Why aren't things worse ?

Card's author : Jean Michel Cornu
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Description : Some ideas from Patrick Viveret's conference of April the 5th

"Humanity has an appointment with herself "

Man is at a crossroads. Until now he could alter or destroy part of the planet (his ecological niche) or part of his own kind. He is now able to destroy his entire species or the whole of his own ecological niche.

Human adventure could end in different ways:

An economic war: we are not in a system of competition (running together) but in a logic of war where we fight against weaker than us and where the individual interest is most of the time in conflict with general interest.

A climatic disorder (term more adapted than global warming), which could end up in the destruction of the ecological niche of human kind (" the EGOlogical challenge is harder to deal with than the ecological challenge "). The climatic disorder was demonstrated as a consequence of the first point.

Economic warfare, originally intended to regulate trade between men, represents the greatest threat to its survival. What can be done to enable man, that Edgar Morin calls "homo sapiens demiens", to benefit from the positive side of his dual nature to continue and transcend his own adventure?

How everything derived ?

There was a deviation, which makes that no other society gave importance in economy. Usually, economy is subject to activities considered as more fundamental : religion, politics, culture, philosophy... it creates a balance between the different forms of regulation: economy, state, solidarity (gift economy)...

This was done in several steps:

In the Middle Ages, the notion of mortal sin builds up itself . Its archetypal example was the loan interest. The interest enabled man to create some money when only God could create. If we release a financial interest of an action, it is necessary to pay it off (with the exception of the part that represents a real service estimated at 5 %). The mortal sin sent directly to hell in a Christendom which proposed an extremely bipolar vision of the world (good /evil, paradise/hell) very probably under the influence of the Manicheanism (III and IVth centuries) which it nevertheless fought.

In the XIIth century, the purgatory was invented. The binary system becomes ternary. The accumulation of capital led to the purgatory which is not as definitive as hell (Jacques Le Goff , La Bourse et la vie: économie et religion au Moyen Âge, Hachette Littératures, Paris 1986).

With the Protestant Reformation in the XVIth century, wealth becomes lawful. It was even an indicator of salvation. It was the enjoyment of this wealth that was prohibited.

Modern times are characterized by what Max Weber considered as the passage from salvation economy to salvation by the economy.

Modern times have brought individuation, emancipation but also individualism (the economy is expected to manage scarcity and requires an individual and rational "agent"). Traditional societies, in contrast, were based on meaning and social bond. But the meaning was imposed and the social bond based primarily on control of individuals.

How to get out of modernity? This can be done:
  • by a regression (a return to a society of control and a loss of individuation),
  • or by searching to retain the best of traditional societies (meaning and social ties) and modernity (individuation and empowerment).

We're stuck in the middle phase

However and although it was created to solve a problem of rarity, economy was meant as a transitional phase to get to another society:

For Adam Smith, the role of the economy was to organize the abundance to satisfy the conditions and then build a "philosophical republic".

In a sense, Marx said the same indicating that in the end the output of the kingdom of necessity to enter the realm of freedom.

Keynes considered that the forward economy had to occupy a reduced place in social activity ; and that the economists had to accept a role not more important than that of the "dentists".

Nowadays, the economic program was realized, contrary to appearances: we are in overproduction since 1930 and the world in general is currently three times richer than it was in 1960 with yet a third less work.

Even more edifying, the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) estimated at $ 100 billion the yearly amount to eradicate starvation, provide access to safe drinking water for all, for decent housing and combat major epidemics. This sum is to be compared with the 2,500 billion dollars which represent the market of narcotics (which thrives on ill-being), of weapons (which thrives on fright) and of advertising (which thrives thanks to ''available human brain time'' according to Patrick Le Lay).

If the economic program to come out of rarity has been carried out, why don't we move on ? To the following stage of man's achievement ? (Maslow, in its famous pyramid, explains that there is a hierarchy of needs, from survival and safety to personal achievement).

An incredible process of avoidance

We are thus in an economic war without economic cause but with a great diversity of wealth. For Patrick Viveret, we are in an incredible process of avoidance: the economy which had to organize abundance to pass afterwards in Adam Smith's " philosophic republic", remained blocked and mainly manages ill-being." The desire to be " has been replaced by " the desire to have " or even "the fear of not having ".

