Into the Crystal Ball
Come Carpentier de Gourdon
30 April 2009
No attempt to peer into the future, whether scientifically conducted or guided by clairvoyance should be narrow-focused if it is to avoid the near certainty of error, but broad projections can be drawn, based on current realities, trends and the lessons of the past.
Some widespread movements are taking place concurrently in diverse parts of the world; some are or seem convergent, while others act at cross purposes with more evident and understandable tendencies. As Benjamin Barber put it succinctly in “Jihad vs. McWorld” (1996): “The planet is falling precipitously apart and coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.”
Thus, the quest for a specific, separate identity and roots, ethnic, cultural, geographic and historic is waxing stronger, though it contradicts the overwhelming centripetal process of globalization across space and time. In its extreme forms, as in Islamic countries or Israel, the claim and the struggle to assert an idiosyncratic religious, social and political collective personality is directly, and often violently, opposed on theological grounds to the western-dominated universalistic evolution towards global planetary homogenous modernity; but the revival of “national,” regional or tribal cultures and traditions is visible in places as different as China, Scotland, the Basque region, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Russia. Various regions of Europe, India, Africa and Central Asia, to name just a few, are also witnessing this resurgence of identity politics, based on blood and soil, whether it manifests as nationalism in an existing country or a separatism within a large state.
Examples as diverse as the new Patriotic Confucianism of China, the renaissance of Imperial Orthodox Christianity in Russia, reborn Pan-Turanian Islam in Turkey, the spread of “Bolivarian” indigenously-inspired reforms and revolutions in Latin America and the growing rejection of lingering western colonial influences in Africa, unpleasantly manifested in Zimbabwe or Sudan, come to mind, first because they are more visible than the atavistic revival that is becoming quite strong in many parts of Europe, as shown in Austria by the rapid expansion of the Burschenschaften , the fencing societies which hark back to the Romantic era’s yearnings for German national unity and reject many of the alien and traumatic factors of anonymous globalization, seen as modern avatars of the threats symbolised in the Teutonic popular mind for centuries by the Muslims invaders, the cosmopolitan speculators and, more recently, the American military imperialists.
Many have equated this atavistic revival with the return of Nazism, but the spirit of the patriotic students that imbued young Bismarck and his contemporaries, and which now revives in some of the Central Europe New Right wing parties, is much older than and quite different from Fascism. In a way, what we see happening in German-speaking Europe on one side and in Orthodox Slavic lands on the other is an endogenous version of the Islamic religious Integralism that has attracted so much attention in the last decade.
In most parts of the world, traditional cultures are being called upon to give refuge and provide solace to communities wounded and shocked by the current political and economic storm. Those regional revival movements are indeed triggered by the impact of globalisation which, as Ajit Pal Singh points out in the Spring 2009 issue of World Affairs “has encouraged the growth of additional loci of governance besides the state, the spread of additional forms of community besides the nation, and the development of additional types of knowledge besides modern rationality.” Its effects are therefore ambiguous and outwardly self-contradicting.
In this apparent cacophony of ancestral, local voices and instruments that often drown the leitmotiv of planetary unity and supra-national order carried by a growing array of institutional mechanisms, are there some powerful influences which transcend the idiosyncratic and the ethnic and extend to all of mankind, probably because they are immanent to human consciousness?
A review of those globally active influences reveal that many of them are seminally related to Indian civilization, and that is in itself a very significant factor for the role that India may play in decades to come on the world map. Rather than trying to copy the other superpowers or great powers, real or in the making, the USA or China, the land of the Vedas, Buddha, yoga and non-violence must soar with her own peculiar strengths which are the greatest asset for success in a competition between dissimilar contestants.
Indeed some of the greatest forces that are influencing and changing the state of mankind include:
1] The awareness of the acute global ecological crisis which threatens human survival and the co-related demand for a return to nature, at least in some aspects of our civilization whose unsustainability is again being demonstrated by the economic collapse currently taking place.
2] The interest in meditation and in a holistic personal, informal, but profound spiritual practice as an essential factor of balance, health and happiness.
