Global Sustainability Newsletter

Issue 13 - October 2010

THE NEXT TRANSITION OF THE GLOBALISED WORLD

The era of industrial revolution and the emergence of modern industry and technology are known in sociological terms as 'modernity' and sometimes as 'heavy capitalism.' When the European civilisation's economy has been transformed from feudal to industrial, it was supported by new developments in science, technology and philosophy, and this period was named the 'Age of Reason.' It is then, when the religion together with its institutions, which previously held enormous social and political power, has been moved into a background position and had to give way to modern science and secular power structures. Although later criticised for too one-sided emphasis on 'reason', the powerful Age of Enlightment gave birth to modern approaches to philosophical thought and sciences as we know them today.

Modernity lasted very approximately for over 200 years (1750s - 1960s, 1970s). This period has been long enough for the ideas of a secular world to take root and develop. The further this civilisation was travelling into the secular world's ideas, the more removed we became from human values and spiritual principles of life. In his, at the time, ground breaking book 'The Affluent Society', written toward the end of the modernity era (first edition 1958), John Kenneth Galbraith1 examines fluctuations and fortunes of western economical thought. He writes:

'In the closing decades of the last century and the early years of the twentieth century, economists became increasingly preoccupied with the operation of the model of a competitive society. As it was developed and idealised, it was a thing of precision and symmetry, almost beauty. The hold which it came to exercise on men's minds has often been noted. There was no equally explicit appreciation of the fact that it committed men to a remarkable measure of uncertainty. The penalty for failing behind in the race for increased efficiency was bankruptcy. This could also be the penalty of mere bad luck in the case of the producer whose product was no longer wanted. And in the case of the worker, the component of luck, as opposed to the role of penalty and reward for performance, was multiplied. The most oaken worker could turn up in the employ of an inadequate entrepreneur. The just misfortunes of the employer would then be visited quite irrationally upon his faithful servant. He could lose his job and his livelihood equally through his own shortcomings and those of others. Needless to say, the competitive model had no place for individuals who, as the result of age, infirmity, industrial injury or congenital incompetence, had only a low or negligible marginal productivity.

These misfortunes did not go entirely unperceived. It was ever necessary to assert that they were "part of the system." And it was also made clear by prophets of the competitive model, not without a certain ruthless logic, that to seek to mitigate the risks and uncertainties of the system would be to undermine the system itself. The race for increased efficiency required that the losers should lose.'

It is indeed very unfortunate that those "bright" economists who have so much joy in intellectual pursuits, such as inventing and testing new economic models, pay so little attention to society, its real needs and its destiny. Additionally, they know very little about human psychology, apart from those elements used for marketing and manipulation of consumers. In any society the percentage of people who are capable of seriously competing with the brightest of the "pack" is relatively small; these people do not have chances of "a fair go", not because they are too lazy and not wanting to extend themselves - most often they do not know how. So, the ruthless system pushes people to adopt extreme measures even if they did not want to do it in a first place. The majority of the unemployed people in the current capitalistic system are the victims of ruthlessness of the system. Only a very small percentage of people in that group are corrupt and not honest. The majority have been rejected and have to live outside the system, because they are not good at competing! The attitudes of those smart economists toward the masses were recently very accurately portrayed on the front cover of one of the financial magazines: "Do You Want to be a Cat in the Rat Race?" I wonder if governments understand this situation; aren't we creating a situation where ordinary people will want to create a world for themselves by themselves?

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When we entered and progressed into the next sociological phase of the 'information age', 'postmodernity', 'light capitalism' or 'globalisation', the morale, aspirations and hope for the future deteriorated even more. Thinking people grieve that the situation is continually getting worse, that greed took over and we have lost the capacity of caring for one another, with the resulting aggression and revenge taking over human affairs. As individuals we found ourselves lonely, living in a crowded world of insecurity, instability and lack of effective communication and societal cohesion.

Many aspects of postmodernity have been analysed by contemporary social writers and academics. The following observations are recorded by the editor of 'Modern Social Theory: An Introduction' Austin Harrington2.

