A TIME OF TROUBLES AND CHANGE
A number of recent events have radically changed the self-awareness of millions of people all over the world, primarily in the most economically developed parts, which had been objectively until now at the forefront of development in the world and defined to a large extent the image of world order.
In particular, this concerns the rise of anti-globalist and traditional feelings in developed countries, something which came as a shock to many people and determined significantly the results of the referendum in Great Britain to leave the European Union and the presidential elections in the USA. This rise was attributable to a general change in the worldwide perception of globalisation from feelings of great hope and optimism to a prevalence of anxiety, concern and a vast range of fears.
This also due to objective changes in the nature of globalisation, which has in actual fact acquired a more chaotic, less controllable, and in many cases overtly disorganised character, when flows of people, capital, and technologies arising spontaneously prevent national governments from asserting control over the state of employment, income, prevailing expectations and moods in extremely broad social strata.
We are witnessing an unforeseen increase in the popularity of parties and movements, which draw on a sense of foreboding and fear about the future, on the instinctive desire of large segments of the public to safeguard themselves from impending social and technological changes and find simple answers to related problems by turning back to the past, and to tried and tested instruments of national and state regulation.
There is a sensation of the fragility of the existing world order, the increasing likelihood of its collapse engendering unquantifiable and unpredictable consequences, fraught with regional or even global cataclysms. We can perceive a growing fear of constant international conflicts and wars – due to terrorism, between countries, hybrid, local and regional, which are capable of unleashing a phase of permanent escalation, up to and including global nuclear confrontation.
Finally, the familiar information space is being destroyed, due to a surfeit of communications channels, interpretations and versions of reality, and the breakdown of the traditional hierarchy of social and media authorities.
As a result of all these changes and processes, the established lifestyles of large numbers of people and their communities, and also the previous system of views about such lives, are being destroyed. The world and surrounding reality is perceived as more and more incomprehensible, dangerous and unpredictable, and at odds with the usual logic. Consequently, an increasing number of people find it harder and harder to find more or less understandable and reliable benchmarks in the world of politics, and more and more difficult to obtain answers to questions giving rise to their concerns and fears. On the one hand, this is triggering all the developments cited here. On the other hand, this is creating complicated and dangerous challenges for politicians all over the world. Moreover, it is possible that during the next few decades this challenge will be perceived as key for humanity, while the search for answers will become the main focus of political thinking in the coming twenty to thirty years.
Why the future no longer looks bright
The key characteristics (structural elements) of the modern world, the source of all the dangers and uncertainties — both in the eyes of the apprehensive public at large and for objective reasons—can be identified and described. Some of these traits are reflected directly or indirectly in general perceptions, destroying the image of the world formed during previous decades and the understanding of the logic of its development. The destruction of this logic is also the cause of the confusion and growing fear of the future which in my opinion underpins the aforementioned processes that only appear unexpected at first glance.
If one were to try to describe these key structural elements, then one should note first and foremost inequality in all its various manifestations, combined with a fatal sensation of its irreversible escalation and insuperability, gradually becoming virtually the symbol of the coming new era, also known as “the new normal.”
It goes without saying that inequality from the perspective of an individual’s social and financial status has existed since time immemorial, on occasion contracting, but at the same time remaining one of the dominant traits of human coexistence in all its various forms. If the question of inequality has taken centre stage today, then this is not because it was less evident in the past, but rather because hopes of its gradual eradication or at least a material weakening are contradicted by the reality of the past fifteen to twenty years.
In actual fact, mainstream thought of the second half of the 20th century, both overt or latent, proceeded from the premise that technological progress, an increase in mass consumption, and the internationalisation of economic life, which grew into integrated globalisation, would render superfluous and gradually subdue age-old inequality and the vast gaps in living standards, education, and opportunities to participate in governance of society between separate individuals, social classes and groups, countries and groups of countries. The actual idea of globalisation, which had virtually taken centre stage in the consciousness of vast swathes of thinking people in the most developed parts of the world by the end of the century, implied a gradual levelling of working conditions and living standards in the most varied parts of the world economy and within society due to increasing freedom of movement not only of the products of economic activity, but also the main production factors — capital, the workforce, technology, and entrepreneurship. Multinationals were perceived as the key force guaranteeing the irreversibility of these processes, overcoming the resistance of national governments inclined to bow to the pressure of the electorate and create barriers to free international exchange.
By the end of the 20th century, this appeared to be the dominant trend. The globalisation of economic and political life, coupled with the triumph of the intrinsic rights of the individual, was assumed to be irreversible, implying that access to education, economic opportunities, and governance of society had been expanded to all social strata (“democratisation”). It looked as if these changes had elevated the international community to new heights where the social divide of the past would be overcome. While everyone understood that this process, especially on a global scale, would be complicated and take time historically, the direction of movement was not in doubt among the intellectual elites of western countries. The triumph of social progress based on universal values — the priority of human rights, the guarantee of true equality of opportunity and consideration of the interests of all types of minorities, where special attention was required to guarantee such equality — seemed obvious to many people, if not the majority.
It looked as if the main journey of mankind had already been determined, and that it would lead to the gradual transition of humanity to certain universal principles of co-existence, including a liberal market economy, a comprehensive system of social and legal guarantees and electoral democracy, guaranteeing the representation of different interests and views and their political interaction.
In the second decade of the 21st century, however, the assessments prevailing in the intellectual sector have changed abruptly. It transpired that the new wave of technologies, combined with the increasing role of intellectual property enjoying legal (and institutional) protection, resulted in the emergence of a fundamentally new type of inequality, stemming not so much from the traditionally unequal distribution of accumulated wealth as from the predominant position of the new economy in the system1“Hold the catch-up. Incomes in the developing world are no longer speeding toward those in the rich.” The Economist. 12 September 2014.. This new economy has been given different names, but the key is that it is based on intellectual content, which makes it possible not only to satisfy consumer demands, but also to artificially create new demands, thereby shaping and controlling the behaviour of its consumers. In the process it also creates de facto a new elite rising above the masses who are fated to assume the role of passive consumer and auxiliary material for the production of the content of the new economy. This is a separate and very large topic which has already been covered in countless works and will be covered in many more, as the process of forming a “new” economy as the main source of future profit has only just started. Nevertheless, we already have all the grounds for assuming (furthermore this has already been confirmed) that the tendency of closing gaps and reducing inequality all over the world, sought and desired by the outstanding minds of the previous century, no longer works.
This comparatively recent development applies not only within national states, where the “new” economic elites are formed and break away from everybody else, and simultaneously the economic grounds for further growth of the educated “middle class” start to erode, but also within the international community. On a global scale, the gap that has always existed between the core of world capitalism and its peripheries, near and far, is not only maintained in the new conditions but has also stabilised. The differences in the amounts of added value at different “stages” of global production systems and supply chains are no longer contracting — they are starting to increase. And this means that the gap between the centre (or centres) of the global economy and its provinces, old and new, will over the coming decades not only fail to melt away, but also become more pronounced. And as a result all the basic conditions of life, including longevity, access to high-tech medical care, professional education and retraining, the quality of jobs, degree of social and legal protection, personal safety and so on, will not converge, but will on the contrary diverge in the developed world and other regions.
Furthermore, this is dangerous. It is possible that the growing divide will determine the substance of the main geopolitical conflict of the 21st century, where the fault line will not be drawn ideologically, but instead based on the degree to which a community or country is included in the system of new inequality as part of the world economy2As evidence of the importance of the topic and growing interest in this issue globally, let me cite here Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger: A History of the Present. Penguin Books (2017). The author’s conclusions on the causes are controversial, but his vivid description of the global crisis and the state of the man of today who recognises the futility of his existence leaves a strong impression. One should also note in passing the author’s understanding that the scale of these developments requires in-depth comprehensive analysis of the situation in the world as we know it today..
