Edgar Morin

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By Antônio Sales Rios Neto*

Edgar Morin is one of those rare thinkers who managed, like no other, to embrace nature, life, knowledge, ideas, humanity and ethics, perhaps coming closest to what some call the spirit of the world

“It is evident that there is no destiny; it is also evident that, in the absence of any destination, there is ruse, illusion and deceit” (Clément Rosset).

The crisis generated by the coronavirus pandemic has had such a profound impact on humanity that it has awakened among today's great thinkers an intense and fruitful dialogue around its historical meanings and similarities, the likely and unlikely developments and, therefore, the potential of the paradigmatic changes it entails. Among these thinkers is the French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher Edgar Morin, who, in the wisdom of his splendid 98 years, remains lucidly aware of the uncertainties, unpredictability and potentialities of the course of history and remains actively committed to his convictions for the necessity , more than urgent, the reform of thought and the reconnection of knowledge, today still very dispersed, and too consistent with the complex vision of the world that he conceived throughout his significant life trajectory.

Initially, it is important to point out that I am not exactly a student of Morin's comprehensive and impactful work. My interest is more focused on studies of complex thinking, which I also tend to call the emerging paradigm of complexity, applied to human development and that of companies, institutions and society. That is why I am interested in Morin's thinking and in so many others who have contributed and continue to contribute to the advancement of the new sciences of complexity. Here in Brazil, perhaps the person most devoted to the study and dissemination of Morin's vast work was the anthropologist Edgard de Assis Carvalho, currently professor and researcher of anthropology at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo and coordinator of the Nucleus for the Study of Complexity and co-representative of the UNESCO Traveling Chair Edgar Morin. Assis Carvalho has numerous works, books, articles, dissertations and theses in the area of ​​contemporary anthropological theory and anthropology of complex systems. He would also mention Maria Cândida Moraes, Ubiratan D'Ambrosio, Lia Diskin, Humberto Mariotti and many others who have made and continue to make valuable contributions to overcoming the reductionisms that prevent human emancipation.

Morin's work is gigantic. Among the more than 70 books she has written, the six volumes of The method (The nature of nature, The life of life, The knowledge of knowledge, The ideas, The humanity of humanity, Ethics), containing more than 2.500 pages, explain and systematize the complex thinking de Morin, giving meaning to life and the ethics of living more connected with the complexity of the real world. I also highlight two of Morin's books, one focused on education and the other on politics, which seem to me to be central to understanding the need for a paradigm shift that our times demand. The first is the essay Os Sete Saberes Necessários à Educação do Futuro (2000), which invites the current educational system, appropriated by the patriarchal culture, which operates from merely utilitarian foundations and only reinforces even more the exacerbation of individualism, to review its presuppositions and to seek a transforming education, more centered on the development of an understanding of the human condition and planetary citizenship, which allows us to better deal with the multiple crises of today. The second is the book Rumo ao Abismo? – Essay on the Destiny of Humanity (2011), which shows the worsening of the world crisis and the inability of current political thought to propose a new civilization policy that avoids the plunge into chaos. 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”.

I had the pleasant opportunity to meet Morin in 2010, here in Fortaleza, the city where I live, when he presided over the international conference entitled The seven necessary knowledge for the education of the present. The result of this meeting was recorded in the Stronghold Card, which warned that in our culture “an unsustainable, simplifying, individualistic, mechanistic and fragmenting reality and knowledge paradigm prevails, which denies the influence and potential of emotions, feelings and affections, as well as ethical, aesthetic values , spiritual elements present in the knowledge construction processes”. Before, I also had the grateful satisfaction of integrating and participating, around 2008, representing Brazil, in the project The emergence of approaches to complexity in Latin America, which had Morin as honorary chairman. The initiative represents perhaps the greatest collective work on complexity that integrated initiatives dispersed among Latin countries, through the gathering of articles by sixty authors, contained in more than a thousand pages, with three volumes published and two more in edition. All are available with open access by Latin American Publishing Community. Also representing Brazil in this project were researchers José Júlio Martins Tôrres, from the Federal University of Ceará, and Sérgio Luís Boeira, from the Federal University of Santa Catarina.

