Agro-ecology, love & Socrates – part 2

Agro-ecology, love & Socrates – part 2

In part 2 of this exclusive interview with PIERRE RABHI, he speaks about Colibris and some of the other projects he has taken up to bring awareness and change in society. In particular, he speaks about the pressing need for moderation and reduction in human consumption, and the importance of transcendent love and joy.

Q: In the first part of this interview, you said that your approach and action developed in 3 ways: through philosophical reflections about society, a spiritual quest and a practical approach. Does the creation of Colibris in 2007 fit into this scheme? How did this movement start, and how do you explain its incredible development?

PR: In 2007, along with several friends, including Cyril Dion and Isabelle Desplats, we decided to create a grass roots movement for active reflection and practical ways to build a greener and more humane society. Today, Colibris has grown enormously! It has three main objectives: to inspire, to connect and to support citizens engaged in individual and collective transition processes. These days, Colibris implements so many projects that I would have a hard time presenting them all to you.

To highlight just a few, we have the series, Domaine du Possible, published by Actes Sud, some of which is co-published by Colibris; many local action groups; the University of Colibris which offers free online training on eco-construction, permaculture, agro-ecology and education; and finally Fabrique, which is a platform for everyone to do their bit by offering time, talent, material resources and donations in the service of inspiring projects. In short, there are so many things, and I am very happy today about the work accomplished and the number of projects that have been implemented.

This growth has accelerated because now libraries and bookshops are full of books that take note of our human excesses, but now people want to act, to find solutions, and this is what Colibris offers!

Q: In recent years you have also supported other projects that spread the same values as yours, especially in Crete and Morocco. Can you tell us about them?

PR: Indeed, we are doing a lot. An endowment fund was created in 2013 with the aim of raising funds so that we could help. This is a small fund associated with the economic model proposed by Schumaker in his book, Small Is Beautiful.

To the extent that our meagre finances allow, we support initiatives that share our values of humanism and respect for living things and biodiversity. In Morocco, the NGO called Terre & Humanisme Maroc has created a training center for agro-ecology not far from Marrakech. In collaboration with Kaligraines and Melitakes, the Endowment Fund has helped to build an eco-hut to house their volunteers in Crete. The Pierre Rabhi Endowment Fund has also supported projects led by NGOs in Africa, one in the Navajo Reservation in the southern United States, and the actions of Navdanya, the women’s seed movement.

Q: Your life’s journey, your reflections, your meetings and your readings have led you to place human beings and Nature at the heart of your thought and action. Can you share some of your thoughts and ideas?

PR: I told you earlier what I think about our model of a ‘slave’ society; the kind of barter where people give their life for a salary. They give their life to a system that is not fair, because there is a hierarchy of powerful owners and poor people. In human evolution, the concern for distribution and equity has not been very evident.

Society has been based on a hierarchy of ‘having’ to the detriment of ‘being’. In the acquisition of money there are very rich people, very poor people, and those in between. All this establishes a hierarchy of destinies that I cannot bear, because the fact that money can determine our social structure is offensive to me. Money should be at the service of something else.

We have just launched a collection of books called Carnets d’Alerte, to try to help people understand these issues by providing an integrated approach. For example, in the book on finance, Les Excès de la Finance ou l’Art de la Prédation Légalisée, we have highlighted the way society has legalized and standardized predation or ‘grabbing’: the moment I pay I acquire something legally. This form of legal acquisition may satisfy society, but not morality.

Society has been based
on a hierarchy of ‘having’
to the detriment of ‘being’.

Is it right that because an individual has money he can buy the Amazon rainforest, or that the big cartels can ‘grab’ and confiscate the property owned by the whole of humanity, that they did not even create? If human beings were intelligent we would recognize what Nature or the Divine has given us totally free of charge, as a common good to all people and all creatures. Unfortunately we are not intelligent. Instead, we have proclaimed human beings as the best, and from there we have defined a set of rules in our own interest, in a totally arbitrary way.

In addition, the male world has completely dismissed the feminine dimension. For millennia our societies have been based on the subordination of women. Even the Bible promotes and supports this subjugation of women. I read the Old Testament, and it is difficult to find a woman who ‘stands up’. And it’s to Eve that we owe all these troubles : what an idea to eat the apple! So we start from this idea, which has then become ingrained, then fossilized, and finally an accepted fact.

In the first place, God is masculine. I do not see why he would not be both masculine and feminine. From there, an entire civilization has been influenced by precepts, principles and arbitrarily established creeds. This asymmetry or imbalance between the feminine and masculine principles creates chaos and destruction. The woman as creative energy, as childbearer and mother of humanity, is naturally inclined to protect life, and we must pay tribute to the guardians of life and listen to the feminine in each of us. Without her, there is no change.