Developed countries, home to the headquarters of major multinationals, centres for the management and accumulation of intellectual assets, legally and institutionally protected cores of their innovative activity and realized profits, are receiving a new opportunity to preserve their privileged positions. Their central “nuclear” position in the global economic system is indisputable, while the opportunities to obtain colossal income, primarily attributable to their monopoly status and concomitant rent-based revenues, enable them to easily concentrate around them the best and most promising resources, thereby consolidating their central position. In contrast to the industrial era, when natural and organisational advantages gave peripheral countries a real chance to catch up from a development perspective (which has been demonstrated in one form or other by East Asian countries — Japan, South Korea, and in part, China), the current leadership of the new economy nullifies any chances of new “breakthroughs”.
Accordingly, straggling countries, deprived of opportunities to catch up, are more and more frequently taking umbrage and becoming aggressive, subsumed by the archaic nature of political and social consciousness. At the same time, the perception of a substantial number of their citizens regarding the absence of collective or individual prospects is leading a significant proportion of the active population to focus their efforts on moving long term to richer countries. And this is driving the powerful wave of international migration, and attendant phenomena – spontaneous or organised terrorism (up to and including state terrorism) as one leading political direction today, and on the flip side , isolationist populism in developed countries and the construction of walls, both figuratively and literally3Mishra proposes the term ressentiment, which means in French “rancour, animosity, umbrage”, while it resembles in an English-language context a combination of resentment (animosity, umbrage, indignation) and sentiment. To all intents and purposes, this represents growth in the reciprocal hatred and hatred of everyone by everyone. The author himself provides the following interpretation: “An existential resentment of other people’s being, caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness, ressentiment, as it lingers and deepens, poisons civil society and undermines political liberty, and is presently making for a global turn to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism.” (Pankaj Mishra P. Age of Anger, page 14.). .
This imbues globalisation processes with a completely new quality (and perhaps meaning) . Globalisation is being transformed from a means of smoothing out gaps and reducing inequality into an instrument for the construction of a new hierarchy, the establishment by stronger and richer players of rules of the economic and political game that seem unfair to poorer and weaker players, since they are deprived of relatively equal opportunities that would offer them a real chance to pull themselves up to the global “peak.”
This includes, in particular, stringent requirements on keeping domestic markets open to outside competition. These strict rules protect the interests of owners of intellectual property. The rules represent attempts to prevent the government from establishing differentiated conditions for various subjects of economic activity (the primacy of the terms of international agreements over the authority of national governments). Lastly, these are attempts to consolidate in international practice a certain code of universal rules (“global standards”) regarding specific norms, procedures, and protocols of actions, combined with a total disregard of national specifics and the possible socio-economic consequences for certain countries and territories.
On the other hand, the sense of vulnerability that representatives of many national elites in the developing world feel against the backdrop of such globalisation pushes them to promote defensive forms of authoritarianism and archaic forms of public consciousness in their countries, thereby strengthening and exacerbating the divide between the “global city” and the “global village.”
Another important process is taking place simultaneously — the destruction of the world order formed after World War II, based on the protracted retention of the comparatively stable equilibrium between powers that had different views on the appropriate principles of the economy and society. This balance underpinning the Cold War for decades guaranteed the cohesion of groups of states in steadfast blocs and alliances, disciplined their behaviour and stabilised their inner structures, thereby ensuring a certain degree of stability in international relations. Today this “cold equilibrium” has been replaced by comparatively fluid geopolitical competition among a large number of players, with each one wanting to play by their own rules (even if they don’t always succeed). Nevertheless, the previous rules have to a large extent broken down — in regional conflicts and mutual relations the logic of the “cold war”, a readiness to operate within the limits of rigid multilateral unions and the former solidarity of ideological allies, no longer work. The very concept of global leadership, which was for a long time the basis of American foreign policy, is today de facto losing the former vector of the “leading and guiding” role of American foreign policy.
This leads to an abundance of conflicts and disputes where there are no template solutions that could be used to draw up respective roadmaps, and there are fewer instruments to constrain the actions of the participants. However paradoxical it may seem, the world is becoming a far more dangerous place than it was during the Cold War – with a large number of threats, both unconventional and unpredictable, capable of triggering an uncontrollable escalation of tension, including the risk of a large-scale war (up to and including a nuclear conflict) as the end point. And it goes without saying that this situation is already affecting the mood of the electorate in developed countries and the behaviour of political leaders, who not only are unable to find effective answers to new challenges, but often even do not see or understand them.
The consequences of the fourth industrial revolution are also very significant , which differs in principle over the past decades from the technical progress that we have seen. Whereas technical achievements in the previous century changed first and foremost the means of communication between man and the environment, now human consciousness and respective characteristics, and also the behaviour of people and their interaction, are becoming the target of the newest technologies.
Not only is the source of information changing, but so is the very idea of what information is, its character, essence and the mutual relations of the information field and information flow with individual consciousness.
In addition, in actual fact information technologies are starting to determine the content of the information flow. The information environment is becoming subjectivised – not only becoming the instrument used to obtain content, but also creating it. The information environment is becoming the subject and participant in global processes. The “Internet of Things,” cloud technologies and fog computing are absolutely new phenomena.
At the same time, it is becoming clear that instead of advancing civilization and facilitating the identification of new opportunities, the application of technological achievements to human consciousness is resulting more and more often in its deliberate manipulation, leading to social and personal regression. This is happening primarily because the speed of qualitative technical changes in information and communications technologies over the past 25 years is outstripping more and more human ability and the development of human consciousness, which does not have time to adjust to new conditions and adapt to them4 The problem is not the ability to use gadgets and not only and even not so much the correlation of technical changes and the individual mind. A significant number of people have always had problems adjusting to technical innovations and achievements – they didn’t understand or accept them, etc. However, there was always an influential and active minority that moved forward and led the way for others. However, now one has the vivid sensation that the early adopters don’t know where they are going and have no realistic picture of the future, so the blind are trying to lead the blind, and we all end up in a global pit. Whereas the fear of the 20th century was the revolt of the machines (robots running amuck end up destroying mankind), now the worry is that an individual’s consciousness changes so much that he will not recognise himself and will constantly worry whether he is still a human. Humans will question their own identity. Yuval Noah Harari concludes in his new book, Homo Deus, “Once technology enables us to re-engineer human minds, Homo sapiens will disappear, human history will come to an end, and a completely new process will begin, which people like you and me cannot comprehend.” (Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Harper Collins, 2016, pages 114-115.).
For example, the hopes that social networks would establish in society horizontal connections and lead to a new level of community have not come to pass. On the contrary, they have led to a large extent to the segmentation of society, and in a number of instances to an idiosyncratic “cold civil war.” Using the formats of social networks, effectively people are declaring war on each other, transforming differences of opinion into grounds for harassment and the incitement of mutual hatred. As a result society is splintering, while social interaction and mutual understanding are on the wane.