In recent days, Morin has given four interviews* addressing the implications of the current context of global crisis generated by the coronavirus pandemic, in which we perceive the clarity and depth of his worldview, the multidisciplinary nature of his knowledge and, above all, his intellectual lucidity about of the risks and virtualities involved in the crisis of civilization that has haunted us in recent decades. Among the various reflections that he goes through, my attention was drawn to the valuable lessons of history that Morin always rescues in order to understand the instabilities and uncertainties of the present moment. According to him, “the first lesson of history is that we do not learn lessons from history, that we are blind to what it has taught us”. We have lost our capacity for self-surveillance regarding the illusions contained in the idea of ​​progress and we need, today more than ever, to be alert. Morin inviting us to “think that periods that seem progressive can be followed by regression and barbarism, and that even this is not eternal”. Anyway, I feel invaded by a wave of hope to see such a brilliant mind translating, in just four interviews, the great dilemmas of the human condition.

I try, below, to elaborate a mosaic of the three main lessons that, in Morin's view, have guided, for better or worse, the course of history, and which again stand out in this moment of crisis generated by the pandemic. In order not to blur the perspectives that Morin offers us, this mosaic is assembled from the literal transcription of some excerpts from the aforementioned interviews, which, in my opinion, translate the great contradictions and possibilities of the History of mankind.

The regressions

“There is possible progress, uncertain progress, and any progress that does not regenerate degenerates. Everything can regress.”

“The techno-economic unification of the world, which aggressive capitalism brought about in the 1990s, has generated an enormous paradox that the emergence of the coronavirus has now made visible to everyone: this interdependence between countries, instead of favoring real progress in awareness and understanding. of peoples, unleashed forms of selfishness and ultranationalism. The virus has unmasked this absence of an authentic planetary consciousness of humanity.”

“The conviction that free competition and economic growth are universal social panaceas glosses over the tragedy of human history that this conviction aggravates.”

“I observe that the uncontrolled explosion of techno-economic development, animated by an unlimited thirst for profit and favored by a generalized neoliberal policy, has become harmful and has provoked crises of all kinds. From that moment on, I am intellectually prepared to face the unexpected, to face upheavals.”

“The economic-capitalist development, then, unleashed the great problems that affect our planet: the deterioration of the biosphere, the general crisis of democracy, the increase of inequalities and injustices, the proliferation of weapons, the new demagogic authoritarianisms (with the States United States and Brazil in the head). That is why, today, it is necessary to promote the construction of a planetary conscience based on its humanitarian basis: to encourage cooperation between countries with the main objective of increasing feelings of solidarity and fraternity among peoples.”

“We are in a regressive era. The regression manifests itself with the crisis of democracies which, in many places, including Europe, gives rise to semi-dictatorial regimes, in Turkey, Hungary, Russia, and a little in Poland as well. An almost universal trend, to which is added the dominance of gigantic economic forces, which in the current conditions of neoliberalism weigh on people who try to rise, but fail. These revolts deflate or are crushed because there is no force to guide them, a voice capable of giving meaning to the future. Negative factors are predominating.”

“We can strongly fear the general regression that was already under way during the first 20 years of this century (democracy crisis, triumphant corruption and demagoguery, neo-authoritarian regimes, nationalist, xenophobic, racist impulses).”

“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 over his destiny, by predicting that man will have access to immortality and will control everything by intelligence. artificial."

“All these regressions (and, at best, stagnations) are likely until a new political-ecological-economic-social path, guided by a regenerated humanism, appears. This would multiply true reforms, which are not cuts in the budget, but reforms of civilization, of society, linked to reforms of life.”

the uncertainty

“The arrival of the coronavirus reminds us that uncertainty remains an impregnable element of the human condition.”

“Few scientists have read Karl Popper, who established that a theory is only scientific if it is refutable, Gaston Bachelard, who posed the problem of the complexity of knowledge, or Thomas Kuhn, who showed how the history of science is a discontinuous process. Many scientists ignore the contribution of these great epistemologists and still work from a dogmatic perspective.”

“Knowledge multiplies exponentially, suddenly overflows our ability to appropriate it and, above all, poses the challenge of complexity: how to confront, select, properly organize this knowledge, connecting it and integrating uncertainty. For me, this once again reveals the lack of the mode of knowledge that has been inculcated in us, which makes us separate what is inseparable and reduce to a single element what forms a whole that is at the same time one and diverse. Indeed, the dazzling revelation of the convulsions we are suffering is that everything that seemed separate is connected, as a health catastrophe chain catastrophizes the totality of everything human.”

