the notion of irreversibility is high on the list of received ideas. Thus, we often hear that economic globalization and the Internet are irreversible phenomena. The cliché is everywhere, from the left to the right, from alterglobalists to liberals, from conservatives to progressives, and even among critical philosophers like Christian Godin and the late Zygmunt Bauman (1925–2017). Not easy to hold such a position without falling into cynicism. If it is irreversible, it means that the system has definitely won, so what is the point of fighting? Is there anything left to do but adapt as best we can to the iron cage of neoliberalism? By betting on the reversibility of human affairs, we not only draw lines for action, but we reopen the field of possibilities that gives meaning to resistance. « What is inescapable when the rules of the game are given is no longer inescapable when we admit that those who perceive the undesirable character of the consequences that these rules induce can decide to modify them », Philippe Van Parijs judiciously remarks.(1)
Let’s look at this further. First of all, let us recognize that there are irreversible facts, in the sociological and ecological fields. First, the multicultural society that has become ours. It would be immoral and unrealistic to send millions of EU citizens of non-European origin « back home » (?), as the extreme right sometimes proposes. To these will be added more and more climate and conflict refugees. For better or for worse, we will have to « deal with it ». Secondly, we now know that climate disruption — without even considering the plausible hypothesis of a runaway — will continue for a very long time. They are irreversible on a human scale, or at least a civilizational scale. The activity of nuclear waste and the accelerated disappearance of species are also part of the same case. Professor Guy McPherson identifies no less than thirty positive feedback loops that have become uncontrollable(2). The difficulty will be to introduce democratic debate into an increasingly critical global situation. The totalitarian temptation is likely to prevail.(3)
Where is the reversibility then? For example, in a process of de-globalization called for by a few politicians (Arnaud Montebourg) and essayists (Emmanuel Todd, Aurélien Bernier(4)), as well as by supporters of degrowth, who call it relocalization instead.(5) Unfeasible, the Cornucopian progressives will reply(6)They forget that an energy shortage — and already a simple increase in the price of raw materials — could put an end to this utopia of globalization, starting with the contraction of oil-intensive international transport (airplanes, cars, container ships), and thus the majority of commercial exchanges, sources of profit for multinationals. The irreversibility of the depletion of fossil resources implies in return the reversibility of a human phenomenon like globalization. It would of course be preferable to organize de-globalization rather than to undergo it, while not losing sight of the fact that we will have to come to terms with ecological destruction, some of it irreversible, again.
« De-globalization, perhaps, but there will still be the Internet, » say the technoptimists, « and human beings will continue to communicate from one end of the planet to the other. » This is to ignore the social and political disorder that will ensue and disrupt this beautiful ordering of real-time communications; it is to ignore the fact that energy supply problems will at the very least undermine the reliability of the system, if not bring it to an end. According to Richard Duncan’s Olduvai theory, the collapse will begin with huge and increasingly frequent power outages. According to the calculations of the British researcher Andrew Ellis, the Web is likely to be torn apart in fatal jolts in 2023. This is due to the saturation of optical fibers by the terabytes of photos posted on so-called social networks, movie downloads, digital television and smartphone addiction, as well as the ever-increasing consumption of electricity by data centers. As there is no web authority, it is anarchy, everyone does what he wants in his corner. As early as spring 2015 in Le Monde (12/05), reassuranceists(7) had not failed to react to this nightmarish news (which, all things considered, is nightmarish, whatever the point of view adopted), by calling the collapse of the web a « myth », since it has already survived several alarmist predictions, and by opposing their own myths: confidence in equipment manufacturers, in the interest of all spurring the search for technical solutions, in financial investments, in the « eco-efficient » use of resources, etc. According to Henk Steenman, director of Ams-Ix, technological innovations will increase the capacity of the « well over a factor of 10 in the next few years » ; according to the Greentouch consortium, it is » possible to reduce Internet power consumption by a factor of 1,000 while guaranteeing the quality of service. Increasing, decreasing… the ever-increasing will this time be achieved through the ever-decreasing, a fine example of liberal « dialectics »!
Strangely, reversibility frightens us, as if starting to live again without the Internet was out of the realm of the possible, the imaginable, the desirable, the arrow of progress necessarily going in the same direction. In this case as in others, we would experience a form of backward movement, but what does it matter if it is a question of our survival, and first of all of a better life, on the sanitary and social levels, and finally decent? Voter-consumers generally direct their fear — when they are afraid! — to the wrong targets. Günther Anders warned us of the beneficial role of legitimate fear that should be created in our contemporaries, which represents a « moral task ». Conversely, in Silicon Valley, the digital shepherds do everything to keep their surfing sheep in conformity, political passivity and unwavering optimism. And for this, they can count on the media.
- Jean-Michel Chaumont, Philippe Van Parijs (dir.), Les limites de l’inéluctable. Penser la liberté au seuil du troisième millénaire, De Boeck Université, 1991.
- Si la montée des droites extrêmes en est un signe, n’oublions pas que le danger totalitariste risque d’abord de venir du techno-capitalisme.
- Cf. Aurélien Bernier, La démondialisation ou le chaos, Utopia, 2016.
- Cf. Jean-Luc Pasquinet, Relocaliser. Pour une société démocratique et antiproductiviste, Libre & solidaire, 2016.
- Adeptes de la corne d’abondance.
- Faisant principalement partie du camp libéral, les rassuristes s’évertuent à tranquilliser à tout prix les masses, niant ou minimisant les menaces globales qui sont « largement exagérées, venant de khmers verts » et de toute façon seraient « surmontées par le génie humain ». En France, l’économiste Jean de Kervasdoué, et en Belgique le philosophe Corentin de Salle, en sont de dignes représentants.