As for control over members of society, up to and including mind control, here on the contrary new limitless opportunities are opening up, related in particular to the possible collection of an unprecedentedly large amount of data on the actions and information activity of citizens, and also a practically unlimited ability to impact on their social and private behaviour5It might prove useful to apply here the concept of a chronotope proposed by Alexey Ukhtomsky (not Bakhtin?) within the context of his research on physiology when trying to understand what is happening today to mankind and the world. The researcher assigned a more universal nature to this concept which subsequently established a foothold in the philosophical-humanitarian sector as one of the key categories for understanding the place of man in the world and his intended purpose. For our purposes, a chronotope is a category that characterises the connection (coupling) of space (the substance of facts of existence) and time (past, present, future) in individual and public consciousness. A chronotope is a natural link of space and time coordinates. A well-defined moment in the past and future exists in the chronotope of the industrial modern related to the concept of progress, while the present is a point that moves from the past to the future. In the post-modern chronotope (striving for the predominance of the present), human consciousness is turned into a blurred spot mixing the present with the past. The future is practically indiscernible here. Losing the clarity of perspective, life proceeds at varying speeds and in different directions and is fragmented. The use of the concept of chronotope to understand the influence of the fourth industrial revolution on the consciousness of modern man and public consciousness in the 21st century is a promising topic for research, but here it is important to note this intellectual movement..
New channels of interaction between the economy and the public consciousness
The aforementioned factors, when acting in aggregate, radically change the state of public consciousness and the nature of relations within society, primarily in developed countries.
It goes without saying that technological changes are the main factor here, as they have a far greater influence on all spheres of life (from the economy and politics to ideology and culture) than is usually admitted.
What is the main substance of these changes? First and foremost, the connection between the development of production technologies and the material expansion of mankind and its component communities has weakened and continues to weaken. This is particularly perceptible when you look today from the heights of the second decade of the new century at the predictions of writers and futurologists regarding our era made 50-100 years ago. Extrapolating the experience of the 19th and early 20th centuries to the future, they considered the transformation of the environment by mankind to suit his needs and wishes as the main area of development of equipment and technologies. And on this basis they drew assumptions on the forthcoming expansion of humanity, the mastery of new space and natural resources, the creation of new elements of physical infrastructure, which again implied the growing cost of corresponding resources and a search for newer and newer large-scale reserves and corresponding sources.
In fact, development proceeded along a rather different path. First of all, the populations of wealthy countries have been transferring a large and, most importantly, growing part of their consumption to various types of intangible cultural and intellectual content, which does not require gigantic supply and energy costs for its production. The reason why this is happening requires a separate discussion, but it is a fact.
Secondly, the progress of the physical media of this content involves miniaturisation and individualisation, which simply intensifies the outlined rupture of former tendencies, reducing the role of factors related to extensive development.
Thirdly, the decline in the birth rate and increase in longevity have effectively led to demographic shifts everywhere — an abrupt slowdown in population growth and its aging. Such demographic shifts lead to a forced change in the structure of production and consumption, distancing it from the prototypes and standards of the industrial era. Instead of spatial expansion, the new demand structure pushes business, and accordingly the direction of technological progress, towards satisfaction of the individual desires of a population limited in numbers, more concerned about themselves and their lifestyle.
The main direction of development and practical application of new technologies was not the external expansion of communities, but the perfection and expansion of opportunities to collect, process, transmit, and use information, which on the one hand boosted and expanded opportunities to obtain new knowledge and apply it in a broad spectrum of areas, and on the other hand provided business with a technical opportunity to “lock” economic growth to work with the desires and efforts of splintered individual consumers.
This trend was supported by another source that was to a large extent unexpected – the progress of scientific technology focused on the individual and mass consciousness. It transpired that the post-war developments of corresponding technologies, which relied to a large extent on ideological attitudes stemming from the widely recognised works of Friedrich Hayek and the mathematician John Nash, could be used successfully in business to form the desired models of consumer behaviour. Whereas previously the key figure in a large corporation responsible for the attainment of leading market positions was a talented engineer, now the collective advertiser -marketing analyst, who controls markets through research of public consciousness and the technologies impacting it, stands next to the engineer or sometimes above him. This even enabled industrial companies to lower radically the role and proportion of material expenses in the aggregate cost of their products and to increase the role of intangible assets to generate profits (so-called softization), let alone the universal increase in the services sector of developed economies. In other words, the target of work with consumers is not to simply satisfy their actual material needs, even if they are even hypertrophied and artificially inflated, but also to instill in them feelings of joy and comfort from the satisfaction of requirements and incurred expenses artificially and skilfully imposed on them, which is attained by competent work with their consciousness, behaviour, reflexes, and brains, thereby making it possible to obtain a correlation of actually incurred expenses and generated revenue that the pioneers of industrial capitalism could not have imagined.
Furthermore, the shift in the focus of business strategies towards control over consumer behaviour naturally weakened competition in a number of key segments of the economy, forming oligopolistic structures, providing the corporations that created these structures with high rates of return from their activity. This is particularly true if one bears in mind that a significant proportion of the income is not booked as entrepreneurial profit, but is registered instead as the income of the owners of intellectual assets, whose services are paid through the inclusion of corresponding payments in costs. This represented a powerful basis for the establishment of a new type of inequality mentioned above, and also for a stratum of new wealth-builders that violate the usual canons of wealth accumulation and ascent to the top of the social pyramid.
Feedback: how the new realities influence public consciousness
As a result, public consciousness has undergone a series of shocks. The impact of traditional “guiding structures” has gradually and steadfastly weakened. Society in the 19th century and most of the 20th century was primarily class-based, where lifestyle, life goals and benchmarks, and various social constraints, including moral and psychological precepts, were determined primarily by the appurtenance of an individual to a specific social group and class.
From the perspective of optimising production factors, the existence in society of class barriers and concomitant elements of consciousness, is as a result held to be negative. At the same time, however, it would be wrong to deny the stabilising role that they played for society. However, the role of the class factor and class consciousness had weakened abruptly by the end of the century, which was vividly reflected in the transformation of the party political system in western countries. Parties formed their electoral bases by switching to a significant extent from class interests to issues of individual identity, ethnicity, cultural and behavioural attitudes, age and gender specifics of consciousness, etc.
The traditional bases of public consciousness, morality, and behaviour were replaced implacably by a new phenomenon that could be called a “post-modern consciousness”, based on the extraordinary mobility of the social agenda, the flexibility and volatility of assessments, including moral ones, collapse of the hierarchy of public authorities and their impact on society, the total overhaul of the system of values that had been formed throughout the 20th century, and subjugation of the interpretation of values to the objectives of the here and now. The standard political canons related to these values were replaced by post-modernist carnival politics — a public show instead of solutions to problems, with the attention of the public constantly diverted from one set of problems of little import compared to the compelling needs of the day to other ones, and the promotion of a “civilisation of comfort” (“life light”).
The previous system of self-control over public processes though well-established public morality and the authorities interpreting this morality, started to lose not only its effectiveness, but also its meaning. To a large extent this fact became the focus of public attention for the first time in connection with the financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009, also known as the Great Recession. However, the collapse of previous behavioural and moral benchmarks started to appear long before the crisis and served as one of its main causes. I wrote about this in detail in my book Realeconomik (Yale University Press, 2011), and to a certain extent the current processes in political consciousness and the economies of developed countries, which have set off alarm bells, echo back to and stem from the processes that attracted attention on the wave of the actual panic caused by the crisis.
At the same time, it goes without saying that the development of globalisation over the past decades has had a major impact on public consciousness. Whereas this initially referred simply to the removal of barriers to the movement of goods and capital, and the cross-border expansion of the world’s largest corporations and internationalisation of economic life, as this process developed, it turned out that it had an inner logic, whose results could not be prevented or placed under stringent control.
The main example of such “unplanned” results of globalisation concerns uncontrollable mass migration of people from countries and regions with the worst living conditions to the centres of the global economy — Western Europe and the USA. Against this background, so-called multiculturalism arose as the involuntary response (or, rather, search for a response) to the social tension that arose in these centres. And against this backdrop, the problem of terrorism assumed in turn a new dimension, acquiring ethnic and religious tones in accordance with the nature of international migration.
