Ecology: The uses of enchantment
16 June 2009
In a forum published by Le Monde, French sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin calls on civililsation to change by giving greater importance to love, solidarity and poetry. Only an ecology-based politics, according to him, seems capable of seeing such a project through.
The success of the green coalition in the European elections in France should not be overestimated nor underestimated. It should not be overestimated, because it was in part due to the weakness of the Socialist Party, the poor credibility of the centrist MoDem and smaller groups on the Left. At the same time, it should not be underestimated, because it also highlights the political progress of environmental awareness in our country. As a nation we now have a more developed consciousness of the environment, but we remain largely unaware of the relationship between politics and ecology, and this is problematic because issues of justice, of government, of equality and of social relations, effectively extends beyond the sphere of environmentalism. Now that we can perceive the shortcomings of political platforms with no environmental component, we should not overlook the deficiencies of political programs that focus solely on environmental issues.
The vision of humankind that is "above nature" has yet to be replaced by a vision of our complex interdependence with the natural world, whose death will also be our death. Political ecology must have two aspects, one turned towards nature, and the other towards society. It follows that a politics that seeks to replace polluting fossil fuels with clean energy sources also has implications in terms of policies that focus on health, hygiene and the quality of life. A policy that aims to save energy is also an aspect of a politics that aims to combat the consumerist delirium of the middle classes. Policies with goals such as the de-pollution of cities, the development of electric public transport, the pedestrianization of historic town centres, make a major contribution to programmes to re-humanize cities, which also include plans to ensure that residential areas have a mix of social classes and an end to ghettoes of all kinds, including luxury ghettoes for privileged communities.
In practice, the second aspect of political ecology includes economic and social components. But it also has a more profound significance that cannot be encapsulated by a political programme : this is a recognition of the need to change our lives, not only in terms of our use of energy, but also in terms of the quality and the poetry of life. But this second aspect of environmental politics has yet to be sufficiently developed in political ecology.
First and foremost, it has yet to assimilate this complementary second message, which was formulated at the same time as the environmental message in the early 1970s, the message of Ivan Illich [political and ecological thinker]. Illich had formulated a ground-breaking critique of our civilization, showing the extent which a sense of psychological unease had accompanied the progress of material well being. This psychological unease is evident in the widespread consumption of medicines, sleeping pills, anti-depressants, psychotherapies, psychoanalyses, gurus, but it is not perceived to be an effect of civilization.
An overweening focus on the calculation of all aspects of human life has obscured the fact that many things cannot be calculated: suffering, happiness, joy, love – in short, things that are important in our lives but are extra-social or purely personal. All our solutions now appear to be quantitative ones: economic growth, GDP growth. But when will politics take into account the immense need for love experienced by humankind, which feels lost in the cosmos?
A politics that integrates ecology as one aspect of the problem of the human condition could address the problems posed by the negative effects, which increasingly outweigh the positive effects, of the development of civilization, which include the depletion of solidarity and fellowship, and would convince us that the need to build solidarity is of crucial importance in a politics of civilization. It follows that political ecology could enter into a regenerated politics and contributed to its renaissance.
Political ecology has a measure of truth and also a degree of shortsightedness, and the same can be said of the parties of the traditional Left which also have their truths, their errors and their weaknesses. All of these entities should be reassembled to create a regenerated political force that could open up avenues for political development. The economic avenue would lead to the construction of a plural economy. The social reform avenue would reduce inequalities, along with public and private bureaucracy, and encourage solidarity. The existential avenue would reform our perception of life and generate a fully articulated awareness of the fact that we all subliminally sense that love and understanding are the most precious goods for human beings, and that what is important is to live poetically, that is to say to develop ourselves in an ardent spirit of communion.
And if it is true that our civilization, which is now a global one, has embarked on the path of its own destruction, to an extent that we must change direction, all these new avenues could converge towards a historic metamorphisis of society that is even better than a revolution. We have yet to witness the regeneration of politics. But political ecology could be the beginning of the beginning.