For an economy of consideration

For an economy of consideration


The pandemic confronts us with reality, our interdependencies, our vulnerabilities. It reminds us that it is futile to believe in world domination. Our rightful involvement lies in the art of composing, negotiating and resonating. So it all starts with consideration. Considering this virus, what it does to us, the immunity it provokes, the collective strategies that can win in the long run...Considering what is scary. Dare to have an honest conversation with the disasters that are coming. No, it's not the "Black Swan" that reflects the moment we're in. As Michèle Wucker suggested, the metaphor of the "Grey Rhino" is much more accurate: we see the threats but...we look away!

For the global suspense generated by the coronavirus, with its health and economic damage, can be seen as the beginnings of even more serious crises. We know that multiple collapses are already taking place in the physical world as well as in our political, state and private organizations. Reduction of living populations, global warming, sterile soils, geostrategic violence, inequalities, off-soil finance, abused women...all contribute to a chain of disruptions.

" We are defeated and stunned by the 'de-civilization' that eats away at us.says the philosopher Jean Lauxérois. For " humanism based on the rational and reasonable man, master of himself and of nature, is now coming to an end ".

How did it come to this? Is it possible to make an accurate diagnosis of these multiple diseases?

Can we identify the weak signals of the last few centuries, capable of structuring a possible turnaround? Can there be in our new understanding of the living, a springboard to reinvent our human enterprises? Because we see it, it is in this very place that the system is cracking today: we are eagerly seeking to reconnect with the living, reinventing our way of eating, caring for animals, reconnecting with peasants.

Our age is the age of the living. After centuries of "overhanging" nature, seen as a warehouse that can be exploited at will, we are taming a new relationship with the biosphere. The living reveals itself as a seat of relationships, of energy, threatened by fragmentation, acceleration and digital colonization.

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It is, however, the condition for our future: sober, adapted, integrated, organic is inspiring a radical transition in our production methods. The interdependencies are obvious: our agriculture is based on the fertility of organic soils, our digestion is based on a microbiome (made of bacterial diversity), and our genes express themselves differently depending on the environment... The matter is not insignificant: our civilisation is in the process of recognising its vital basis made of biological, economic and cultural relationships. We can eat, ride, live, even clothe ourselves, producing "with" and "by" the living.

Yet the modern world has denied this material insertion by placing man above or even outside the world. Our system is "based on, on the idea that humans have 'natural' rights over common resources and goods," comments anthropologist Philippe Descola (...). To stop it, we need a mental revolution: humans have no rights over nature, it is nature that has rights over them". This is why it is useful to visit this metaphysical vein that has nourished our thermo-industrial economic system, to recognize the gangue from which it is a question of extricating us. The stakes are vital to push the moult towards biocompatible modes of production and consumption.

A denial of the vital symbioses

Our modern history has not dealt with nature. It has sought to idealize it, in reference to the divine. "The Universe is written in mathematical language and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a word. Without them, it is a vain wandering in an obscure labyrinth," postulated Galileo in 1623 (in his polemical work The Essayist. Long before him, the measurement of time, the calculation of astronomical races or physical phenomena have conferred powers of control and prediction. After Galileo, knowledge is no longer contemplation, but experimentation and fabrication. Nature is no longer a big envelope, but becomes a setting.Thinking is doing. For historian Michel Blay, " the concern for beings and what exists fades with geometrisation. We are no longer really part of the world, in this new nature that is moving away from us, from our existence, we have become irresponsible. ». Nature is no longer a large envelope, but becomes a setting: man no longer sees himself in nature, but in front of it, in a relationship of exteriority. By relying on order, stability, regularity, science has removed dimensions of reality (Aristotle's material, formal and final causes) to keep only one value: efficiency.

From a relationship with an unstable, unpredictable, unfathomable nature, inhabited by spirits, we have moved on to an instrumental, overhanging relationship. As if existence could be defined above ground, (despite the archaic Latin meaning "to exist," "to come out of"). Nature is objectified, quantifiable, mute. In the preface to his Novum Organum (1620), Francis Bacon explains that nature must be triumphed over by industry. « You can only triumph over nature by obeying it," he says. You have to dig into nature's pockets (...) enter into it, dominate it, even violate it (...) Mechanics, mathematicians, doctors, alchemists and magicians mingle to penetrate nature. "To the mechanism is added a dualism assumed with Descartes who intends to radically separate spirit from matter and to reduce nature to matter and movement.