When speaking of people's insecurity and global unrest, social commentators write:

'Turbulence is an intrinsic feature of the condition termed postmodernity. To a great extent, the current global unrest is a corollary of the development of a more flexible or 'disorganised' capitalism. For many critics, it is a consequence of the pursuit of a neo-liberal ideology in economic policies. The movement from an industrial, manufacturing, and organised capitalism to an informational or knowledge-based and deregulated capitalism has led to increasing insecurity in people's lives both at home and at work. As Pierre Bourdieu remarks, 'insecurity, suffering and stress are outcomes of a system that has undermined 'all the collective structures capable of obstructing the logic of the pure market' in pursuit of greater corporate flexibility and profitability.'

Global divisions and inequalities are very clear to an average observer:

'Today the world strikes us as a highly volatile place, marked by ever-widening gap between the world's richest and poorest nations, by increasing environmental destruction, and by a vast imbalance of power between political entities of the West such as the USA and the European Union and the world's diverse other regions, continents, societies and cultures. At present, the world offers little evidence of any framework of global civil society capable of holding the world's most powerful economies and governments to account and ensuring a fairer distribution of resources. Certainly no current global system secures all peoples an equal chance to determine their own livelihoods in an autonomous and simultaneously peaceful way.'

It has been noted how the fortunes of global economy are remote today from the real production processes and measures, and are linked instead with manipulation of consumer psychology and inclinations.

'In a welter of texts, Bauman analyses a shift of emphasis from a work ethic to an aesthetic of consumption. This involves a shift from an ethic of deferred gratification - marked by ascetic self-control, lifelong planning, and rationalised domination over desire, famously outlined by Max Weber in the Protestant Ethic - to a new condition immediate consumption and deferred payment. It is exemplified by the 'buy now, pay later' philosophy promoted by credit-card companies. With this shift, social integration comes to depend on the persuasive powers of seduction wielded by cultural intermediaries and less on directly coercive forces.

The formation of a neo-liberal market society is associated with the strapping-in of individuals into a service-led economy marked by skill destruction and the constitution of the consumer as a subject of seduction. It is the fragile confidence of consumers, rather than the planned diligence of producers as members of industrial collectives, which increasingly seems to hold the key to the fortunes of the global economy.'

On postmodernity, fragmentation and religious fundamentalism Austin Harrington writes:

'Several commentators have seen one manifestation of 'postmodern discontents' in the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism. This resurgence has been described as a reaction to increased insecurities and risks generated by a global society. The increased prominence of Islam in world politics has been seen as part of a series of what Bauman has called 'postmodern responses to postmodern fears.' One way of understanding the resurgence of fundamentalism - not only in Islam, but also in Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism - is to see it as the symptom of a global tide of destabilization and 'disembedding' in cultural communities, of a breakdown of trust and solidarity in economic relations, and of new and more extreme forms of social inequality.'

Some sociologists insist that science of sociology should remain pure and be used only to describe and analyse the society and not to influence its values and development. In other words, these people - those sociologists, who actually understand the society and its discomforts better than any other professional group - feel that this is not their job to lead or direct the civilisation. Unfortunately, if left uninfluenced by the informed and wise, the society's journeying proceeds often through very bumpy and hazardous roads of happenstance. And it is never true that the civilisation's travel is not controlled; the question is who is in charge (even behind the veils) and whose interests are being served? In case of our civilisation the answer is obvious - almost entire planetary society is engaged (wittingly or unwittingly) in serving the current economic formula and those individuals and corporations who benefit most from it. It seems, we are all here to serve our economic masters: "financial markets", "never ending economic growth" and of course all those contemporary financial gurus, who are hiding in the ivory towers of political and economic power.

Zygmunt Bauman, with a remarkable wit, compares industrial era with the age of contemporary market capitalism in his millennium book 'Liquid Modernity'3.

'The passengers of the "Heavy Capitalism" ship trusted (not always wisely, to be sure) that the selected members of the crew who were accorded the right to climb onto the captain's deck would navigate the ship to its destination. The passengers could devote their full attention to learning and following the rules set down for them and displayed in bold letters in every passageway. If they grumbled (or sometimes even mutinied), it was against the captain for not taking the ship to harbour fast enough or for being exceptionally neglectful of the passengers' comfort. The passengers of "Light Capitalism" aircraft, on the other hand, discover to their horror that the pilot's cabin is empty and that there is no way to extract from the mysterious black box labelled 'automatic pilot' any information about where the plane is flying, where is it going to land, who is to choose the airport, and whether there are any rules which would allow the passengers to contribute to the safety of the arrival.'

