Relearn to live

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A letter from Gilles Clément, a reflection on the pandemic, what it will lead to the future, to society and to our life models.

We were not at war. Covid brought us together, it didn’t divide us. It made no distinction between rich, poor, white, black, unemployed, or “cross-the-roads.” However, it presented itself as an unpredictable danger for everyone, a common destiny.


Unpredictable danger – whatever its nature – leads power to assume absolute and legitimate control under the pretext of a struggle against the danger in question. Precisely for this reason a military vocabulary is used to develop without complexes a strategy of fear, whose political utility is submission. It is easy to govern submissive peoples, impossible to do the same with a free people.

The people had therefore to be enslaved to masks, barrier gestures, safety distances and oriented consumption: all the shops were closed except those of the large supermarkets. Power multinationals have every right, including that of inadvertent transmission of the virus, they act in the name of “war” against the enemy, anything is possible.

The enemy in these cases is not an invisible virus, a pandemic, but a possible outlet towards another model of life. The worst would have been to arrive at a non-consumer economy. It would have been a terrible nightmare for them. They tried to avoid it at any cost. Billions were paid out, so much would come back. The important thing was not to save lives but to save the ultra-liberal economic model, which destroys life on the planet, the whole world knows this, but it’s okay with the banks. Consequently, it is convenient to rely on a fear-growth strategy to obtain submission from the majority of the planet’s inhabitants to the lifestyle established by the sacred principle of growth. The official media abound with arguments on this issue, the invited economists reinforce the argument: it is not a matter of changing one’s lifestyle but of gently taking it up again with great firmness, as soon as the confinement is over. The Medef executive went as far as wanting to force the resumption of the work that kills before the crisis was over. The media prepared us for this option and only this one: you can consume, buy, spend, don’t worry, do what we told you.

Obedient people, we wore masks. Behind this shred of luck we faced without discussion the realities that surround us, the abandonment of public services, the sinking of hospitals, the suffering of health workers, now sanctified, mistreated until recently, we filled in the self-certifications for travel with great humility to buy bread or flour to be able to make bread at home since it was necessary to remain confined… we did what they told us to do.

Without a doubt we had to go through that to support the “peak” and glimpse the future, freeing ourselves from the pandemic. Isolation reassures or exasperates, it depends, but it plays a particular role in the life of consumer human beings, what we are, forcing us to conceive a basic biological autonomy: like, for example, cooking… Let’s rediscover ancestral gestures and almost household chores peasants. Those who own a garden are lucky. For them, the holiday isolation becomes an unexpected opportunity to transform the ornamental space into an existential need; one does not exclude the other: a garden is also a landscape. Whatever the situation, we all find ourselves – we, passengers of the Earth – having to invent a new way of life: that of non-dependence on a vital service that can risk breaking down at the slightest flutter of a virus.

For this reason the cultural and cultivation multiplicity, the biodiversity of species adapted to different soils and different climates of the world, the ability of each micro-region to become autonomous from the point of view of food production and distribution, the diversity of artisanal structures… All these prospects present themselves to us as tangible possibilities for facing the future. This presupposes the abandonment of a globalized vision of exchanges where “competitiveness” (a word stammered endlessly) becomes an authentic instrument of war, given that war is here and not only in an assault by an unknown living organism in the form of virus. From this absurd and dangerous competitiveness comes the unbridled international market that circulates soybean or palm oil from one point of the planet to another, for dubious reasons that are not essential, but which make money. Has the ecological cost of a strawberry from Spain, a rose from Colombia, a tool, a laser or a fabric from China ever been calculated… and all the goods that can be produced in situ but we get from afar?

This observation of absurd and dangerous dependence certainly risks being recovered by decerebrated nationalists whose tendency is to withdraw into a local-reactionary model fueled by an underlying racism.

Patients who have a vision of the different as an enemy cannot be extracted from their neurosis. They have not understood that we are in the restricted space of the planetary Garden, this small biosphere, swimming in the same sea, the one that allows us to live. Yes, the water we drink has already been drunk by plants, animals and humans before us. Many times. This is our sharing condition. So are viruses as well as water, or the air we breathe.

We must then bring a calculator. If we want to influence the costs of ecological repairs required to hope to be able to live tomorrow, we must urgently change our lifestyle, i.e. consumption, by reversing the model of greed. Don’t force the “poor” to want an SUV and twelve pairs of shoes but make him understand where he lives and why birdsong soothes us, and not that of car exhausts along the sidewalks, where forced jogging is practiced.

Is it possible?

Nothing is certain but the awareness brought about by covid19 suggests to the inhabitants of the whole world that this other lifestyle should be seriously considered.

The powerful of this world will violently oppose this trend. They have already demonstrated it on a small scale: an army of CRS (the National Police force) against the “zadists” of Notre Dame des Landes, whose greatest sin was not to use the occupied land but to invent an art of living which uses diversity without destroying it by adopting an anti-consumerist economy… And which could serve as a model! It was necessary to extinguish this fire at any cost.

But the fire didn’t go out.

It smoulders.

It can ignite the continents of the future. Not to give them the coup de grace in the misery of the ashes but to save them from the destruction of the market and immerse them in the dynamics of a re-creation: re-learn to live.

Will we one day have to thank microorganisms for opening our eyes?

Gilles Clément (originally written on 13th April 2020)