A provocative, haunting reflection on humanity’s polycrisis by the brilliant French philosopher and sociologist, Edgar Morin.

The multiplication of wars, global warming, the rise of authoritarian regimes: the world is rushing towards disaster, but we must resist hatred, argues the sociologist and philosopher in a column for Le Monde. Originally published on January 22, 2024. ChatGPT translation with corrections from Sean Kelly.

Midnight in the century

When Victor Serge published the novel with this title in 1939, the year of the German-Soviet pact and the dismemberment of Poland, it was indeed midnight and an irrevocable night was about to thicken and extend for five years.

Isn’t it midnight now in our century? Two wars are ongoing. The war in Ukraine has already mobilized economic and military aid from a part of the world, with radicalization and a risk of widening the conflict. Russia has not managed to annex Ukraine, but it maintains its presence in the previously separatist Russophone regions. The blockade has partially weakened it, but it has also stimulated its scientific and technical development, especially in the military field. This war has already had considerable consequences: the variously advanced autonomization of the South with respect to the West and the tightening of a Russia-China bloc.

A new warfront has ignited in the Middle East following the massacre committed by Hamas on October 7, 2023, followed by Israel’s deadly bombing of Gaza. These massacres, accompanied by persecutions in the West Bank and annexationist declarations, have reawakened the dormant Palestinian issue. They have shown both the urgency, the necessity, and the impossibility of a decolonization of what remains of Arab Palestine and the creation of a Palestinian state.

As no pressure is, or will be, exerted on Israel to arrive at a two-state solution, only an aggravation, even an expansion of this terrible conflict can be predicted. It’s a tragic lesson of history: the descendants of a people persecuted for centuries by the Christian, then racist, West, can become both persecutors and the advanced bastion of the West in the Arab world.

Thought has become blind

These wars worsen the conjunction of crises that strike nations, fueled by the virulent antagonism between three empires: the United States, Russia, and China. The crises feed on each other in a sort of polycrisis—ecological, economic, political, social, civilizational—and it is escalating.

Ecological degradation affects human societies through urban and rural pollution, with the latter exacerbated by industrial agriculture. The hegemony of uncontrolled profit (a major cause of the ecological crisis) increases inequalities within each nation and across the entire planet. The qualities of our civilization have deteriorated and its deficiencies have increased, notably in the spread of selfishness and the disappearance of traditional solidarities.

Democracy is in crisis on every continent: it is increasingly being replaced by authoritarian regimes, which, by having the means of computerized control over populations and individuals, tend to form societies of submission that could be called neo-totalitarian. Globalization has created no solidarity and the united Nations are increasingly disunited.

This paradoxical situation fits into a global paradox inherent to humanity. Prodigious technological and scientific progress in all areas is the cause of the worst regressions of our century. It enabled the scientific organization of the Auschwitz extermination camp; it made possible the design and manufacture of the most destructive weapons, including the first atomic bomb; it makes wars increasingly deadly; driven by the thirst for profit, it has created the planetary ecological crisis.

Though difficult to conceive, we must realize that the progress of knowledge, through themultiplication and mutual separation of disciplines, has caused a regression of thought, which in fact has become blind. Linked to a dominance of calculation in an increasingly technocratic world, the progress of knowledge is unable to conceive the complexity of reality, especially human realities. This leads to a return of dogmatisms and fanaticisms, as well as a crisis of morality with the unleashing of hatreds and idolatries.

The absence of hope

We are heading towards probable catastrophes. Is this catastrophism? This word exorcises evil and gives an illusory serenity. The polycrisis we are experiencing across the planet is an anthropological crisis: it is the crisis of humanity failing to become Humanity.

There was a time – not so long ago – when a change of course could be envisioned. It seems now that it is too late. Certainly, the improbable and especially the unforeseen can happen. We do not know if the global situation is only desperate [désespérante] or truly hopeless [désespérée]. This means that we must, with or without hope, with or without despair, move on to Resistance. The word irresistibly evokes the resistance of the years of the German occupation (1940-1945), whose very modest beginnings were made difficult by the absence of a foreseeable hope after the defeat of 1940.

The absence of foreseeable hope is similar in our own times, but the conditions are different. We are not currently under an enemy military occupation: we are dominated by formidable political and economic powers and threatened by the establishment of a society of submission. We are doomed to suffer the struggle between two imperialist giants and the possible warlike eruption of the third. We are being dragged into a race towards disaster.

Fellowship, life, and love

The first and fundamental resistance is that of the spirit. It requires resisting the intimidation of every lie asserted as truth, the contagion of every collective intoxication. It requires never yielding to the delirium of the collective responsibility of a people or an ethnicity. It demands resisting hatred and contempt. It prescribes the concern to understand the complexity of problems and phenomena rather than yielding to a partial or unilateral vision. It requires research, verification of information, and acceptance of uncertainties.

Resistance would also involve the safeguarding or creation of oases of (agroecological) communities with relative autonomy and networks of social and economic solidarity. It would also suppose the coordination of associations devoted to solidarity and the refusal of hatreds. Resistance would prepare younger generations to think and act for the forces of union of fellowship, life, and love that we can conceive under the name of Eros, and against the forces of dislocation, disintegration, conflict, and death that we can conceive under the names of Polemos and Thanatos [war and death].

It is the union, within our beings, of the powers of Eros and those of the awakened and responsible spirit that will nourish our resistance to subjugations, ignominies, and lies. The tunnels are not endless, the probable is not the certain, and the unexpected is always possible.

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