It should be noted in passing that the conception of an external, passive and law-abiding nature is a specific feature of the West, since it requires belief in a law-governing and calculating God. In China and Japan, "nature" refers to "that which exists by itself". It is in no way based on the presupposition of regularity. Thus, the Chinese, who invented the compass, gunpowder and printing".... did not realize that they had the means to disturb the rest of the earth indefinitely... ", remarked Paul Valéry.

Unlimited, equivalence and reversibility as illusions

In this logic of domination, nature constitutes a simple warehouse, exploitable at will. It is requisitioned to supply an industrial economy based on three myths: the unlimited nature-reservoir thought to be inexhaustible; the equivalence of all things - even living things - with their model and monetary value; the reversibility that suggests that everything can be compensated for.

The modern project has thus led to a productivism that does not care about living organisms and their regeneration. The concepts of energy and the measurement of work will even transform nature "for mathematics" into nature "for economics". And Michel Blay insists on the rupture: "The new technique centred on the concept of work forces engines to submit to production by burning up and exhausting themselves (for coal and oil, for example). Surreptitiously, production therefore ignores the cost to the nature that supports it: the provision of nutrients, landfill sites, resilience capacities... Because every activity costs in supply (water, air, soil) or in ecosystem services to maintain it... There is therefore a price that nature pays for production. "All things that our economies are going to neglect, creating "externalities" that allow us to deplete biodiversity, deteriorate the soil and increase pollution....

Independence from context - the opposite of ethics! - is the dream of modern societies.Thus, independence from context - the opposite of ethics! - is the dream of modern societies: we must put an end to ancestral symbioses. Bodies and nature are seen as obstacles to human perfection. The nineteenth-century aspiration for social emancipation continues today in the utopia of an emancipation from bodily limitations. The extropians of the 1960s (who were looking for spatial escape) or the transhumanists of today have their roots in objectivism: practical optimism, self-transformation and self-direction. The philosopher Ayn Rand, an icon of libertarian thought, was against environmentalism, which she saw as a return of the religious and the irrational, "when only technical progress can improve the human condition".

A genealogy of "dissidents of modernity." 

The deadlock situation we are in leads us to look for traces of other relationships with nature. And the stories of the "dissidents of modernity" are enlightening. Of course, among naturalists, personalities such as the Swede Carl von Linné demonstrate a contemplative relationship to the beauty and arrangement of natural systems. They foreshadow the romanticism of the 19th century. But before that, in the 1750s, the opposition between two visions of progress crystallized: on the one hand, the Scottish school of Enlightenment focused on the techno-economic articulation: it was supported by David Hume, Adam Smith and James Watt; on the other, Jean-Jacques Rousseau supported the intrinsic value of "wild life", which was necessary to form healthy minds. "Fools who complain incessantly about nature, learn that all your ills come from you... ", he lets go in his Confessions.

At the same time, the Physiocrats intend to place the economy in dependence on the "natural generation" of wealth. « The air we breathe, the water we draw from the river and all the other goods or riches that are superabundant and common to all men, are not negotiable: they are goods, not wealth. "says their leader, François Quesnay. For this doctor, the economy is based on physical products, the result of soil fertility: it is seen as dependent on natural laws. He sees the economy as an organism, a circuit, crossed by flows.

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In his "Economic Table", Quesnay describes three classes of actors according to their relationship to the net product: the productive class - the farmers - which is the only one capable of multiplying products (of providing a net product); the sterile class composed of citizens who transform goods; and the class of landowners who could be likened today to bankers (who appropriate a share of the rent paid by the productive class). This analysis brings to light for the first time the notions of interdependence of economic activities, as well as the processes of reproduction and equilibrium that will be taken up by Karl Marx, Léon Walras and Wassily Leontief. It is indeed "nature that is the mother of all wealth, and man the father", in the words of William Petty.

In the 19th century, we note the warnings of the geographer, Elisée Reclus, who denounced the destruction of wetlands, soil erosion and deforestation, but also the speculation that maintains predation. This vegetarian and naturist libertarian, who came from a Protestant family, concentrated the awareness of the double "regression" of progress. Unlike the Cartesian rationalists, he does not seek to control nature, but to "control the imbalances" in nature. He believes in evolution, encourages science, but is not a scientist. He defends the order that emerges in anarchy, and his friend Kropotkin shows that mutual aid has been the cement of all civilization and evolution.

While Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution (1859), monism, which considers that reality is the result of a single principle (in reference to Parmenides but more recently to Spinoza), is coming back into fashion. Evolutionists such as the physician Ernst Haeckel defend the idea of a continuity and a fundamental unity of organic nature with inorganic nature. For him, there are no boundaries between plant and animal, or animal and human. An excellent draughtsman, Haeckel was inspired by the magnificent Artistic Forms of Nature, the premises of Art Nouveau. He went so far as to consider politics as applied biology. If he is considered the father of ecology, he lived through the fiery debates about the materiality of life and thought, materialist and vitalist opponents, socialists and believers, progressives and conservatives. The Monist League which he founded was one of the intellectual centres where the biological-political doctrine of Nazism was developed. Here we can understand the taboo that now surrounds any attempt at biopolitics .

Mesology to connect and... land.

Moving from the observation of structures and forms to the observation of phenomena is the turn of the 19th century. Mesology or "environmental science" played a key role in this shift by focusing attention on the dynamic coupling between all living beings and their environment. The term was adopted in France by the disciple of Auguste Comte, Charles Robin, while in England it was introduced in 1839 by the colour theorist George Field. However, it was not until phenomenology and the work of the biologist Jakob von Uexküll that mesology acquired a new scope: it is no longer a question of posing a "question", but rather a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question", a "question". environmental objective "but to grasp the ambient world of each being. Thus, the river of a duck, an alga or a beaver is not the same. Each has its own sensors that interpret the environment for its needs.

The German naturalist sets his sights on an unattractive mite, the tick. Very observant, we can say that he puts himself in the animal's shoes. With no eyes but a skin that is sensitive to light, the tick is able to hang on to a branch as long as no warm-blooded animal passes under it. When the case arises, it melts on the animal. Of all the effects released by the mammal's body, there are only three, and in a certain order, that become excitations," writes Uexküll. In the gigantic world surrounding the tick, three stimulants shine like light signals in the darkness and serve as signposts that will lead it to its goal without fail. The tick's sensors enable it to respond appropriately to fall on a prey, drill into its epidermis and pump its blood.

The animal is not a mechanism but a mechanic. Far from being subjected only to its environment, the living ones compose with it, even compose it.Each being thus interprets his environment in a specific way. With Uexküll, the animal is no longer an object: it becomes a subject. No anthropomorphism on the part of the ethologist, who systematically explores the "lived spaces" of the different animal species, their "environment" (the famous Umwelt German) which is only a fragment of the human environment (Umgebung). "The animal is not a mechanism but a mechanic. Far from being subjected only to its environment (as suggested by the theories of adaptation), the living compose with it, or even compose it.wrote the philosopher Benoit Goetz. Uexküll perceives musically the relationship of an organism with its Umwelt. ".

Despite this important shift in the consideration of living beings, mesology was forgotten in the middle of the 20th century, to be supplanted by ecology, which emerged in 1866. This discipline took over for a simple reason: with a register restricted to man's interactions with his environment alone, it remained within rational dualism.

However, Jacob van Uexküll's anti-reductionist approach is fertilizing the "thinkers of the living" who follow him. It irrigates the thinking of Georges Canguilhem - who describes the environment as a "set of excitations with the value and meaning of signals" - and then that of Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Lacan and Giorgio Agamben. In his book L'Ouvert, the latter states: "Uexkül's research on the animal environment is contemporary with quantum physics and the artistic avant-garde. Like the latter, they express the unreserved abandonment of any anthropocentric perspective in the life sciences and the radical dehumanisation of the image of nature".

When the world imprints itself on us

It is Augustin Berque, a geographer specialising in Japan and Cosmos Prize 2018, who is reviving the term mesology (which no longer appears in dictionaries today). He uses this word to translate the concept of fûdogaku developed by the Japanese philosopher Tetsuro Watsuji in his book Fûdo (published in 1935). We can say The Cartesian cogito that claims it doesn't need a place to be is wrong.that Watsuji and Berque converge to recognize that living beings are shaped by their environments, rhythms and stories. For Berque, " the Cartesian cogito that claims it doesn't need a place to be is wrong. ». It evokes a " deterrence of being". Dualism and the objective scientific viewpoint evacuate the relationship: we speak of the environment as something seen 'from nowhere', whereas we need to re-establish the wider reality of our belonging to things, proposes Augustin Berque.

