On the subject of the pandemic, you said you refused to speak of a “crisis”: how then would you qualify what we are going through?
The term "crisis" comes from the medical world at the base, with the idea of then returning to a previous state. I think that we are rather experiencing a catastrophe, in the sense that it will induce a change – in ancient Greek, the “catastrophê” is the reversal, the turning point. The catastrophe presupposes resuming its development in a completely different direction.
And we can actually think that a lot of things will change, such as our economic organization, for example: are we going to better share work, revalue useful professions, etc.? ? It seems to me as certain that our cultural practices will evolve, perhaps giving more space to social ties. We must also hope that this will finally allow us to change our relationship with the rest of life... In the history of life on Earth, there have already been five extinctions where all the fauna and flora disappeared completely. And I think we are preparing for the 6th extinction.
This is what is deeply at stake in this disaster: the place of humans in their environment?
If there is such a pandemic, it is because we have forgotten that we are part of the living world, that we shared the planet with with animals . We thought we were a species apart, above the natural condition, either because of religion or because of the artifice of technique and speech. While we are governed by the same principles as all sexual animals, we are generated in the same way as mammals, we have the same food needs, etc. We are rediscovering that if we neglect and damage animals, through intensive farming or by destroying their ecosystem, we create all the conditions for developing viruses that can make us disappear... In short, if we massacre the world alive, we go with him.
But it was believed for 70 years that epidemics were a thing of the past. We actually realize that hyper-technology does not protect us from it, on the contrary, it even creates the conditions for its accelerated spread: with aviation and rapid transport, it is we who have moved the virus so quickly! And if we don't change that, more epidemics will happen.
You have practiced ethology a lot: is it a discipline that could help us better understand our relationships with the rest of the living world?
I regret that the ethology has not been further developed. Cultural stereotypes remain very strong, decision-makers – those who finance laboratories and create research positions – still think that animals are not a priority: in my career, I have often heard myself saying that it is useless to study sexuality in baboons, that we were not going to give money to question the transport of viruses by bats…
“If there is such a pandemic, it is because we have forgotten that we are part of the living world, that we shared the planet with animals. »
However, we have known it for a long time: all virus epidemics, bacillary plagues, tuberculosis, cholera, syphilis, etc., all these diseases started from animals and it was our human world that then brought them distributed all over the planet. It is a process that repeats itself regularly! The only difference is that before, when an epidemic spread, the explanation was magic: it came from an evil eye, from God who punished us because we had committed a sin, etc. There, we analyze much better the biological, technical and cultural processes which manufacture the virus and which globalize it. And so we realize that if we had developed ethology, that might have allowed us to limit the epidemic.
By sending us back to our own human fragility, the Coronavirus may also upset our relationship to death: can it open up a revival of spirituality, in your opinion?
Death is part of the human condition. Just like spirituality, moreover, since we speak and we are endowed with a capacity for representation. However, I am skeptical about the "spiritual" nature of what will follow. I would rather speak of a revival of "spiritualism", closer to fanaticism, religious or political.
After such catastrophes, one often sees an outbreak of religion. I saw it in Haiti after the earthquake, or in Colombia after the war with the Farcs. The anguish pushes the crowds to submit to a supreme authority to seek a form of appeasement, with expiatory behavior. Once again, if there will inevitably be changes, it is important not to believe that they will necessarily be for the better...
Do you not believe, for example, that the sad current situation in EHPADs can lead us to reconsider the place of our elders in our society?
I hope there will be this change of outlook, but I'm not sure. Old age is a relatively new phenomenon, it is the first time that it has existed for such a long time. In the natural environment, among animals, there are not really old people: at the first failure, they are eliminated. And that's what happened in the human condition, a few generations ago… So we saw old age appear, in a very short time. Today, in rich countries, women are approaching 100, and men, 90! Old age has just been born, in a way.
But this old age has no productivity function, it is seen as a brake on the commercial and capitalist sprint. The elderly are social charges, burdens for the family, and that is why nursing homes have developed rapidly. In fact, before the general confinement, we were already doing a confinement of old people, who are held together by tiny emotional threads – a phone call or a visit from time to time. And if these visits are interrupted, they let themselves die: this is called the sliding syndrome, where the old people let themselves die without realizing it... We then speak of natural death, whereas it is of emotional deprivation. In any case, it is indeed one of the challenges of the “next world”: we must invent a new status for old age in our societies.
Check out part 1 of this interview:
> Boris Cyrulnik: Rediscovering the art of simplicity