Nature's Revenge

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The current events linked to the global spread of the coronavirus should provide an opportunity for personal and then collective reflection on what is known as globalisation, which is merely a consequence of the unbridled technical and economic growth of the last fifty years. Today, nature is once again calling us to order with the pandemic that is spreading relentlessly throughout the world, threatening both health and the economy. From now on, we are entering a new age of humanity that will no longer be a game of pleasure but a new confrontation with nature and especially with the society that destroys it.
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Header illustration : "Nature's Revenge"acrylic varnish on canvas, 70×50cm - Work by Emeline Dilly (Em) - Artmajeur, 2018. Courtesy of the artist (Instagram account: emzone.art)

Modern man possesses a sense of omnipotence given to him by the means he has invented and used massively throughout the world. This is the famous "Promethean shame" dear to the German-American philosopher Günther Anders, which refers to the inferiority complex of men with regard to the power of the scientific and technical means he uses today on a large scale.

Eyes open

From this historical experience was born a strange feeling first in the West and more precisely in America of dependence of our industrial societies on nature experienced as shameful. More particularly in our country, this was manifested after the war by the influence of the famous "thirty glorious years" on the opinion of all social categories. This was followed by all the destruction that the generation of the baby boomers has come to know because of urbanisation, agrochemical agriculture, the construction of major transport infrastructures and our expensive nuclear programme, which we are finding so hard to get rid of.

Instead of learning positive lessons by reacting against these abuses, all countries have tried to follow the Western model of development, reproducing in their own countries all the catastrophic consequences we have experienced! Today, however, it seems that our eyes are at last timidly opening up to them, this awareness having been triggered by exceptional events that have marked out our modernity for more than forty years, such as nuclear disasters or global warming, which is at the root of the frequency of the multiple environmental disorders we are experiencing.

Today, after the monstrous fires in Australia, nature is once again calling us to order with the pandemic that originated in China, which is spreading relentlessly throughout the world, threatening both health and the economy. It now seems that the famous "limits to growth" dear to Denis Meadows and other pioneers of ecological criticism are about to be overcome with all the consequences that this entails. From now on, we are entering a new age of humanity that will no longer be a game of pleasure but a new confrontation with nature and especially with the society that destroys it.

Comfort made us think we were escaping from nature...

If we think about it, however, this reminder of reality is not a negative one because it tells us, as many writers have already written, what the human condition is, of which nature is a part. This nature which at the same time still allows us to escape the horrors of the hyper-developed technical society but also to always remind us that we are part of the living beings destined one day to die and suffer the violence of nature.

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The comfort of the consumer society has made us believe that we have escaped this fate through our domination of nature. But this perverse illusion has, on the contrary, plunged us into a tragic destiny.

With the global spread of coronavirus, the world is unquestionably witnessing nature's response to globalization. Ignorance of borders resulting from the expansionist technico-economic logic of the market is matched by that of the pandemic. The virus follows the route of the increasing flow of goods around the world. The "silk routes" are also those of the virus!

Consequently, more or less strict population containment measures are taken by States in the name of prevention. In Italy, which has been heavily affected by the virus, total containment by sealing off the national territory has been imposed, while in our country, three more or less restrictive stages have been defined, the last of which has not yet been imposed and which, following the Chinese totalitarian model, may reach its peak even though the number of victims in our country is still fairly modest for the time being.

It must then be said that these prison measures make any social and economic life impossible by conferring exorbitant powers on State authorities on health grounds. This Promethean objective is clearly impossible to achieve on a global scale, as it would require the establishment of a world government in a dictatorial form, with the help of digital technology. Too many cultural constraints and political conflicts would ensue.
All the more so as the paralysis of the world economy would be considered by the oligarchy as unbearable for the sustainability of the system. This is an insurmountable contradiction within the industrial system.

Once again, it is worth repeating that health safety and environmental protection, viewed in a way other than rhetorically, are totally irreconcilable with the demographic and technico-economic growth that has colonized the imagination of modern man. It remains to reflect both individually and collectively on where such a situation will lead humanity.

Fragility of power

In the current state of absence of such reflection, due to the resignation of intellectuals in this field who, for their part, continue to cultivate ideological reference points dating from the 19th century such as liberalism and socialism, we can unfortunately only look to the future with pessimism. It has to be said that the absence of any anticipatory reflection of a political nature on the consequences of galloping development is unbelievable. However, it is already a long time since a minority of enlightened minds in the West have reflected on the multiple consequences of this avalanche for mankind and its terrestrial habitat. Without looking for "the great ancestors" who, very early in the 20th century, sounded the alarm in publications that were often ignored. For example, we can cite the recent work of sociologist Alain Gras on the "fragility of power", which clearly explains how the industrial system can collapse. He states: « The defenders of technological democracy have not understood that the project inscribed in modern technological progress is intended to ruin any challenge to the future of the world. " (1).

The result is widespread blindness, cultivated in particular by the world oligarchy, which has persuaded us that "development would be sustainable" and inevitable. This blindness has given rise to the current disarray of the political and cultural world, which does not know how to respond to events such as the pandemic that stem from man-made disorders.

The only response envisaged is to continue waging war against nature by resorting to the tried and tested methods of the totalitarian state, first initiated in China, which claims, through perfect organization, to prevent these disorders in order to make them disappear. And this without resorting to a global State, but by disseminating identical methods in all States developed by experts under the aegis of the WHO.

This sanitary totalitarianism, now being experimented all over the world, justified by public fears, is in fact only continuing the Promethean enterprise invented by the West of total control of nature through the combination of science and technology. Nothing that nature can produce should escape the rigours of the scientific organization of health safety, even what is unknown!

The result will certainly be great disorder in human societies, which in turn will lead to violent efforts by States to further strengthen existing constraints. And here we come back to the notorious vicious circle of "system and chaos" characterizing development. (2). We can then easily imagine the shipwreck of mankind worked by an arms race - currently underway - leading to wars of annihilation of all life on earth; wars made possible by the ruthless logic of development.

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After the optimistic times when the future was inevitably positive, came the time of the "black swans"... (3) that can justify all resignations, both individual and collective. It is clear today that the experience acquired by man in modern times should enable him to take a path which is no longer that of a permanent quest for more power. Giving up this quest to establish a balance with nature in order to make peace with it should, however, be our sole objective.

Simon Charbonneau, Honorary lecturer at the University Bordeaux-I, lawyer, specialising in environmental law. Author of the " Price of excess "Editions Libre et Solidaire 2015.

(1) « The fragility of power, freeing oneself from the technological grip "by Alain Gras - Editions Fayard, 2003
(2) « The system and chaos "by Bernard Charbonneau - Editions Anthropos 1973
(3) « The black swan. The power of the unpredictable "by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Editions Les belles lettres, 2012 - New edition in 2019

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