In fact, mesology perishes dualism and its substantialism. For mesology, reality, that of concrete environments, is neither properly objective nor properly subjective, but trajective (by subjectivation). For all that, it is not relativistic: it does not profess that everything depends on the point of view of the subject concerned! The interpretation of reality is not purely arbitrary, it is only contingent: it depends on a history and an environment, from which it cannot be abstracted. « In modern society, we have lost the vital dimension to the earth... "Catherine Larrère believes that environmental ethics theorists have left out the relational dimension. She quotes Aldo Leopold in his book L'Almanach: "... the environmental ethic is not only a question of the environment, but also a question of the relationship. It seems inconceivable to me that an ethical relationship to the earth can exist without love, respect, admiration for it, and a great consideration for its value. ». The philosopher explains how the moment Leopold seized, when he sees a wolf die in the midst of his cubs (told in his Almanac), is an awareness of the living community. « It includes the insertion of the animal that goes far beyond interdependenceshe adds. It takes the measure of its place, of its signature to the world... ".

In keeping with this vision, André Leroi-Gourhan described the reciprocal transformations that take place between man, artifacts and their environments. He referred to three effects of these interactions: hominization, which causes the primitive body to evolve into a human body; humanization, which generates a human environment through symbols; and finally anthropization, which is the effect of technology on the environment, which has become the "human environment". We are now evolving in this "eco-techno-symbolic" bath.

This is why the cultivation of soils as spirits becomes central. Any reasoning that opposes nature and culture is thus obsolete. Rather than referring to the natural (whose substance one would adulterate as in naturalism), it is a question of taking care of living conditions.

The obsession to find human superiority has led us astray. It is now possible to move away from outdated polarities that are tightly focused on a human identity centred on performance.The obsession to find human superiority has led us astray. It is now possible to move away from outdated polarities (materialism), which have become caught up in a human identity centred on performance. Paradoxically, it is undoubtedly in its incompleteness (neotenia) that man can envisage his original potential: for the human baby is a sponge. His brain (and memory), like his immune system, is "gorgeous" on the outside world. This relational competence allows the incorporation of experience and culture. It opens to a new anthropology. The better it reconnects us to the Greek roots of our civilization. We have forgotten that the Greeks had made a defect, which we shall call a defect of being, the constituent dimension of man," insists Jean Lauxerois. For them, there is no human "nature": man is less of a "human being" than a "human being". anthropos than a brotosthat is, a " This opens him to all that he is not - that is to say, to the multiple and complex link with necessity, with the lot of the deadline, with the gods, with the world and with the abyss of the origin... This summons him to be aware of the meaning of the limit that affects and marks the one who lives as a mortal. ".

New anchors for environmentally friendly industries

This openness to the dynamics and limits of the living allows us to leave the old reference frames behind. We have lived through successive eras where we have wanted to value the place of man (anthropocentrism), then that of ecological systems (ecocentrism) and finally that of living organisms (biocentrism). It is unreasonable to oppose these dimensions when it is possible to combine them in a more radical value, that of "evocentrism", which relies on the evolutionary capacities of living organisms. Proposed by Jane Lecomte and François Sarrazin, respectively biologists at the University of Paris Saclay and the University Pierre et Marie Curie, this approach makes it possible to bet on the potential in germ. And to shake up the clichés that reflect the stability of living things.

Flexibility is vital: living systems do not aim at perfection, in the manner of machines; they respond to a need for resistance and resilience.It is indeed discovered that the integrity of living organisms is not strictly ensured by immutable DNA. Counter-intuitively, it feeds on variations (notably induced by the insertion of viral nuvleic acids!). For example, in bacteria, genetic amplification mechanisms - the so-called mut genes - protect the population by the rapid acquisition of resistance. Fortuitous variation causes some individuals to die, but acts as genealogical "life insurance". Moreover, what is essential in life is not to "stay the same" but to adapt. Modulation is therefore vital. Epigenetics, which varies the expression of genes - through ligands that bind to DNA - is the epigenetic embodiment of this. Proposed in 1942 by the embryologist Conrad Hal Waddington, this phenomenon shows that genes are not absolute regulators (the metaphor of the program is abused): they express themselves according to the environment. Thus flexibility is vital: living systems do not aim at perfection, in the manner of machines; they respond to a need for resistance and resilience. As they are quotas, they always reflect a compromise.

