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If everything is stopped, everything can be questioned



Reflecting barrier gestures against the return to pre-crisis production
By Bruno Latour, PHILOSOPHER AND SOCIOLOGIST (translation from French**)


Latour was at France inter, but nothing beats reading this text. Bruno Latour: "If we do not use this incredible situation to change, it is a waste of a crisis": https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/l-invite-de-8h20-le-grand-entretien/l-invite-de-8h20-le-grand-entretien-03-avril-2020

If everything is stopped, everything can be questioned, inflected, selected, sorted, interrupted for good or cut back. An inventory is now the time to do it. To the request of common sense: "Let's restart production as quickly as possible", we must answer with a shout: "Above all, don't! ». The last thing to do should be to go back to business as usual.

Perhaps there is something wrong with projecting ourselves into the post-crisis period when health workers are, as they say, "on the front lines", millions of people are losing their jobs and many bereaved families cannot even bury their dead. And yet, the time to fight is now so that the economic recovery, once the crisis is over, does not bring back the same old climate regime that we have been trying to fight against so far, quite vainly.

Indeed, the health crisis is embedded in what is not a crisis - always only temporary - but a lasting and irreversible ecological change. If we have a good chance of "getting out" of the former, we have no chance of "getting out" of the latter. The two situations are not on the same scale, but it is very enlightening to link them together / contextualize them. In any case, it would be a pity not to use the health crisis to discover other ways of entering into ecological change other than blindly.

The first lesson of the coronavirus is also the most astounding: it has been proven that it is possible, in a few weeks, to suspend everywhere and at the same time in the world, an economic system that we were told up to now was impossible to slow down or redirect. To all the arguments put forward by the ecologists on the change in our lifestyles, we were always opposed to the argument of the irreversible force of the "train of progress" that nothing could get out of its tracks, "because of", it was said, "globalization". But it is precisely its globalized nature that makes this famous development so fragile, which is likely to slow down and then stop suddenly.

In fact, it is not only the multinationals or trade agreements or the Internet or tour operators that are responsible for globalizing the planet: each entity on this same planet has its own way of attaching together the other elements that make up the collective at any given time. This is true of CO2, which warms the global atmosphere through its diffusion in the air; of migratory birds that carry new forms of influenza; but it is also true, as we painfully relearn, of the coronavirus, whose ability to link "all humans" passes through the seemingly harmless medium of our various small spitting. If you wish for globalization you may have found your master: speaking of getting billions people in social relationships, microbes are the best way!

This sudden pause in the globalized production system is not only seen by ecologists as a great opportunity to advance their political agenda.

Hence this incredible discovery: there was in the global economic system, hidden, a red alarm signal, attached to it was a big handle of hardened steel that any head of State could use, one at a turn, to stop the “train of progress” with a loud squeal of brakes. If the request to turn 90 degrees to land on land still seemed a sweet illusion in January, it becomes much more realistic: every motorist knows that to have a chance to make a big saving turn without going into the scenery, it is better to have slowed down first...

Unfortunately, this sudden pause in the globalized production system is not only seen by environmentalists as a great opportunity to advance their political agenda. Globalizers, those who since the middle of the 20th century have invented the idea of escaping from planetary constraints, also see it as a formidable opportunity to break even more radically with the remaining obstacles to their escape from the world. It is too good an opportunity for them to get rid of the rest of the welfare state, the safety net of the poorest, what still remains of regulations against pollution, and, more cynically, to get rid of all those supernumerary people who clutter up the planet[1].

Let us not forget, in fact, that we must assume that these globalists are aware of ecological change and that all their efforts over the last 50 years have consisted at the same time in denying the importance of climate change, but also in escaping its consequences by building fortified bastions of privilege that must remain inaccessible to all those who will have to be left behind. The great modernist dream of the universal sharing of the "fruits of progress", they are not naive enough to believe in it, but, what is new, they are frank enough to not even give the illusion of it. They are the ones who speak out every day on Fox News and who govern all the climate-sceptic states of the planet from Moscow to Brasilia and from New Delhi to Washington via London.

If everything is stopped, everything can be questioned.

What makes the current situation so dangerous is not only the deaths that are piling up every day, but the general suspension of an economic system that gives those who want to go much further in fleeing from the planetary world a wonderful opportunity to "question everything". We must not forget that what makes globalizers so dangerous is that they necessarily know that they have lost, that the denial of climate change cannot last forever, that there is no longer any chance of reconciling their "development" with the various spheres of the planet into which the economy will eventually have to fit. This is what makes them ready to try everything to extract one last time the conditions that will allow them to last a little longer and to protect themselves and their children. The "stop of the world", this brake, this unexpected pause, gives them an opportunity to flee faster and farther than they ever imagined[2]. The revolutionaries, for the moment, are them.

This is where we must act. If the opportunity is open to them, it is open to us too. If everything is stopped, everything can be questioned, inflected, selected, sorted, interrupted for good or, on the contrary, accelerated. The annual inventory is the time to do it now. To the request for common sense: "Let's restart production as quickly as possible", we must answer with a cry: "Above all, don't! ». The last thing to do should be to go back to business as usual.

For example, the other day, a Dutch florist was shown on television with tears in his eyes, having to throw away tons of ready-to-ship tulips that he could no longer ship by air all over the world because he had no customers. We can only pity him, of course; it is only fair that he should be compensated. But then the camera moved back showing that he grows his tulips above ground, in hydroponics under artificial light before delivering them by Schiphol's cargo planes in a shower of kerosene; hence we doubt: "But is it really worthwhile to continue this way of producing and selling this type of flower? “.

