PROGRESS AND DOMESTICATION OF THOUGHT

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In 1900, the World’s Fair was held in Paris, which consecrated the cult of technology. Industrial development, fed by the plundering of colonized lands, was accelerating in Western countries and economic liberalism, inspired by Adam Smith, was amplifying the mutation of the social organization of peoples. Inventors were celebrated and the march forward of the imposition of machines and mass consumption, initiated by England at the beginning of the 19th century, continued to trample and disrupt territories, lifestyles and social relations. The opponents, who were quite numerous at the beginning, were annihilated, suffocated and their cries of resistance erased from the « beautiful history » that the powerful wrote.

An essential and often forgotten element of this  » great transformation « (1) is the penetration of the scientific spirit and numbers in the minds. Of course, the Enlightenment had already, to some extent, prepared the ground. But the great mass of Paris, in 1900, demonstrates the will of the European States to inoculate the veneration of this new science, at the service of the industrialists, in the soul and the flesh of their citizens. This work of domestication of human thought has been amplified since then. There is no area of public life that is not affected. It consists in fact in delegating to experts and researchers the conduct of common affairs since they are the only ones who are able to understand the world in which we live. The consequence is to subject us, from birth, to the tyranny of the scientistic mind. For more than a century, and the invention of advertising has largely contributed to this, one of the great strengths of industrial propaganda is to have succeeded in placing the political debate in the scientific sphere by means of statistics, percentages, expert figures or polls. It thus atomizes all attempts at contestation referring to organic, non-mechanical arguments, in relation to our human measure or calling upon an anchoring to the Earth, to a simple observation or to a heritage of traditions and know-how.

« Scientism asserts that apart from scientific knowledge, no other form of knowledge is legitimate, because only scientific knowledge is positive and true. It is a form of reductionism where only valid knowledge is scientifically proven, the rest being irrationalities, beliefs or ideologies. Thus, traditional knowledge of indigenous populations or even that of « non-scientists », popular knowledge and peasant knowledge are disqualified from the outset.(2)

The extraordinary success of this enterprise of penetration of the intimacy of each one of us is undeniable and seems to me extremely worrying. Indeed, even the most determined and fierce opponents of industrial capitalism no longer consider supporting their criticisms of a deadly technical system other than with reference to scientific studies and figures, emanating from researchers in the pay of industrialists(3). This allegiance presents, it seems to me, two serious incompatibilities with the hope of a real transformation of our way of making society and inhabiting the world.

On the one hand, arguments based on expert figures cannot be convincing because industrialists, thanks to their financial power, create other figures that always oppose those brandished by the system’s critics. Moreover, for one study denouncing the ravages of capitalism, how many dozens of others manage to sow confusion and doubt(4)? In the era of our poor digital time, the absence of studies is also a way out to legitimize the continuation of the process of standardization by computer science, even if common sense and ordinary decency incline us to think that we should urgently stop this headlong rush. The media, and the spectacle they stage, have become the spearhead of progressive and technological propaganda. The weekly magazine Télérama has just provided an example of this practice. Issue 3.635 dated September 14–20, 2019 features an extremely racy « Front Page » headline, « Kids and screens, they’ll pay for the addiction. » The headline of the article inside is equally radical: « Keep them off screens! » After reminding  » the dramatic level  » of impacts, here is the conclusion, a perfect example of submissive thinking and our dispossession in favor of science:  » But what do we really know about screen toxicity? (sic) The call of the academies does not mention any scientific reference [tiens donc!]. Cautiously, the authors (the scientific elites of the academies of all kinds) only invite the industrialists and manufacturers to remind parents of the importance of moderation [l’addiction pathologique présente à la Une a disparu !] until more factual bases are established.  » CQFD! Extraordinary sleight of hand, genius of non-thinking! A psychiatrist, in the box, adds a layer: « II am not opposed to screens, we are a « screen » generation, but the use of the screen… blah blah blah… blah blah. « Faced with this voluntary servitude displayed by journalists, it is vain to believe in the possibility of having a convincing argument while being trapped in the scientistic trap.

On the other hand, it seems to me essential to remove this scientistic thinking from our minds in order to reconnect with the Earth, its rhythm, its seasons and to rediscover the sense of human measure. If we oppose industrial gigantism and digital madness, is it not to defend autonomous thought connected to others and to invent a simple life free from the oppression of machines? How can we regain our dignity and all the disappeared know-how if our reflections are subservient to a scientific universe whose very purpose is to tame and destroy Nature while alienating humans to complex, highly technological market systems?

« …the way of thinking conveyed by science has been partly confused with thinking itself(5).  »

It seems to me essential to harmonize the needs of a decent and ordinary life, respectful of others and of our environment, with an understanding, an organic sensation liberated from the tutelage of machines and the technical system. Almost 50 years ago, one of the most brilliant and recognized mathematicians of his time, Alexandre Grothendieck, launched a political movement(6) with other academics to denounce and reject en bloc this stranglehold of experts, researchers and other technoscientists on political argumentation. Closer to home, the Oblomoff group has continued this work of refusing to assign criticism to a framework defined by the interests of industrialists and the states at their beck and call.(7) Bernard Charbonneau, through all his work, has provided material to defend our autonomy of thought in order to free it from the shackles of the single thought.(8) Georges Bernanos, in France against robots, expressed himself thus in 1945:  » A world dominated by force is an abominable world, but a world dominated by numbers is ignoble. (…) The abject tyranny of numbers is a slow infection that has never caused a fever. The number creates a society in its own image, a society of beings not equal but the same, recognizable only by their fingerprints. It is madness to entrust to numbers the custody of freedomé.  »

