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Masters of our world destiny?

November 30, 2016


Sea levels are rising at the fastest rate of the last thousand years, the threat of nuclear war has never vanished entirely, Europe is experiencing the worst economic crisis of its social and cultural history. And yet things can improve, because of a characteristic which makes us unique and through which we can determine the course of our history, as long as we decide to do it. Word of Noam Chomsky.

Why do the ideologies of the past centuries no longer exist and what is to come?

First of all we have to ask what were the ideologies of the past centuries. We have to make a distinction here between what is claimed and what is the fact. What is claimed is that the ideologies of the past century were a conflict between socialism and capitalism.

The reality is totally different. There was never anything remotely like socialism except moderately maybe in Northern Europe, Western Europe; certainly not in Eastern Europe. The soviet system was radically anti-socialist and basically there is  nothing like capitalism either.

What there is are varieties of state capitalism, that is a kind of mixture of the market system with strong state intervention in the economy. So for example what you and I are now using (computers, satellites, the internet) mostly comes out of the state sector of the economy. We have a mixture of state and private systems, and those ideologies remain. They only have changed.  For example, the neoliberal modifications of the past generation have changed somehow, and the state capitalist societies, Eastern Europe, went from whatever the right name for it is, certainly not socialism, some kind of totalitarian central planning, to a radical market society which practically destroyed the economy; and then  moving back  to some kind of mixture again. So I don't think there was a clash of ideologies in the first place, there was a clash of power systems, but that’s not ideologies. And the social democratic state capitalist ideologies have persisted with minor modifications.


So there is no substitution of ideologies, just of power? 

There are shifts in the international system of distribution of power that take place all the time. So if you go back to the end of the Second World War, which introduced a fairly new international global power system, the US was overwhelmingly dominant and had a level of power and wealth that had no historical precedent, and it controlled most of the world.

There was a minor superpower, Russia, which controlled the regions nearby. And those two worlds, two axes of a system of power, were by no means equal. If you look at record of intervention in the postwar year, there was the Russian intervention in the nearby countries, in Hungary  and Czechoslovakia, and there was US intervention all over the world. There were US military bases all over the world and no Russian military bases; they were in the nearby countries. And one of these systems collapsed and that raises a very interesting moment in world history, which teaches you a lot about former policy.

At that point we begin to see very clearly what the policy always was. Because it's no longer masked by alleged ideological conflict. So, what happened at the Soviet Union’s collapse? Actually there were two visions that were presented as what the post-Soviet system should look like. One was Mikhail Gorbachev. He called for a Eurasian security system in which both military blocs would disappear and it would be integrated into a common security system with multiple sectors: Brussels, Moscow, Ankara, maybe , something for the East that should extend from Brussels to Vladivostok. That was one picture. The other picture was the US picture which is that the Eastern bloc should collapse and the Western bloc should not collapse but should extend, so of course that's the one that prevails, just given the relations of power. So if you take a look at NATO, NATO was founded and presented as a military system, a defensive military system, whose purpose was to protect  Western Europe from the Russian threat.
Once  the Russian threat disappeared, did NATO disappear? No, NATO expanded to the East , in violation of verbal promises to Gorbachev. It went right to the Russian border and it developed a global mission, the formal mission of NATO changed and its mission was to control the global energy system, pipelines and so on, and became in  fact a US-run intervention force. Anywhere in the world there’s NATO. Other policies changed accordingly and for some of them pretty striking things worked.  Bush Senior was in charge  when the Soviet Union collapsed. They came out naturally with new strategic planning, with new military budgets and so on, and with interesting properties. They pretty much said that everything will go on pretty much as before but with new pretexts.  An interesting case was the middle east, a critical area. They concluded that we still need intervention forces aimed at the middle east. Then came this interesting phrase.  The documents said that the serious problems that we faced “could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” In other words, the problems weren’t the Russians, it was what was called radical nationalism, independent nationalism. So in other words we’ve basically been lying for fifty years. But that pretext won’t work anymore, so now we do exactly the same things but we are saying honestly what we are doing: attacking independent nationalism, and it continues like that.  So that's the change.  Meanwhile power has diversified, so US power is nothing like what it was in the 1940s.