We are becoming effective modifiers of globalization.

One thing leading to another: If we start asking comparable questions ourselves about all aspects of our production system on our own behalf, we become effective modifier of globalization - as effective, millions of us, as the famous coronavirus in its very own way of globalizing the planet. What the virus achieves by humble sputtering from mouth to mouth - the suspension of the world economy - we are beginning to consider by our small, insignificant gestures put together: the suspension of the production system. By asking ourselves these kinds of questions, each of us starts to imagine barrier gestures, but not only against the virus: against each element of a mode of production that we do not want to see resumed.

It is no longer a question of taking over or influencing a production system, but of leaving production as the sole principle of relation to the world. It is not a question of revolution, but of dissolution, pixel after pixel. As Pierre Charbonnier shows, after a hundred years of socialism limited to the sole redistribution of the benefits of the economy, it may be time to invent a socialism that challenges production itself. It is that injustice is not limited to the mere redistribution of the fruits of progress, but to the very way of making the planet bear these fruits. This does not mean to diminish or to live on love or fresh water, but to learn to select each segment of this famous supposedly irreversible system, to question each of the supposedly indispensable connections, and to experience from one generation to generation what is desirable and what has ceased to be desirable.

Hence the capital importance of using this imposed time of confinement to describe, first each one for himself, then in a group, what we are attached to; what we are ready to free ourselves from; the chains we are ready to reconstitute and those which, through our behaviour, we are determined to interrupt[3]. Globalizers, for their part, seem to have a very precise idea of what they want to see reborn after the recovery: the same thing [system] at worst, with oil industries and giant cruise ships as a bonus. It's up to us to counter-inventory them. If, in a month or two, billions of people are able, on a whistle, to learn the new "social distance", to move away, to be more supportive, to stay home to avoid clogging up hospitals, we can imagine the transformative power of these new barrier gestures against the identical recovery, or worse, against a new stopgap from those who want to escape the earth's attraction for good.

A tool to help discernment

As it is always good to link an argument to practical exercises, let's suggest that readers try to answer this little inventory. It will be all the more useful if it is based on a personal experience directly lived. It is not just a matter of expressing an opinion that comes to mind, but of describing a situation and perhaps extending it with a small survey. Only afterwards, if you give yourself the means to combine the answers to compose the landscape created by the superimposition of descriptions, you will end up with an embodied and concrete political expression - but not before.

Warning: this is not a questionnaire, it is not a survey. It is an aid to self-description*.

It is about making a list of the activities that you feel deprived by the current crisis and that give you the feeling that your basic conditions of subsistence are being undermined. For each activity, can you indicate whether you would like them to resume the same (as before), better, or not at all. Answer the following questions:


Question 1: Which of the activities now suspended you would like to see not resumed?

Question 2: Describe

(a) why this activity seems harmful/ superfluous/ dangerous/ inconsistent to you;

(b) how would its disappearance/suspension/substitution make other activities that you favour easier/ more consistent? (Make a separate paragraph for each of the answers listed in question 1.)

Question 3: What measures do you recommend to ensure that workers/employees/ freelancers /contractors who will no longer be able to continue in the activities you are removing are facilitated in their transition to other activities?

Question 4: Which of the now suspended activities would you like to develop/resume or which activities should be invented as replacements?

Question 5: Describe

(a) why this activity seems positive to you;

(b) how it makes other activities that you favour easier/harmonious/ consistent; and

(c) helps to combat those that you consider unfavourable? (Make a separate paragraph for each of the answers listed in question 4.)

Question 6: What measures do you recommend to help workers/employees/freelancers/entrepreneurs to acquire the capacities/ means/ income/instruments to take over/develop/create this activity?

(Then find a way to compare your description with those of other participants. Compiling and then superimposing the answers should gradually draw a landscape composed of lines of conflict, alliances, controversies and oppositions).


[1] See the article on the lobbyists unleashed in the United States by Matt Stoller, "The coronavirus relief bill could turn into a corporate coup if we aren't careful", The Guardian, 24.03.20, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/22/coronavirus-relief-bill-corporate-coup

[2] Danowski, Deborah, de Castro, Eduardo Viveiros, "L'arrêt de monde", in De l'univers clos au monde infini (texts collected and presented). Ed. axe, Emilie. Paris, Editions Dehors, 2014. 221-339.

[3] The self-description follows the procedure of the new grievance books suggested in Bruno Latour, « Où atterrir ? Comment s’orienter en politique », Paris, La Découverte, 2017 and since developed by the Où atterrir consortium http://www.bruno-latour.fr/fr/node/841.html

English : Latour, Bruno (2018). Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. England: Polity Press

* The self-description follows the procedure of the new grievance booklets suggested in Bruno Latour, « Où atterrir ? Comment s’orienter en politique » Paris, La Découverte, 2017 and since developed by a group of artists and researchers.

** Frank Becker from kubus and Martine Legris from the Boutique des Sciences de Lille have translated this article into English and German. Neither are professional translators. So if you find mistakes – be lenient, improve them and spread the text!

We would also like to encourage you to consider how this list of questions can be integrated into your own work – in the interest of our children and grandchildren and in the interest of our Mother Earth.


The complete text can be downloaded as a PDF here.

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