A lecture by Marc Humbert (Vienna University of Technology, June 4th, 2015)

Good afternoon. My name is Marc Humbert, I am a professor of political economy at University of Rennes, Brittany, France. As a co-author of the French Convivialist Manifesto[1], I have been invited to debate with you about our common future, taking this Manifesto as a starting point. This invitation came from Pr Wolfgang Hofkirchner. I thank him very much for that opportunity to speak in this terrific summit, a summit gathering such a grand audience. His invitation came through the recommendation of Frank Adloff, and I thank him too. He is the promoter of the convivialist manifesto in Germany[2] and we are here in tandem to discuss the theme of this session: how do we want to live and how do we get there?

I want to convey three basic messages with this talk[3]. First, I would like to make explicit what could have pushed to address this question “how do we want to live?” Clearly, a lot of people are fed up with the way they have been living (or surviving) for long. In a nutshell, the human civilization, that is “the total culture and way of life"[4] of human beings is at stake because it has been almost exclusively focussed on a rationale search for economic and technical excellence whereas this axis of evolution has reached a dead end.

My second message is that the core of the Manifesto is a proposed set of general principles allowing a bearable life for all of us and for the future generations. Doing this, the Manifesto brings some first ideas about rules of organisation that a society would adopt to set up a mode of working complying with these principles. The target is to define the rules on which must work a society so that conviviality prevails. In other words, the Manifesto proposes a set of principles which are a basis to make a choice for a different civilization to build.

Finally, I will try to convince the audience that we must take stock of the radicalism of the necessary move. Thus, a series of small incremental changes will not switch us from this world to a better one. Even if the myriadization of such tiny changes could make us close to a radical move, a real upheaval is necessary to escape from the looming catastrophes.

 

The human civilization at stake 

For a few decades the forces of life have had to confront a steamroller of technical and economic efficiency. The operators of the machine ignore billions of people who are hungry and excluded and whose livelihoods hang by a thread. They ignore a long warning by established intellectual authorities about the state of the environmental degradation and exhaustion (e.g. 1972, Limits to Growth[5]) and recent ones about the endogenous end of growth (e.g. 2012, Gordon, then Krugman and Summers[6]). They do not mind about these announced catastrophes that could have a detrimental effect on the majority as they believe that an exit from actual crises will be found by a hyper-cyborg-humanity which might be formed by an oligarchy of the best performers.

The leaders of nations and operators of the mega-machine (Mumford[7]) want to go on along this technical axis that made our species the champion of all species, able to act on the whole world around us, on other species and on ourselves. Those who promote it are from the same lineage as those who managed to control fire, long before humanity, or Homo sapiensappeared. They are the heirs of those who improved our language skills and who invented and miniaturised cut stone tools over hundreds of thousands of years. Homo sapiens went onto to domesticate the natural environment, develop the cultivation of plants and animal husbandry. The result was a proliferation of our species, the urbanisation of groups, the appearance of writing and the formation of vast empires. These new changes to the planet forged a deep gulf with other species.

Gradually homo sapiens colonised the whole Earth. And long step by less longer one’s, came the Industrial Revolution and an ever growing gap between us and crude nature: artificiality, specific to mankind, have spread out. Steam power and no natural energies, speciality steels and no raw material, information technology and not instinctive moves. The techno-scientist can insert chips underneath our skin which enable us to be recognised, localised, and protected, or rather monitored and controlled, maybe. And why not generate genetically modified humans living away from illnesses and escaping from mortality? A crazed dream, the reality of excess. 

A crazed confidence emerged in the mind of the elite, that even in the worst situations, thanks to the progress of science and technology, it is possible to find solutions to get by. Not only on physical matters but also to organise society thanks to society’s technicians, that is to say, thanks to cute politicians and shrewd financiers. For this foolish elite, it is no doubt possible to emerge from the crisis along the technological axis which our leaders call exiting the crisis from the top.

