According to Bourdieu, there are several attributes that give a person value in a society. There are the notions of financial, cultural, symbolic, artistic and social capital.
Our rank in society is determined by the sum of these different capitals. On the other hand, a consequence of the capital principle is that it is easier to acquire other types of capital when one already possesses a high degree of certain capital. Thus, someone who possesses a title of nobility through his or her family lineage (symbolic capital) would have an easier time making influential friends (social capital), would have a better chance of finding a job in prestigious ways (financial capital) etc.
The very notion of capital is interesting in that it is a reflection of a society’s attainments at a given time and place.
One might be tempted to think that there is a form of societal unconsciousness at work: a society would develop subjective criteria to promote certain elements so that they have more power and can in turn help the society to grow and improve. A society that places the most prominent elements at the top, for example by their morality and intelligence, should be beneficial to the whole society. In principle, yes, but we also observe that the societal unconscious tends to put individuals on top who will work to have devastating effects on the rest of the population. On the surface, yes, we see incompetent people governing us, they enjoy high symbolic and political capital. However, their power is counterbalanced by other influential members of the social group: the ultra-rich (financial capital), opinion leaders (social capital) or intellectuals (cultural capital). There is therefore a balance of power between the different capitals of the members of society.
The need for ecological capital
People who exercise power over a group generally do so through the moral ascendancy they possess over it. This same moral power is derived from an initial power of coercion. We impose ourselves by force, by violence, and then we legitimise this power by a narrative that tends to confer moral authority. This is how the first European nobility that was formed was a sword nobility. They were armed people who spread terror over less militarily equipped populations. Almost brigands armed with mace, helmets or hauberts ruled the law of the strongest after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The barbarians who gradually swept through Europe partly replaced the pre-existing political elites, often mixed with a Roman population. Once power was seized, pre-existing narratives were recovered in order to give themselves the right role. The pagan barbarians who took over Christian Western Europe seized on Christian discourses to give their power a divine dimension. Similarly, the Aryan populations who invaded northern India used the religious narratives of the indigenous populations to create a society in which they were placed at the top of the social pyramid.
The need for environmentalist discourse to maintain power by force
While it is true that every moralising discourse has a political function, it is worth asking what purpose is served by putting forward the environmentalist discourse. The global narrative of globalisation is set up to serve those who initiated it: the Westerners. It can be said that there have been the beginnings of globalisation in non-Western eras: the Muslim and Asian worlds within the framework of the Silk Road, the Soviet vision of the world which is an attempt to take over the globe, etc. However, previous attempts have not been successful. That said, the previous attempts could never be truly global, they came up against the limits of their respective empires.
Putting yourself in the shoes of the Chinese
From a non-Western point of view, environmentalist injunctions can be revolting. Developing or underdeveloped countries are being forced to limit their carbon footprint, while at the same time these orders are coming from countries that have polluted throughout the 19th and 20th centuries without being limited in their thirst for development. How can we accept these constraints when the countries requesting them have relocated most of their factories and their carbon footprint does not take into account these relocations (whose production is mainly exported to Western countries)? Isn’t this ironic, to say the least? I think so, these people are being treated unfairly and they are right to turn a deaf ear, as Westerners would do if they were in their shoes.
The role of the environmentalist discourse
Climate change exists, there is no doubt about it. The problem here is who should bear the consequences and who is responsible? Most of the responsibility lies with the Western countries and they should bear the moral cost. However, the opposite is happening, the West is slipping through the cracks to take the good role while blaming the underdeveloped countries. We are walking on our heads.
Ecological capital is there to retain power, the very power that was taken by force. The Europeans conquered the world (no moral judgement on that, another nation or regional era would have done the same if it had been able to do so technologically or militarily) by force and intend to keep it by morality in order to constrain its political opponents (prevent them from developing). It is a silent war, a conflict that does not say its name. We must not be fooled. If ecology on an individual level is great, on a collective level it becomes political, like religion. What is good on one scale can be deleterious on another. That’s why I’m suspicious of so-called non-governmental institutions (they’re not, they’re subservient to the political agendas of the states that fund them) that advocate ecology while supporting individual environmentalist behaviour. The real upheavals anyway happen at the level of the individual when he or she is driven by a real desire for change. The masses are driven by narratives and it is these that make them act in order. International organisations are usually only there to play politics under a false flag.
Is ecology a new religion?
There are ecological principles in most religions, although some excel more in this area (Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism etc.). Developed countries naturally tend to be less religious. However, the aspirations or ideas that emanated from the religious streams have continued even though these streams have disappeared in practice or in hearts. For example, human rights are a direct offshoot of Christianity. The egalitarian and universal principle of the declaration of human rights is immediately linked to the New Testament.
Ecology proceeds in much the same way. People believe less in God, but they adhere to the idea of harmony materialised by the notion of the ecosystem. God is absent from ecological discourse, yet the sacredness of the balance of animal and plant species and the awareness of a principle of restitution (we get back what we give, we sow what we reap) is reminiscent of the notion of karma or cosmic intelligence.
There is certainly a cultic dimension to ecology, which should be brought closer to premonotheistic animist religions. We preserve the sea and nature because we know that they will repay us well, as did the hunter-gatherers who venerated the rivers and trees because they were the source of the fish and fruit they ate.
Any doctrine becomes religious when it replaces a religion. This rule is true for communism, liberalism and even more so for ecology.
I preserve therefore I am
If ecology is necessary today, its political loser is counterproductive for the cause it serves. When the religious becomes political, it instantly ceases to be spiritual. Ecology being a proto-religion, it is only really effective when its ideas are disseminated among the population without taking over centrally, at least in my opinion.
What would Confucius do?
According to the Confucian view, a power exists legitimately only when its representatives are exemplary. The people are obedient because the leader is obedient, surprising as it may seem. The people are virtuous because the leader is virtuous. By invoking Confucius, I am trying to nuance or even contradict some of my previous remarks in order to give you another angle of view. I wrote earlier that I did not believe in the ability of non-governmental institutions to create positive ecological change because of their hidden interests. Now, if we start from the Confucian principle of exemplarity at the level of the political elites, we could create a real change in ecological habits among the population. The fact is that almost all of the world’s political elites function as a coterie that does not practice what it preaches. The little people are asked to make sacrifices, to go without, to stop heating, etc., while the politicians gorge themselves and squander public money. We are often not far from Roman orgies at the level of those who govern us. How can we impose frugal and responsible behaviour on the population? It is not possible. In this, I am a Confucian, I believe that a morally exemplary elite has a direct effect on the masses. A single act of sacrifice at the level of the king creates millions of acts of sacrifice in the collective unconscious of a population. Without this, it is only by force that one imposes oneself.
It is true that the knights of the Middle Ages imposed themselves on the population in their early days through the terror they spread in the countryside. However, their sacrifices on the battlefields were later sufficient to impose a moral authority on the villains, which translated into a sacrifice in agricultural work.
Ecology has several dimensions, one is intimate, individual, the other is collective and political. In my opinion, the interests of one often run counter to the interests of the other. Ecology is a way for developed countries to maintain their global leadership in many cases by constraining the development of developing countries. However, ecology is indeed necessary on an individual scale, the evidence of climate change cannot be denied. There is an Anthropocene and it is up to man himself to repair what he has caused.