The other  industrial countries reconstructed and decolonization proceeded.  So by now there’s some diversity of power. The United States still dominates under radically unequal conditions, but nothing like what it was before.

Which features will remain in our society?
That is for us to determine. Our societies are facing very serious problems. Problems that some have never appeared in all of human history. One question is: are we going to decide to survive? That's not a joke any more, that is a very serious question. Just this morning a new scientific article came out confirming that the rising sea level is the fastest in several thousand years. They're predicting if current tendencies are not substantially changed, the sea level will rise about somewhere between 3 and 6 feet, roughly a meter, which has horrendous consequences. They talk mostly about the consequences in the West, in the United States, but just consider the consequences in Bangladesh, a coastal plain with hundreds of millions of people inundated; and what happens then?  Of course things keep getting worse. So one question is:  are we going to doom our species to what amounts to suicide? The question has to be answered very soon.
And another question, which is some ways even more dangerous, is the threat of nuclear war. It’s been a threat since 1945. If you look at the record,  it's almost a miracle that we survived and the threat is getting worse right on the Russian border, where the Western powers, the United States primarily, are sharply increasing, quadrupling their military force. Provocative actions are taking place and military maneuvers near the borders.  Russians are doing the same thing.  The arms control journals point out that both sides are acting as if a war is thinkable, and if you act as if a war is thinkable, the chances of a little break-out   by accident are not slight. That’s a growing threat and we have to face that.
In addition, there are other problems that are interesting to discuss: in Europe there is what’s called an immigrant crisis, refugee crisis, a curious phenomenon.  I mean the so-called “crisis” is the tiny percent of the population which is coming in from areas which have been devastated either by internal conflict or by foreign military actions.  So many refugees are coming from Iraq, for example. In Germany there is a kind of a major national “stop immigraton” uprising,  a lot of which is stimulated by events that took place in Cologne a couple of months ago. These were mostly North Africans. Why are North Africans coming to Europe? It's because of a couple of centuries of violent European imperialism that lies behind it. So in many ways it’s, let’s call it “the chickens coming home to roost”. That’s the crisis.
And it is hard to take seriously the idea that Europe can't assimilate this tiny fraction of people, many of whom are victims of its own actions, and people who actually Europe needs. Germany, for example, has a demographic problem, a declining population.  It needs the young work force. People fleeing from Syria, Iraq and so on. So that’s the so-called crisis, but I think it's a cultural, psychological crisis rather than an objective one, which has to do with the nature of western civilization. The United States is even worst. They take almost no refugees in from the Middle East.
So nothing is changing in the human history?
Things had better change;  if things don’t change, we’re going to be in bad trouble because the current tendencies are pointing towards real destruction.
What makes humans unique? 
One characteristic that makes us unique is that we can determine the course of our own history. Horses and cows and dogs can’t do that, they are essentially passive victims of whatever happens; but we can make the decisions that will determine the course that history will follow. Actually we have made choices which at this present moment are destroying other species at a rate that hasn't been seen for sixty-five million years, when a huge asteroid hit the earth, ending the age the dinosaurs and opening the way for mammals to develop.  And we're now killing other species at the same rate as that huge asteroid explosion. So we have already made the decision for huge numbers of others and we are in a position to make decisions for ourselves. Other species can't do this. Partly this has to do with unique cognitive capacities that human beings have. So, for example, you and I can have this discussion but two lions can't have the discussion. We have the cognitive capacities that enable us to do it, they don’t. And there are many other things, but the crucial one, for us to pay attention to is the ability to determine what the future will be. It's an extremely serious question right now, the kind of question which literally has never arisen in hin history.

Cover image:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb by Stanley Kubrick


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