The technical axis is supported by the efficiency of competition between individuals, competition that is stimulated by the pursuit of individual enrichment and the promise of boundless economic growth. This promise is the carrot for all at the global level and its trickle-down expected effect ensures that everyone stick to the collective project to go on further on the same track. To-morrow everyone will be wealthier: this false hope is nurturing the collective fantasy, the desire ever more to consume which is boosted by a deluge of advertising.

However, between 95% and 99% of people of all nations are fed up with the way they have been living (or surviving) for long, under this technical axis and they all have a feelings of considerable discontent. Ivan Illich posed the same diagnosis in 1973: “The crisis I have described confronts people with a choice between convivial tools and being crushed by machines” ([4] p. 107). If the decision is not made for conviviality “Freedom and dignity will continue to dissolve into an unprecedented enslavement of man to his tools” ([4] p.12). The move supposes “the shared insight of people that they would be happier if they could work together and care for each other” ([4] p.50).

 

A set of general principles as a basis to build a convivial society

The convivialist manifesto ([1], [2], [3]) proposed a few basic ethical and political principles, on which we must organize our societies as convivial societies, in order to achieve what is in line with Illich’s argument: “the only response to this crisis is a full recognition of its depth and an acceptance of inevitable self-limitations” ([4] p.107), or, said differently, to accept a universal interdependence. Let us examine these four principles proposed by the Manifesto as a necessary common doctrinal basis on which it is possible to build convivial societies and a convivial world.

1-The principle of common destiny (a common humanity in a common universe[8]) 

To us, the universe is the observed totality from which everything is part, as we are, as a species and as an individual as well. We cannot escape that, it is our common destiny, we are anephemeral[9] part of that. We are used to word it LIFE. “There is no wealth but life[10].” There is no other value but life. There is no point measuring this value, there is no equivalent. Life is the air we breathe, the source of sunshine and the earth. It is a swarming interacting mass that has existed from the Big Bang right out to the unknown extremities of the universe. Locally, LIFE is nature and the human beings are one of nature’s species, who came late to this Earth and which is only one among 9 million species living on the planet. Humanity is born within our natural environment. We owe it our lives which are part of it and we must pay attention to it and respect it. All human beings are made up of cells, DNA, molecules and physicochemical matter. The gift of a tiny part of life is there to be received by any human person. The sun, air, water, sky and stars, her or his parents, her or his family, and their groups interact with any of them from their birth and even before.

 Whatever the initial differentiations, and whatever subsequent differentiations become, because of their personal life-stories and different living environments, all human beings share the necessary humility to recognise that life has been given to them and that they share the destiny of a universe. Consequently, “beyond differences in skin-colour, nationality, language, culture, religion and wealth, gender and sexual orientation, there is only one humanity, and that humanity must be respected in the person of each of its members” (Manifesto, [2] p. 30).

 2- The principle of common sociality (of human beings).

“Human beings are social beings and their greatest wealth lies in their social relationships” (Manifesto, [2] p.31).

Received life cannot flourish in individual solitude. Mankind’s offspring cannot survive from birth. It cannot move or feed itself independently and it takes several years to acquire the aptitudes necessary for survival. Human beings are beings whose lives can only be led together, in interaction between them and with the natural environment. As Maurice Godelier[11] writes, because of humanity’s group existence, it takes more than a man and a woman to make a child. In order for human life to flourish, humans have to become a part of the group. They must not only develop physiological and physical aptitudes, but also aptitudes for life, i.e. for interaction with others and with their environment: they have to learn the gestures, language, words, and attitudes that are suitable at the right moment, in the right place. An individual’s construction begins physically and culturally by training, an education received by the human being. Our life together gives us characteristics unique to our species – above and beyond the planet’s vast diversity – and which make our humanity unique. Today, there is only one single human species.

3- The principle of individuation (individuals blossom by interdependence).

“Always bearing in mind these two first principles, a legitimate politics is one that allows each of us to assert our distinctive evolving individuality as fully as possible by developing ourcapabilities, our potential to be and to act without harming others’ potential to do the same, with a view to achieving equal freedom for all.”(Manifesto, [2] p. 31)

Every human being is welcomed into and educated by a group that is part of a concrete natural environment where she/he gradually creates and constructs her/his own unique individuality by developing her/his power to be and to act (Spinoza). The ideal of paying attention to others implies leaving everyone the autonomy necessary to the affirmation and evolution of her/his own individual life, which responds to everyone’s universal need.

