Session 4. The Conflict Between Universalism and Self-Identity

18.10.2017

The fourth session of the Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club was devoted to the issues of universalism and self-identity. Participants discussed the processes of globalization that began after the end of the Cold War and the reaction to them in the form of activating the self-identity policy, striving to strengthen their own unique self-identity.

Almost all the panelists' speeches contained the idea that universalism and self-identity are inextricably linked, and contraposing them is contrived. One of the participants in the discussion proposed to discuss not the conflict, but instead, the dialectic of universalism and self-identity.

As one of the experts noted, phenomena similar to modern globalization have existed since ancient times. According to him, there were several waves of globalization in the world, and one of the first and most large-scale was the spread of Hellenistic culture. At the same time, attempts to mitigate local differences always led to the fact that they were increasingly stressed. Consequently, there is no contradiction between globalization and localization as trends, since the former naturally leads to the second. These two tendencies create a state of equilibrium in which global phenomena have local manifestations. One can speak of a synthesis in which greater diversity leads to greater stability.

According to another panelist, the very nature of human societies envisages a desire for expansion and unification, they all try to reshape others in their own image. Attempts at unification are naturally rebuffed and strengthen attitudes in favor of originality.

One of the experts noted that the universal is inevitably localized. Moreover, globalization strengthens the desire of the regions to differ from each other. The menu in McDonald's restaurants in different countries indicates that the global brand is compatible with local peculiarities. Another example of the interdependence of the local and the global is international tourism: tourist flows can be built up only by differences between countries and regions, and it is in the interest of tourism business, to emphasize these differences as much as possible.

Another participant noted the groundlessness of the opposition of the universalism of self-identity. According to him, the history of international relations confirms that they are fully compatible with each other. For example, the stability of the Concert of Europe of the 19th century was largely based on the socio-economic diversity of the European powers included in it. On the other hand, the presence of common traits among the great totalitarian systems of the first half of the twentieth century in no way prevented their clash with each other.

The issue of migration took a special place in the discussion. According to one of the panelists, migration is a revolution of the 21st century. People living in countries with inefficient governments understand that it is easier to change a country than a government. The increase in the speed and scale of the dissemination of information played an enormous role in the development of such thinking. Today, according to the expert, the main factor determining one’s well-being is not one’s education, nor the education of one’s parents, but where one was born. Thanks to television and the Internet, citizens of countries with a low standard of living see different standards and consider resettling to the more developed countries to be the solution of almost all their problems.

It is with this that the important trend of our time is associated, which one of the participants of the session described as an "interwall period.” A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, new walls are beginning to be erected in the world to protect borders, both literally and figuratively. The most important of these boundaries are informational, for they are protected to the least extent. Another panel member agreed, noting that the key issue of the modern era is not who possesses land as in the pre-industrial period, or machines, as in the industrial one, but who possess the data.

It was the fear of the violation of information borders that led to the current hysteria about "Russian hackers" in the US. The Valdai Club expert made an analogy between this story and Russia's reaction to the "color revolutions" in 2004-2005. According to him, in both cases, the authorities demonstrated that the invasion of the information space (in a broad sense) is the most important threat to national security. That is why today there is no difference between nuclear weapons and cyber weapons, he said.

Having discussed the challenges related to universalism and self-identity politics, experts concluded that today, more than ever, there is a great need not for statesmen capable of thinking within the scope of electoral cycles, but politicians who think within the scope of decades.

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