Doctor in Philosophy and teaching fellow Baptiste Morizot is also a lecturer at the University of Aix-en-Provence. He dedicates his work to the relationship between human beings and the living, both within and without. He is the author of Les Diplomates. Cohabiter avec le loup sur une autre carte du vivant, 2016, Editions Wildproject (Fondation de l'Ecologie Politique 2017 Prize and François Sommer Literary Award 2016) and Pour une théorie de la rencontre. Hasard et individuation chez G. Simondon, Editions Vrin.

Diplomacy with the living. A return to a time of myths

Can we conceive any other relationship with the living than the one the Western world has inherited? Our relationships, between exploitation and protection, are based on a fundamental asymmetry between us and them. Could we conceive and implement relationships that would recognise our uniqueness as human animals without creating a split that would condemn us to “natural” relationships with nature’s creatures?

The most intriguing impact of environmental metamorphoses on our relationship with the living and the natural world becomes visible if we make a detour via what anthropology teaches us about the reactions of some animistic populations to climate change. In animistic worlds, nature is domesticated from all sides, except for mysterious knots which harbour metamorphic changelings, whose nature is unclear and with whom one cannot establish a stable relationship. Faced with these creatures, one must continue to speak and share in order to try and establish a stable social relationship. Yet, these creatures are an anomaly in traditional animistic worlds. In the Far North for example, because of environmental metamorphoses, Gwich'in hunters are no longer able to catch animals, hybrid animals (coywolves and pizzlis) elude ancestral knowledge, incomprehensible and unpredictable phenomena multiply in a nature that was well domesticated until then, and all this turns the status of these metamorphic changelings from anomalies to the norm (Nastassja Martin, 2016). Yet, when metamorphic changelings, with whom social relationships have not been established, become the norm, one could talk of a return to the time of myths in an animistic world. In parallel reasoning, I would contend that contemporary naturalism in the face of climate change has also entered into a new time of myths, the argument being that in the face of climate change, biological sciences and political ecology jointly give rise to natural living figures that make obsolete the status we granted to former natural creatures and destabilise the relationships we had established with them. What becomes of nature if Earth becomes Gaia, if human beings become bacteria-filled multispecies ecosystems (or holobionts), if wild animals become diplomatic interlocutors and matsutake mushrooms become alliance partners? Nothing we thought we knew, is the answer. These changelings which have become the norm are metamorphic creatures, in the sense that we do not know their nature and what relationship to establish with them, which in itself is a reasonable definition of a time of myths. While Modernity built itself on the idea that the rise of modern sciences would spell the end of the time of myths, precisely because that specific myth would actually be true, we might find ourselves immersed once again into a time of that nature. The living came out of nature to enter politics, but we do not yet know with what status – they have that non-distinctive, metamorphic, pre-individual status which is the status of dreamtime, and which demands (this is the second parallel) that we talk, we name, we share and invent, while also finding again, in order to try and individuate who they are, to give them a new name and status, and thirdly (and this is the third shared aspect with the time of myth) to establish stable social and political relationships with them. They came out of nature, which means we cannot have “natural” relationships with them. In a way, we are compelled to become perspectivists, i.e. we have to accept establishing social and political relationships with creatures from a former “nature”.