Globalization and turmoil: The Shot that Backfired

We are facing a severe crisis of the neoliberal thought model, today embodied in the institutionalized ways of dereliction of control within the geopolitical field. In this first article, we indicate three dimensions of what is uncontrolled: the dimension of conflict, the demographic dimension, and the leadership dimension.

War and geopolitical loss of control

The globalized world is a world of communicating vessels. After the categorical division between East and West that matched the division between communism and capitalism, division today is expressed between rich and poor in economics and between ordered countries and disordered zones in geopolitical terms, with countries in the middle of civil wars or countries that are no longer countries.

Order and disorder is the most recent separation with which we have to live. We should worry about the future, precisely because there are communicating vessels between these two spheres.

In a sense, disorder is a consequence of the type of globalization imposed by late capitalism. The Western illusion was that economic development (capitalist of course) and the expansion of democracy (Anglo-Saxon model) would entail order in today’s conflict zones. Such was the Western supposition of a one-dimensional and peaceful world after the Cold War. Certainly, the period from 1991 (collapse of the USSR) to 2010 was a relatively peaceful one. Improvements in the expansion of democracy, markets, and transnational institutions can be reversed, above all after severe economic shocks. A unilateral and one-dimensional optimism was the ideology behind the short-sighted US intervention in Iraq while the rest of the Western world just watched the show from the comfort of a balcony, with some criticisms but without alternative proposals. That intervention only accelerated the disintegration of countries once artificially created by dominant countries and formerly subjected to the tough dictatorships of occasional allies of one or the other side during the Cold War. It produced a phenomenal disorder. This in part explains the massive flow of refugees from Northern Africa (though also from other regions as well) towards Europe.

The inequality created by the flawed integration model of the European Union made refugees go to Northern Europe, especially Germany and some Nordic countries, precisely at a time of slowdown in their economic growth. It is foreseeable that other regions of the planet, subject to the same dynamic of inequality and conflict, would reproduce that process that is dramatically unfolding in Europe today.

Demographic lack of control and emigration

In 2015, world population is estimated in 7.3 billion people and it should keep growing until reaching 11 billion by the end on the XXI Century, according to The French Institute for Demographic Studies (known as INED in France).

According to an INED expert, only a small percentage of humans are migrants, that is, people residing in a country different from where they were born. This has not changed much over the years but (this is important) the type of migration has changed with a reversion of the migratory flows, increasingly from the South to the North, with concentration of migrants and acceleration of the movement. Emigration from Africa, where the population will dramatically increase in the next decades, will rise. This process will exacerbate the cultural clash because it is a concentrated and abrupt phenomenon.

It is difficult to predict or hypothesize about migratory flows that can rapidly reverse, especially if there is a change in the accumulation model with development strategies that we have praised from Opinion Sur. We globally know the current migratory balances of different countries. This migratory balance has long been positive in Germany, as well as in France, to name only European countries. Germany, that has a low birth rate, has registered for many years an important migratory flow that continues to provide her with a necessary labor force. Today’s refugees (Syria was a medium-developed country until the civil war) are generally young and university graduates (nearly half of them). This explains the differential treatment of Germany with its refugees as compared with the xenophobic exasperation of Eastern and Southern European countries in the name of the “identity” they are afraid of losing. In other words, the availability of cheap labor force is a factor that channels the migratory flows and communicating vessels.

The net result of this process is an increase in geopolitical inequality: Germany further strengthens as compared with the rest of Europe (making it harder to keep Europe united) and in the Southern Mediterranean vast zones once “under development” are today rapidly turning into “underdeveloped.” A country such as Greece, in the frontline for immigrants and refugees’ arrival, at the same time, “expulses” a staggering considerable contingent of their own qualified youths (towards US, Germany, and Australia). This brain drain augurs a darker future underdevelopment for this Balkan country. Here also the communicating vessels’ hypothesis gets confirmed. In demography as well as in economics: lending is given to those who have but not to those who lack. It is not precisely the result expected by the ideologists of the neoliberal globalization. For them, the current migratory flow represents one more scored goal—but a goal against one’s own team. Stated in another way, it seems that the globalizing shoot has backfired. Images are eloquent and the reader can see them at this site: http://tengasepresente.blogspot.com/2013/09/siria-antes-y-despues-de-la-guerra.html

