incorporation into the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador during the first decade of the 21st century, witch also resulted endangering it by the same process, making it lose its essence during the political use.
Strongly related to the way of life of indigenous communities and fundamentally indivisible from the holistic concept of Mother Earth called Pacha, these cosmo-visions are based on various principles like a non-linear perception of time, the concepts of contradiction and complementarity and the search for a global balance.
About politics A powerful indigenous movement was initiated by the end of the 20th century, particularly by the creation of strong grassroots organizations and various nonviolent actions such as giant protest marches to defend the rights of indigenous peoples and mother earth. They fought, among others, for the right to land, the free exploitation of natural resources, self-determination, cultural recognition or the establishment of a participatory political system.
These strife happened in a context dominated by neoliberal policies and the failure of socialism in the 1990s. These instances, by integrating the concept of Buen Vivir as ideological and political basis, have institutionalized the rights of the autochthonous populations and the mother earth, wich is great progress. Unfortunately, the policies implemented by governments have only partially allowed the application of these laws and, while significantly improving the condition of the indigenous populations, have not allowed a deep and lasting structural reform.
The expansion of this concept raises another problem which is that of the instrumentalization and the loss of values which results from it. Indeed, it is feared that the use of the concept of Buen Vivir, emptied of its essence, for political purposes in particular, is a factor hindering the sincere expansion and the preservation of this cosmo-vision.
A holistic world conception
Although fundamentally diverse because of its intimate relation to traditions, histories, territories and specific cultures of each community, the Buen Vivir shares some conceptual bases that constitute a common fundament. Buen Vivir conceives the universe as a great whole. This unity of the universe is expressed in particular by the indivisible quality of this one, by the interconnection which binds each of the elements which composes it.
Humans are thus entirely connected with the nature, rivers, mountains, the lamas, to the music, etc. Another philosophical aspect is the non-linearity of time. According to the Andean conception, time is circular and unfolds as a spiral, which means that in the future there is necessarily also the past. Everything that comes to be, has already been.
In this context the linear progress and the idea of unlimited development and growth does not exist. In any part of progress there is a part of regression. Taking a step forward is also taking a step backwards. Another element of the conceptual construction of Buen Vivir is its contradictory aspect. All things have its opposite, there is no happiness without sadness, life without death, etc. Life moves and is transformed by these contradictions. To these contradictions is added the principle of complementarity which makes it possible to create balance.
Every single thing has a place, a role, a complementary action with other elements within the universe, and it’s this balance, fundamental, universal and harmonious, that must be sought by Humanity. The human being must find its complementary place in the universe.
Is Buen Vivir possible beyond the indigenous communities?
The lifestyles that flow from these cosmovisions cannot simply be transposed into today’s globalized society, or into any other society ultimatly. Indeed, being deeply linked to the historical, cultural and territorial contexts of Andean indigenous communities, Buen Vivir has been unable to provide concrete or ideological answers to various challenges of our “modern” societies, such as the end of patriarchy or the definition of the role of the state. Incapable because they are far removed from these concepts and these contemporary problems.
Making Buen Vivir possible outside indigenous communities would most likely involve rethinking our relationship to the world as a whole, rethinking interactions among people and the nature, reconsidering our relationships to “others” through the eye of the Pacha that unites us all.
These well-beings would happen in our societies, at a global level, by the awareness of our impact in the world around us and the responsibilities incumbent to us, to work to drastically change our national and international policies in terms of respect for nature, human beings, cultures, etc. In the end, it is this question of respect that allows us at an individual level to aproach the Buen Vivir, this respect that we owe to all that surround us and who ultimately is not foreign to us. The search for harmony can only be achieved with the commitment and respect of each for everyone’s well-being.
I would say that there are as many well-beings as there are societies. Well-being is also found in our quotidian, it shares and depends on a personal way of our traditions, histories and territories. The Andean Buen Vivir must be fed by other well-beings, progress and struggles around the world and also fed on other initiatives and conceptions. It is not a question of creating a great syncretism and to impose it on a global level, but to complement each well-being, each way of life. To protect the cultures, foundations and traditions and to fill in their gaps and weaknesses by building a global well-being context, infinitely multiple and diverse like our Humanity.