Edgar Morin, 100 years old

Image: Silvia Faustino Saes


An indispensable inspiration for overcoming the civilizational impasses of this century, while we still have time

“Often, one has to be a deviant minority to be in the real. Although, apparently, there is no perspective, no possibility, no salvation in it, reality is not paralyzed forever, it has its mystery and its uncertainty. The important thing is not to accept the fait accompli” (Edgar Morin).

The unprecedented prospect of an early extinction of the human species as a result of its own actions, as many specialists in Earth sciences have been pointing out, will probably be one of the main stigmas that must haunt humanity in this XNUMXst century. We inaugurate a somber time, which is born under the ignominious sign of a profound worsening of the process of destruction of ecosystems, in a very accelerated course in this Anthropocene Era, in which humans have reached, through globalized predatory capitalist hegemony, the most advanced stage of their impetus of domination and subordination of nature and, consequently, of death drive and self-annihilation.

The tragic 187th century was marked by wars and totalitarianism unleashed within the two main failed civilizing projects – capitalism and real socialism –, which rivaled throughout the period in which humanity experienced the greatest horrors against the human condition. It is estimated that at least 1993 million lives were decimated (Brzezinski, 12) by human deliberations, equivalent to something around 1900% of the world's population in XNUMX. At the beginning of the XNUMXst century, with humanity's insistence on continuing ecocidal route of the capitalist world-system, environmental degradation on a planetary scale, combined with the growing decline of democracies and the threats of advances in the phenomenon of the algorithmization of life, both sponsored by the insane globalization of a techno-market view of the world, constitute the two main engines of the regression and civilizing barbarism that are announced for the coming decades.

How to understand the forces that dragged us, along the tortuous path of civilization, to a way of life so incongruous with nature? How to oppose a capitalist sociability so dissonant of the dynamics that sustain the immense web of life on our planet and that is pushing us towards such a dystopian and unsustainable reality? How to understand and resist such schizophrenic, ecocidal and, ultimately, suicidal human behavior?

a planetary thinker

One of the answers to these great questions of our time lies in the life trajectory of one of the most prodigious contemporary thinkers, who today (8/7/2021) celebrates his 100 years of insurgency against a one-dimensional, fragmented, controlling way of life and therefore disconnected from the complexity of the real world. We are talking about the multifaceted Edgar Morin, a remarkable French thinker who, even becoming a centenary, has managed to maintain, until the present day, his lucidity and ability to understand and deal with the precarious realities that he himself has experienced since the dark 1920s. , including the adversities that were imposed on his own personal life. As he himself always likes to mention, a life inspired by the verses of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: “Walker, there is no path. The path is made by walking, by walking the path is made”.

Renowned French sociologist Alain Touraine called him a “planetary humanist”. In fact, Morin is recognized by many as a planetary thinker who, in order to understand the many facets of reality, chose to transit simultaneously through sociology, philosophy, anthropology, biology and many other areas of knowledge, always looking for connections (invisible to eyes of disjunctive rationalization, which separates everything) between the various islands of knowledge and integrating them from a “context and complex thinking” that could give a better understanding of the contradictions of the human condition and its increasingly maladjusted interaction with the complex reality that surrounds it and that permanently challenges it.

From an early age, Morin began to realize that reality could not be reduced to the notions of order, certainty, separation and linear causality – attributes considered the foundations of the Enlightenment ideals of modernity, still very dominant in contemporary times. For him, the search for understanding the real is in the incessant interactions and retro-interactions between an infinity of components that integrate it, that is, reality is better understood by the interweaving of attributes such as uncertainty, disorder and chance.

Therefore, the strange real world, in Morin's view, involves constant risks of errors and illusions, given the randomness that permeates it. “Complexity”, says Morin, “is the challenge, not the answer”. Unlike the worldviews that shaped human experience in the past and still shape it in the present, complexity (the origin of the term complex comes from the Latin complexus, which means “what is woven together”) leads us to an open, plural and uncertain worldview. It seeks to accommodate and reconcile the countless “truths” that try to decipher reality. It recognizes that such “truths” are indecipherable, as they result from an ocean of relationships and incessant interactions that make up reality. Therefore, dealing with the real is to be in a permanent process of discovery, deconstruction and reconstruction, in a constant dialogue with reality, whose main attributes seem closer to the idea of ​​randomness, diversity, ambiguity, plurality, instability, multiplicity, unpredictability and uncertainty.