The notion of expense was studied by Georges Bataille not under the angle of the necessity, but under that of the luxury (La Notion de dépense puis La Part maudite, Minuit Critique , 1967). Even when we reach abundance, we submit ourselves to what Boetie called the "voluntary servitude" (speech about voluntary). We spend and we create additional security requirements (and recognition of others) to avoid taking the next step ("self-esteem" and self-achievement "in Maslow's pyramid).

John Maynard Keynes already explained in 1930 (Essais sur la monnaie et l'économie. Les cris de Cassandre, Paris, Payot, 1972) that human societies were organized to fight against shortage and were not prepared culturally to exit rarity. ''Yet I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades.
To use the language of to-day must we not expect a general "nervous breakdown" ?

The bugged man

Why are we in midstream, mired in ill-being, even though we manage to produce more than necessary to ensure the physical security of all men ? Why can't we go take the next step of the "philosophical republic" and why do we try to extend the intermediate phase which might destroy the planet and ourselves ?

Freud, in "Civilization and its Discontents'' talked of drive of death (Thanatos) (see in Wikipedia).

Without doubt we must return to what makes the human species. We are a vulnerable species. Our survival is probably due to our ability to make voluntary alliances with our fellow human beings, which could have brought us the ability to communicate in speech and hence intelligence (see my post on "and if we were not so individualistic? "). Yet the development of intelligence requires a longer time to the little man to achieve autonomy. Even while we are being born, we are a kind of premature which keeps on growing outside the womb (see the concept of neoteny). We exceeded our physical and mental vulnerability by becoming allied with others (not with all but with a limited number of what Hume called a sphere of privileged sympathy) and by being brooded longer in the family. But feeling vulnerable also leads us to either flee or to attack. Vulnerability leads to... preventive war.

It's undoubtedly in this feeling of strength and vulnerability that economic war and the need to turn around against the weakest must be seized...

We find most of the time two approaches in front of this difficulty:

The misanthrope tradition which considers the human being as the cause of all evils (in religion with the original sin but also in some ecological currents that consider mankind as a mere parasite on the planet or in certain economic visions where human is superfluous facing the forces of market's regulation).

The idealistic tradition which tries to put back the human being to the center. But it does not solve the problem: the drive of destruction of the human being which feels vulnerable.

How do we get out of this dilemma ? In both cases, we just try to "blow the lock" as if, once it is done, humanity was reconciled with the universe. But this "lock" is actually the starting point. Becoming human is a long way and we are in "hominescence", according to the words of Michel Serres.

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." (Albert Einstein)

Keynes wrote in the preface of "economic outlook for our grandchildren" (one of the texts in Essais sur la monnaie et l'économie. Les cris de Cassandre): "And it happens that there is a subtle reasondrawn from economic analysis why, in this casefaith may work. For if we consistently act onthe optimistic hypothesis, this hypothesis willtend to be realized; whilst by acting on the pessimistic hypothesis we can keep ourselvesforever in the pit of want.''

And what if rather than remaining hypnotized by our vulnerability and the risk of lacking security, we could focus our attention on self-rachievement or on meaning ? This is a real Copernican reversal : the art of living can then be understood not only as an individual matter but rather as a collective issue.

However, there is a triple change occuring which could represent an opportunity to change the way we see the world :

  • A change of air : the ecological challenge

  • A change of area : our relationship with the land

  • A change of era : the output of the industrial era and even of modern times

There is a lever that could help us develop this new vision: the emergence of persons called cultural creative and especially the realization that they represent a significant number of persons.

The emergence of the ''cultural creatives''

A survey done in the States over 100,000 personnes was aiming to understand how conservatives and modernists were divided in American culture. But the results enhanced that an important part (a quarter) of the answers were incoherent, even contradictory. The assumption was made then of the emergence of a new model of culture which was described as the "cultural creatives."

Cultural Creatives consider, contrary to the other sociocultural families, that there is a link between the personal transformation and the social transformation. They look differently than the rest of the population on:
  • Ecology, the planet and nature

  • The place of women in society

  • The relative importance to be, to have or to look at one's best

  • Personal fulfillment

  • Politics, economy and societal stakes

  • Cultural open-mindedness

The same survey was then done in EU and showed the same trend. The results of the French survey are described in the book "les créatifs culturels en France" (éditions Yves Michel, Paris, mars 2007) : Five large families h ave been retained (and not 2 or 3 as in the U.S.A.):

  • The " cultural creatives" represent 17% of the French population over 15 (that is 8 million people)

  • The family of ''individual creatives'' (close to cultural creatives but resistant to aspect of personal fullfilment) are 21%

  • The "Modern conservatives'' represent 20%

  • The "Cynical sceptics" and the "Worried protectionists" gather 42%

The last two families (the "Cynical skeptics" and "Worried protectionist") include a depressive vision of the world. They withdraw into themselves and therefore have less influence on society.

