From Reign and Outwit to Alliance between Mankind and Nature

The present crisis of relationship of mankind, technology and nature endangers the existence of our whole biosphere. We won't overcome this crisis through romanticism. Innovations in technical and social respect can lay foundations to a new relationship between mankind and nature. The article combines knowledge about ecology, evolution theory, new technological tendencies and our possibilities to overcome the crisis. Ernst Bloch gave us interesting words to characterize different forms of technology: "List-Technik" (technology of outwit) and "Allianz-Technik" (technology of alliance). Also we see that not only technological innovations can help us. It is necessarily to change our life-concepts and -forms.


In all stages of development of mankind the relationship to nature was a complicated affair. Sometimes people think that in formerly times it was an idyll till bad peoples destroyed it to get more wealth and reign. But in all times the great civilisations gave rise to ecological problems and small groups remained small because nature usually reigned them. It always was a struggle between human needs and natural resources.

Was there in Europe such a romantic ecological idyll till the time of capitalism and great industry? We know that 90% of the area of Europe was wooded in the 10.century - but in the 11.century only 20% were still wooded. Actually in the 20.century there raised a new quality of devastation. The interferences are so sweeping that ecosystems are not able to adapt themselves. There is not only the problem that some species die out - the problem is to risk the existence of mankind. Solely the waste heat of all human activities on earth may destroy the thermodynamic dynamic equilibrium of atmospheric energies. Maybe the time already is over. Maybe only small species will overcome the climatic changes. But maybe we have other chances.

Crisis of Development - Chances for the New

Development is not only climbing on higher and higher levels. In development crises give rise to an end of the system or the crisis of certain states is used to reach new states. Usually new states are impossible without crises! Maybe we can use our crisis to get a new, a higher level of the co-existence of mankind and nature.

In history of life there were many crises. One of the first forms of life were monocellular bacteria in an oxygen free atmosphere. They nourished from carbon dioxide and released oxygen. Now there raised two "global problems": The oxygen was very toxic for the bacteria and the dropping carbon dioxide caused to a cooling atmosphere because of the sinking greenhouse-effect. Both problems were mastered. Bacteria developed protection against oxygen and there came into being some other bacteria which produce carbon dioxide and methane from dead organisms. The life-crisis got mastered by innovations and innovations were connected with an appropriate co-evolution between several species, inner subdivision of organisms and a new form of co-ordination of life and atmosphere. This co-ordination was first emphasised by James Lovelock in his conception of "Gaia" (Lovelock 1988). He said: "Life doesn't only adapt to earth - it reshapes earth in such a way that earth can be homeland for life". "Gaia" describes a living earth because of the fact that the regional restricted activity of organisms gives rise to a global regulation system.

Can this knowledge give us hope to overcome our crisis? Can we learn from bacteria? I think we can remember the factors: inner variety, variety of outer interactions and the global effects of local causes.

The famous conception of "sustainability" is too defensive. The notion "sustainability" comes from the economy of forest and means that it is not allowed to fell more wood than grows in the same time. Our crisis is not only a crisis of quantity, it is a crisis of the quality of our life and of co-evolution of mankind and nature. Sometimes people think that only the quantity of our "metabolism" with nature has to be reduced, our needs have to depress. But this is not the way of life at all. Nature itself doesn't go in such circle- or stagnating processes. Nature itself develops and humankind is one form, the most developed form of natural development. To reduce our development would not help nature - the really task is: to change our form of co-evolution with and in the nature.


Development is not only a continuous changing, and not only going further step by step. A self-organising process reaches a point, on which the former dynamic can't work any more, because the process has changed its own conditions. Than the developing system may become destroyed, but under convenient conditions it may reach new states of its existence. Usually before transcending this "point of no return" there are more than one new possible state. Future is open. But at the bifurcation point some influences will decide which new state will emerge (and other new possibilities for the future will emerge too). Sometimes a "radiation" occurs and many or all possible states come into being.

Development at bifurcation points
(see: Schlemm: "Dass nichts bleibt, wie es ist..." Part I, Münster 1996: 124)

The development of an in such way self-organising system depends on its environment, on the development of other systems. That means, the interacting systems are co-existing but also co-developing. An isolated system can't evolve, but no system can remain stable in eternity without interactions with an environment. I think, a stage is sustainable, if it allows jumps into new stages and doesn't destroy its basis. "Sustainability" means "ability to co-evolve".

Change of function

A universal principle of evolution is change of functions. New qualities don't emerge only through mutations. New qualities emerge on the basis of given structures, which may serve different functions at the same time. Bones may stabilise parts of a body - but they also may transfer sound (in ear). And in evolution an incidental function may become a main function. Generally there is an interesting interaction between goals and means. Existing means/structures may serve different goals/functions - and they are changing themselves in this interacting process. Development is based on available conditions and produces new functions and structures. Although I wrote about struggle between mankind and nature, I want to tone done this remark. Darwin usually is citied as an advocate of "struggle of survival". But he also wrote: "We can say that a plant fights for its survival against drought of a desert - but we may also say that it depends on dampness "(Darwin 1980: 76). In the same way we can look at the relationship of mankind and nature in this two respects. We can fight against nature or we can design interactions with nature. In both cases we may imagine nature as a subject of its own activities. Ernst Bloch wrote about a "hypothetical subject of nature" (Bloch EM: 216), but the question is whether this subject is like a bad demon or whether it is striving for an human-nature-allianced "ultimum" (Bloch PH: 233). The solution of this question depends on us, of the humans as important actors in this process. The "novum" as a term in the Blochian Philosophy as the "striving of the human will is yet searching its where and from where in its open possibilities of future" (ibid: 232). Nature itself offers us the possibility to co-create a wishful future, but this isn't guarantied. "Nature is not an Over, it is the construction site which is not cleared yet, the not yet adequately existing building means for the not yet adequately existing human home." (Bloch PH: 817, cf.: EM: 224).

