French sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin discusses the success of the Greens in France in the European elections. He thinks that, in ecology, there is also something deeper that cannot yet be found in any political programme, the positive need to change our lives, not only to make them more sober, but also for them to become richer (in terms of quality) and more poetic.
The success of the Greens in France in the European elections should not be overestimated or underestimated. It should not be overestimated because it is partly the result of the Socialist Party’s failings, the MoDem’s lack of credibility and small Left groups. It should not be underestimated because it shows the political progress of environmental awareness in our country.
It is awareness of the relationship between politics and ecology that remains inadequate. Daniel Cohn-Bendit speaks, very rightly, in the name of political ecology. But bringing politics into ecology isn’t enough; one must also bring ecology into politics. Indeed ecology does not cover legal, state, equality and social relations problems. A policy that does not include ecology would be mutilated, but a policy which would simply boil down to ecology would also be mutilated.
The advantage of ecology is that it encourages us to change the way we think about and act towards nature. This change is certainly far from being accomplished. The prevailing view is of a world of objects that man is meant to manipulate and enslave rather than nature with rules and diversity that must be respected.
Man is still seen as « super-natural » instead of our complex interdependence with the living world whose death would herald our death being considered. Political ecology has the added advantage of helping us to change the way we think about and how we act towards society and ourselves.
Indeed, there are two sides to political ecology, one side which deals with nature and another side which deals with society. Thus, policies that aim to replace polluting fossil energy with clean energy are also aspects of health, hygiene and quality of life policies. Energy saving policies are also aspects of policies to avoid misappropriation and fight the middle class’ consumerist intoxication.
Policies that make agriculture and industrialised animal husbandry regress, and thereby rid water tables of pollution, detoxify animal food polluted with hormones and antibiotics, vegetables full of pesticides and herbicides also have something to do with hygiene and public health policies, food quality and quality of life. Policies to clean up cities by surrounding them with car parks, developing electric public transport and pedestrianising historical city centres significantly contribute to rehumanizing towns. These policies also include the reintroduction of social diversity by getting rid of social ghettos, including luxury ghettos for rich people.
In fact, the second side of political ecology already has economic and social aspects (this includes the extensive works needed to develop a green economy such as building car parks around towns) to. There is also something deeper that cannot yet be found in any political programme, the positive need to change our lives, not only to make them more sober, but also for them to become richer (in terms of quality) and more poetic.
But this second side of political ecology has not yet been developed enough.
Firstly, it has not assimilated Ivan Illitch’s effectively complimentary second message formulated around the same time as the environmental message, at the beginning of the 1970s. Illitch formulated an original criticism of our civilization that showed to what extent material progress entailed psychological unease, how hyper-specialisation in education or medicine produced new forms of blindness and how necessary it was to regenerate what he calls friendly human relations. Whilst the environmental message was slowly seeping into political awareness, the Illichian message remained confined.
The outside world’s degradation was becoming increasingly visible whilst psychological decline seemed to be restricted to one’s private life and remained hidden from political awareness. Psychological unease was and still linked to medicines, sleeping tablets, antidepressants, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and gurus but is not perceived as an effect of civilization.
The calculation applied to all aspects of human life leaves out what cannot be calculated, that is to say, suffering, happiness, joy and love, basically, what is important in our lives and appears extra-social and purely personal. All the solutions that have been considered are quantitative: economic growth, GDP growth. When will politics take into account humankind’s huge need for love lost in outer space?
Policies that incorporate ecology into all human problems would confront the problems caused by the negative effects that are increasingly considerable compared to the positive effects of our civilization’s developments including the degradation of solidarity. This would make us understand that establishing new types of solidarity is a key aspect of a civilization policy.
Political ecology should not isolate itself. It can and should take root in liberating political principles that have animated republican, socialist then communist ideologies which have irrigated the civic conscience of Left wing people in France. Thus, political ecology could enter a wide regenerated political field and contribute to regenerating it.
A wide regenerated political field is all the more necessary as the Socialist Party is unable to come out of its crisis. It is shutting itself off in a sterile alternative between two conflicting cures. The first is “modernisation” (that is to say rallying techno-liberal solutions) whilst modernity is in crisis throughout the world. The other cure, warping, is unable to formulate a society model. Today’s Leftism is now suffering from a revolutionarism deprived of revolution. It justly denounces the neoliberal economy and capitalism’s outbursts but it is unable to suggest an alternative. The term “anti-capitalist party” betrays this failing.
If political ecology has its truth and its shortcomings, left-wing parties each have, in their own way, their truths, their mistakes and their failing. They would all have to decompose to form a regenerated political force that could open up paths. The economic path would be a path of a plural economy. The social path would be a path to make inequalities regress, to debureaucratize public and private organisations and set up solidarity between people. The educational path would be a path of cognitive reform that would make it possible to bring together knowledge that is more divided and disjointed than ever, to treat fundamental and global problems of our time.
The existential path would be a path of life reform, where what is obscurely felt by each person would be part of consciousness, that love and understanding are a human being’s most precious goods and that the most important thing is to live poetically, that is to say in one’s fulfilment, communion and ardour.
And if it is true that the course of our now global civilization leads to the abyss, and we have to change path, all these new paths should be able to converge to constitute one big path which will lead to something better than a revolution, a metarmophosis. Because, when a system is unable to treat its vital problems, it either disintegrates or produces a richer metasystem that is able to treat them: it metamorphoses.
The fact that the idea of a reforming evolution and metamorphosis cannot be separated would make it possible to conciliate reformation aspiration and revolutionary aspiration. It would make it possible to resurrect the hope without which no salvation policy is possible.
We are not even at the beginning of a political regeneration. But political ecology could start and invigorate the beginning of a beginning.
Text published in the French Daily , courtoisy of the author.