All these arbitrary rules have built a society where fear dominates and where we think we are intelligent because we make weapons, the apotheosis being the atomic bomb. When we see all this, it is not easy to say that humanity is intelligent. In fact, we have confused our abilities with intelligence. We have skills but not intelligence. If our wonderful abilities were governed by intelligence, everything would be in an intelligent order.

Today we are so very far from an intelligent order: slaughter and violence are defended better than life. Violence is encouraged with the advent of more and more new killing machines, and Nature is destroyed. What this means is that the human phenomenon – just a short minute and a half or two minutes in the equivalent of a 24-hour history of the Earth – has been a real catastrophe. The human being is the ecological catastrophe number 1.

We wrote a book with Jean-Marie Pelt, in which he made a retrospective of the way life has evolved on Earth through cooperation and association, a principle that governs nature. He showed that life owes more to alliance than to rivalry. I often tell people that a lion eats an antelope, but does not have a bank of antelopes. He must survive, but he does not survive by accumulation or by speculation, but only by the necessity to which he is subjected, as is the case with all of us. This is the big difference with the indefinite hoarding of a few human beings who confiscate legitimate property from the rest of humanity.

Q: You speak about the urgent need to reduce our needs and the responsibility to leave a better world for future generations. What is your vision of what tomorrow’s society could be?

PR: I have indeed said a lot about degrowth, or the reduction of wants, because in France I was pushed to run for the 2002 presidential elections. After much hesitation, asking myself, “What am I going to to do in this gallery?” I eventually proposed myself. The only thing that motivated me was that this candidacy could create a dynamic, a pretext for dialogue between people. Today, citizens need to talk to each other and not just listen to politicians. So I thought it was an opportunity.

Our campaign was more of a manifesto: “What planet will we leave our children, but also which children will we leave to the planet?” It was a call to elevate consciousness: to go beyond all the divisions, all the tendencies that bury us in incurable differences, and try unity. Our campaign was therefore based on anything that could contribute to unity, and contribute to a different world, a paradigm shift. Among our proposals was the famous idea of degrowth. I tried to explain this concept of negative growth, but it was not always well understood.

When we launched our campaign, a number of politicians heard us, joined us and signed up to our program, which was a great encouragement to us. Our whole process was centered on public debate, and people talked, discussed and exchanged in a multitude of places.

And then time passed, and the idea of degrowth was misunderstood. Maybe we did not know how to explain it. But what is certain is that a fundamental thing was said: we cannot, humanity cannot have unlimited aspirations and unlimited appetites in a system that is limited. The planet cannot reproduce a forest as it is cut, cannot replenish the seas with fish as they are fished, and so on.

Some people have accepted and adhered to the idea, others not. We have no statistics on the impact of the proposal, but we have had a lot of positive feedback. I have never been aggrieved by this idea that we need to reduce our footprint, as for me simplicity and moderation are the true power. It is a conscious choice that everyone can make for the Earth and for equity. Then I wrote a book entitled Vers la Sobriété Heureuse. My publisher told me that it would be miraculous if it sold more than 4,000 copies, and today it has sold 350,000.

Our campaign was more of a manifesto:
“What planet will we leave our children,
but also which children will we leave to the planet?”
It was a call to elevate consciousness:
to go beyond all the divisions,
all the tendencies that bury us in
incurable differences, and try unity.

It has nothing to do with me personally, it’s just that today people do understand that wanting a complex society to which one gives one’s whole existence, and being happy at the same time, does not work. On the contrary! People living in the developed world have never consumed so many anxiolytics and watched so much entertainment of all kinds. They are escaping from reality. Why? Maybe because this reality scares them. We try to escape by all means. Of course, escape is easier than tackling the issues and dealing with them with the rationality and determination that would be required.

Today the situation is difficult for everyone, at least in France, because nobody is guaranteed of having a job in 5 years. We see a general disintegration of the social system, which is not likely to stop. We can try everything we want, but it will not change because it is the logic itself that ensures that it cannot stop. What is needed now is to praise the power of moderation, and to consider moderation and simplicity as the keys to our survival. To aspire to simplicity is to make a fair, moral and structurally just choice. That’s why there’s a growing craze for simplicity. Simplicity rather than complexity can lead us to joy.

Q: Can you explain this idea further?

PR: Joy is free. It is something that comes from elsewhere, of a transcendent essence. As we no longer have access to joy in our society, we fill our lives with pleasure. I have nothing against pleasure, but when it becomes industrial and ephemeral it is consumed like the rest. I know people who should be happy and fulfilled because they have everything, but are they joyful? That is another question.

I sometimes find joy in people who have almost nothing, but every hour that passes is an hour of happiness for them. They do not have a moment of despondency! It shows us that reaching something transcendent through the material way is simply not possible. But when we have nothing, we are also not happy. So having just what is necessary brings us inner contentment and predisposes us to joy.

Read Part 1



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