What do we really care about ?

by | 15 Oct 2022 | Climate – Environment

Doing rightly so, the French press has multiplied this week the laudatory articles on the occasion of the disappearance of Bruno Latour.

“What do we really care about, what are we ready to give up?” he asks us. A cruelly topical question in a country where motorists are not far these days from coming to blows over a few liters of diesel… at €2.50 per liter. Not far removed either from the clumsy questions of the young activists who doused Van Gogh’s Les Tournesols in soup at the National Gallery: “Which is more valuable, art or life?”

“He had taken the measure before many other thinkers, of the intimate solidarity of man with the natural world” writes the French Newspaper La Croix…

Before many other thinkers?

In the last century, when the world was gripped by the threat of nuclear destruction, a number of intellectuals had put their finger on the subject. I am thinking of Rachel Carson, with her 1962 bestseller, “Silent Spring”, about the disasters caused by pesticides. I am thinking of Kenneth Ewart Boulding who in the 1960s already warned us: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can continue indefinitely in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. “. And to so many others!

But without crossing the Atlantic, I also think of an old companion, who accompanied me, sometimes reluctantly, from high school.

In the French baccalaureate, I presented six texts by him, all coming from the Essays. It must have been about everything Lagarde et Michard school book had extracted from it. With great care, my mother had typed the first and last words onto the card to be given to the examiner. Six texts, that was almost a one in three chance of falling on him… But the fate had finally fallen on Camus, which isn’t bad either…

Michel de Montaigne, during his lifetime, said he was ready to return from the other world to refute erroneous readings of his work. So, cautiously, I will take shelter behind Antoine Compagnon, writer, professor at the College de France and at Columbia University, who in “Un été avec Montaigne”, evokes the philosopher’s relationship with nature.

Long before the Anthropocene, but shortly after the discovery of the Americas had profoundly changed man’s view of his world, Michel de Montaigne wondered about his relationship to nature, with skepticism about the idea itself of progress.

The dialogue of 1562 with the Indians of Rouen, the reflections on the corruption and the misfortune that would inevitably cause the conquest of the Americas are so enlightening. The New World is closer to nature than the Old, but nature is always good to man: “The colonization of America does not bode well, because the Old World will corrupt the New” summarizes Antoine Compagnon.

This should actually be at the heart of our debate on ecology: “What do we really care about, what are we ready to give up?”  : thank you Mister Latour, thank you my dear Montaigne !

iconography : Artist’s impression of Montaigne (anonymous oil on canvas, circa 1800-1820)