3] The fascination, some might call it nostalgia, with Mahatma Gandhi and his methods of non-violent action for exposing and redressing social and political injustices and resisting the ceaseless rise of state and corporate power and its repressive means, while avoiding the atavistic recourse to civil war and bloody strife.
4] The quest for a different type of religion, freed from the patriarchal, anthropomorphic, tribal or ethnic, often oppressive, jealous and warlike images of God carried from the past of “semitic” civilizations. Instead, the impersonal, fluid and all-encompassing organic and mystical notion of deity (or its functional equivalent, cosmic consciousness) conveyed by the religions of India is being increasingly adopted and espoused in secular, multi-cultural, globalized societies, whose “technically” literate elites and middle classes often have trouble following a traditional, formal creed upheld by a hierarchical authority which is generally associated with the political and economic powers that be.
The influence of Buddhism is particular is widespread in its various forms as it conveys a distillation of the Indian ethos of universal compassion through understanding and enlightenment. Its quest for an unchanging, ineffable, non-material realization of truth, and its analysis of the outside world as being relativistic and ultimately unreal, strike a chord in many minds which tend to distrust “scientific” materialistic solutions and the theory of evolutionary progress through economic and technological growth. It should also be noted that China has been deeply influenced by Buddhism for fifteen centuries and is inevitably drawn back to it as an escape from its current economic-industrial obsessions and unfulfilling Marxist shibboleths. Spiritual culture can and will throw a vital bridge between India and China, over the strategic and political rift that still sets apart the world’s two largest nations.
5] The search for a socio-economic system that transcends both current liberal capitalism, based on the Western 19th century myth of material freedom through the accumulation of profit together with the multiplication of debt, and Marxist Socialism, also a Western 19th century myth about the power of mankind to achieve prosperity and happiness through centrally planned collective economic and technocratic activity, without any spiritual references.
Those trends are all running against the modern western principles of analytical rationalism, materialism, liberal consumerism (or statist productivism) and techno-scientific progressism insofar as they admit higher priorities that are not necessarily compatible with the methods, pursuits and goals which define contemporary “developed” socio-economic and political systems. In this, they herald the return of ancient “Asian” priorities in their universal, cosmic relevance and the converse decline of Euro-American civilisational dominance, and lead Asian states not to simply borrow Western market ideology and copy it for themselves.
Yet, the growing awareness of the grave pitfalls, or rather systemic vices affecting the neo-liberal US-guided global order is also undermining the willingness of western people to preserve it at the same time as their effects are destroying its ability to perpetuate itself. The writings of several perceptive and eloquent critics, from Noam Chomsky to Michel Chossudovsky, from Lyndon Larouche to John Perkins, from Maurice Allais to Matthias Chang, from Michael Hudson to William Engdahl, from Kenneth Boulding to Joseph Stiglitz, from Paul Kennedy to Chalmers Johnson to cite only a few, are finding striking and often tragic confirmation in the disasters that are befalling one country after another.
Diagnostics about the real nature of the globalized monetary and financial system that used to be dismissed as the conspiratorial allegations of a few disgruntled “enemies of the state,” are now repeated almost daily in mainstream media or in popular books and films. In particular, there is an ever more public acknowledgment that the international economy is held at ransom by the few “money centre banks” which gradually force governments, companies and individuals to fall into the thralldom of unpayable debt, whereas they can emit unlimited credit through money-creation out of a fractional system unsupported by any real wealth. The public good is thereby increasingly sacrificed to private interests. This is indeed the reality to which we are awakening from our collective hangover of our infatuation with ever more consumer goods and gadgets.
The house of cards of our materialistic society rests on a notional or virtual basis, and US President Obama has famously used the New Testament’s metaphor or the house built on sand to describe it. The mantra of freedom has been invoked to institute a new form of slavery through a sophisticated system of neo-indenture, and the Biblical religious legacy is often used to vindicate the control of society by the money masters who, in typical Protestant fashion, see themselves as God’s Chosen, as if their wealth denoted their heavenly lord’s predilection. Yet those groups that invoked a divine right for their power in the past eventually fell victims to often bloody revolts in the course of time.