This freedom to exercise ones power to be and act offers individuals an autonomy that does not extend to autarkic independence enabling her/him to make an abstraction of others and the natural environment. Autonomy and solitude can only be relative, as is their role in the construction of everybody’s individuality. Interactions with the environment and with others are permanent and essential. In parallel, we must refuse the idea that individuality is only a product of environmental conditioning and of ones social group, on a given physico-chemical basis. But as long as any subsequent outside influence on the thinking, acting individual does not lead to dependency, outside influence is essential. Combined with autonomy it enables us to consider that individuality is formed and lived in interdependency. Interdependency between human beings and with an environment constitutes a fundamental reality that a humanity in search of conviviality has to recognise. Recognising this overall interdependency[12] is the corollary of recognising the gift of life. 

4- The principle of managed conflict (or creative interdependence).

 “Given that each of us has the power to express our distinctive individuality, it is natural that human beings should sometimes oppose one another. But it is only legitimate for them to do so as long as this does not jeopardize the framework of common sociality that ensures this rivalry is productive and non-destructive. Good politics is therefore politics that allows human beings to be individual by accepting and managing conflict” (Manifesto, [2] p.31).

All human beings together have to recognise the gift of life and to build their lives together, in interdependence with each other and with the natural environment, within constituted groups. Every human being is a locus for one of an infinity of life forces, the interactions of which have been modulated to constitute, without endangering, their common sociality within a group. Each member of a group is relatively dependent on this and benefits from relative autonomy.

The word “collective” could apply to the informal personalisation of the common sociality of individual human beings living in a group within an environment, who thus form an “us”. The direction this collective takes supposes that a general will can form to clearly express the framework accepted and respected by all, the Common Law, under which all human beings can interact with the feeling of living a good, worthy, just life together.

The harmony between individuals and the natural environment cannot be established spontaneously. Rivalry and conflict create futures and often lead to destruction in the present. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the fangs and venom of other species remind humans that the forces of nature are powerful. A crushed shell liberates its seed which in turn dies so that the plant can bear fruit. As long as the natural equilibrium is respected, ploughed soils and drained swamps improve human environments without deteriorating them.

Struggle engages the body and makes it stronger. Ideas collide so that minds may expand and so that discussion and negotiation might take place between conflicting positions. Conviviality has to transform enemies into adversaries (Patrick Viveret) so that conflict can take place without massacre (Alain Caillé, via Marcel Mauss), and so that collectives may flourish in order for everyone to live to the full. The common social bond must be preserved. Peace must reign. Enemies must disappear, as well as the desire to kill, or at least the enactment of this desire.

The illusion of liberal democracy rested on the hypothesis that trade on free markets will radically change the landscape of conflicts. The confrontation of people would be displaced in the pacific economic scene, turning enemies into competitors. This was a fallacy which has been quite hidden as long as unlimited growth seemed possible. As long as an expected better future, that had become plausible in a tamed capitalism[13], played the role of a hypnotic drug for the victims of the economic massacre.

But the sheer reality is that humanity still suffers from both kind of wars, that of physical terror and that of economical terror. To preserve the common social bond, everyone must limit both his desire to kill and his desire to get more than what is collectively considered as his fair part. This was pointed out by Illich under this wording “an acceptance of inevitable self-limitations” ([4] p.107). This means to stop the desire for always more, which is greed. Plato linked the interdiction of greed, conceptualised as pleonexia (πλεονεξία), with justice. As incest is still a taboo to preserve the social bond, pleonexia should be taken again as a taboo (Dany-Robert Dufour), to preserve the sustainability of our societies by keeping hubris at bay.

 

As a conclusion

The ones who are trying to have our societies, to have the whole humanity, working on the basis of these principles are undoubtedly engaged in a herculean task.

To a certain extent, a large proportion of humanity is convinced of our common destiny: the international community approved the universal declaration of human rights which is the simplest version of the manifesto’s first principle, even if, enforcing it, is still a work in progress.