The first two families (the "cultural creatives" and "creative individualists") represent 38% of the population but have a lesser impact on society now because they have no conscience that they are more than a marginal category.

It is then the "modern conservatives" socio-cultural family who has now the most influence on the way the world goes on.

Another approach

We can lean on strengths already there although potential, to develop society and come out finally of the " phase of transition ". It requires an awareness of their importance from the edges of the society which could bring a new vision.

This new vision consists in applying to every domain the principle proposed by Einstein ("We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. "). So, the problem of the pensions can't be solved with the extension of life. Undoubtedly other tracks would appear if things were thought differently and if the word pension was changed in ''free activity'': a person able to choose freely her activity can decide to be idle, but can also have a social activity in which her level of involvement will be much higher (see the difference between ''to mobilize'' and to ''get involved'': Internet Tome 2 - services and practices of tomorrow - chapter 7: the appropriation of the practices – frame on cooperative projects - page 97).

Thus, stopping to see only the constraints, we can focus on opportunities and develop new solutions.

The conflict of interests

How does this approach by opportunities apply to conflict of interests, one of the aspects that makes man unable to show nothing but the destructive side of his double nature ?

In case of an ''unsaid'' conflict of interests, man has to choose:

  • altruism : he acts in the other's interest (or the community's) to his own detriment and destroys himself...

  • individualism : he favors his own interest to the detriment of the interest of the other or of the others

In both cases, it seems that our actions can only lead to destruction (of ourselves or of others).

Nevertheless, Patrick Viveret reminds us that ''disagreement is never dangerous unlike misunderstanding''. When things are clarified, it is possible :

  • Either to find a new approach that enables a new convergence of interests (see ''cooperation, new approaches'')

  • Or to take advantage in the disagreement to find a new approach (dialectical process). The anti-globalization movement has even launched '' a construction method of disagreements).

The political science built itself on the resolution of conflicts of interests by arbitration. But the mode of resolution produces conflicts of interests (possibly with the very one that is meant to be decisive to solve them). Instead of trying to solve the problem of conflicts or worse to hide it when you can not solve it, maybe it would be better on the contrary to make them explicit by seeking first to "agree on the object disagreement ". Twice out of three times, disagreement is then outdated. But even if it's not the case, the disagreement of exit is then much richer than the disagreement of entrance (see Patrick Viveret, "Cooperation or competition in economics ?", page 26)

Cooperative AND festive logics

The labor movement of the XIXth century has been able to move ahead because it experiment on itself new ideas without waiting to impose them society. It created mutual insurance companies, pensions, trade unions... Similarly, the movement of cultural creatives could self-experiment new economic and cooperative ideas.

For that purpose, it is important to bring out messages which are hammered to us and which get our attention until it hypnotizes us. Transactional analysis identifies five "binding posts". Three of them are warriors and two puritans : "be perfect", "hurry-up", "be strong", "make an effort", "please". To these messages, me must oppose a cooperativebut also festive and playful logic.

There are several initiatives experimenting these new postures:

  • The Quebec "Sweet Domestic Product"

  • The NANOUB project: "Let's do ourselves some good''

  • The collective new wealth ...

On the contrary, if we get closer to what Patrick Viveret calls '' the high pathology areas'' (the people sick from power and from the different binding messages pointed out by transactional analysis), we may be either contaminated or desperate. We must therefore protect ourselves with ''joie de vivre''.
The true radicalism is not in fighting against (which leads to the same mecanisms as those criticized) but rather in practices of user-friendliness.

Patrick Viveret concludes: "choosing to be happy is a political choice''. It's the best way to change our point of view so we can seize new opportunities where we only used to be stuck with endless management of binds.
See also the French website "Dialogues en humanité": http://dialoguesenhumanite.free.fr/

Note :The closeness of my works on cooperation and on the economy of abundance with the approach of Patrick Viveret was pointed out to me by Manu Bodinier in one of his comments on my book " The cooperation new approaches "

VIVERET, Patrick. Pourquoi ça ne va pas plus mal ? Paris, France : Fayard, 2005. Transversales (Paris. 2005), ISSN 1772-5216. ISBN 2-213-62207-8.