Diesem Blog präsentiert verschiedene meiner privat verfassten Texte . Die Herangehensweise ist multilingual und interdisziplinär. Die Themen sind international und betreffen vor allem Politik, Nachhaltigkeit, soziale Aspekte und eine Auswahl bestimmter Wirtschaftszweige.
Viel Vergnügen! - JJ Bürger -

Ce blog rassemble une partie de mes textes, créés en dehors de mes activités professionnelles. L'approche est plurilingue et interdisciplinaire. Les sujets sont internationaux et concernent notamment la politique, la durabilité, des aspects sociaux et certains secteurs de l'économie. Bonne lecture! - JJ Bürger -

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free to be perfectly unsustainable – free to demand perfect sustainability?


Free to be perfectly unsustainable – free to demand perfect sustainability?  
About “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen

By JJB
  • “Freedom is a pain in the ass. And that’s why it’s so important to [...] get a nation of free people to let go of their bad logic and sign on with better logic“ (p. 268) ...
  • “He’d asked for his freedom, they’d granted it, and he couldn’t go back now“ (p. 241) ...
  • “What she should have done then was find a job or go back to school or become a volunteer. But [...] there was a more general freedom that she could see was killing her but she was nonetheless unable to let go of.“ (p. 179)...
  • “ Leave it up to the individual to decide what a better world might be. [...] We in the [music] business are not about social justice, we’re not about accurate or objectively verifiable information, we’re not about meaningful labor, we’re not about a coherent set of national ideals, we’re not about wisdom. We’re about choosing what WE want to listen to and ignoring everything else.“ (p. 201-202) ...

Jonathan Franzen’s much-discussed latest novel „Freedom“ (First edition. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010) tells the story of an American family over several generations, while most of the plot is set in the 2000 decade. But what Franzen’s novel really is all about is analyzing freedom in different contexts…

  • ... There is the politician annoyed by the people’s freedom not to think like him (p. 268, see quote above).
  • ... There is the college boy grateful for, yet panicked by his freedom after having left his parents (p. 241, see quote above).
  • ... There is the mother unable to use her individual freedom for choosing a goal in life, rather than choosing depression (p. 179, see above).
  • ... There is the musician frustrated by being unexpectedly successul in a music business which he considers to make its profits by selling a false, hypocritical promise of freedom (p. 200-201, see above).

And, most importantly, there is the freedom of individuals, companies and society as a whole, to support sustainable development or not. This is reflected by topics such as freedom in business strategies, Mountain Top Removal, shale gas, bird species endangered by urbanization (and by people’s freedom to have a cat as a pet), nature reserve, Corporate Social Responsibility, the freedom to ride cars with high gasoline-consumption... and it is also reflected by birth control.

A very delicate topic, indeed. But for Franzen, it proved to be a useful means of asking questions about where personal freedom ends, where personal responsibility for the earth begins, how radical and idealistic one should be, and how far political activism may go.
As Walter, the main central character puts it: “it’s become totally toxic and uncool to talk about reversing population growth“ (p. 221). “Overpopulation was definitely part of the public conversation in the seventies [...]. And then suddenly it was gone. Became just unmentionable“ (p. 220). Yet: “The [American] population’s going to rise by fifty percent in the next four decades. Think about how crowded the exurbs already are, think about the traffic and sprawl and the environmental degradation and the dependence on foreign oil. And then add fifty percent. And that’s just America, which can theoretically sustain a larger population. And then think about global carbon emissions, and genocide and famine in Africa, [...] and overfishing of the oceans, [...]; there’s hardly a problem in the world that wouldn’t be solved or at least tremendously alleviated by having fewer people. [...] Any little things we might do now to try to save some nature and preserve some kind of quality of life are going to get overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, because people can change their consumption habits – it takes time and effort, but it can be done – but if the population keeps increasing, nothing else we do is going to matter. And yet nobody is talking about the problem publicly. It’s the elephant in the room, and it‘s killing us“ (p. 219-220). 