 As far as the second principle is concerned, the idea that the social bond is preeminent is widespread apart from a large groups of social scientists (not only among economists) and of neo-liberal politicians and activists as well. They are thinking as Friedrich Hayek[14] that “society” is a term deployed when people “do not quite know what they are talking about.” Nevertheless we may consider that it is possible to convince enough people to accept this principle.

On the other hand, to get a majority of people understanding and accepting the contents of the last two principles seems almost impossible. As a matter of fact, the search for independence by any individuals is the basis of the deification of freedom, a victory of enlightenment and liberalism against thousands of years of dependence, exploitation, enslavement. To forbid greed, and make it as a taboo to stop the economic massacre of humanity and nature is a terrific move. It is to break into pieces the collective dream of unlimited growth and replace it by fair sharing of the results of the work of all, which is upsetting the common way to think and to act. The move supposes “the shared insight of people that they would be happier if they could work together and care for each other” ([4] p.50).

To be sure here and there, millions of localised changes are already implemented by a lot of people[15] (perhaps 100 million people, around 1.5% of the world population) who share this insight. They organise at least a small part of their individual and collective life at a micro-level, according to these principles, including in organising activities which are known as solidarity economy. At the level of societies, of nation-states, there are no such moves, in spite of some attempts by activists to get some laws limiting the detrimental effects of the mega-machine. For instance, unconditional basic income or limitation to the extent of the income scale are targeted by some political movements in a few nation-states.

Nevertheless, who may believe that such a series of small incremental changes, already present at the micro level or that could emerged at a macro-level in some nation-state, would be able to switch us from this world to one which could be based on these four principles? The move we need is radical and a real upheaval is necessary to build such a better and sustainable world and, doing so, to escape from the looming catastrophes. What could it be? How will it be operated?

Personally, even if I think that along with the intellectual battle of ideas it will be necessary to have a political fight, I share the optimism showed by Ilich: “Some fortuitous coincidence will render publicly obvious the structural contradictions between stated purposes and effective results in our major institutions. People will suddenly find obvious what is now evident to only a few: that the organization of the entire economy toward the "better" life has become the major enemy of the good life. Like other widely shared insights, this one will have the potential of turning public imagination inside out. Large institutions can quite suddenly lose their respectability, their legitimacy, and their reputation for serving the public good. It happened to the Roman Church in the Reformation, to Royalty in the Revolution. The unthinkable became obvious overnight: that people could and would behead their rulers. ([4] p.103).

 

References

[1]Varii Auctores. Manifeste convivialiste – Déclaration d’interdépendance, Editions le Bord de l’eau, Paris, 2013

[2]Varii Auctores. Convivialist Manifesto – A declaration of interdependence, with an introduction by Adlof, F. translated from the French by Clarke, M.  Center for Global Cooperation Research, Global Dialogues 3, Duisburg, 2014. 

[3]Varii Auctores. Das konvivialistiche Manifest- Für eine neue Kunst des Zusammenlebens, herausgegeben von Adloff, F ; Leggewie,C. in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research Duisburg, übersetzt aus dem Französischen von Moldenhauer,E.), Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2014.

[4]Illich, I. Tools for conviviality, Harper & Row, New York, 1973. 

[5]Caillé, A; Humbert, M; Latouche, S; Viveret, P. De la convivialité – dialogue sur la société conviviale à venir, La Découverte, Paris, 2011.

[6]Caillé, A; Humbert, M; Latouche, S; Viveret, P. De la conviviencialidad- Diálogos sobre la sociedad por venir, Nueva Visión, Buenos Aires, 2012.

[7]Humbert, M ; Katsumata, M. (eds) 脱成長の道 – 分かち合いの社会を創る – REFRAMING SOCIETY conviviality – not growth, Commons, Tokyo, 2011. 

[8]Humbert, M. Vers une civilisation de convivialité, Edition Goater, Rennes, 2ème édition 2015 (2014).

