On the Threshold of the 21st Century’s Great Reassembly: Paths to the Future and Russia’s Stakes

When the obvious leaders of the past are losing their positions, Russia has a chance to use its creative potential and unique historical experience, and, relying on the culture of life “according to conscience”, to offer the world a new economic and social model — a model of harmony between man and nature, writes Valdai Club expert Andrey Bezrukov.

Humanity is on the verge of the Great Reassembly — the formation of a new world order. This reassembly is largely forced, taking place under the pressure of growing crises in the global economic, governance, socio-cultural and scientific spheres. The time has come for the collapse of the old system and the emergence of a new one; the time for a search for new meaning and values. The mission of humanity is to create a new socio-economic system that can exist in harmony with nature. For Russia, this is an opportunity to return to its historical role as a unifying civilisation, to become a guide to a new world.

To appreciate the scale of the historical turning point which has begun, it is necessary to look ahead, rising above today’s circle of worries and habitual modes of action. The task of the “100-Year Foresight” conference, held in July 2021 in Veliky Novgorod within the framework of the Archipelago 2121 project, was to create an image of the world of the future, whose contours are seen through the dynamics of historical processes, the technological revolution and related changes in the “cultural code” of mankind. The methodological principles of this foresight, which brought together more than 50 leading experts, allow us to understand what awaits us in the next 30-50 years, and outline a more distant future. The report presented by the group — “A Guide to the Future” — describes the likely path to the next stage of human development through the possible risks and conflicts.

Exploring the long-term future is not an idle task for science fiction lovers, but a necessity dictated by current, 21st century challenges. At stake is our ability to maintain our current level of well-being, save hundreds of millions of human lives, and keep the planet’s ecosystems from final degradation. The survival of humanity and the natural environment of planet Earth is not guaranteed. Ensuring this survival and finding ways to sustainable prosperity is the task of the century.

The conflict between society and nature cannot be considered outside of a historical context. It is based on capitalism, with its imperatives of market expansion and individual gain, as well as the philosophical legacy of modernism and liberalism, with their aggressive individualism and quasi-religious belief in progress. Harmony with nature requires a systematic approach to decision-making, collective goal-setting, planned management, meaningful self-restraint and the transformation of value orientations, which the liberal ideology denies.

Attempts of Western elites to create harmony between man and nature by simply introducing new technologies, and even making more money from this, are doomed to failure. Within the framework of the existing capitalist system, it is impossible to develop a universal human agenda. One cannot proclaim the goal of harmony with nature and deny the need for harmony and justice among people.

Humanity runs the risk of splitting into a “smart” elite, which, through control over technology, seeks to ensure itself a long and good life, and everyone else, satisfied with the minimum. Such a dystopia brings us back to the wild capitalism of the 19th century, but under the totalitarian control of global digital platforms. This leads to a historical impasse that will most likely end in a social explosion.

Faced with aggravated inequality and new forms of harsh exploitation, which exhaust not only the body, but also the soul, and growing control by states and corporations, people will return with renewed vigour to the struggle for freedom of choice, for the opportunity to unleash their creative potential. Re-ideologisation is coming, the time for the search for new meanings and values.

The imperative of preserving a natural environment suitable for human life will require abandoning extensive growth and giving people a meaning of life outside the current paradigm of constant material consumption. To survive on the planet as a species, humans will have to learn to cooperate, consciously and purposefully limiting social and inter-country conflicts. It was this period that Vladimir Vernadsky foresaw, when he wrote: “In a storm and thunderstorm, the Noosphere will be born, in the destruction of wars and hunger the manifestation of our Planet as a whole will be expressed for the first time and will be the first manifestation of the transition of the Biosphere into the Noosphere, in which humanity will become a powerful geological force, where its thought, consciousness, and reason can be geologically manifested.”

The next two or three decades are likely to be challenging times, when the well-being of individuals and communities is less and less guaranteed. Faced with a decline in the effectiveness of the liberal economic model and the collapse of the world order, states will be forced to switch to “manual control” and unite into regional blocs to ensure their security and access to resources and technologies. Countries that quickly realise the essence of the changes and begin to change not only adapting to new realities, but also shaping the development agenda, a “point of attraction” in the form of a positive image of the future, will become leaders of the new world and write new rules of the game.

And what about Russia? Its role at the turning point is, first of all, to become a guarantor of security, not only geopolitically, but also in such areas as food, transport, communication and technology. In a situation of growing turbulence and civilisational “fermentation”, Russia can remain the centre of “common sense”, gather under its banners the forces of reason, justice and progress, and act as one of the ideologists of a new world order. In the current circumstances, when the obvious leaders of the past are losing their positions, Russia has a chance to use its creative potential and unique historical experience, and, relying on the culture of life “according to conscience”, to offer the world a new economic and social model — a model of harmony between man and nature.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.