However, literature is supposed to show a person’s and/or a society’s contradictions… thus, it is always easier to raise the questions than to answer them…
Indeed, Walter (who still is the almost excessively altruistic idealist he was formed to be as a child) is visibly alarmed about people’s freedom to pursuit a logic that seems catastrophic to him.
But then, obviously, it’s complicated to interfere with people’s freedom on such a private matter. Walter and his team want to avoid this problem by “only” changing the public discourse about family planning, while still leaving the choice up to each individual. And they only want to act within their own country, which avoids them any allegation of imperialistic tendencies to tell other nations what to do. So, their goal is to make it “cool“ not to have kids (while somehow avoiding to appear paternalistic, imposing or arrogant).

Still, things are not that easy: after setting up a campaign team, they find it more and more difficult to choose a strategy which is completely inoffensive and not looking like a huge intrusion in people’s private lives.
However, at first, they succeed in gathering idealistic students around them as volunteers for their project. Soon, though, Walter is tortured by the thought of leading his colleagues and volunteers, many of which are intelligent, loving, brave young women to making a choice they may regret later in their life. Wouldn’t they be great mothers?

Then, due to changing circumstances, their strategy needs to be adapted. They lose their volunteers and their target group of idealistic students, and have to replace them with people coming from a more radicalized or even anarchic background. Soon, things worsen, and the whole campaign becomes more aggressive and confrontational, and is met with opposition by people who refuse to receive what they consider as lessons about how to live...  

This degradation is mirrored by Walter’s commitment for birds. In his village, Walter starts talking to people about the cats they own. He tries to raise their awareness about how birds are menaced by the number of cats whose owners let them walk around freely, especially at certain times of the year and the day. After a while, Walter is frustrated by still seeing many birds killed by cats in his village. Anger and tensions rise among the neighbors. When reaching the bottom of his moral integrity, Walter even kidnaps one of his neighbor’s cats and leaves it at an animal home in a far away city. The neighbor reacts by buying some more cats… In the end, though, the vicious circle of implicit (and explicit) aggressions can finally be broken. After that, Walter begins to show his neighbors the beauty of nature (hoping they might, in a second step, pay more attention to keeping their cats inside more often), rather than starting by telling them what to do in the first place (and just assuming they would be easily able to understand his environmental concerns).

Thus, during his “bird campaign”, Walter learned – in a long, painful process – to deal peacefully and successfully with people’s freedom to disagree with his ideals. Before, during his “birth campaign”, he had failed in doing so. This can only partly be explained by the fact that those ideas challenged traditional values and emotions even more than a village’s conflict between birds and cats. In his earlier days, Walter did not know how to transmit his ideals efficiently, which was not entirely his fault, but which forced him to swim upstream, losing thus a lot of energy, since he was not equipped for the situations he found himself in. Thus, the message Franzen seems to give is not so much in favor of compromise and in disfavor of radical idealism – it seems to be more about making ideals come true in a natural, non-oppressive, efficient way…

Similarly, most of the other characters of the book also find a compromise between complete, unlimited freedom and infinite ambitions on the one hand and the negation of freedom, depression and despair on the other hand. Indeed, as the extracts quoted above show, those two extremes can actually be one and the same thing. 


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ces autres pays qui pourraient rejoindre l'Union Européenne

Parmi les candidats à l’adhésion à l’Union européenne, la Croatie, dont l’adhésion devrait se finaliser en 2013, et la Turquie sont particulièrement médiatisées. Parallèlement, les négociations ou discussions avec d’autres pays ayant le statut de «pays candidat» et avec d’autres candidats potentiels, progressent. Pour certains, 2012 est une année décisive.

Mon article pour la Revue des Chambres d'agriculture, n° 101 (avril-mai 2012), vient d'être mis en ligne. Pour le lire, cliquez ici.