“History also teaches how, at a certain point, everything seems to collapse like, for example, Romanity; after a multi-secular process, something new and revolutionary emerges. We are in an uncertain world and we can imagine a future where catastrophic forces intervene, but probability is never certainty.”

“As a civilizational crisis, it leads us to perceive the deficiencies in terms of solidarity and the consumerist intoxication that our civilization has developed; and asks us to reflect on a politics of civilization (“Une politique de civilization”, with Sami Naïr, Ed. Arléa, 1997). As an intellectual crisis, it should reveal to us the enormous black hole in our intelligence, which makes the evident complexities of reality invisible to us.”

“This epidemic brings us a festival of uncertainties. (…) We don't know if we should expect the worst, the best, a mixture of the two: we are heading towards new uncertainties.”


“I've witnessed so many unforeseen events in my life – from the Soviet resistance in the 1930s to the fall of the USSR, to name just two unlikely historical events before they happened – that it's part of who I am.”

“Occasionally, a pleasant and unexpected factor interferes, such as the election of Pope Francis.”

“Chance usually intervenes, but it is the complexity of the factors that operate in history that most modify it, events that ferment and work on reality. Gorbachev, for example, who expected that?”

“Before the war, Nazi domination in Europe seemed widespread and what made things change? The Duke. Because he wanted to attack Greece, but was stopped by the small Greek army, so he asked Hitler for help, who had to postpone the attack on the USSR for a month, scheduled for May 1941, because he had to fight the Serbian Resistance before being able to plant the swastika flag on the Acropolis. So, having reached the gates of Moscow, the German army was frozen by an early winter. But if he had attacked in May, he would have taken Moscow and fate would have changed.”

“Science is devastated by hyperspecialization, which is the closing and compartmentalization of specialized knowledge, instead of communicating it. And they are above all independent researchers who have established cooperation since the beginning of the epidemic, which is now expanding between infectologists and doctors on the planet. Science lives on communications, all censorship blocks it. Therefore, we must see the greatness of contemporary science at the same time as its weaknesses.”

“I don't know how improbable that might show up today. In human history, however, the two irreconcilable but inseparable enemies that are Eros and Thanatos will continue to clash, and Thanatos will not be able to destroy Eros or Eros eliminate Thanatos. Each in turn will take control. Today the strongest are Polemos and Thanatos, but there is no eternity in history.”

“The post-epidemic will be an uncertain adventure, in which the forces of the worst and the best will develop, the latter being still weak and dispersed. Let us know, finally, that the worst is not certain, that the improbable can happen, and that, in the titanic and inextinguishable combat between the inseparable enemies that are Eros and Thanatos, it is healthy and energetic to side with Eros.”

“The experience of unexpected eruptions in history has not yet penetrated consciousness. Well, the arrival of something unpredictable was predictable, but not its nature. Hence my abiding motto: 'Expect the unexpected.'

Edgar Morin is one of those rare thinkers who managed, like no other, to embrace nature, life, knowledge, ideas, humanity and ethics, perhaps coming closest to what some call the spirit of the world. If, later on, we evolve towards a recognizable future, when we free ourselves from the miseries, ignorance and stupidity that brought us here, Morin will be remembered for the feat of having helped human beings to accept their imperfections and to reconcile with themselves, with the the other, with nature and its much-desired freedom.

*Antonio Sales Rios Neto is a civil engineer and organizational consultant


Recent interviews given by Edgar Morin:

CNRS / Le Journal, 09-04-2020: https://www.fronteiras.com/entrevistas/edgar-morin-as-certezas-sao-uma-ilusao

The country, 11-04-2020: http://www.ihu.unisinos.br/598089-vivemos-em-um-mercado-planetario-que-nao-soube-suscitar-fraternidade-entre-os-povos-entrevista-com-edgar-morin

occur, 15-04-2020: http://www.ihu.unisinos.br/598144-existem-forcas-autodestrutivas-em-jogo-tanto-nos-individuos-quanto-nas-coletividades-ignaras-de-serem-suicidas-entrevista-com-edgar-morin

Le Monde, 20-04-2020: http://www.ihu.unisinos.br/598378-esta-crise-nos-interroga-sobre-as-nossas-verdadeiras-necessidades-mascaradas-nas-alienacoes-do-cotidiano-entrevista-com-edgar-morin

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