Mutatis Mutandis. An Era of Diverse Changes

09.05.2016
Those who celebrated the New Year on January 1, 1900, in the imperial St. Petersburg or Victorian London, could not have imagined that just in a few years the usual way of life would be left in tatters. The changes were so rapid and so serious that they even changed the everyday life. For example, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes guessed the profession and the status of suspects from their garment style, and twenty years later, Chesterton's Father Brown explained that the twelve rich and noble British fishermen ("The Queer Steps" story) wore festive green coats to be distinguished from the lackeys. No need to talk about the fall of empires, the emergence of new countries, new ideologies and use of poison gas.

So, it is common for humanity to experience changes, including the most dramatic ones.

We should not be surprised that now the world media are filled with groans: The world is collapsing! The usual order is disappearing! We don’t know what to expect tomorrow!

Indeed, some Americans are predicting the collapse of the Grand Old Party. The phenomenon of the roaring "new normal" Donald Trump, his real success, the weakness of the traditional Republican elite caused a lot of confusion. But what is Trump’s success in reality? And who is really Donald Trump? It seems that no one knows any precise answer to this question.

In North Korea, a Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea was held. It was supposedly a milestone event. Everyone carefully listened to the words of the DPRK leader, who enthusiastically blackmails the world with nuclear weapons. But no one knows what the North Korean leadership is really up to do. Although, it seems, one can expect any tricks from Kim Jong-un: as he keeps his hand on the atomic bomb, he is virtually invulnerable.

A Labour Muslim became the mayor of London. Oddly enough, it is not an uncommon combination. In fact, in many post-Soviet Muslim countries there are a lot of Muslim Socialists, Muslim Communists and some of them are in power. Of course, the British Labour MP Sadiq Khan would not do anything wrong, but still there is a lot of fuss around him. And it is hard to say how the results of London elections will affect the situation in Britain as a whole. In any case, there is no consensus.

Moreover, it is hard to say how this vote will affect the outcome of the Brexit referendum, although there are many assumptions.

Not everything is alright with Turkey, either. It is perpetually at odds with the entire world. As soon as the deal on refugees seemed to have been reached with Ankara, Erdogan elbowed out his prime minister and suggested that Europeans keep out of his business and keep out of his own.

In Poland too, the country’s leadership is openly defiant of Brussels and demands an end to manipulations with refugees. It must be added that the Polish leadership is not at all alone in its ‘Euroscepticism.’

In Africa, God only knows what’s going on, and Africa is large and diverse.

All told, there is no lack of challenges. The world really is changing, and it is changing rapidly. But, as already mentioned, change is an inherent quality of the world. But as in a person’s life, a chain of gradual changes ends up becoming a transformation from child to adolescent, adolescent to adult, and then to an old man, with an inevitable finale. So, too, in the world’s unending transformations, there are stages. And there is a feeling that one stage is ending, but a new one is beginning. The question is what kind of stage?

In understanding this issue, the most important thing is probably that the twenty-five years since the collapse of the USSR did not pass by in vain. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was an illusion that there is a looming universal bliss that the world’s majority has turned to the side of democracy, that democratic states will gradually lead the world into a state of order, and there will be something like a universal prosperity. Of course, challenges and issues would remain, but the international situation would be sorted out by means of ideas. Just like around a hundred years before, prior to the era of the theory of relativity and quantum physics, one of the great physicists (apparently, Rutherford), said that there was nothing new to be discovered in physics now. There are two or three problems remaining, such as the ball lightning, but other than that, there are answers to the main questions, and existing theories of physics describe most imaginable situations.

As in physics then, in international politics and political thought, something like a revolution is occurring. Although much knowledge and many theories have been accumulated, many books have been written and many lectures have been delivered, there is no confidence that existing knowledge would enable us to successfully understand the essence of what is happening and predict events in the future.

There are many questions without obvious answers.

What kind of countries does the modern world consist of? There are more and more countries, and they are pretty hard to classify. What is the regime in modern China, for example? Or Hungary? It is probably rational to consider India a democracy, but it is very different from Switzerland. Kazakhstan and Belarus have similar aspects, but they are very different countries. It is no doubt that much has been written on the topic, but no crystal clearness emerges.

What is modern totalitarianism? Or even neototalitarianism, as some claim. How can we distinguish between the “regular” authoritarian regimes and the totalitarian ones? Does fascism exist today? And if it does, what is it like? Make no mistake, the vogue word “hybrid”, used with reference to wars and regimes, only indicates how confused political thinkers are.

And what are the ideological models that drive the modern world? What are the guiding principles for Daesh? Of course, it emerged in the world of Islam, but then, there are many strains of Islam around. And we still have problems grappling with them, although a lot of intellect, money, time and effort have been invested.

There is nothing new about the struggle between the right and the left, supporters of capitalism and communism, but now it comes in new forms. The thing is that the theory of surplus value cannot be seen as the basis for understanding modern economy. Therefore we can see a totally new type of social struggle, when it is not the oppressed and exploited who fight for their rights, but the people who failed to fit into modern economy, without whom the world can get along well and who feel the world throws handouts at them. In many countries, an interesting job turns out to be an indicator of the quality of life, or, at least, many sociologists say so.

Modern economy seems to be based on the belief that humanity is going to gain an unheard-of strength. New technologies – and new communications, in particular – have made the intellectual component of the economy more important than ever. It means that well-coordinated intellectuals who do not depend on national borders can organize any production and solve most production-related issues quite easily. Of course, raw materials are still important, but economic success is now defined by the entrepreneurs’ imagination and freedom of doing business. And this creates an amazingly comfortable world, where a significant part of humanity lives.

As a result, the freedom of business and thought, the breath-taking working efficiency of intellectuals are evidently annoying the traditional hierarchies represented by the modern states and hundreds of millions of state employees – from the military to officials who are used to living at the expense of society. But their existence is justified to a large extent by a comparative weakness of self-regulation related to the humans’ predatory nature.

These problems are multiplied by challenges on the part of archaic forces, violence, terrorism, ignorance and all sorts of bigotry. This challenge is dangerous. The forces of darkness are strong, and humanity is known for is urge for self-destruction.

In brief, there is nothing new: the world is on the brink of collapse, but the brink seems to be changing right now. It may be even more dangerous, but, at the same time, a very promising one.

The breakthroughs are so significant that they can really change a lot in our lives. Most importantly, to prolong the lives of many of us.

On the whole, history continues.

Calendar

Popular tags

Newsletter

Type your E-mail to subscribe to Valdai Club newsletter
Subscribe