A civilization (Latin for the Greek “politicization”) always refers to a double conquest: the domination of one part of nature as a source, and the fortification of humanity in houses, cities, facing the hostile nature. Every civilization is derived from a revolution started 10,000 years ago (and not all completed): the Neolithic revolution. It enabled man not only to take from the nature what he needs at present, but also to accumulate resources and stocks for the future. This implied an artificialisation of nature, and it also permitted to use the free time to build ramparts. Between the ramparts, gods could arise, different forces of nature, etc. – among them also the God of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Some civilizations celebrated this new programme of human capacity. The Bible expresses admirably this ambition, she entrusts man the mission to “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” And she pulls no punches. According to the dream of Isaiah, “The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level.” Such a sentence, which might cause environmental protest marches today, reminds us of how severe and hard nature was for men of that time. Other civilizations shared this programme. Sumer (Southern Mesopothamia) honours in song the demiurgic power of its kings, like Gilgamesh, who travels the Middle East to build a palace, before discovering his own mortality, his own mortality.
It is important to understand that this domination of nature was already a political ecology! The man of the emerging cities was programmed rationally his conquest of nature. The cities were the first places where irrigation systems were planned, where the scribes recorded the cadastres and measured yields. A science and a rationality of the field were involved in the ideals of colonization from the beginning.
Colonization was precisely the mark of this “unfinished” world in terms of Paul Valéry. But perhaps the progress of agriculture and architecture and the beginning of a “deep” colonization were more significant than the history of conquests “in scope” in a supposedly blank space – that is either uninhabited or inhabited by uncivilized barbarians. The scribes of Sumer and those of the pharaohs are the ancestors of our agronomists, our rural and forestry, our civil engineering. The power of the kings they served was legitimized and received its sense by its usefulness: to increase the survival capacity of human communities.
Mr Alain Lipietz is an economist, engineer, and an elected representative of the French Green Party at the European Parliament since 1999. This article was published in the Jesuit magazine Projet (Centre Ceras, Paris) and shortened for Ecojesuit.