Blurred Poles and Hazy Horizons: From a Flat to a Round World

It seems that following the collapse of the bipolar world, we are not moving at all to a new multi-polar planet of equal opportunities and open cooperation between countries. Rather, we've found ourselves in a foggy ocean without any poles and, therefore, no means of orienting ourselves.

It is believed that in general, people strive for calm, peace, serenity and happiness. To some degree, this is true. But at the same time, they strive for domination and victory, sometimes through outright aggression. As La Rochefoucauld once noted, in the misfortunes of our best friends, we always find something not altogether displeasing.

This adage can be applied to the behaviour of countries, even more than individuals.

The chaotic mosaic of international conflicts is impressive, and it seems that not only has the number of conflicts multiplied, but the number of types of conflict has increased as well. Trade, military, social, religious, ethnic, value, ideological conflict… God knows what else. It looks as if there is a contest for the most original and meaningless reason for a conflict. And, probably, it’s time to give Darwin Awards to not only the most careless and stupid people, but also some human communities, and maybe even whole countries. 

The desire of people to generate conflicts is beyond doubt. It is difficult to find a place on Earth where these or other more or less bloody conflicts haven't occurred. After resolving the problem with the Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka lived happily and peacefully for a long period of time. But this happiness is over. Recently in the African nation of Burkina Faso, two French soldiers were killed while freeing hostages taken in Benin and transported to Mali. There is very little hope that the situation in Venezuela will somehow calm down. The achievement of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is still very far away. American ships and missiles are moving toward Iran, and the latter, in turn, threatens to retaliate. Nor can we expect a stable, peaceful situation in Israel. Stories of terrorism and gunfire come from as far away as New Zealand. Even in Europe, people constantly die from terrorist attacks, not to mention the conflict in Ukraine. In general, the list can go on and on, because, I repeat, the number of conflicts is multiplying: new ones arise and the old ones, once thought resolved, break out again.

Moreover, outright sabre rattling and demonstrations of every kind of ability to destroy the maximum number of people in record time now reign in the world. 

Every conflict involves polarisation: someone is always pitted against someone else, even if there is a multilateral conflict; there is always a set of opposing pairs. But how can the situation be understood when these pairs become too many?

During the Cold War, there were a lot of local conflicts, but in that time two main poles existed. And just as iron filings create predictable patterns under the influence of the magnet poles, a large number of conflicts more or less correlated with the dominant forces. It played out exactly like on a globe: there are north and south poles, the equator in the middle between them, the tropics and so on.

In the present world, there is a feeling that both poles have disappeared. We can no longer use a compass and the equator can be anywhere.

New World Vision
Andrey Bystritskiy
The mankind enters an era of critical transformation. The conflict between different political forces is deepening. But, most importantly, the communication zone of political battles expanded enormously. Formerly an insignificant player - the broad world masses - gained space for direct political action. Traditional political elites - educated and wealthy - risk losing control over the world processes.
Message from the Chairman

At the same time, people don't enjoy living without a clear separation between black and white or bad and good. It does not matter that this leads them to crude and, in many cases, incorrect simplifications. As a result of the absence of poles, that is, with the disappearance of a global, more or less shared narrative, we've found ourselves beset by chaos and conflicts, having no common denominator, in a world in which the war of all against all is actively manifesting itself. While this is not yet a real war, we seem to be approaching such a Hobbesian nightmare. The preconditions for a global civil war are obvious.

Of course, our self-preservation instinct remains, and so really big clashes still do not happen. However, everyone feels this threat. It's no coincidence at all that new weapons limitation treaties are being discussed. It is clear that the reasons for such conversations are many; plenty of things are purely conjectural, but still ... everyone feels threatened. 

The current situation in the world is unique. However, as always - there are no non-unique situations. As you know, it is not possible to enter the same river twice. But still there is a feeling that the level of novelty of the current situation is very high. Moreover, we are hardly able to soberly assess this level. We see a lot of new things, but the question remains what they will change, especially when it comes to technological innovation.

One can only guess that, in addition to the general aggressiveness of people, it leads to an increase in the number and types of conflicts. One of the assumptions is that this is primarily a clash between some kind of barbarism and enlightenment, humanism and cruelty, or between the desire for freedom and the emancipation of mankind on one hand and the desire to preserve the old social hierarchies and the privileges of elites on the other. But maybe this approach is a simplification. 

Perhaps the most significant way in which the world differs is the new information and communication environment, which is completely without precedent. It was the communication revolution that allowed us to compare all the conflicts with each other, and brought everything into one chaotic list. It's exactly like Jorge Luis Borges wrote in “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”:

These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese Encyclopaedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (I) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, ( n) those that resemble flies from a distance. The Bibliographical Institute of Brussels also resorts to chaos: it has parcelled the universe into 1,000 subdivisions: Number 262 corresponds to the Pope; Number 282, to the Roman Catholic Church; Number 263, to the Lord's Day; Number 268, to Sunday schools; Number 298, to Mormonism; and Number 294, to Brahmanism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Taoism. It also tolerates heterogeneous subdivisions, for example, Number 179: "Cruelty to animals. Protection of animals. Moral Implications of duelling and suicide. Various vices and defects. Various virtues and qualities.

The classification of modern conflicts, you see, is similar to that given by Borges. But unlike the lifetime of the great writer, today instead of an encyclopaedia for individuals, Wikipedia is for everyone, for billions. It is easy to get confused here for ordinary people and elites alike. 

Of course, the chaos of conflicts existed during the Roman Empire, but nevertheless the then-patricians did not have access to WeChat messenger, did not know about the creation of vodka in China or about people playing football with severed heads in Chichen Itza. Every culture and local civilization had its own oecumene. And they essentially lived on flat land.

New communications networks, for the first time, have made the world really round and very compact. With such a world, in the absence of intelligible polarisation, that is, a mainstream conflict, people meet who have never met before and do not know how to deal with it. We are playing with a ball made from the globe with unknown rules.

At the same time, our current problems, threats of world civil war, and the chaos of brutal conflicts are the result of unprecedented progress and success. However, it is known that nothing short sells like prosperity. As the Stoics liked to joke, you should not get used to living well.

Evil in Politics: The Fruits of Frivolity
Andrey Bystritskiy
It is not only me who has a strange feeling of anxiety, approaching danger, a sense of tragic outcome in the current world situation. The most striking thing is that there are no so many rational grounds for such eschatological experiences. More precisely, only a couple of them: the incredible power and wealth of modern mankind, and the eternal limitations of the mental abilities of people, especially politicians.
Message from the Chairman