A philosophical revival that founded the technological boom
The Age of Enlightenment is synonymous with philosophical renewal. The eighteenth century saw the rise of rationalism and liberalism against religious obscurantism and noble conservatism. The Enlightenment is the one that great minds project on the world and the human condition. Humanity is getting rid of metaphysical and ancestral prohibitions, strengthening its mastery of the environment. The Industrial Revolution will soon follow.
Under our double look, the upheaval of the Enlightenment has a teleological/downward direction. The mind seeks to shape the world. It was already doing so before this century, but under the rule of a higher, biblical authority. God dictates His law to the human being who himself transcribes it to matter. With the Enlightenment, the spirit emerged from the theological yoke. It becomes the only master on board, with one drawback: if it is shipwrecked, no divine intervention to hope for.
Remember this extraordinary tirade from the stranger (God) to Freud in The visitor by E.E. Schmidt: « Never has human pride gone so far. There was a time when human pride was content to defy God; today it replaces it. There is a divine part in man; it is the one that allows him, henceforth, to deny God. You don’t settle for less. You have made a clear place: the world is only the product of chance, a confused stubbornness of molecules! And in the absence of any master, it is you who now legislate. Being the master…! This madness will never take your forehead as in this century. The master of nature: and you will defile the earth and blacken the clouds! The master of matter: and you will make the world tremble! The master of politics: and you will create totalitarianism! The master of life: and you will choose your children from a catalog! The master of your body: and you will fear disease and death so much that you will accept to subsist at any price, not to live but to survive, anesthetized, like vegetables in the greenhouse! The master of morality: and you will think that it is men who invent the laws, and that basically everything is worth, so nothing is worth! Then the God will be the money, the only one that remains, temples will be built for him from all over the cities, and everyone will think hollow, henceforth, in the absence of God.»
But hey, in this dialogue, God presupposes Himself. The Enlightenment is to smell that there has never really been an intervention. We are really alone. Time to be an adult, to let go of the hand of the very useful but imaginary dad that we invented for ourselves.
The crazy train
For the next two centuries, humanity continually increased its pressure on the world. It got on a crazy train. Population explosion with advances in agriculture and health, barely slowed down by wars and epidemics. Growing demand for comfort, always unsatisfied for the majority of the anthill. Science and technology give rise to new desires as much as they satisfy existing desires. The frenetic activity ends up changing great ecological balances. Having wanted to replace God, will the human being find himself crushed under the weight of the industrial colossus that he himself built?
This fear has made its way. The proposed remedies diverge radically. A current sees a technological response to the side effects of human presence. Another advocates a return to a more natural way of life. Natural? The hardliners consider that Nature has always done better than us to maintain life on this planet and that it must be given back the captain’s hat. Supporters of a real technological regression. Moderates are content to reduce their consumption and limit themselves to essential objects. Voluntary sobriety.
An unprecedented desire for regression
This current is an upheaval even more profound than the Enlightenment. It reflects an unprecedented renunciation for humanity. After grasping the scepter of creation from God’s hands, it returns it to Nature in the hope that it will do better. Radical reversal of the way of the decision. From now on it is no longer teleological (the mind strives to dominate matter) but ontological (the mind accepts to be dominated by its environment).
In that sense the 21st risks being the Century of Darkness. Humans entrust their destiny to their own biological micromechanisms. “I let my body and mind live in the cheapest way possible. We’ll see if they survive.” This is a worrying step because it is not a new organization. It is only a disorganization, a regression in the scale of social complexity that has allowed the species to make such great progress. Isn’t there better to do?
The mirage of degrowth
Individual sobriety and technologies that are less expensive for the environment seems to be the best synthesis between ecological and techno currents. However, what impact do a few tens of millions of owners have deciding to reduce their consumption when hundreds of millions are just waiting for the opportunity to consume more, having never owned anything? They will only lose their power and transfer it to other places. What impact do those who give up making children for a devastated planet have when most humans still do not know how to perpetuate themselves other than through a large number of offspring? They will only modify the genetic mapping of the species, removing their characteristics.
The real effectiveness of these individual choices on the future of the planet is questionable to say the least. This is the disadvantage of the ontological approach: it does not control anything. It reshuffles the cards without knowing which game will come out. Resignation of human intent and not transfer of power. It is not about offering our children a better future but about randomly engaging with them. No organization.
Environmentalism in depression
This renunciation is clearly not natural! A masked depression can be seen behind the ecological current, materialized by the concepts of solastalgia (nostalgia for a better world) and eco-depression (at the idea of a future ravaged nature). The advice to deal with it calls for the notions of ‘dignity’, ‘inner refuge’, ‘mourning’, hmm… Starting from ‘saving a planet’ here we are sheltering in the tiniest disaster shelter there is: 1 brain among 7 billion. Not better?
Of course it exists better. This brain, we must start by getting out of it. To think that it contains very little data among all those necessary to solve the problem. So transfer the power of the mind. Network it in an efficient society. Participatory society? Yes, intelligently. Not by attributing the same fraction of power to everyone. Take into account demonstrated knowledge, proven skills. We don’t become scholars just by taking a library card. Yet this is the idea that most people with an internet connection have today.
Empowering pragmatists to avoid the Age of Darkness
Saving the planet is giving power to the intention of saving it. To give power to an individual intention is to transmit it to a representative of the collective. To give power to this elected official is to let her choose her own representative who will associate this intention with those already in place, to make it emerge higher. And so on throughout the planetary human hierarchy. So that the intention finally bursts to the top without collapsing the entire existing structure. So that the hierarchy is finally enriched by a supra-national level, imperative for planetary management.
To save is not to reunite one’s mortuary group but to concretely exercise its power by transmitting it where it is effective. Even if it has the insignificance of a vote. For it is insignificant from the point of view of the individual-king, but terribly significant for collective power, which does not exist without each of its atoms.