The educated part of the population of developed countries interested in global issues suddenly discovered that the disappearance of communism from the world stage, notwithstanding globalisation, did not mean the triumph globally of the model of liberal capitalism, which it had considered to be indisputable. It transpired that this model had serious rivals in the globalised world, in particular in Asia, but also in other places. One of the distinctive traits of the 2000s was the lively discussion of the possible future of countries with so-called “non-liberal capitalism”. Whereas Russia was perceived in the West as an argument against the idea of the “end of history”, primarily owing to its enormous military potential, first and foremost its nuclear arsenal, today’s absolutely non-liberal China turned out to be a powerful economic force capable of laying claim to supremacy in future over vast expanses.
It is highly likely that the perspective of the global political and economic leadership of China in its current form is illusory. The country’s political structure and critically important limitations on individual liberty and creativity are too serious for its assumption of the role of dominant international player, legislator of the rules and regulator of the global economy. Nevertheless as the most powerful, and at the same time, far from the only representative of the model of “non-liberal capitalism”, China has already had a significant impact on the state of public consciousness in the countries in the core of global capitalism.
In any case, the public mood in developed countries has changed dramatically over the past 15-20 years. Against the backdrop of a general perception of alienation from the official authorities, mistrust of the existing political elites has increased perceptibly. Widespread confidence that politicians are in general leading western society on the right path and that their almost unlimited support for efforts to liberalise the international movement of goods, capital, people, and ideas guarantees sustainable economic development and more or less equitable distribution of its benefits, has disappeared. The psychological protest against the growth of new inequality has been growing constantly, against the backdrop of the clear-cut stagnation of the income of the traditional “middle class” and “blue-collar workers”.
Despite the perceptible splintering of societies due to the weakening of horizontal ties and traditional institutions that unite people based on their socio-economic situation and profession, general discontent and a sense of injustice about the changes has grown. And so has the desire, often subconscious, to try to stop these changes and return to a past which appears much more understandable, comfortable, and fair.
Protests grew simultaneously against the old and new elites, who had not only clearly benefited from the changes both related to globalisation and to what one might call the advent of post-modern politics, but who had also promoted these changes, presenting them as new unconditional values, to some extent even worshipping them.
We know how these growing moods have manifested themselves. This was mentioned at the very start – the return to the forefront of the political life of political forces, appealing to a melancholy for the past and a familiar way of life, to a rejection of globalisation (or at the very least its visible manifestations), and a return to the primacy of the national state, to a desire to seal oneself off where possible from international risky processes and beginnings where the outcome is unclear, to rebuff politicians from the new (and also old) elite, who retreated into their prosperity and do not want to think about the worries and fears of the “simple” common man. To all intents and purposes, this is the source of the allegedly unexpected results of the landmark votes of recent years — the Brexit referendum, the presidential elections in the USA, and equally growing support in Europe for forces positioning themselves as the conservative right alternative.
Temporary deviations or a long-term trend?
The issue of the seriousness, and most importantly, duration of the shift in public consciousness noted in recent years, which could be termed hypothetically a turn from the future to the past (I myself use the meme “again policy” in token of the numerous calls from the politicians reflecting this turn “to go back” to the alleged greatness, harmony, and unity of the past, etc.6These politicians include Trump with his promise to “make America great again” and the slogans of the opponents of the EU in Europe who promise to “return” European countries to their people, and the nostalgia for the “glorious Soviet days” in Russia. In India, China, Iran, and Turkey the again policy is expressed in the rejection of the European path of development of civilisation and the attempt to replace it with something unclear, but undoubtedly linked to the idea of restoring former national (national-imperial) glory and pretensions to the role of regional or global centre of civilisation (the policies of Narendra Modi, Recept Erdogan, Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party in general, and the Iranian ayatollahs). In Russia it is the nostalgia for the USSR peddled by President Putin, an attempt to return to the context of the Cold War, and the desire for a “new Yalta” with the three powers being Russia, America, and China. In reality, Trump’s voters from the Rust Belt will not find jobs at production facilities returned to the USA from Mexico, India, and China. The production facilities may return, but the work will be done by robots, automated systems based on new technologies. According to the economists Daron Acemoglu of MIT and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, by 2025 robots will replace the jobs of 3.3-6 million people based on pessimistic estimates and 1.9-3.5 million based on optimistic estimates (2017). As for socio-political structures, it must be recalled that the futility of choosing between nationalism and imperialism as forms of political development was already recognised by politicians and intellectuals in the middle of the 20th century. The response to that challenge and the search for a stable political structure for post-war Europe was the concept of the union of nations based on mutual security guarantees — the European Union. The rejection of this answer patently leaves the world in a limited space between two nationalisms: isolationist and imperial. ) is one of the most acute issues of our time.
Based on an initial, and to all intents and purposes, superficial glance, all the above represents a short-term reaction to problems and difficulties that have “surfaced” during the past decade and have not received proper attention from Western political and economic elites. In actual fact, over the past ten years united Europe has encountered strong pressure from unregulated budget relations among EU members, the growing flow of migrants from the global South, and the first real threat for thirty years of a large-scale armed conflict on the borders with Russia. For the USA, the past ten years represented a shock as a result of the economic crisis of 2008, which laid bare the chronic problems in the financial sector and in the consciousness of the business elite, and the subsequent feeling that America would not be able to settle acute conflicts in foreign zones of American interests on its terms. Asian countries were confronted by China’s economic and military ascendance unleashing new uncertainties, while the Russian elite, which had relied on historically high oil revenues, set off to find a new place and role for itself, decisively rejecting the system of coordinates in world politics approved by the West in the post-war period.
However, the transformation of the public consciousness had been building up and began moreover a long time before recent events. In particular, processes related to the change of the technological base of the economy and society, with changes in the nature and direction of work on the markets of big business and its leaders, with corresponding movements in consumer behaviour and opportunities to manipulate such behaviour — all these are exceptionally long-term shifts in modern capitalism, which are not related to any specific phase in the cycle, to political perturbations, or any random or one-off events. They are all part of fundamental historical processes that can be traced as far back as the 1970s-1980s, and even earlier in some cases.
This is particularly prevalent in the ideological sector — the apologia for individualism and individual desires; the primacy of consumer consciousness over the collective as a target of social engineering; the effective removal of moral values from factors determining practical politics to ideological window dressing and empty rhetoric. The tendency to technologise economic analysis; the desire to present any process in economics and business as a set of technologically determined correlations between variables and factors. A reduction of the substance of economic policy to optimisation of the dynamics of aggregated growth indices, irrespective of their link to long-term social consequences and their assessment by various groups in society. All this gained traction long before the 2008 crisis and subsequent events. Moreover, here one can trace a link to the postulates of world outlooks whose impact on public consciousness was perceptible at the height of the Cold War and in many ways was stimulated by it7It is well known that a great deal of what we see in the western ideological mainstream today was developed secretly by the CIA in the 1950s-1960s, which was actively looking for strategies to guarantee the victory of the USA over the USSR during the Cold War..
In technology, however, the groundwork for today’s leap towards the active displacement of the focus of competition to influencing consumer consciousness in its simplest and irrational forms, to working with the unconscious natural source or equally unconscious prejudices, was prepared by the nature of the interaction of production and research conducted during every decade of the last century. Contemporary (“modern”) technologies joined forces with the political and ideological “post-modern,” whose main feature is the refusal to subordinate politics to rigid normative principles, thereby creating the structure of public consciousness that prevails today. It is based specifically on the gap between the new elites, who no longer feel responsible for the state of society in general, transforming themselves into a class to serve only their needs and reproducing the worst traits of oligarchic consciousness (snobbism, self-perception as part of a separate caste, confidence about the legitimacy and perpetuity of their special place in society and the economy), and the rest of society, which now feels ignored, betrayed and abandoned to the whims of history.
