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Edgar Morin and modern myths


Edgar Morin is one of the most interesting alive intellectuals today. In his philosophical and sociological works, he has developed the idea of “complex thinking”, a new perspective to study and understand reality. In an interview published in EcoTerra, he provides powerful arguments against some modern myths that are decreasing our welfare and leading us to a social and environmental catastrophe. This article aims to clarify his opinion on this topic and highlight his most interesting ideas.

Morin thinks that nowadays there are at least three principles that modern societies follow as if they were sacred. These principles –or even dogmas- are the myths of progress too. First of all, Morin exposes the idea of speed. According to him, speed has spread throughout economy, science and technology. In all these fields, speed is something to be pursued. Clear examples of it are transports and communications. Cars, trains, phones, computers… all of them always work always faster and faster, striving for less time and more speed. From his point of view, it affects negatively our dairy activities and, as a consequence, people usually live more stressed, as well as more pollution is produced. This process is what Morin calls time acceleration and affects not only economy and technology but also our lifestyle and way of thinking. As he says, “La chronologie s’est imposée”.

Morin establishes a connection between the seek of speed and three other key elements of the existing economy: profitability, productivity and competitiveness. For him, these three concepts have been overexploited and have infected other areas apart from economy. Thus, these criteria are applied in our daily life all the time, something that is a big mistake because even if they can be useful in economical plans, extrapolating them to all social areas undoubtedly has terrible consequences.

Regarding the environment, Morin explains that a second important myth of our society is the goodness of the new. To sum it up, he supports the claim that consumer society is unhealthy for us and for the planet. First of all, because it causes the need to acquire always the latest devices and therefore being unhappy with what one has. Secondly, because the current pace of production rhythm is absolutely unsustainable in the light of the limited resources available.

Finally, he exposes growth as the third key myth of our society. Morin challenges –as others authors, such as S. Latouche or M. Pallante- the idea of the need of indefinetely growth. In the same way as the second myth –the new-, an unlimited growth of economy, production, etc. is undesirable both for humanity and the planet.

Morin argues, however, that he is against a binary thought. In other words, he states that something is not completely good or bad by itself but that a complex vision is needed to understand the world. That involves not just avoiding labelling concepts as good or bad but also approaching the concepts from an interdisciplinary perspective.

This view, which is a key factor of his thought, is a significant contribution to this debate. In my opinion, many authors of the degrowth theory (as these cited above) fail when classifying growth as something that is intrinsically bad. Others, like C. Hamilton or Morin itself, outline that what is wrong is the blind pursuit of growth in all fields and contexts.

Moving to other issues, Morin defends that the three principles exposed (speed, new and growth) are all aligned with the principles of capitalism. Thus, even if not saying that capitalism is the only responsible, Morin explains that capitalism has played without any doubt an important role in promoting them.

At the end of the interview, the French philosopher presents solutions and resistances to this trend. From a practical and closer vision, Morin cites the Slow-life movement and projects of social economy, such as agriculture cooperatives, as good examples of new initiatives that are multiplying all over the world. On the other hand, he believes that not a short-term vision but an essential vision is crucial to develop new and better policies in enterprises and Governments. Similarly, he advocates for deep changes in our society. As he says, no concrete reforms but civilization changes are needed.