It is truly amazing that an entire civilisation of people accepted this version of reality and is adhering to the faceless form of global economy, the non-partisan nature of which is actually a biggest twentieth century's lie. The major proponents of the market economy would protest vigorously against calling it a lie; they still believe in the legitimacy of the current economic formula. And chances are that many economists and bankers, including the former Chairman of the US Reserve Bank Alan Greenspan, have been genuinely surprised by the collapse of this system in 2008 - 2009 causing a global recession. Unfortunately, good will and keeping their fingers crossed did not prevent the system from collapsing, because no account has been made for other financiers' greed and the fact that their dealings had a devastating impact on the entire global economy, as should have been expected in the presently almost entirely globalised world. Alan Greenspan is not the first leader in the history of humanity, who did not foresee weaknesses in his model (in this case global economy) of reality. An excuse that he did not account for human nature (greed) is not an excuse at all. A person in such a position cannot afford to make mistakes, which affect livelihoods of billions of people across the world. It is not good enough Mr Greenspan; a junior economist working in a low position somewhere in the middle-west may be absolved from the duty of understanding psychology of his customers, but not you, Mr Greenspan, a person who could change the livelihood of all people on Earth with the stroke of his pen - this is not acceptable. There are more qualifications required to hold a responsible position like a Chairman of the US Reserve Bank than just financial credentials. Perhaps now, after you failed, you would agree with such a need.

The destruction of our civilisation by the current economic system is a clear sign that neo-liberal ideas have been wrong. Considering the devastation of environment, depletion of natural resources, global warming, continuing related natural disasters, growing unemployment and misery of millions upon millions of people, it is time to stop playing 'catch me if you can' or 'hide and seek' game and it is time to start anew, this time having an economist as an adviser (one of many advisers) and not as a chairman of the new 'development board.' All economists, CEOs, chairpersons of corporations, banks, members of Fortune 500, government officials and others who are unaware of their own and other peoples' inherent biases and inferior human traits such as greed, are unqualified to be involved in the design of a new global system of governing and economy.

This message is for all those financial gurus who are addicted to having power; it is also for those political figures of today who are not conscious of their own secret ambitions of grandeur, and to all those clever individuals who, being well connected and supported by wealthy corporations or unseen power lobbying organisations, dream of solving humanity's problems by just repeating different combinations of current solutions. You are dealing with such an enormous phenomenon that a completely new approach is required. And this completely new approach can only be potentially delivered by spiritually developed people. By closing your minds and hearts to spiritual developments you limit yourselves to recycling old ideas. This world needs new ideas for its survival, and such ideas can only be conceived by enlightened minds of spiritually developed people.

The real new world order will have to be designed by spiritually awakened and aware sociologists, psychologists, educators, philosophers, humanists, scientists, lawyers, economists and other spiritually developed practitioners. Only then will we have insurance that ideas of equality, sustainability and long term peaceful development of communities on our planet Earth have been truly incorporated in new policies and practices. This civilisation will be carried over to the next phase not by the doubters, cynics, atheists and other types of people with spiritually undefined characters. Much more strength and will power is required for such a miracle, as survival in the current era, to happen.

P.S.

I often ponder how true it is that the same knowledge comes to minds of people who have never met, but who have become ready to receive the same insight. My book Civilisation: Where Are You Going? came out in 2007 - the same year when Riane Eisler published her latest book The Real Wealth of Nations. The following quote is from that book:

'Under present economic rules, people are supposed to serve the needs of the market as workers and consumers. This is backward. Economic rules should ensure that the market serves our needs as human beings living on an increasingly threatened planet.'

Danuta Nowak

  • 1 John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society, London: Penguin Books, 1998.
  • 2 Austin Harrington,Editor, Modern Social Theory: An Introduction, London: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • 3 Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Polity Press, 2000.