This gap is exacerbated by the fact that within the ruling class the previous dividing lines between ideological differences and conflicts (liberalism vs dirigisme in economic policy, traditionalism vs reformation, and natural inequality vs egalitarianism in social practice) were gradually losing their former meaning, ceding to the general alienation of the political and economic elite from the rest of society.
At the same time, the inertia of the life of an internally structured, primarily hierarchical society, continues to keep it intact, preventing an open crisis of statehood. However, destructive surges of negative energy engendered by this divide, periodically come to the surface, manifested in unexpected election results (if we are talking about electoral democracies), or powerful street protests, which can be used by alternative elites to use force to oust the groups usurping them from power, characteristic of countries with authoritarian regimes8This is what appeared during the “protest” vote in Great Britain on the referendum to leave the EU – as many people noted, all the rational arguments of the consolidated elite on the benefits of the United Kingdom’s continued presence in the EU fell apart when confronted by a sense of fatigue of the people against the cosmopolitan elite preoccupied solely, in the prevailing sentiment, with guaranteeing their own welfare. Something similar happened during the 2016 presidential elections in the USA: a spontaneous protest of the masses against the egotistical globalised elite removed from the world of “simple people” overcame reason and even considerations of practical benefit..
GLOBAL UNBALANCE AND CRISIS CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP
Today’s world is marked by the destruction of previous models of world order, which had provided a certain stability and predictability in international relations. Long-term and wide-scale changes in the world order have begun. They have different names: change in leadership, formation of a multipolar (polycentric) world, the new normal in international relations, and so on.
But they express the same process—a return to previous models of global equilibrium. Within the equilibrium, the economic and technological leaders of the western world, having a more or less single idea on institutions and principles of social structures, which they considered natural and desirable and did not consider it possible to endanger them or perform risky operations on forcibly exporting these institutions to the rest of the world.
This understanding of a complex global balance of forces held the world back from uncontrolled conflicts and kept the “West” within a stable bloc that was partly a military political union but had a broader makeup, not always with formalized inner connections. In other words, this idea enforced solidarity in the Western bloc but also brought realism and responsibility. This lay at the base of the world order during the mature phase of the Cold War. It continued to work in the early years after its formal end. However, by the late 1990s and 2000s the situation began changing in several directions at the same time.
First, the West’s mistaken interpretation of the causes and expected consequences of the end of the Cold War sharply lowered the quality of decisions taken and created a sense of euphoria in the minds of Western, especially American, politicians and leaders of public opinion, which made them abandon caution and rationality and begin a forced expansion of Western institutions and practices eastward.
The use of force (and of course with other measures, including diplomacy) was not determined by humanitarian reasons so much as narrow and short-term considerations that gave rise to doubts about the West’s commitment to its proclaimed values. The swift integration into Euro-Atlantic structure of countries of the former Eastern bloc and Baltic post-Soviet states gave the West confidence that the rest of the post-Soviet space would also melt in the Western pot without much conflict.
Second, Washington and those who share its approach to Europe saw authoritarian regimes in the Near East and Middle East as a kind of historical accident, whose violent removal would smooth out the acute social and religious and ethnic conflicts that their regimes suppressed, rather than opening them up completely. Hence the concept that “democratic movements” had to be supported, many of which were organizations of dubious qualities or small groups of pro-Western intellectuals with no real influence. This led to the concept of “humanitarian interventions,” on the basis of which the US took on the responsibility for the political restructuring of complex societies opaque to outsiders, that is, for a process over which the American curators even theoretically could not exert effective control.
Third, the US attitude to its former chief geopolitical rival, Russia, was no less frivolous and superficial. After the first inevitable failures, the doomed expectations for success of the reforms and the willingness to learn on the part of the Russian elite (since the reform prescriptions were fundamentally counterproductive given Russian reality and often harshly imposed) were quickly replaced by a tolerance for the corruption and conformism flourishing in its ranks, a blatant indifference to the problems of “ordinary” citizens, and a marginalizing of social groups and categories of the population that were extremely important for the country’s development.
The next step in that direction was the de facto refusal for meaningful dialogue with various groups inside the Russian political class and substituting convenient but not far-seeing deals with the ruling group. In that sense, the events of 2014 were not an unexpected surprise and not a sign of a “strange gap between reality” and the Russian leadership, who were blamed at first for the crisis in relations between Russia and the West, but the result of many years (since 1992!) of a short-sighted, self-confident, and essentially cynical policy of minor deals among Western leaders and the Russian regime without solving strategic problems relating to Russia.
Fourth, having lost its “drive,” the West weakened its interests in socioeconomic issues, most of all guaranteeing the greatest social equality and social solidarity. In part it was related to the weakened tension after the Cold War but to a greater extent to a rejection of the very need to strengthen society through intergroup solidarity and common goals (suprapersonal) and concomitant social morality9Margaret Thatcher formulated this precisely in 1987. “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.” Women’s Own Magazine. 31. 10.1987..
These goals were superseded by foreign expansion of international bureaucratic institutions, which fit perfectly into the view of society as a conglomerate of competing individuals. Nothing else can explain the fact that the mechanical expansion of membership and growth of bureaucratic institutions via the increase of the zone of their responsibility was presented as a major success of the EU rather than the deeper integration of European communities among themselves and within each one. It is clear that this enforced expansion was characterized by lowered requirements for new members, which led to additional problematic zones and lower quality of work of the common institutions. The national institutes inevitably lowered the levels of quality, yielding to the pressures of bureaucratic lobbies, de facto bringing standards to the lowest common denominator.
In that sense the debt crisis of the early 2010s, the inability to solve problems related to a new wave of immigration in a timely fashion, the growth of tension in European-Turkish relations, and the move to a qualitatively different level in the conflict with Russia in 2014 were all in some way the result of the strategy of a quick quantitative growth of the European Union’s zone of patronage without concern for its abilities in the current situation. The strategy itself was the inevitable result of the bureaucratization of the EU. The Union’s supranational bureaucracy, unfettered by political control, could impose a public agenda on European politics to expand its influence, framework of activity, and control over greater financial flows.
The flip side of this phenomenon was the inadequate attention paid to the socioeconomic and moral condition of large strata of the historical nucleus of the EU, disillusioned in the work of state institutions that were fulfilling an agenda that was often absurdly postmodern and alien to the interests of the population of the European Union. This played an important part in Europe’s weakening position as a full-fledged and influential partner in the union with the US.
Fifth, the relationship between the US and Europe saw a growth of mutual dissatisfaction and disagreement that came into the open after Donald Trump entered the White House. Europe was unpleasantly surprised that its own agenda—adapting to the growing influx of migrants, defending minorities, a quick conclusion to negotiations about mutual liberalization of trade and investments, a resolution of some sort for the crisis in relations over Ukraine—appears unimportant or spurious to Trump (and to many others in America)10This is the source of bewilderment in Angela Merkel’s statement after the G7 meeting in May 2017: “The time when we could fully depend on others is over. I understood this in the past few days.” (RIA Novosti. Merkel states that the EU can no longer depend on others. 28.05.2017). On the other hand, there is growing resentment in the US that Europe seems to be contributing very little to the resolution of the tasks that the US considers of global importance (maintaining the military and political dominance of the US and its allies, supporting the geopolitical status quo in Asia, and preventing the formation of anti-Western alliances and coalitions).
