“Capitalism is no longer a mode of production, but of destruction”

Mariana: In our emergency context, you want to give philosophy back its critical negative power. What do you think is the task of philosophy today?

Jean Vioulac:It is above all that of lucidity, of the struggle against all the powers of mystification. Philosophy was established in Greece by reason against myth, it was from the beginning an activity of demystification: but it should be noted today that, in the form of metaphysics, it was itself a mystification. This is the revolutionary achievement of Kant, who broke with the old regime of philosophy and established the new regime, that of criticism.

“The criterion of writing is the criterion of a historian. »

But the criticism must be relentlessly reiterated against the very institutions that ensure the transmission of philosophy. Thought does not hang in the air, it depends on a certain number of institutions: these have their own logic, their ideological interests, their social functions; any institution denies the obsolescence of what founded its legitimacy, and so becomes mystifying. That is why philosophy must be snatched from the positive institutions that confiscate it, in order to restore its negative critical power. How thought is essentially anarchic and heretical.

In their eyes, human history does not begin, as is generally admitted, with the birth of writing, but with the Neolithic. What is so special about this period in your eyes?

The criterion of writing is a criterion of the historian, because writing makes the archive possible, which is particularly precious for reconstructing the past. But the advent of writing, which for a long time referred only to a tiny social minority, has no structural and systemic effect capable of triggering a real process within human communities: but that is what it is all about when we want to think about History. For more than 300,000 years, Homo sapiens lived in small groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers, then a process was set in motion, which in 10,000 years changed the face of the Earth.

The Neolithic Revolution is the moment when sedentarization and community life establish a new power, social power, which in a second moment is exercised over plants and then over animals. Sedentarization precedes agriculture: the essential phenomenon is the advent of this power capable of dominating nature. There is an authentic revolution here, that is, a change in the ontological regime, to use Philippe Descola’s analysis, through which man’s relationship with the world, with animals, with divinities, with himself, changes radically.

It seems that you attribute to the Neolithic the characteristics that are usually attributed to modernity (new man, lord and possessor of nature, etc.)…

Say the man becomes “as master and possessor of nature” for modernity, it is a misinterpretation: it is the inverted mirror of ideology. It was in the Neolithic period that man took possession of the land, plants, animals, who organized the world adapting it to his needs: the beginning of a process of anthropization of nature that transfigured all Neolithic regions. The civilization of man “master and possessor of nature” par excellence is Rome. The Renaissance does not institute man in principle, as humanism claims, it institutes mathematics in principle, it is the geometrization of knowledge, representation, the city, the world, it is this power of the digital that takes shape in mechanics. apparatus of capitalism, to which man is enslaved and by which he is possessed.

“We are all helpers. »

Today, what is man master and possessor of? He does not control anything, he is subject to a gigantic power that is devastating the land and societies. In the same way, it is an error of perspective to speak of progress when it comes to machines: what characterized the history of technology for two centuries was the permanent delegation of procedures to machines, which results in a massive technical disqualification of individuals. In just a few generations, we have lost vital knowledge that has been patiently accumulated since the Neolithic. We are all helpers.

Against the supporters of the ideology of Progress, you believe that human history is one of catastrophe, or rather, if there is progress, it is only one of catastrophe. What is the nature of this disaster and how does it define our humanity ?

Recognition of the catastrophe is now official, particularly with the recent advent of the Anthropocene concept. The UN published a report 10 days ago claiming that humanity had entered “a spiral of self-destruction”: my book precisely questions this “spiral of self-destruction”, the challenge is to do its archeology. All analyzes of the Anthropocene confirm that it is a direct effect of the Industrial Revolution. But this is nothing more than the establishment of the necessary device for the reproduction of capital, and therefore it is a disaster: capitalism is no longer a mode of production, it is a mode of destruction.

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Progress is that of the machine, not that of men, it is actually growth, that is, the accumulation of capital. But the very idea that the transition to agriculture and animal husbandry constitutes progress is called into question: the Neolithic Revolution condemned men to exhausting work and, impoverishing their food, inaugurated the era of epidemics and neurosis, established social exploitation … Contemporary science confirms Rousseau: history as such is a catastrophe.

Instead of thinking that the catastrophe is the result of an anomaly, of a kind of deviation from humanity, you hypothesize that it is in fact its realization. How to understand such a radical proposal?

I return here to a hypothesis that Lacan formulated in 1974, in which he imagined that humanity would be eradicated by a virus created in a laboratory: a hypothesis that recent events have given new vigor, where he saw the “sublime relief” of discovering that man is truly above of nature, as it reached the annihilation of all life on earth. But I do not make this thesis my own, to which I return based on Nietzsche. To say that man arises through the negation of nature, through denaturation, is to recognize that he is a promise.

He is the animal that has dangerously departed from the logic of speciation, but for that very reason he is the indeterminate being, he is a potentiality: man is the promise of himself. What is at stake in History, which must therefore be thought of from the category of messianism, is the fulfillment of the promise. The catastrophe would then be the betrayal of the promise: that history happened in vain, and that man was only a temporary anomaly in the evolution of the great apes.

* Jean Vioulac, anarchaeology. Heretical Fragments on the Historical CatastrophePUF, 372 p., € 22

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