Technological chaos and the proximity of contrasts

The very technology that brings us closer has made the new types of violent conflicts easier and the proliferation of nuclear weapons increases their risk of use, statistically higher than the thermonuclear risk of the Cold War. In the book by Martin Van Creveld The Transformation of War, published precisely in 1991 at the beginning of the 20-years “short peace” at the end of the 20th century and broken at present, already prophesied the multiplication of the “low-intensity conflicts” or “asymmetric wars” against which the vast armament weaponry of military powers proved inefficient and obsolete, despite the continued evolution towards sophisticated technical systems. The development of the means of mass destruction has bifurcated: on the one side, the highly onerous and automated cybernetic war progresses and, on the other side, the low-technological development conflicts and civil wars proliferate. In the ideological field, the archaic global opposition to secular ideologies has been replaced by religious fanaticisms, of equal or superior destructive effectiveness. A time of war has returned and, largely, it is a holy war. The old “sociological law” that assumed the irreversibility of modern secularism has been categorically disproved.

Ecological chaos and the expansion of inhabitable areas

Today we experience the most profound rupture of the relationship between humanity and nature that has ever happened in the history of our existence as a species.

The ecological deterioration produced by the current development models strongly influences human migrations. Migration has always been an important response mechanism to climate pressure. However, in the last decades environmental migration has very much accelerated. The figure most quoted by experts is that of Norman Myers from Oxford University, who foresees for 2050 200 million people displaced for environmental factors. Therefore, it is necessary to expand the definition of “refugees” to encompass not just displaced populations by military conflicts or economic hardship but also those who escape environmental desolation. These are true “environmental refugees.” The International Organization for Migration (IOM) proposes the term “forced migrant for climate motives,” and by such it understands “persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently and who move either within their country or abroad.” What a great challenge compounds the military and demographic trends that we have pointed out and, in a large way, reinforces them. In the language of the Pentagon, climate change is a “conflict multiplier.”

A weak leadership that can’t control

Compared with leaders from the second half of the XX century (Churchill, De Gaulle, Kennedy, Mao, Gorbachev, Ho Chi Minh, just to cite a few), the current set of people in power and standards of behavior is conspicuous only for its mediocrity. The varied political systems of the world today select other type of leaders, none with long-term vision or transcendent values.

In a later article, I will offer some reflections on the structural causes of the current weak leadership, which is not fortuitous, but not for that reason less worrisome. In degraded democracies, the selection of leaders favors a short-term concern for a finicky popular mood, which is one of distrust and cynicism toward the political class. Politicians are accused—not without reason—of lack of sincerity, subjection to partial and spurious interests, that frequently conceal behind ritualistic formulas, hollow statements and inter-sectorial fights that usually translate into government deadlock, thus neglecting main regional and global problems. However, this distrust also frequently translates into a demand for simplistic solutions and leaders that “do not fear to say what we think.” Yet “what we think” is a fearful reaction to change, a distinct xenophobia, and all sorts of prejudices. Those who dare “say” these truisms stir excitement for the sake of an alleged “authenticity.” However, the “authentic” nationalists, racists, and xenophobes only add fuel to the fire and increase chaos. Instead of authenticity what they should ask for is a new sincerity and proposals to address the dangers and disequilibrium that the whole planet is facing today. As a preview, I will quote the reflection from a Harvard sociologist, Orlando Paterson, published some time ago in a New York Times article (“Our Overrated Inner Self,” The New York Times, December 26, 2006).

A new type of leadership is urgently needed. Luckily models exist and there we shall go looking for them, sometimes in unsuspected areas.”

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