And last, and perhaps most importantly, the concept of global leadership, which after the collapse of the USSR was the basis of US foreign policy for a long time, is clearly losing its previous function of “leading and guiding” force. Of course, talk of the coming neo-isolationism of the United States, sparked by certain of Trump’s tirades about his future foreign policy, remains unrealistic for the time being, and it’s unlikely that the military or political presence of the US in the world will diminish. Nevertheless, if is clear now that America will have to accept the growing alternative center of power in China, which is appreciating its new capabilities and is determined to realize them in full.
Today China is not simply the second largest economy in the world in terms of gross product and with some possibility of being the biggest, it is a center of military power than can mobilize material and political and psychological resources to guarantee a dominant position along the perimeter of its borders and the Pacific and Indian oceans. Moreover, China is trying on the role of a global player that does not agree with the concept that Western “global standards” should be based on norms and principles from American and European practice. Taking advantage of America’s refusal to ratify the Transpacific Partnership Agreement, which was considered the farthest point along the path to fixing a Western-centric system of principle of economic and trade and investment activity as a global model, China expressed its pretensions to the role of a full-fledged participant at the minimum and as one of two leaders in the process of establishing world rules.
Of course, the prospect of China’s global political and economic leadership, in its present form, is still spectral. Its political structure and critically significant limitations on human rights and creativity are too serious for it to be considered a dominant international player, legislator of rules, and regulator of the world economy. Nevertheless, the probability of China assuming the role of hegemon in the Pacific space is far from zero, which calls for serious discussions of that scenario.
Most importantly, in view of its characteristics and growing power, China can pretend to the role of political and ideological alternative to the West as a model of so-called non-liberal capitalism. China intends to show the world that the authoritarian model that does not presume freedom of political and ideological competition coupled with the government’s energetic participation in domestic and foreign economic activity could serve not only as a temporary instrument of catching-up development and forced capitalistic modernization but as a long-term model that is an alternative to the classical one11This approach does not seem unacceptable to a significant portion of the world’s big business, as shown by a discussion at Davos in 2017, where the cries of “Welcome, China” were heard. It does not matter who the leader is as long as there is money to be made. “The king is dead, long live the king.”.
Further development of events will depend largely on how the US will be able to resist this scenario. At present it seems that the American administration finds this development unacceptable, but the future holds many challenges and there is no certainty that the American elite will find timely and adequate responses to them.
If the present Chinese model of capitalism were to become the main path of development in the Second World, the world of developing countries, it would mean a huge civilizational break in human history, much more significant than changes in leadership that took place in European and Euro-Atlantic history12Think of such precedents as the change in leadership from Venice to Genoa, from Flanders to Belgium, or from England to the US.. This is especially evident in view of the possible further weakening of Europe as nucleus of world capitalism (which would mean the loss of the culture-forming significance). This would be the first case of a global victory for a non-European culture over the modern European model, which has been the basis of the existing world mainstream, tying qualitative economic development throughout the industrial and then post-industrial era to unfettered creativity and the freedom of the individual.
I am convinced that any attempts to seek an alternative to this model is useless—this change in world leadership is on the agenda not because the new leader is ready but because the current one is losing ground. The time for change in leadership is maturing but the US is not ready to leave nor is China objectively ready to take it—because of the extreme backwardness of its social and political model. This is a dangerous crisis situation.
There are objective circumstances that obviate the need to search for alternatives to the European civilizational model. First of all, what they try to juxtapose to Europe, the European path, the modern mindset, to everything that was the center and locomotive of forward movement in the world for hundreds of years is not an equal alternative that has its own future of civilizational development that is different from the European one, but is nothing other than distorted, hybridized, and mythologized reality. This is particularly evident in Russia.
Europe traveled a long and complex path, encountered problems that the whole world is encountering now, and most importantly, found ways to solve them. The values and the institutions of security and development created after World War II—the most important of which is the European Union—are not random, not an aberration, but the result of many centuries of experience. They are the key to the future, and if humanity throws it away it will lose the mechanisms to solve global problems.
That will lead the way to repeating the nightmares and tragedies of the twentieth century and eventually to a new chaos. If the world does not learn the lessons of Europe, does not apply its achievements and solutions, we are truly doomed to a repetition.
Second, the personal factor played a greater role in the current reduction of Europe’s role than objective circumstances of an invincible power.
We have been discussing the end of strategy, which occurred after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Communist system, rather than the end of history. Just ten years ago, we wrote, “A challenge faced West European politicians and intellectuals — to elaborate a new paradigm for seeking answers to political and economic questions of historical significance. Has that goal been achieved? Unfortunately, we see that even the relatively adequate answers are only elements in much more important questions.”13Yavlinsky, Kogan-Yasny 2007:36
When the strategy of expanding the EU has exhausted itself without presenting the needed results, there is an acute need for new paradigms of its development. In fact, all the elements of the pressing agenda for the European Union—which were mentioned above: growth in popularity of isolationism and national populism, migration as a serious problem, and Brexit—are all consequences of having no strategy. We might even say the inevitable consequences.
Third, a significant part of today’s European crisis is related to Europe’s inability to create a satisfactory relationship with Russia after the fall of the USSR. In fact, it simply lost Russia, unable to find a common language. As a result, Russia headed down a path that does not exist (and reversibility seems more and more unlikely) while the large possibilities remain unrealized in economic development and in state building. Europe thereby missed a most important historical chance: if 25 years ago it had taken planned steps on the gradual, staged, and cautious integration of Russia and other post-Soviet states into the united European space, most of the negativity that Europe is suffering could have been avoided. Moreover, a united Europe could have been the center of economic and political power no less than the US and China, which would have cardinally changed the configuration of civilizational development.
In reality, however, the situation followed a different scenario, and we will have to suffer all the consequences of the decisions made by politicians.
THE FUTURE OF RUSSIA IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBAL POLITICS
At present relations between Russia and the West have reached a new low not only for the 25 years of the post-Soviet period, but also possibly in history in general. It would appear now that even the dark days of the Cold War, even the proximity of the hotheaded confrontation of the Cuban crisis, held more hopes for the future. Perhaps this is because back then the focus was on the fight to move forward, for leadership of a fundamentally European civilisation, whose global superiority was indisputable.
Now we face a different crisis: instability, growing global chaos, and most importantly a general sense of uncertainty and even the loss of any vision of the future. Furthermore, official Russia is shaping its policies in the fashion of the Cold War, trying to proceed from the principle of the zero-sum game — what is bad for the West is good for us. This narrative underpinned Russian hysteria at home over the topic of “Trump Is Ours”. There were no grounds for expecting American neoconservatives to become Russia’s geopolitical allies. However, once the Western establishment perceived Trump’s victory in a negative light, then long live this bad development.
In reality, the fates of Russia and the West and their future are interconnected, just like the causes of developments in Russia and global politics.
What our country is experiencing, Russia’s current situation, is to a large extent attributable to the application on Russian soil of the limited concepts that led in the final analysis to the global crisis of goal-setting and trust. These concepts are based on ideas of negative freedom, extreme individualism and spontaneous order drawn up in the utopias of a self-regulating market.
It is clear that the world today is unstable, fraught with a vast number of risks, and that the situation does not contribute in any way to economic growth or the consolidation of human communities around truly significant goals and actions. However, serious progress in global restructuring on more rational principles is impossible today without profound reform of its most developed part, and there are no alternatives to movements in that direction — the reform of the West as a way to overcome the global crisis.
The last BRICS summit provides further evidence to this effect. The idea per se, the BRICS construct, was interesting as a challenge to recognised leaders. Today, however, when the position of global trendsetter is effectively vacant, it is becoming clear that the leaders who gathered in Xiamen had to all intents and purpose nothing to offer on any of the most acute topics. The Russian President’s verbal defence of North Korea, which continues to brag about its nuclear threat to the world, from sanctions and pressure, was particularly telling.
