Moving to a Postmodern Agriculture
November-december 2013
I was so happy to be modern when I was young. I made being modern my duty and it was something to be proud of! For me, it meant to be of my time, to follow the latest trends. I didn't realize that if that was the definition, being modern was an endless state: every era had its own modernity. It was basically about following current fashions. But… was that all what modernity was about?

The modern era is usually believed to have begun around the 16th Century when reason began to force out obscurantism in Western society. A new school of thought emerged, one that declared, on behalf of every man, knowledge and freedom of thought. But it is around the 18th Century that modernity truly established itself. Several men of science and philosophers would bring about such a proliferation of liberal thinking that the century would therefore be known as the age of "Enlightenment", which would conclude, once and for all, authority's hold on man and declare the triumph of freedom. Today, the philosopher Benoît Goetz tells us ironically that "modernity is like a thrift shop trying to recycle Enlightenment's old worn clothing…" But, not for long it seems, because modernity is in a crisis and we will soon have to move to a postmodernist era.

According to Dominique Olivier, manager of the Sicaseli cooperative in France, agriculture was profoundly affected by this crisis. While speaking at meetings before the Mission d'animation des agrobiosciences, Dominique Olivier took a clear look at our agriculture and noted a double crisis. The first being technical in nature and translated into people's concerns over progress in agriculture, blaming significant sanitary and environmental deviations on agronomic advancements. Mad cow disease, GMOs, pollution... Modern agriculture is a scary thing. Olivier believes that progress is necessary, but deplores the fact that technical developments are for the sake of more technology and that performance is a goal in itself. And, he added, the true meaning of all this progress is essentially lost.

The second crisis is one of morality. If modernity is a proponent of reason and freedom, it looks like we've reached their limits. Reason has its limits: the Cartesian mindset, which fragments everything to analyze each separate part, can no longer fathom a world that has become so complex. New integration skills are now required. Freedom also has it limits: it has fuelled individualism to the point of asphyxiation. The freer we are, the more we require external mechanisms such as standards and regulations to protect the common good. Consequently, the weight of this added bureaucracy inhibits operations and uses up too much time and energy.

Olivier concludes by saying that it is time for agriculture to enter its postmodern phase. This means that we will need to accept and adapt to managing a complex context that integrates social, environmental and economic aspects. Agricultural producers also manage other aspects such as "living beings, energy, quality of air, soil and water, and furthermore are active in overseeing our heritage and our lands" {translation}. Because cooperatives integrate non-mercantile dimensions and are rooted in communities, they are better positioned to provide support to agriculture's new mission. The cooperative system is successful in reconciling the individual with the collective; it also tempers individualistic excesses and provides the interface necessary to rebuild the social relationship on which technical progress will be restored to its former glory.

So it is only when we will have understood all this that we will have stopped being modern. Obviously, this is not going to happen overnight. In my view, this seems like a stimulating vision that should motivate the next generation and give hope to older producers who, too often, feel misunderstood and underappreciated…

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: 514 850-2567


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