Because the possibility of a wishful future reveals itself through several "shining forth" (in arts, in beautiful landscapes, in our not-yet-consciousness), we can hope for it and we can do our bit for it. And "the bad doesn't refute the good, but the good refutes the bad" (Bloch EM: 181). Because the whole process is not yet settled, the "true Genesis is not at the beginning but forth-shining at the end" (ibid: 263). What will become our world depends decisively on human beings - they have all possibilities (Zeilinger 1996: 40).

Do we see a possibility to turn the present tendencies which are dangerous and disastrous?

Technology of Alliance

One possibility is to create a change of function of our means to influence nature and to live together. If we threw away all technologies, because they are "bad" and regress in our development - it wouldn't stabilise our interactions with nature all the time - it would contradict natural development itself. It is better to use our capacities to interact with nature to create new states of nature as a contribution to natural development in a human-nature-co-development. Such capacities don't use or create technologies of reign or outwit, but technologies of alliance. Such an idea is based on the assumption that nature is creative and productive itself. Then such an technology of alliance will be a "delivery and imparting of creations which slumber in womb of nature" (Bloch PH: 813). Such a technology doesn't reign or outwit the forces of nature, but it "uses the roots of thins cooperating" (ibid: 805).

Alliance of Nature-Human-Technology

Jens Scheer wrote: "Nature effects through imparting of its most intelligent part, the humans, back to itself" (Scheer 1991: 129). Of course, the necessary change of function will change technology itself. A vision for that changes is to develop self-organising technologies. Nature is self-organising, human society is self-organising, but technology is a more "mechanical" instrument. New ideas for such technologies of alliance are proposed for a long time, i.e.:
  • guidance on functions instead of production;
  • optimising of long-term use instead of maximising amount of products;
  • minimise dependence on energy, chains of energy-using, multiple using (cascades…);
  • standardised parts - individuated products;
  • symbiotic principles of production…
Frederic Vester called these technologies: "biocybernetical" technologies (Vester 1984, 1990). All these technologies will only work in an effective way, if the area of organisation is small and organised in a decentral way and methods and products are manifold. Technology itself requires a network of coordinated clusters - not great and centralised assembly-line-productions.

Since 1995, when I had written a German paper about this topic, in reality such decentralised-but networked production methods and principles were developed - labelled as "Toyotism" (see Schlemm 1999). But this development doesn't improve our relationship to nature. It is only used as another technology to outwit nature.

Technology of Alliance requires Humankind without Reign and Outwit

Another "germ" of such new technologies came into being some years ago. It is called "Oekonux" (Oeconomy & Oecology & Linux) and deals with a new form to cooperate in a decentralized and self-organising way. The best known example is the production of the software "Linux". For the first time there was produced a very complicated product with high quality by people, who didn't use centralised planning and who didn't use money or other artificial mediations between co-operators, without their own activities to create a self-organising system. This project is not only a technological one - it is mainly a social experiment. The concerned people hope that such a way to cooperate and produce will show, how mankind can reach new states in its development transcending capitalistic economy, outwit technology, ecological devastation, wars, hunger and misery on earth.

This vision is not only an utopian imagination, it will be the necessary further step in our development, if we don't want to go down as a civilisation.


Bloch, Ernst (PH): Das Prinzip Hoffnung. Frankfurt am Main. 1985.
Bloch, Ernst (EM): Experimentum Mundi. Frage, Kategorien des Herausbringens, Praxis. Frankfurt am Main. 1985.
Darwin, Charles (1980): Die Entstehung der Arten durch natürliche Zuchtwahl. Leipzig: Reclam-Verlag.
Lovelock, James (1988): Das Gaia-Prinzip. Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig: Insel-Verlag.
Oekonux: Internet (since 1999).
Scheer; Jens (1991): Kommunismus - Naturalismus - Humanismus. In Streitbarer Materialismus Nr. 14, Jan 1991.
Schlemm, Annette (1996): "Dass nichts bleibt, wie es ist..." Part I, Münster: LIT-Verlag.
Schlemm, Annette (1999): Neuartige Produktionsmittel (Selbst-Organisations-Management). Internet
Vester, Frederic (1984): Neuland des Denkens. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag.
Vester, Frederic (1990): Ausfahrt Zukunft. München: Heyne-Verlag.
Zeilinger, Doris (1996): Versuchter Bezug des Daß zum Was: Die Kategorien bei Ernst Bloch als Werkzeuge für das "objektiv-reale Fortbilden der Weltgestalten". In: U-Topoi. Ästhetik und politische Praxis bei Ernst Bloch, hsg. v. Zimmermann, R., E., Koch, G., Mössingen-Thalheim 1996, p. 59-80.

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