A life challenged by the unexpected

His own life experience, intellectual, political and personal, led him to this perception of an imponderable reality. Morin already arrives in the world, on July 8, 1921, having his first contact with the unpredictable. According to him, “the delivery was a tragic moment, in the sense that my mother's life necessitated my death and my life had to bring about her own death. My mother survived the expulsion, but I was born nearly dead, strangled by the umbilical cord.” Her mother, Luna Beressi, a Sephardic Jew, suffered from a serious heart disease due to having contracted the Spanish flu, which made it inadvisable for her to have children. Beressi, with whom Morin established a very strong maternal bond, died 10 years later, the second devastating event in Morin's life, which provoked “an inner Hiroshima” in him.

From there, Morin enters a process of personal immersion, seeking refuge in literature and cinema, the main influences in his formation. “Literature, like cinema”, in Morin's idea of ​​the world, “when well conceived, represent a learning of human understanding (...) We understand our neighbor much better than in real life, and it is this understanding that must be inserted in reality".

His adolescence was marked by the turbulence of Europe in the 1930s, which sank into implacable and bloodthirsty dictatorial regimes. In 1940, before the Nazis arrived in France, Morin, only 19 years old and already without the protection of his father – Vidal Nahoum, also a Sephardic Jew, who had been drafted to war –, decides to assume his freedom. He takes a train and takes refuge in Toulusse where he has managed to continue his studies. A few years later, in 1942, to escape occupation by Nazi troops, he fled to Lyon. “I won my freedom”, he says, “contradictorily, when France lost hers”.

After the war, in 1945, Morin volunteered to help rebuild Europe and was appointed an officer in the occupying French army to work in devastated Germany. There he wrote his first book, Germany's Year Zero (L'An zéro de l'Allemagne. Paris, France: La Cité universelle, 1946.). In this work, Morin registers his first perceptions about the complexity of reality. He delves into the contradictions of the human condition as he reflects on the German people's tragic experience of war. How was a society that produced remarkable minds like Hegel, Marx, Brecht, Kant, Beethoven and so many others able to let itself be carried away by the Nazi daydream? “Perplexed, looking at that destroyed country”, reflects Morin, “I wondered how it was possible that that nation, which harbored the richest philosophy, the most beautiful music, an extraordinary culture, had succumbed to Nazism.”

This was the adverse trajectory of Morin in his first life experiences. Other important moments in his life can be consulted on the website produced by SESC-SP (access Here), which brings together the best collection available in Brazil on the life, work and worldview of this extraordinary thinker.

Blindness in the face of the complexity of reality

All these intense experiences seem to have helped Morin to develop his multiple capacities for understanding reality, beyond what the hegemonic worldview has always imposed in each historical moment. Capacities that are vigorously manifested even today, even though it has reached its centenary. For Morin, there is no way to observe and understand the real without there being a reconnection of the many disciplines and knowledge that were separated by the “great paradigm of the West”, conceived by Descartes and radiated to the world within the historical process of European domination, from the XVII century. His main proposal for improving our perception of reality is in “complex thinking”, which seeks to understand that the phenomena of nature (including human nature) cannot be translated by Cartesian dualities, such as order/disorder, subject/object, soul/body. , spirit/matter, quality/quantity, emotion/reason, freedom/determinism, among many others. In the complex view of the world elaborated by Morin, all these dichotomies are not as separate and exclusive attributes of reality as imagined by the Cartesian view of the world, which sustains the currently hegemonic techno-economicist ideology.

His stance becomes increasingly rebellious in the face of an academy that produces watertight, compartmentalized knowledge and, consequently, reproduces minds dulled to reality, accommodated in a “cognitive conformism”. Hence his concern with the pertinence of the knowledge generated by the academy. For Morin, “the fragmentation and compartmentalization of knowledge prevent learning 'what is woven together'”. Contrary to the primacy of objectivity and reason, Morin transgresses the way of doing Science and chooses to understand the real from new methods of cognition.

