Men must have somewhere altered the course of nature; they for they were not born wolves, yet they have become wolves.
Systemic (or paradigm) change, and not revolutionary change. That because the word 'revolution' is loaded with the idea of violence. Most of the revolutions of the past, and especially the 'Big Three' of the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions were very violent. But systemic (or paradigm) change is radical change, and could be violent. In other words, if it cannot be achieved peacefully, then it will be violently. Things could degenerate suddenly, especially because the oligarchic system is gridlocked. Something is rotten … Albany's remark in King Lear: Humanity must perforce prey on itself / Like monsters of the deep applies. But, in Shakespeare's tragedies, the bad rulers are removed, and the 'system' is cleansed, even if the cleansing involves a great deal of violence. Is this what will happen in the United States and the world? It is to the readers of this long political essays to decide. The risk is substantial. But, hopefully, systemic (or paradigm) will occur and a catastrophic denouement will be avoided.
It is a paradox. Science and technology have made enormous progress in the last two centuries or so, and, as a result, a lot of people, even if a minority of the world's population, live better and longer lives. But the global threats that confront humanity and the planet are much bigger presently. They are (not necessarily in that order):
- a- climate change or global warming
- b- a nuclear world war three
- c- worsening inequality
- d- religious fundamentalism
- e- international terrorism
- f- the persistence of poverty.
These global threats tell us that a catastrophe is inevitable unless they are dealt with constructively.
In a recent article in the New York Review of Books on a new edition of John Dos Passos' The Big Money (the last volume of his great USA Trilogy, first published in 1936; the two volumes that preceded it are 42nd Parallel and 1919, published in 1930 and 1932 respectively), the following two sentences drew my attention:
The book is an enormous chronicle of disillusionment with the American promise... and
Nothing much appears to have changed in the intervening 80 or 90 years.
I believe the reviewer is right in the first passage, but wrong in the second one: a lot has 'changed in the intervening 80 or 90 years': things are much worse now.
Samuel P. Huntington, in his book, American Politics: the Promise of Disharmony (published in 1981), argues that American history can be seen as a movement back and forth between 'Creedal Passion Periods' and 'Interest Group Periods'. The former are idealistic and moralistic periods driven by forces seeking equality and social justice, the latter realistic and pragmatic periods driven by selfishness and greed. He uses the metaphor of a pendulum swinging between these two extremes.
Huntington's theory appears to have some validity, and it could be said that the last 'Interest Group Period', which started in 1981 with Ronald Reagan's accession to the Presidency, after the 'Creedal Passion Period' of 1945-75, not only is still going on but is getting stronger. So, it doesn't look like it that it will soon be coming to an end, and replaced by a 'Creedal Passion Period'. Unless, of course, systemic (or paradigm) change occurs, either peacefully or, if that turns out to be impossible, violently.
Let us now try to see what has gone wrong in the U.S. and the rest of the world? That will be Part One of this political essay. In Part Two I shall propose the Five Big Changes that can be made if systemic (or paradigm) change occurs.
It is quite remarkable that (to continue with Huntington's theory) in the very middle of a 'Creedal passion Period', on January 4, 1961, in his farewell speech in the U.S. Congress, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican president, warned the American people about the existence in the United States of a military-industrial complex that presented a grave danger to the American democracy. More than half a century later, his remarks have acquired a prophetic quality. Today, the situation is far because added to it (the military-industrial complex), we have a financial economy that has severed its tie with the real economy, and become an instrument for the accumulation of wealth for the oligarchs .
And what about the rest of the world? Amin Maalouf, in Disordered World, a book he published in 2011, wrote: The Western world has become exhausted and debased... The West has betrayed its values, even as it pushes democracy abroad... It is worth noting that this is the same writer who, in Killing Identities, a book he published thirteen years earlier, had written that, in the last four or five centuries, all that can be considered as progress in the world – science, technology, culture, art and ideas, etc. – has, almost exclusively, originated in the Western world.
So, what happened? Why has the Western world become 'exhausted and debased'? Why has it betrayed so blatantly the democratic ideals and values that it professes to espouse? It is possible that there is a destructive streak in the human psyche, and that, as the pessimistic philosophers, Heidegger and Schopenhauer have stated: The cosmic will is wicked and The technological society will self-destruct. If that is the case, there isn't much we can do, and must accept our fate.
However, let me conclude this Introduction on a hopeful note by quoting Tolstoy who, in his Epilogue to War and Peace, wrote:
Freewill apart from necessity, that is, apart from the laws of reason that define it, differs in no way from gravitation or heat or the force that makes things grow … (S)o the essence of the force of freewill constitutes the subject matter of history. What is known to us we call the laws of necessity; what is unknown we call freewill... And so the conception of the action of a man subject only to the law of necessity, devoid of any particle of freedom, is just as impossible as the conception of a completely free human action...
So, let us be aware of the 'laws of necessity'. But also let us remind ourselves that the future of humanity and of our planet is not predetermined, and that we can use, our freewill to do what is required to build a better and sustainable world.
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(*) Dr. Zeki Ergas, a political economist and novelist, is a member of
PEN International’s Writers for Peace Committee. He teaches at Hacettepe
University’s MA Program of Peace and Conflict Studies. He is also
writing the second tome of a family saga that takes place in Turkey,
Palestine and the United States, set in 1929-1945.