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The word “life” has two quite different, and inherently conflictual meanings. There is life as fact, something we can study objectively and scientifically, and life as quality, which we can only know subjectively, through lived experience. Academic discourse tends1 to focus on the former, reducing life to a series of measurable and predictable mechanical processes. But used colloquially, the word “life” refers almost exclusively to that mysterious and unmeasurable quality that is present all around us in differing degrees: in Gaia, the living earth; in the activity and production of all living beings, from a simple mark in the sand to sublime works of art.

It is only to life experienced as quality that we can feel belonging. As Wendell Berry writes, “Life...can be known only by being experienced. To experience it is not to 'figure it out' or even to understand it, but to suffer it and rejoice in it as it is.” Life as quality is not the same as what we call “quality of life,” however. That phrase is used to describe amenities – such as green spaces or availability of medical services – that might be better called “commodities of life.” For quality is not something one adds to life: life is quality!

The same confusion is apparent in the use of the expression “celebration of life” and the lessons drawn from it. Not so long ago, when nature still seemed all-powerful and even threatening, the celebration of life meant the celebration of strength and survival of the fittest. The ensuing “cult of life” was an ideology that promised improvement of humanity through eugenics, justified cruelty towards the weak, and provided legitimacy to totalitarian regimes. Today, though, when life seems so much more fragile and in need of protection, we can no longer separate care for life, for the biosphere, from care for life’s most fragile incarnations. The celebration of life, today, must mean being attentive to the most vulnerable among us.


1- But there is a new trend, associated to the sciences of complexity: «The study of biological form begins to take us in the direction of a science of qualities, that is not an alternative to, but complements et extends the science of quantities.[...]The quantitative studies provide very important information about the dynamic nature of the organism at the molecular level, but they are not sufficient to describe the rythms and spatial patterns that emerge during  the development of an organism and result in the morphology and the behavior that identifies it as a member of a particular species.» Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots, The Evolution of Complexity, Princeton University Press,  Princeton, 2001, p.198.



«There's never been such a lovely spring, Nell thought. Frogs—or were they toads?—trilled from the pond, and there were pussy willows and catkins —what was the difference? —and then the hawthorn bushes and the wild plums, and the neglected apple trees came into bloom, and an uneven row of daffodils planted by some long-vanished farmer's wife thrust up through the weeds and dead grasses beside...
Beth Porter
What are physical characteristics of hospitable neighbourhoods? The houses often have front porches where people can sit out and exchange a wave or greeting with their neighbours—rather than the protruding garages of suburbia that may give the much vaunted privacy developers advertise but isolate people from those who live next door.
Jacques Dufresne
It is to be feared that the principal effect of modern sport, which is also a spectacle, a show, is nothing more than a way of exposing people to publicity and making them ever more passive consumers. One thing is absolutely certain: They don’t participate in the sports that they watch. Walking, gardening, doing exercise at home, swimming, bicycling, and jogging, in that order, are the...
Where there are lively people or situations, people who are the most fragile are often the first to discover and frequent them, reinforcing their sense of belonging to society. Between 1970 and 1990, an oasis comparable – on a smaller scale – to the Jean Talon Market in Montreal, operated in North Hatley, a village in the Eastern Townships: it was a bakery and restaurant called Chez...

"Whenever one treats living organisms as machines they must necessarily be perceived to behave as such. And I can see that the proposition is reversible: whenever one perceives living organisms as machines they must necessarily be treated as such."

Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle





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Jacques Dufresne's

The editor of L'Encyclopédie de L'Agora and well known newspaper chronicler and philosopher, analyses actuality through the looking glass of Belonging.
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