These new scientific anchors make it possible to move away from a modernity that is ignorant of interdependencies. Everything now concerns us since we share a common good, the earth's environment that we must keep habitable. Reflexivity is therefore essential whether it is a question of women, swarming soil, animals, climate refugees...". Wherever something lives, there is, somewhere, a register where time is inscribed. "wrote Henri Bergson.

Here is the possible tipping point for thinking differently about our industrial strategies, for aiming for relevance, sobriety and the smallest possible ecological footprint. Cosmetics made from algae, bioplastics made from potatoes, fuels or medicines made by yeast are the toolboxes of the future. Manufacturing by living organisms inspires a number of innovative approaches: chemical solutions are replaced by biocontrol which modulates pest populations in crops; phagotherapy using bacteria-killing viruses can replace antibiotics; therapeutic solutions are invented by acting on microbiotes, which are bacterial populations in our intestines or mucous membranes.

The prospect deserves our full political attention. In fact, this bioeconomic transition calls for a number of techniques, genetic, digital and robotic, which are capable of totally enslaving organisms, as is the case in livestock farming or industrial crops. For the digital revolution is not confined to hybridization for agriculture or health. It is colonising living organisms in the sense that it is imposing its binary logic of functioning on them to the point of taking control through the Internet of Things...and organisms. Strangely enough, we are witnessing without flinching to the reduction of the margins of manoeuvre of the biological, while intelligent automata are gaining in autonomy. As if we prefer to abandon all responsibility for the world...

Yet Hannah Arendt, called him back in 1959." the policy exists only because of the biological necessity that all humans need each other to carry out the arduous task of sustaining life; and ".

Counting "on" and "with" the living

Despite the ongoing transition of our industrial priorities, our legal, economic and accounting frameworks remain connected to the old world. And we have become schizophrenic as a result. We say we care about the living world, we care about human welfare, but they count... for nothing. Admittedly, since the Rio summit in 1992, a lot of obligations... We say we care about the living world, we care about human welfare, but they count... for butter.(corporate social responsibility, 17 millennium sustainable development goals, responsible investment and finance, environmental, social and governance criteria, integrated reporting...) mitigate negative industrial impacts but they do not touch the heart of the system: the accounting of organizations.

Accounting is the universal tool that translates productive activities into monetary terms. Today, however, it only measures the performance of financial capital: it is blind to social or ecological degradation. As a result, industrial practices use or deteriorate many common goods, without ever repairing them. « How could a company really take into account natural and social capital if it does not draw up a balance sheet on these subjects? " asks Jacques Richard. This professor of management at the University of Paris-Dauphine and member of the Conseil national de la comptabilité has developed the CARE method (accounting adapted to the renewal of the environment) which includes in the "software of companies" an accounting in "triple capital" (financial, human, natural). It takes up the logic of depreciation (of machines or other direct production tools that wear out) and extends it to the living supports that are humans who work and nature that provides raw materials and "collects" pollution and waste.

The standard-setting authorities are currently working in France to adjust the accounting compasses. The challenge is to put an end to so-called "externalities". Because only their integration into accounting values can initiate a real ecological transition! This is how companies with positive externalities (soil improvement, water depollution, low carbon footprint, etc.) could be able to capitalize on their competitive advantages... towards a regenerative economy, consistent with the living world.

However, a powerful international policy driven by the urgency of life is still needed. The European Green Deal could become an ambitious "Marshall Plan" to save the biosphere from disintegration. Many proposals for the "Green Recovery" converge in this direction, supported by European taxonomy, which encourage companies to consider their ecological and social performance as conditions for their financial performance.

We will only be able to open the future by mobilizing new attention to consider all the common goods that sustain the critical zone in which we breathe, in a " way. economics of consideration ». In this economy, efficiency and responsibility are reconciled as in the Roman era of the "Eternal City". bene gesta ». In this way, the four accounting dimensions can be regenerated: taking into account (what really counts in an ecological and solidarity-based regime), being accountable for what (with what purpose), being accountable (for what? and to whom?) and how to count.

It is indeed a question of changing our dashboards to navigate towards a new horizon, that of progress reconciled with the living.

Dorothée BrowaeysUP' Magazine columnist, President of TEK4life, author of The urgency of life, towards a new economy (F. Bourin, 2018)

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3 years

Thank you for that enlightening perspective.

3 years

exciting thanks

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