One of these methods, for example, is the one that adopts the dialogical principle, as he himself expresses in this statement about his first social research: “when you want to study a community, human beings, you must, of course, be 100% objective, try to consider the facts, the data as it is presented. At the same time, it was necessary to be 100% subjective, that is to say participating, communicating, loving people. That is, it is necessary to fully use objectivity and subjectivity, although subjectivity was considered by most sociologists to be something negative.” For Morin, the supposed antagonisms that make up reality are not mutually exclusive as the still prevailing binary view of the world thinks. They are simultaneously competing and complementary, which is why we need to know how to embrace them in order to better understand and deal with reality.

It was thanks to Morin's work that many authors from different areas of knowledge began to develop new methods of cognition and investigation of the problems that arise in the face of human experience. From this new look, which considers that reality is “woven together”, new assumptions to put complex thinking into practice are already being adopted. Hence, as one of the strategies to better address contemporary challenges, the application of so-called cognitive operators of complex thinking, also called rebinding operators. They are: circularity, self-production/self-organization, dialogic operator, hologrammatic operator, subject-object integration and ecology of action.

For those who wish to delve deeper into Morin's gigantic work, which comprises more than 100 books (including the many partnerships he has established with various authors), and his formulations on the web of relationships that make up the real world, the six volumes of The Method (The nature of nature, 1977; The life of life, 1980; The knowledge of knowledge, 1986; The ideas, 1991; The humanity of humanity, 2001; Ethics, 2004), containing more than 2.500 pages, systematize and make explicit an epistemology of complex thought. In this work, Morin offers many elements for those who want a better understanding of the many nuances involved in the conceptions about life, the human condition, our destiny, and proposes an ethics of reconnection that allows us to better connect with the complexity of the real world and with the construction of a possible future, in order to avoid the abyss towards which we are heading.

I also highlight two more books by Morin, one focused on education and the other on politics, which seem to me to be central to understanding the need to change towards a new sociability, outside the logic of the market, which our times demand. The first is the test The Seven Necessary Knowledges for the Education of the Future (Cortez – UNESCO/UN Brazil, 2000), which invites the current educational system, imprisoned by the logic of market productivism, which operates from merely utilitarian foundations and only reinforces even more the exacerbation of individualism, to review its assumptions and seek an emancipatory education of subjects, more centered on developing an understanding of the human condition and the need for planetary citizenship, which allows us to better deal with the multiple crises of today. The second is about the book Towards the Abyss? – Essay on the Fate of Humanity (Bertrand Brasil, 2010), in which he denounces the worsening of the gigantic planetary crisis and the inability of current political thought to propose a new civilization policy that avoids the plunge into barbarism. For Morin, we need to abandon the dream of domination and “replace the notion of development with that of a politics of humanity and a politics of civilization”.

Understanding the human condition

One of the most important legacies of Morin's comprehensive work is perhaps his reflections on the human condition. In his understanding of the paths to be traced to face the main contemporary challenges is the idea that “the XNUMXst century should abandon the unilateral vision that defines the human being by rationality (Homo sapiens), by the technique (homo faber), by the utilitarian activities (Homo economicus), by mandatory requirements (homo prosaicus). The human being is complex and bears within himself, in a bipolarized way, antagonistic characters”. Morin urges us, therefore, to abdicate this one-sided view that defines the human being exclusively by techno-economist rationality. Man is, at the same time, sapiens e demens (wise and crazy), faber e ludens (hardworking and playful), empiricus e imagine (empirical and imaginary), economicus e consumans (economical and consumerist), prosaicus e poeticus (prosaic and poetic).

We are therefore best understood by the idea of ​​a homo complexus, which in Morin's words means that “the human being is a rational and irrational being, capable of measure and excess; subject of intense and unstable affectivity”. Hence the need to turn our attention more to the human condition and less to the improvement of techniques and instruments, since the crisis of civilization we face, to a large extent, is the result of this misunderstanding. We need to understand, as Morin himself warns, that “when there is a hegemony of illusions, unleashed excess, then the homo demens submit the Homo sapiens and subordinates rational intelligence to the service of its monsters”.