[9]Humbert, M. «Verso una civilizzazione di convivialità », Estratto da : M. Humbert, Vers une civilisation de convivialité, Éditions Goater, Rennes 2013, pp. 9-12 e 19-20. Trad. it. di Fistetti, F. Revue Postfilosofie, Rivista di pratica filosofica e scienze umane, n° 7, Année 2013-2014, p. 113-115. 

[10]Humbert, M. “Une indispensable offensive intellectuelle collective” p. 63-74 in Revue du Mauss, 2014, 1er semestre, n°43, « Du convivialisme comme volonté et comme espérance ».

[11]Humbert, M. « Economie sociale et solidaire et convivialisme » p. 233-243 in Glémain, P ; Bioteau, E. (eds.) Entreprises solidaires –économie sociale et solidaire en question(s), PUR, Rennes, 2015.

[1] See [1] in the list of references at the end of this paper. In line with this Manifesto, I published a few texts before and after the publication of the manifesto, see [5] to [11].
[2] Frank Adloff added a comment to the German translation, see [3] which is also included in the English translation [2] by Margaret Clarke for the German “Centre for Global Research” at Dusiburg.
[3] My contribution to this debate follows in the line of the ideas introduced by Ivan Illich. The conference I organised in Tokyo involving Japanese and French authors and intellectuals in 2010 had this end in mind. French speakers, including Alain Caillé, Serge Latouche, and Patrick Viveret, addressed the subject from different directions and together we edited two books on the theme, one in French De la convivialité, in 2011, published by La Découverte, the other in Japanese with Commons publishers, in the same year. Alain Caillé picked up the idea of a manifesto idea (Pour un manifeste du convivialisme, Le Bord de l’eau, 2011) and organised a collective work which led to over sixty intellectuals getting together to discuss and produce a collective work, Manifeste convivialiste (Le Bord de l’eau, 2013). In it there is a general political philosophical argument in favour of convivialism, as a way of reaching beyond other “isms”, such as liberalism, anarchism, socialism, and communism.
[4] Collins Concise English Dictionary
[5] Meadows et alii, 1972, The limits to growth, Universe Books, New York
[6] Robert Gordon “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds”, Working Paper n° 18315, August 2012, National Bureau of Economic Research, or Larry Summers and Paul Krugman « Secular Stagnation, Coalmines, Bubbles, and Larry Summers », November 16, 2013 3:47 pm,  http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/16/secular-stagnation-coalmines-bubbles-and-larry-summers/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 ).
[7] Lewis Mumford (1970) The Myth of the Machine, The Pentagon of  Power, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1964).
[8] I must say that the Manifesto reads only “the principle of common humanity” but I believe it is in order to express the largest recognition of what we all have in common, that is our common humanity which, to its turn, is sharing the lot of all  that is around us in the universe : living creatures, the biosphere and the cosmos.
[9] It is worth remembering that the stars themselves, on a different time-scale to that of humans, are ephemeral. One day they too will disappear, as will our sun, and blend into life as it continues…
[10] John Ruskin, 1860, Unto This Last, Cornhill Magazine, who inspired Gandhi (he translated this piece it into gujarati in 1908).
[11] Maurice Godelier, 2012, The Metamorphoses of Kinship. London, Verso, 2007 Au fondement des sociétés humaines. Ce que nous apprend l’anthropologie, Paris, Albin Michel.
[12] This recognition involves implicitly to go beyond the usual cartesian logics which implies to choose, in an exclusive manner between A and non-A, that is, in this case, between dependence and independence. However we are choosing a third term usually excluded. Here, interdependence is opposed to both dependence and independence, and simultaneously it is a combination of both dependence and independence; this reasoning that goes beyond the definitive opposition of two terms is contrary to the law of the excluded middle (tertium non datur), it is consistent with the logics of the tetralemna.
[13] Tamed thanks to the revolts of the oppressed and introduction of countervailing powers (Galbraith) into the working of societies mainly after the Great Crisis (1929).
[14] 1988, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, London, Routledge, p. 113.
[15] See for example Rob Hopkins (2013) The power of Just Doing Stuff, Cambridge, Green Books-UIT-Cambridge.

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