The process of making society healthier, overcoming the destabilising divides, and finding new ways to make sure that public institutions comply with the challenges that they face, must start in the West today. Building institutions that transform humanistic European values into political, economic, and social practices is one such important direction. The current relationship between market mechanisms and the mechanisms for attaining public objectives must be reversed and made fit for purpose, which should inter alia ensure progress when it comes to reducing inequality and creating equal opportunities for the representatives of different social groups in terms of their interests.
It goes without saying that elements of post-modernism in the organisation of political and public life in these countries must be overcome: the ideas of the primacy of individual desires, the equivalence of all activities to make a profit, regardless of the public assessment of their results, and the absolute benefit of globalisation processes, etc., must take its leave from the reality of Western countries as the vanguard of world capitalism in its current form.
Russia could also play a significant role in this process. By virtue of the specifics of its history, Russia “dropped out” from the standard course, lagging far behind the core of world capitalism in economic development, but retaining ambitions and potential, leading to dissatisfaction with its place on the world periphery where it has been driven today by the forces of global competition. Unwilling to put up with its role as part of the “global village,” Russia is trying to raise its status through the use of military force on the one hand and attempts to present itself as an alternative to the Western world from a socio-political perspective on the other hand. Unable to assume the role of one of the leaders of the “global city”, which is hampered by Russia’s modest economic potential and a reluctance of the masters of this “city” to grant the new pretender any rights or privileges, in these circumstances Russia is trying to position itself as the leader of alternative forces, relying on its uniqueness and focus on “traditional values,” set against “Western values”, which are presented as spurious.
In other words, instead of recognising the universal nature of the fundamental values of the developed world and defending those values from oblivion and attempts to discredit them, at times made by the Western elites themselves, Russia has effectively aligned itself with efforts to discredit them, albeit from another flank. Both officially and unofficially, Russia has adopted a stance of consciously compromising the most important European values and supporting forces within Western societies that work on their isolation and disintegration.
At the same time, the values of the desired future — societies of free individuals built on the principles of political competition and approval of interests on the basis of law and the disciplining role of public morality — have been rejected. Thanks to proactive state propaganda, these values are being replaced by elements of an archaic, de-modernised consciousness with its idolatry of one sole and unaccountable power standing above society and claiming a monopoly on interpreting its interests. A consciousness reliant on irrational instincts and elements of militant tribal and feudal relations; legitimising and sanctifying direct violence as the main component used to control society.
Effectively, owing to their desire to head the anti-mainstream and anti-Western forces on a global scale, Russian elites ended up rejecting civil and personal freedom, advocating non-freedom and the subjugation of society to the goals and objectives contrived by an extremely narrow group of people who have been assigned the full set of official powers.
In other words, the tactical maneouvring of the elites to strengthen their positions in the global order (if conceived as such) to all intents and purposes is leading to a profound U-turn in the development of Russian society. Now significant efforts will be required to stop this U-turn, and it remains unclear whether these efforts will have the desired result.
However, what Putin is proposing is not an alternative – this is a continuation of an experiment that leads to a dead end. He mastered too well the rules of the “prisoner’s dilemma” and the “zero-sum game” in his youth. Society does not consolidate around collectivism or patriotic ideas. In his proposal fellow citizens are seen as a mass to be manipulated, who can be managed once you find the right buttons to push. Dividing and pitting various groups against one another is one of those buttons.
The people in power are seeking to maximise their profits and are driven by self-preservation at any cost, and their vested interest is the engine of a corrupt bureaucratic system.
At the same time, the victories of these elites are more than ephemeral. By rejecting the idea of catch-up modernisation, Russia has started moving backwards. However, this does not make it a leader and trendsetter of the modern world. In its present condition, Russia remains on the global periphery and “clings to” permanently backward countries, which is why the hopes of a new Yalta (together with the USA and China or based on some other configuration) are in actual fact groundless. It is possible that the country will be present as a significant, and in some cases, key player, during attempts to resolve regional conflicts (that it sometimes creates or stirs up for this very purpose), but hopes of assuming the role of indisputable leader of the vast “not-Western” world, even in a complicated tandem with China, are undoubtedly illusory.
Any bet on a “multipolar world” as a replacement of the previous “bipolar” system is also untenable, if only because this world, instead of a “new international order,” will be accompanied by the absence of any order whatsoever in the conditions of a free-for-all among a large number of different autonomous powers that do not adhere to any general rules or share common views. However, it is highly likely that nobody will have the strength to bring about this “brave new world”, marked by some order and balance — neither the USA which is losing today its status of global leader — and especially not Russia, which lacks at present the material and ideological resources required to do so. Meanwhile a “non-polar world,” which is likely to result from the build-up to a fight between all players (which is fraught with the likelihood of a major war that may be the only way in this situation to determine a hierarchy and return balance to the world), as the antithesis to a “monopolar” world, will be a clear step backwards and a crisis not only of the monopolar world but also the world per se.
In this case, Russia — if events develop in line with this scenario – will suffer more than countries traditionally perceived as part of the Third World, if only because Western “comfort psychology,” the desire for an orderly and comparatively prosperous existence, has taken a foothold in Russia, which transcends not only the narrow ruling class, but also the traditionally wealthy privileged strata. An abrupt increase in any types of risks and a growing sense of the futility of efforts to build a life in this scenario, if it does not lead to mass protests, will probably reduce the level of manageability of society and make it impossible to mobilise society for ambitious state projects.
As a result, in trying to extricate itself from the West with its global projects and mounting socio-economic and political problems, Russia will also end up in a state of “non-being”: it has to a far greater extent no clear idea about its future, does not understand the country’s role in it, and therefore fears the future and as a result backs off, unable to handle the tasks of its own modernisation. Finding itself at a historical watershed, Russia is choosing false goals: instead of seeking a common path together with Europe, which has ended up in a “divide between eras”, to overcome the traps of the political post-modern and the crisis of an obsolete model of capitalism, Russia is trying to stand against the part of Europe which is trying to find a way to extricate itself from this era by moving forward instead of backwards to a past that was not the happiest and that had definitely exhausted its potential.
What should one do to ensure that the forces of reason and progress actually gain the upper hand, and that the total about-face, which would naturally lead to collapse, does not happen? This is a separate subject requiring significant debate.
INSTEAD OF AN EPILOGUE
A detailed conversation on the causes of the issues described in this article would serve as the basis for a separate broad topic. It is often the case that a description and sincere impartial analysis of developments contains a substantial proportion of explanations on how this reality came to be. However, in my summary, I will try to formulate extremely briefly in condensed form some of the basic blocks of the causes that led to the current situation in the world.
1. I provided insight on some of the causal connections leading to the situation that we face today in my book dedicated to the downturn of capitalism — analysis of the specifics of the world economy as know it and the fundamental causes of the 2008 crisis. [Yavlinsky, 2011, Yavlinsky, 2014]. I called the economic system that developed over the past few decades, by analogy with Realpolitik, the Realeconomik system. The key here is that this is a specific form of modern capitalism, which distorts even the principles of consumerism, frees up business from perceived excessive moral constraints and responsibility to society, reduces values and goal-setting solely to the generation of as much profit as possible through financial and economic bubbles and virtual types of activity that have little to do with the actual needs of the general public.
The actual process of forming a modern Realeconomik system shows and partly explains how modern Western society came to the point where it is today14This phenomenon is analysed in detail, albeit from one perspective, in the works of the British documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis. See, for example, The Century of the Self or The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom..