Just as it prevailed throughout almost the entire course of civilization, our inclinations towards unnecessary illusions – perhaps the most harmful ones are the illusion of order, control and domination –, which still persist with more intensity in contemporary times, are pushing us towards the abyss. In the last two decades, they are expressed especially through the bet that has been made on the advancement of technology to solve all the world's problems. This is the so-called transhumanist movement, which assumes that human beings are moving towards an improvement that will raise them to the post-sapiens condition, through the devices and manipulations in charge of artificial intelligence. As Morin himself recently warned (interview with Le Monde, on 20/4/2020), when reflecting on the health crisis generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, “the euphoric madness of transhumanism leads to a paroxysm the myth of the historical necessity of progress and man’s dominion not only over nature, but also about his fate, predicting that man will have access to immortality and will control everything through artificial intelligence.”

Contradicting the supposed benefits for the progress of humanity, which could come from algorithms, what has been achieved so far with this cybernetic world view has been to frighteningly amplify the impetus for control, domination and appropriation of the truth that characterizes patriarchal culture. millennial. On the one hand, new regressions are emerging again in various forms: threats to democracies in many countries, widespread corruption, brutal socioeconomic inequalities, totalitarian regimes, nationalist outbursts, organized crime, xenophobia, racism and other forms of disintegration of the social fabric. On the other hand, we are inertly witnessing a process of environmental degradation on a planetary scale, which has already placed us within the sixth mass extinction and threatens our survival as a species.

Deep down, what Morin shows us is that we are at the heart of a change in historical times, in which there is a profound crisis of perception that fragments the ways of interpreting reality and that constitutes the genesis of institutional vulnerability that fragments the modes of intervention in that same reality. Thus, with the current way of life centered on techno-economic development, which feeds the insanity of the growth of the capitalist production system, there is an unprecedented worsening of the planetary crisis. Therefore, Morin proposes a passage from Cartesian linear thinking (focus on fragmentation, control and predictability) – whose conceptions date back to the time of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, in ancient Greece –, as well as from systemic thinking (focus on sets, patterns and totalities), developed throughout the XNUMXth century, for complex thinking, whose focus is on interactions, uncertainties and unpredictability, which is much more comprehensive to deal with the complexity of the human condition and the reality that surrounds it. Hence the need to apply new cognitive operators, as mentioned before, so that we can put complex thinking into practice and, in this way, reconnect ourselves to our natural condition.

Hope in Metamorphosis

However, this complex thinking proposed by Morin is still far from overcoming linear thinking and systemic thinking. That is why it becomes so difficult for us to embrace new modes of cognition that allow us to better deal with the complexity of the natural world in which we are imbricated and with the multiple crises that are manifested in contemporary times. As Morin says, “everywhere the crisis of democracy, the crisis of the biosphere, the crisis of thought, political sleepwalking, as well as xenophobic, racist and bellicose delusions, are accelerating and amplifying”. Which is why he warns that “disintegration is likely. The improbable but possible is metamorphosis”. The bet on metamorphosis, to which he refers, is the catalytic element of the human capacity, faced with the possibility of self-destruction, of changing its way of seeing and interacting with the world and, in this way, resignifying itself in the face of such a profound crisis. , because, in the current conditions of our planet, without a radical change in our way of being in the world we will have no future. “The closer we get to catastrophe,” says Morin, “the more metamorphosis is possible. So hope can come out of despair.”

All scenarios, whether in the political, ecological, social or economic spheres, point to the end of the long history of the prevalence of patriarchal culture, which also originated from a metamorphosis that occurred in the Neolithic period. According to the Austrian sociologist Riane Eisler, from some moment around the time of the agricultural revolution, the great cultural bifurcation of the West took place, in which the Indo-European warrior peoples made use of weapons to promote the passage of the “society of partnership", the so-called matristic culture that prevailed until then, to the "society of domination", which resulted in the patriarchal culture in force until today (The Chalice and the Sword: Our History, Our Future, Palas Athena, 2008). From that time to the present day, the history of civilization has been a history of wars, massacres and destructions, in the name of supposed human progress.

The next decades, therefore, contain all the elements to be marked by a new metamorphosis, with all the undesirable hardships that this type of phenomenon entails. As Morin recalls, “Human history was born out of an unscheduled metamorphosis that would have seemed impossible to any extraterrestrial observer ten thousand years ago”. It is from this perspective that Morin seems to find, from now on, some possibility of regeneration, even though there is a strong and growing collective feeling of hopelessness that sees no more alternatives to civilization.

