In the intruduction to his controversial essay, The Clash of Civilizations?, Samuel Huntington points out that the social theory that gains most ground is often not the most substantiated but the one that has the strongest appeal.
As revelatory and self-conscious his off-hand observation may seem it is most likely not directed at his own thesis but at the world, the state of mankind as viewed from the lonely seat of a venerable man of age and wisdom.
It is an expression of despair with regard to the human condition from a conservative idealist. It is cultural pessimis, and at its root there is great misanthropy.
Conflict as an instrument of analysis
In the light of history, and observation of the contemporary conflicts between nations, and between factions inside any nation, one must take into account that direct armed conflict or any level of conflict lower down the diplomatic scale is not only a possibility but the ever prevalent condition of human societies, against which we struggle to keep order, balance of interests, and peace.
As such Huntington never once in the essay stated anything but what it obvious to anybody with schooling or experience in International Politics.
What he did was to popularize the idea that our attitudes to foreign cultures and the interests of other nations should be governed by utmost caution, since any form of benevolence may fuel forces that will eventually rival Western hegemony and Western ideals of freedom, democracy and enlightenment.
Paradoxically, the theory of The Clash of Civilizations in itself serves as a framework for a paradigm, whether this is viewed as a new one or a continuation of the old colonialist mentality of the West.
With its compelling simplicity the narrative of intransigent and competing cultures has the capacity to sidetrack more profound and more reality-adequate visions.
Clash of Civilizations has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
A narrative as an instrument of war
Many have challenged Samuel Huntington on his ideas already. It is not my agenda here to question motives, or argue against the concepts and their application in foreign politics.
What I aim to point out, above all else, is just simply the fact that the narrative under which we operate, whether consciously or subconsciously, defines our entire set of actions, involvements and investments in the outside world.
The narrative permeates our existence, from the most mundane aspects of interaction with people, particularly those exhibiting the traits of a different race, culture or lifestyle, over common civic duties such as voting at elections or expressing political opinions, to the ease with which we respond to supranatural conflicts.
It is not only an instrument of conscious analysis and decision making, but works on a subliminal level, and in the worst case scenario a narrative formed around conflict as an instrument of analysis may be useful as an instrument to galvanize for conflict, and likely more conflict than may be objectively required.
How crisis develop in a globalized system
The common denominator for alternative ways to analyze the challenges of the Age of Globalization is the concept of codependency.
Codependency is the obvious and also problematic consequence of globalization, with political and financial and commercial entities becoming so intertwined that new causalities that supersede even the classical problems of macro-economics arise.
The butterfly effect – a scientific theory that until recently lived an obscure life in the margins of scientific and public interests, often equated with endlessly morphing computer animations – all of a sudden became acutely relevant.
Three examples are particularly relevant:
- The Danish Muhammed Crisis
- H1N1 Crisis
- The Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis.
The cases are interesting on different levels, because they refer to very different aspects of the political life.
In order of appearance:
The Muhammed Crisis shows how a local action on national level, relating to parliamentary discourse about multicultural problems, morph into a global diplomatic crisis.
The H1N1 Crisis reveals the illusion of national seclusion in an age with potentially unlimited distribution of infectious disease, a point about security issues that also relate to terrorism and natural disasters.
The Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis demonstrates how the increasingly codependent financial and industrial structures collectively suffer from individual miscalculations.
In all three cases the chaos effect kicks in, affording virtually unlimited force to what may seem to be relatively limited problems, interbreeding with local or geopolitical problems on a multitude of levels and, ultimately, spawning or threaten to spawn a number of spin-off crisis for individuals, organizations and countries.
The geopoliticized problems also exemplify the complex nature of calculations required to conduct politics on any level in a globalized system.
They show the vulnerability of the old system of sovereign national entities to transnational crisis development and the incompleteness of our means to curb or counter such developments.
Codependency as a narrative of peace
I will further analyze how substructural problems are intensified through the process of global exchange.
In this article the main objective is to clarify the need for a grand narrative that is including rather than exclusive, encompassing the totality of human beings and human experiences on Earth, and one that dutifully and sensibly takes into account the vast span of interests in motion at this point in time.
Cultural codependency is not only a grand narrative that effectively balances conflict-centered analysis, but also a theory that explains a multitude of phenomena in smaller structures.
Cultural codependency is not without problems, as the examples of geopolitically intensified national problems described above points out.
It is, however, a system fuelled by a number of political imperatives, with actual peace activism and conflict resolution being, perhaps, one of the least important.
In an age of global climate change, displacement and displacement-related problems such as civil conflicts and civil wars, general poverty issues and unmanageable flow of refugees, efforts to secure a sustainable production system and manage development and industrialization in every corner of the world becomes an imperative, regardless of how we feel about issues like immigrants, foreign aid or anti-terrorism.
The globalized system raises another problem relating to distance-to-power theory: The larger a body the steeper the hierarchy that governs it. In a globalized structure the distance-to-power approaches the infinite.
The problem of hyperspecialization
Finally, there is a much overlooked aspect of globalization, a problem hiding in plain sight, since it is also related to the most obvious advantage of globalization: With cultural and national codependency the players reap the advantage of increased specialization, which may not be the primary incentive for nations to back the industry’s bid for foreign markets, but nevertheless sets in.
Adam Smith described in Wealth of Nations specialization as the greatest innovation mankind had experienced to date, and he may still be right about that. But when it comes to specialization of industries or work functions in the globalized market it comes with the catch that the process is practically irreversible.
The Financial Crisis, triggered by the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, brought out a new row of discussions about production autonomy, with USA struggling to protect its waning industrial base and other countries, such as United Kingdom, despairing about the lack of primary production functions in the country.
The rise of China as an economic superpower has also given rise to debate about competitiveness of the regulated labor markets in the West. Moving production abroad, it is frequently and almost routinely argued, produces more employment in the long run.
As opaque as this may sound, it is true to some extent. However, it is only true for some and under some circumstances.
The factors that define the benevolent circumstances as well as the important role of the outliers, the minority groups that are adversely affected by globalization, will be topics of individual posts about unemployment, post-modern counter-cultures (benign and virulent) and attitudes to modernity.
Here the point shall be limited to this: Social grievances in modern (hyper-industrialized) society tend to trigger anti-social or anti-modernist tendencies of which some can be identified as societal threats, which at any point in time serve as marginal distracters to solve more urgent geopolitical problems.
If the inherent problems with globalization are not satisfactory solved we risk the resurfacing of anti-globalist and, subsequently, anti-modernist tendencies on a massive scale.
Ultimately, the process of globalization may be the single most important factor in abolition of armed conflict between nations, but naturally the process looks less than ideal to its victims.
The corruption of multinational corporations and institutions involved in the process, as well as the intransigence of the nationalist paradigm in countries all over the world, serve in unison to deter the masses from embracing globalism.