This domestication of thought, inherent and inseparable from the industrial transformation of our societies, unfortunately, carries with it the impossibility of getting out of the capitalist technical system of which the digital steamroller is the new stage. If we look closely at the recent movements around ecology in Western societies, we can perceive to what extent the scientistic spirit and the veneration of researchers are at the service of industrial liberalism. Thus, the European youth seems to be disturbed and worried because of the gloomy prospects of the future of our planet. For some time now, the future has seemed bleak and a number of them want to act to try to change this trend and in particular to try to curb climate change. By a rather extraordinary coincidence, two extremely well-publicized phenomena appeared at that time: Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion movement. It is worth noting that these two entities already have in common an efficient communication service, which uses exclusively new digital technologies. The same ones that have considerably alienated the teenagers and young adults(9) for whom their message is intended. The climate emergency(10), which both claim, does not seem to them to be related to the intensive use of the Internet. This seems quite coherent since they are the pure products of the industrial system and of the technicized liberal thought. Their demands, which are addressed to governments, reflect this. The young Swedish woman proclaims that she does not play politics while asserting:  » All I’m saying is that we have to listen to the science, (…) leave it (the decisions) to the scientists.(11)« Extinction Rebellion, which is pro-growth, which is only natural since it is funded, like Greta Thunberg, by American billionaires, calls for carbon neutrality. The latter is a capitalist concept invented by industrialists to commodify the

Nature and which was mediated by Western politicians during the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. For the record, carbon offsetting and carbon credits were then created, as well as a dedicated stock exchange, to allow large companies to continue to pollute and destroy the planet, while reaping new profits, while making us poor fools believe that the States were in charge of solving the problem.(12) The result is that for the last 15 years(13), the level of carbon in the atmosphere has never stopped increasing.

But we are completely dumbed down by the society of the spectacle and dispossessed of our spirit by science. Moreover, history has been erased from our memories by the invention of perpetual immediacy enabled by connected smartphones. So the new empress of the European Union, fed by the think tanks that finance Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, is proclaiming the Green Deal, whose flagship is carbon neutrality, promised for 2050. It’s the same lie as in 1997, but who cares? The media will do their job of propaganda, pretending to be amazed by so much audacity and thus putting to sleep any possible contestations. The youth who mobilized to « save the planet » will be able to go back to their smartphones, without ever lifting their heads from the screens, and the industrial society will continue its race forward: destruction of all that is living and putting everything human in a connected cage. This is where the veneration of science, the loss of our spirit(14), the sacralization of technology leads us. This is why we must free ourselves from scientism and experts. We need a free and autonomous thought in phase with our biological rhythm and our physical capacities.

A personal experience leads me to believe that this liberation, which I consider indispensable, is possible. In June 2018 a book was published(15) that I wrote in an attempt to describe the wholeness of the disaster that is the Internet and the digitization of our social and intimate lives. Not a single expert figure is included and no study is cited to support my argument. This book (sold and promoted, by a very small publisher, without using the Internet and e‑mails) has known, to my great surprise, a certain echo.

2,500 copies were sold in 18 months, I participated in about 60 presentations and a new edition will be published next March by a major Quebec publisher. I have received several hundred letters from readers who have been touched, moved or challenged by this book. I met nearly 1,500 people at the debates I attended. Both seemed to understand my thoughts and analysis, free of the numbers and statistics that the big TV stations love. The recovery of a free thought, anchored in simple life and in observation, nourished by a human poetry can thus be heard, understood and considered. It is the indispensable ferment, it seems to me, of an awareness, an indispensable prerequisite for a radical transformation of our society. Could it be the organic link that still connects people around the resistance to the annihilation of our human condition?

The industrial society, for nearly 200 years, and its corollary, modern comfort, for nearly a century, have plunged us into the abyss day after day, but this liberation of our minds could be the flame that illuminates our hopes…

Hervé Krief

Notes et références
  1. Karl Polanyi, La Grande Transformation: Aux origines politiques et économiques de notre temps, [1944], Tel Gallimard, 2009.
  2. Marie-Hélène Parizeau, Biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, écologie, entre science et idéologie, Quae, 2010.
  3. Au sens propre, puisqu’ils sont financés par les industriels et donc leur pitance dépend de leur zèle à servir leurs maîtres.
  4. Lire Naomi Oreskes et Erik M. Conway, Les marchands de doute, Le Pommier, 2012.
  5. Olivier Rey, Itinéraire de l’égarement. Du rôle de la science dans l’absurdité contemporaine, Seuil, 2003.
  6. Céline Pessis, Survivre … et vivre, L’échappée, 2016.
  7. Un futur sans avenir, pourquoi il ne faut pas sauver la recherche scientifique, L’échappée, 2009.
  8. Lire, par exemple, Bernard Charbonneau, Le système et le chaos, Anthropos, 1973.
  9. Qu’on se rassure, les enfants suivent à vitesse accélérée le même chemin.
  10. Cette expression ne veut absolument rien dire, elle semble tomber de nulle part, un peu comme une maladie dans la pensée technico-chimique industrielle du soin.
  11. La décroissance, n°165, décembre 2019-janvier 2020.
  12. Voir sur ce sujet, le documentaire d’Antoine Costa, « Les Dépossédés », France, 2016.
  13. Les États-Unis ayant freiné des quatre fers, la mise en place n’a débuté qu’en 2005.
  14. Cf. Gustav Landauer, L’appel au socialisme, La Lenteur, 2019.
  15. NDLR : Hervé Krief, Internet ou le retour à la bougie, Quartz, 2018.
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