Clash of Civilizations: Myth or Inevitability?

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Opinion of the Founding President of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”, prof. Vladimir Yakunin

Special police unit against protesters

The past year will go down in history as the year of mass protests. It all began in Tunisia. Then the wave of protest swept over Egypt, Bahrain and into Libya. Greece was full of unrest. Sporadic demonstrations occurred throughout other European countries while the U.S. experienced an upheaval of protest. The great year of protests concluded with the December mass rallies in Russia. Of course, these events have yet to be analyzed and probably more than one generation of political scientists will offer theories to explain them. However, it is already clear that the world as a whole has entered into a colossal socio-political and economic transformation.

The Clash of Civilizations

What has triggered this transformation and where may it lead us? In the early 1990s, the American political scientist, Samuel Huntington, formulated his theory of “The Clash of Civilizations.” In the eponymous book he wrote on the subject (which became one of the most widely-read geo-political treatise), he suggests that after the ideological conflicts of the 20th century have subsided, the clash of civilizations will inevitably begin. In particular, he emphasizes that in the post-cold war world, the most important differences between people are no longer ideological, political or economic. The important differences are the cultural ones. And in the process of these global changes, the international organizations that emerged after World War II (the UN, etc.) will gradually shift towards a more just consideration of the interests of different nations.

It is possible that the moment has come when people are demanding a fair treatment of their interests. It seems to me that the cause of the events which we have been witnessing in Russia, for example, is the maturing sense of opposition against wholesale injustice, injustice in the very existence we are leading, from bureaucratic arbitrariness to the conceited neglect of the country and its people by the oligarchic elite, both of which are features of the rampant inequality of financial means.   Of course, this example is only one sign of the early stages of a profound global socio-economic transformation. As the Indian futurologist and co-founder of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations,” Jagdish Kapur, has articulated, the world of consumerism   has deprived man of his spirituality and has led to the degradation of Western society and to the rising crisis of social and economic inequality. Inevitably, these factors, taken together, could lead to a disastrous “Clash of Civilizations.”

Judge for yourself. Since 2008, the leaders of developed countries have continuously gathered at G7, G8 and G20 summits to develop systemic controls to overcome the crisis, yet since 2008 we have been predicting that a second and even more devastating crisis would overwhelm the world. Why?  Because we have been lacking a critical analysis of the socio-economic structure which has evolved from the foundations of what was once free-market capitalism. In fact, the so-called “golden billion” countries have possibly transformed into an imperialist union of governments, soulless in their consumerism, whose prosperity is based on the ruthless exploitation of the rest of the world.

At the same time this transformation was aptly described by the so-called theory of the post-industrial world: “Aim to become post-industrial information societies like ours . . . this is the path to prosperity.”   This has been the basic kernel of advice coming from politicians and international financial institutions for the past 25-30 years. But, in fact, following this advice has led many countries in the developing world to the conditions which a Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has aptly described in his recent book, “Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy”. The loss of sovereignty, plunder by transnational corporations, poverty, disease, war—these have been the results of “democratization” in far too many countries. Of course, it would be extremely biased to deny the fact that some countries, such as Singapore, Brazil and India, have made huge strides in their economic and social development because of their access to advanced Western scientific and technical knowledge and their access to Western investment. But when these nations are compared with Africa, with its population of millions experiencing hunger in the 21st century despite the continent’s rich resources, we see that the countries which have benefited from globalization are the exceptions.

The Democracy of Financial Speculation

In the current system, the peripheral regions of the world are doomed to labor in the fields of manufacturing and supply. Moreover, they actually finance the so-called developed countries, which, in reality, are the true beneficiaries and defenders of post-industrial and “financialized” capitalism. Democracy, now that it is combined not with a mode of production but with this system of financial speculation, completely discredits its slogans of free market, free man and free society. These slogans are merely omnipresent propaganda. The notion that this system offers personal “liberation” for individuals to exercise their rights in a dignified existence has become a pretext for depriving them of guarantees of health benefits and social support and, at times, has become a pretext for military interventions that deprive them of their very lives.

However, this system is becoming obsolete. It will not be able to infinitely create financial, moral and cultural bubbles, while cynically justifying the right of some to live luxuriously at the expense of the masses of others living in catastrophic conditions. The World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” has been studying these transformations over the past 10 years as a case history of humanity’s disease. The diagnosis is not comforting since there can be no universal cure.  Rather, a cure will require the implementation of a long and consistent treatment which is unique and appropriate for each individual region.
Russia (along with many other countries) seems to be dealing with two types of transformations. Its internal structural transformations are still coping with its lingering inheritance from the USSR, and its global involvements which have delivered powerful blows to the concept of a “soft integration” into the global market economy. The current crisis is presently changing the global structure which has traditionally been described as a capitalist world-system, in which globalization and traditionalism compete as opposing forces. At the national level, countries may or may not have elements of “glocalization” (a local, endogenous reaction to the development of capitalism) prior to the present global crisis.

Entangled in the Web

A fundamental new factor in this global transformation is the Internet. Today, when a human cannot imagine living without the Web and information flows instantaneously from one continent to another, there are nevertheless clear signs of the self-serving exploitation of this resource. Under the pretext of universal freedom and democracy and the right for information, the rebellions in Egypt and Algeria were virtually broadcast live on-line, a fact that provoked the people to enter the street.

In Libya, the whole world has become complicit in the murder of the old man who was once Colonel Gaddafi. Similarly, Saddam Hussein, the former head of a sovereign state, was executed at the gallows without an international legal process. Meanwhile, no one has been held responsible for these frauds, which have cost the lives of thousands of Americans, Europeans and locals.

If these trends are not reversed, then the dead-end path of these transformations may lead the world into a global catastrophe which concludes with the self-annihilation of mankind. The way out of this impasse, according to members of World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” can only be found through recognition of the equal rights of different civilizations to exist and to develop even while preserving their distinct cultural and spiritual identities. Forced unification and standardization according to the supposedly “universal values” of the Anglo-Saxon culture is not the way. Rather, we need the dialogue of civilizations to open the door to a mode of development and cooperation that reflects the interests of everyone.

Photo: Shutterstock

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