The West has long justified its disproportionate ownership and control of the world’s resources by claiming to be the New Israel, mandated by the Old Testament’s Jehovah to multiply and conquer the earth.
Will we then live in relatively ethnocentric national or imperial states, fiercely attached to their respective languages, cultures and religions, as opposed to the one-world polity that has been promoted for decades by the leading economic decision-makers in the Euro-Atlantic bloc? Or will multi-religious, secular or least ecumenical societies, where faith is mostly an individual and private matter, share the earth with fundamentalistic regimes drawing their legitimacy from an uncompromising interpretation of their founding creeds, be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, a specific school of Hinduism or Buddhism, or even some young or new religions that are in still in the forming process? It is obvious, in the light of historical experience, that any unifying drive leads our deeply diverse and clannish human species to react by creating new divisions within itself or reviving old ones.
This fissiparous trend may draw added strength from the widespread and disquieting perception of a creeping American military occupation of the world, which is already more far-flung and oppressive than that of most empires of the past.
Through its ever-expanding network of more than seven hundred bases and “lillypads” located on all continents and oceans, managed by its ten military commands, impervious to its own economic decline and social decay, the “sole superpower” continues to pursue its fantasy of total security by implementing the dream of global dominance that President George W Bush and his Neo-conservative minders publicly described.
The vision of the US military-business establishment for the future makes the world a single playground for its military forces and its high tech equipment to be used against any enemy or rival before it can become too strong. A foretaste is provided by the current US campaign in Afghanistan and in the Northwestern frontier of Pakistan, where unmanned drones are roaming the skies, showering death on all the spots that are singled out thousands of miles away, from a control room somewhere in the US mainland.
Another glimpse into this brave new world is afforded by the array of secret prisons and torture facilities built by the American military and security system in many countries, and by the assassination squads reported by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh to have been set up by ex-Vice-President Dick Cheney as a part of a parallel, supra-legal global control mechanism which is sure to survive the end of the last Administration. The military and national security authorities are now largely insulated from the society they are supposed to serve. The USA is no longer a country with armed forces. It is a “national security system” and a military machine that has grafted itself onto an increasingly neglected and powerless civilian state.
Inevitably, peoples and nations the world over tend to react to this looming threat of direct military colonization or destruction by affirming their identities and differences, often aggressively, because overwhelming force in the short run elicits obedience, but over time increasingly begets resistance.
Liberal globalization promotes the belief in the “death of distance and the end of geography,” as characterized by Richard O’Brien, but that is turning out to be another unrealistic superstition, in spite of the power of technology and finance to bridge distances and abolish time gaps in communication. Cultures are very adept at creating mental barriers and spaces between their followers and outsiders, thereby fostering conflicts, even when integration is taking place or has largely been achieved. One only has to look at the many instances of once tightly-knit communities that broke into two or more fragments as a result of a process of gradual estrangement between formerly closely related members. In spite of the many kinds of connections that modern technologies open up, we will probably continue to exist within tribes that will sometimes cooperate and sometimes fight with each as we have throughout recorded history.
The theory of “Archaeo-Futurism,” which broadly states that the future will repeat the past in a number of modified versions by combining novel ideas, technologies and forms of organization with age-old traditions, concepts, and doctrines, holds a master key to the vaults of human becoming.
National, ethnic and cultural groups will tend to revive or preserve their respective historical identities, harking back to the periods of their greatest power and pride. The German Romantic zeitgeist, the Slavic Mystical coming of age, the French Classical Enlightenment, the Italian Renaissance spirit, the Spanish introspective Counter-Reformation, the American quest for the pre-Columbian origins, the Chinese Taoist-Confucian search for balance and inner harmony, the Islamic medieval Graeco-Iranian neo-platonic syncretism and the Hindu holistic culture will return to dwell within their old geographic cradles and will help their mother-cultures come of age, but the Indian ferment is likely once again to be the common ingredient that shows the connections between those many diverse flowers of the human spirit.
It will be interesting to observe how these venerable spiritual legacies meld with the innumerable scientific and technological breakthroughs that are constantly reshaping a global society in which traditions and civilizations from all regions are bound to interact with growing intensity.
The author is Convener, Editorial Board, World Affairs Journal