The fact is that we have an increasingly dystopian reality on the horizon. What route, then, could divert us from the collapse of civilization? With a lot of optimism, if we seek some learning from the many regressions of the past, a new way of living would certainly be something that accepts our limited and contradictory natural condition and tries to overcome our imprisonment in the patriarchal culture. Civilization has no choice but to abandon the market-based view of the world and assume a relational (complex) view of the world, which considers the interweaving of all dimensions of the human condition and the natural world, with which we have an irremediable relationship of interdependence.

If we had today some instance of global governance with this purpose, which reached the necessary consensus among the most developed countries, which dictate the destinies of humanity, a civilization policy, as defended by Morin, would probably contemplate at least the following transformation approaches: a strategy to reduce the population burden on Earth, to mitigate the climate changes already underway; the articulation of a global democracy that tolerates the pluralism of ways of life; the rescue of the sense of community and preservation of common goods, which were destroyed by narcissistic, excluding and predatory market relationships; and the formulation of a new relational economy, which gives centrality to life in the care of our Common Home and not to accumulation and consumption. The construction of a recognizable future necessarily goes through this path, but it is very far from being a reality.

Everything indicates that, from now on, the future of humanity will be increasingly under the designs of chance and metamorphosis. Approximately twenty years ago, when he was writing the last book of his main work, La Méthode 6 – Éthique (Editions du seuil, 2004), Morin envisioned two outcomes for the current civilizing impasse imposed by the multiple crises of contemporary times. According to him, we could exit history “on top”, through the regeneration of the absolute power of the States, or “exit from below”, through generalized regression and the “explosion of barbarism a la Mad Max”. However, Morin seems to have already ruled out the first option, as we can see from his manifestations in recent years, and indicates that he has surrendered to the many prognoses that increasingly point to barbarism. In his words, “barbarism is present today, threatening us again, this old barbarism of destruction and hatred, allied to a new barbarism, born in our civilization, a cold, icy barbarism, that of technology and calculations that ignore feelings and life.

Morin's invaluable work shows us that any human attempts to shape reality, either by the market view of the world, whether by the cybernetic view of the world, or any other, which are disputing hegemony in this change of historical epoch, will be doomed to failure, the that may further accelerate the premature termination of the human experience on this already severely degraded planet. It is much better to bet our future on the reform of thought, as Morin proposes, on the acceptance of the plurality of ways of living, on the revision of our patriarchal beliefs and values, on a worldview that dialogues with the complexity of nature, that moves away from the illusions of control, hierarchy and appropriation of truth, which accepts the randomness, ambiguity, contradictions, multiplicity, unpredictability and uncertainty that lead to our limited natural condition.

Save the vitality of Edgar Morin! Save your centuries-old and vigorous rebellion! A rebellion that urges us to accept and embrace the complexity of the dynamics that sustain life, to get rid of the lure of capitalist insanity that is destroying our humanity and our biosphere. An indispensable inspiration for overcoming the civilizational impasses of this century, while we still have time.

*Antonio Sales Rios Neto is a writer and political and cultural activist.


EISLER, Riane. The Chalice and the Sword: Our Past, Our Future. São Paulo: Palas Athena, 2007.

MARIOTTI, Humberto. The cognitive operators of complex thinking. 2007. Available here.

MORIN, Edgar. praise of metamorphosis. EcoDebate, January 12, 2010. Available here.

MORIN, Edgar. interview with Le Monde, April 20, 2020. Available here.

MORIN, Edgar. Dos Demônios: Live Atelier of the Thought of Edgar Morin. Sesc São Paulo, August 28 and 29, 2000.

MORIN, Edgar. Introduction to Complex Thinking. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2015.

MORIN, Edgar. My way. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brazil, 2010.

MORIN, Edgar. Method 6: ethics. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2007.

MORIN, Edgar. Os seven necessary knowledge for the education of the future. São Paulo: Cortez – UNESCO/UN Brazil, 2000.

MORIN, Edgar. Into the abyss? Essay on the Fate of Humanity. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brazil, 2010.

SESCSP – SAO PAULO COMMERCE SOCIAL SERVICE. Electronic site containing the collection on the life and work of Edgar Morin. Available here.

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