It is not easy to maintain optimism in the face of constantly alternating crises. It is not surprising that more and more often, we see among political leaders disaffected nihilists or exalted darlings, turning into tyrants with their next step, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
In different parts of the world, analysts pay a lot of attention to changes in the international system, which is constantly in motion and is “crumbling”. But the key is still understanding everything in light of the level of the participants in this system – states, societies and individuals. After all, it is they who, through their behaviour, establish the patterns that lay the foundation for the new international system. According to the remarks of the Russian philosopher and political scientist Eduard Batalov, “The international community feels not only the need for order, but also for a proactive, independent, creative person, possessing information and political and managerial skills, endowed with sociological imagination, capable of will, and not succumbing to voluntaristic temptation, with value orientations painted in humanistic tones.”
It is not easy to maintain optimism in the face of constantly alternating crises. It is not surprising that more and more often, we see among political leaders disaffected nihilists or exalted darlings, turning into tyrants with their next step.
Man is a mystery. This maxim of Fyodor Dostoevsky is more relevant today than ever. Our knowledge about man and society does not even reach 5% of what we know about the physical world. We have learned to mine minerals from meteorites, to treat the most complex diseases, how to precisely hit remote points with missiles, but we cannot bring ourselves to give up bad habits or simply focus on one subject for a long time.
How does an individual person feel in the current international crisis? How does this crisis affect a person and how does a person affect it? There is every reason to believe that this mutual influence is becoming a key international phenomenon.
The consequence of the modern technological revolution is pervasive communication. Online culture puts international news on a par with personal messaging via instant messengers. News arrives instantly and flows simultaneously to its end users – billions of people around the planet. As a result, the person experiences constant stress. Surprisingly, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most harrowing crisis in the last hundred years, the average person did not feel as pressured by current events as he does now. Although at that time, the key issue of war and peace was being decided through threats of nuclear war.
On the other hand, modern means of communication have provided people with a powerful tool to put pressure on the authorities. Social networks act as an amplifier for any signal. A group of activists or a capable loner can campaign to support any initiative and garner broad audience attention.
The global communication medium of social networks has led to an immediate mixture on a single platform of cultures, traditions, national psychologies and historical narratives that are not reducible to a single narrative. This explosive mixture instantly gives rise to accusations of propaganda, lies and the manipulation of factors, although it is often the result of a different vision of the same phenomenon in different parts of the planet. The globalisation of information, in some cases, increases the effectiveness of political systems and leaders by providing them with a well-functioning model. In other cases, however, it creates conditions for such systems to adopt pathological behaviour. Thus, hopelessly failed societies and individuals begin to hatch plans for revenge or are compelled to act as terrorists.
What human qualities are in demand in a situation of uncertainty, pervasive communication, and strategic instability?
The easiest way for an individual to cope with such a situation is for him or her to get lost, become apathetic, or imagine himself or herself as a disordered Brownian particle, provided by others with a vector of motion. When nothing depends on you, you’re welcome to engage in irresponsible behaviour. It’s quite a comfortable position to be in, and many people have chosen this option.
The other pole is emotional exaltation under the guise of defending other people’s rights. Often this exaltation leads to the establishment of a totalitarian order, because there is a very thin line between normative defence and attack. We see this today in the phenomena of culture wars and cancel culture.
Leaders are less often noticed who are ready to “keep the steering wheel steady”. They find themselves affected by the same conditions as everyone else – life for them is just as hard and will not be easier. However, while some view the current situation as a tragedy, responsible leaders are ready to take responsibility for their fellow citizens and try to make their lives a little better. As in past centuries, existential optimism and focusing on a better future gives people the ability to transform those around them.
We are still far from understanding man and the nature of his motivation. Fear alone continues to stop us from starting a big war. Perhaps, in the future, science will be able to establish patterns that will allow people to make peace with themselves, and international relations will be harmonious. As Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky wrote in a letter to his brother Mikhail in 1839: “Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.”