Something appeared at the end of the 20th century that had not been present since the start of the new time in Europe—the idea of democracy was dislodged significantly by a simplified economic model of human behaviour. And during these changes, we witnessed the start of a shift from a political system based on representation, dialogue and compromise between various population strata and ideological approaches. “Economic democracy,” based on the financial and banking system, started to be interpreted as an indisputable fact to be accepted as a given. A specific feature of this system is that people are barred from exerting any impact or influence on the “controlling” model.
The origin of the Realeconomik system can be traced back to the watershed moment between the economic growth of the 1920s and the Great Depression, aimed at overcoming the decline of production in the US. This was when the practice of the targeted large-scale creation of artificial needs and their satisfaction appeared and started to be developed for the purpose of managing society in a bid to overcome the decline of production. And this served as the basis for the idea that the economy is superior to democracy. Edward Bernays was a proactive advocate and probably the founder of these ideas.
After the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, when the influence of the USSR and Communist ideology became a threat to the West, models of controlling human behaviour were proactively developed. The mathematician John Nash, who was a genius but unstable, in the search for an antidote to Communist ideology, tried to apply game theory to all forms of human relations, based on the negative idea that humans are motivated only by self-interest and trust no one.
In his theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize, Nash attempted to prove that a society based on extreme individualism, egoism and self-interest, can remain stable and develop even more dynamically than a planned and organised society. This theory was extremely influential on politics and then economics. However, the price of such liberation of self-interest would have to be a world where everyone suspected everyone else and trusted no one. As this appeared to be an effective anti-Soviet ideology, this approach was acceptable in light of the realities of the Cold War.
A philosophical ideologeme appeared on this basis, which became extremely influential in the politics and economics of the second half of the 20th century. The key gist was to oppose the collectivist socialist and communist ideology that had been becoming more popular with a model of social equilibrium based on human egoism and desire for personal benefit, in other words, a system of deliberately cultivated individualism and narrow pragmatism. This was no longer just about propaganda, but instead about elaborating special technologies to manipulate individual and public consciousness.
Nash’s equilibrium was a suitable scientific base for the approach advocated by Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian economist who taught at Chicago University. Hayek was convinced that the planning of a society’s life by the proponents of any ideology in the 20th century was far more dangerous than any of the problems engendered by capitalism. Hayek proposed returning to the “golden era” of the free market when people would adhere to their interests and governments would not interfere. He believed that this would lead to a self-regulating, spontaneous order, created by the efforts of millions of people playing “their own game”. One of the most prominent liberal thinkers of the 20th century, Isaiah Berlin, was an ally of Nash’s theory, who validated the idea of “negative freedom.”
In the end, the experimental model developed by Nash in the extreme conditions of the Cold War for the ideological battle with the Soviet Union, intended for application in this specific situation, started to be perceived by more and more Western politicians and influential individuals in the most varied areas as an indisputable truth, as the absolute mainstream in world politics and economics, and moreover, as a universal system for all areas of human interaction.
Through Reaganomics and Thatcherism, the individualist model became political reality in the USA and in the West as a whole, and through the Washington consensus was persistently proposed to the rest of the world as the only true roadmap for development.
No one paid attention to the fact that this model totally cast aside what Adam Smith had considered indispensable for ordering society and called moral sentiments — such categories as compassion and understanding of the needs of other people.
This system of views permeated the very heart of Western politics, began the process and continues to lead to the de-intellectualisation of the elite, distortion of the value scale, and contraction of the horizon of political and vital thinking and forecasting.
And this is how “economic democracy” appeared. By the second half of the 2000s it crystallised as the Realeconomik system, leading to the large-scale global crisis.
Adam Curtis recently noted: “There was a tectonic shift in the mid-1970s — we made the transition from a state that was not conformist, but instead collective and operated at group level, to what I call ‘hyperindividualism.’ The central tenet is that the individual, individuum, is the key, most important force. And this shift erodes many things. It erodes the ability of politicians to unite the masses. It leads us to doubt ourselves… The architects of our modern world have created a terrible trap for us. In trying to protect us from the dangers of communism, totalitarianism, and collective egalitarianism, they have brought us to a world devoid of meaning.”15See: “Adam Curtis on “hypernormalisation” and why he finds Vladislav Surkov interesting” (Editor’s note – available on the Russian BBC Service, but not available in English)
2. Another key factor in the effective degradation of the global political system was the profoundly erroneous interpretation of the results of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the communist system as the triumph of individualistic strategy and “economic democracy” in the style of Reagan and Thatcher. In 1992 the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama advanced the idea that the world had reached “the end of history,” while liberal democracy was the best political solution.
This resulted in the idea of artificially structuring a homogenous new world based on the principle of negative freedom, in other words, extreme individualism, a world where everybody is free to do what he or she wants, without any coercion or constraints imposed by the elites and governments.
Pursuant to this theory, if all the old institutions were destroyed and the elites who told people what to do were eliminated, and instead individuals were allowed to behave independently and according to market rules, those individuals would become a new type of rational creature who would organise society in the manner required for their market activity. This would lead to the emergence of a new order and a new democracy, where the market, and not politics, would give people what they want.
The practical work of implementing these “ideas,” corroborated by loans and the financial injections of the IMF and the World Bank, resulted in all but name in the Russian economic catastrophe of 1992-1999. A new order arose from this economic catastrophe, but everyone now understands that it was not the spontaneous order depicted in the utopias of the free market, in the dreams of Hayek, Friedman, and the “young Russian reformers” of the Yeltsin period. Exactly the opposite happened.
Subsequently, this approach was implemented in an attempt to resolve international problems through the military-coercive displacement of dangerous (truly dangerous) dictators, in the expectation that the liberated individualism and market mechanisms would fix everything all on their own. The consequences of the American invasion of Iraq is the most glaring example of the results.
3. The Realeconomik system combined with globalisation led to irreversible inequality. The world was divided into developed and undeveloped countries forever. The gap in the quality of life and longevity, education, medicine, the level of technical development became insurmountable. To all intents and purposes developing countries practically disappeared (with the exception of a limited few). The loss of any prospects for a significant proportion of the population of countries resulted in the migration crisis in Europe and the appearance of ISIS. The deepening inequality between countries (and within them) will intensify and the conflicts stemming from this circumstance will become the sad and dangerous meaning of international life in the 21st century.
4. The inability of European bureaucracy to elaborate a strategy for a qualitatively new stage in the development of the EU was a serious reason and prerequisite of the current global crisis. The fall of the Berlin Wall did not herald the end of history, but instead the end of strategy. After 1991, East European and Baltic states were rapidly integrated into the EU. At the same time, however, there was no long-term vision of the further development of the European Union, while no constructive strategy was created for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. The understanding of the establishment of a great Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok was lost, and the European situation came to a dead end.
5. The combination of the technical “benefits” of the fourth industrial revolution — technologies directly influencing the minds, behaviour and consciousness of people – with capitalism steering clear of its foundations, and carnival politics (the show and competition for the attention of the audience, instead of a substantive conversation and problem solving), resulted in the conception of a new “quality” which may pose a global threat.
One of the manifestations of the crisis was that the older population (older than 35) was unable to link the progress of information technologies to the attainments of the 20th century. Meanwhile, youth accepted progress as a given, but does not know what it is for, what it means, and what responsibilities it entails. Part of the new reality has been the blurring of standards in news, information and media communications, a position when “clicks” and the dividends they bring (not only financial, but also image-making and political) are considered more important than truth and accuracy.
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The likelihood that this threat will be overcome, that the growing chaos will be curbed, and that a sense of meaning will be returned to the world, is dependent on the ability of our leaders to engage in a fundamentally new level of re-evaluation of global development.
The article was published in an abbreviated form in the magazine POLIS, pages 133-135; No. 5, September 2017, in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, on 26 September 2017.