Despite its modern weapons and technology, mankind is still profoundly imperfect. Unfortunately, human evolution has proceeded not through intellectual and moral improvement, but through the search for ways to technically intervene in the system of thinking and motivation in order to “optimise” people, writes Andrey Sushentsov, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club. The publication of this article continues online collaboration between Valdai Club as part of its Think Tank project and Argentine Council on International Relations (CARI).
The key problem in international relations is uncertainty regarding the motives for the ways states behave. It stems from the complex structure of human consciousness and the multi-component nature of what motivates human behaviour. As recent studies show, forecasting international relations in modern science remains difficult despite the expansion of biology and “big data” into the study of what motivates human behaviour in recent decades. At the same time, despite social studies and the humanities being unable to resolve issues that plague mankind and the various states today, our military potential is unparalleled: humanity is capable of destroying itself several times over. This yet insoluble paradox has led scientists to lament: “God gave physics the easy problems.”
To make matters worse, the modern international system continues to move forward. Technological innovation has made the world interdependent: well-fed, but fragile. Political leaders and researchers of international relations are experiencing a subjective feeling that the world is deeply unstable. Observers talk about a crisis, even a collapse or “crumbling” of the international order and do not dare to speculate about what may come to replace it.
The subjective feeling of chaos reflects a sharp and progressive weakening of the structure of international relations, not only and not so much in the institutional sense, but in the broader sense of stable balances of power, social norms and ideas, status hierarchies and modes of action. Thanks to the impact of the technological revolution, structural limitations on the behaviour of states, fear principal among them, have eased. Although anarchism has always been an immanent property of international relations, in our time it has been lent renewed vigour after a very long period when world politics was highly structured in the form of the Soviet-American confrontation, and later on, unilateral American domination.
The structural crisis creates conditions for the intensification of the foreign policy activity of states and non-state actors in world politics. The nature of this is twofold. First, the strategic autonomy of the players is increasing, primarily of medium-sized powers that have sufficient resources to pursue an independent foreign policy. Second, amid a structural crisis, foreign policy goal-setting is becoming more difficult. The prevalence of provocations, whether informational or armed ones, the disruption of usual diplomatic communication, blurring the line between foreign and domestic policy, between foreign policy strategy and tactics, are symptoms of a crisis. The popularity of concepts such as “post-truth” and “hybrid conflict” indicates the inability of states to find a solid foundation on which to build a rational and long-term foreign policy strategy, as well as the inability of researchers to develop a conceptual apparatus adequate for conceptualising the current state of affairs.
These cognitive problems point to a dramatic fact – despite its modern weapons and technology, mankind is still profoundly imperfect. Unfortunately, human evolution has proceeded not through intellectual and moral improvement, but through the search for ways to technically intervene in the system of thinking and motivation in order to “optimise” people.
So, the cutting edge of modern psychology is research in the field of neurophysiology, which studies how, with the help of a special diet and through the regulation of hormonal levels, a person can induce himself to be more efficient in his or her activity. The introduction of adjustments to the biology of the human brain through technology has turned out to be a shorter-term prospect than the development of advantageous human qualities through purposeful effort and willpower.
Modern man wraps himself in numerous technological networks. This increases his effectiveness, but makes him weaker and more vulnerable. It is no coincidence that the goal of modern war has become the disruption of the opponent's electronic computer networks and communication systems, in order to make the computers useless, to force the enemy to return to desks and maps, thereby throwing him back into the twentieth century. As the current aggravation of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh shows, a gap in the technological equipment of the parties can radically change the status quo on the battlefield.
In the future, due to technological advances, humans will be incredibly equipped with sensors that make life easier, safer and more comfortable. However, the task of studying the psychological motives of human behaviour has not yet been solved; states - and therefore international relations - will remain unpredictable. In the technological world of the future, fear of a major war will continue to be the only mechanism of stabilisation.