Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Global Civil War?

One of the organisers of the event mentioned below summarised my talk there, which I have adapted slightly as follows:

"Under a barrel ceiling dating back to before Christopher Columbus, and facing a stained-glass window depicting the Pilgrim Fathers praying as they left Holland for America on the Mayflower, some 200 people gathered on Friday to discuss with half a dozen speakers the topic of what the next twenty years might bring.

The English Reformed Church was formerly the chapel for a sisterhood of the Beguines, a 14th-century order of deaconnesses residing in an enclosed courtyard called The Begijnhof. The courtyard is entered through an inconspicuous archway making it a restful haven in the centre of the city. After the city sided with the Reformation, the church was presented to English-speaking Protestant dissidents living in the city, among them the Pilgrim Fathers. Since then, the church has continued to be used by the English-speaking community in Amsterdam down to the present day.

The occasion was an opportunity to reflect both on the past and on the future.

Prabhu Guptara, originally from India but based in Switzerland, asked where globalisation is leading us. Until a few months ago, he said, that was easy to answer. One view of the future was, until recently, clearly winning; the view that said that greed is good.

The view that was losing was the values of the Protestant Reformation, which had for the last 500 years shaped everything that makes the West the envy of the rest of the wrold - e.g. universal literacy, freedom of thought, freedom of expression (and therefore open debate), science and technology, the rule of law, material abundance, loving those who disagree with you(or at least tolerating them), environmental responsibility, humanitarian concern, freedom of association, political democracy.... These values are not perfectly respresented in the West, but they did start originally being embodied in society for the first time with the Protestant Reformation, and did increasingly mark society first in the West and then, by its influence, in the rest of the world - till the 1980s.

However, a great change took place around the 1980s. Ayn Rand’s philosophy, that greed is good, was endorsed by the majority of the elite on both sides of the Atlantic.

The exponential, irresponsible and risky growth in recent decades stemmed from this view. The new practical godlessness created the boom of recent years, claimed Prabhu, until the last few months.

While World War 2 ended with a balance of power between the USSR and the USA, communism’s collapse twenty years ago had left one superpower. But then 9/11 had introduced a multipolar world, accentuated by the latest crisis. Whether a multipolar world is good for humanity remains to be seen, and it will be determined by the choices made by the new powers such as China and India, as much as by the old powers. There is also the related question of whether the new powers, such as hina, will be continue to be able to negotiate the turbulent waters of the sort of global casino that we have created since the 1980s.

What then lies ahead? Greater peace or increased regional conflicts? A new world war even? Increasing protectionism and competitive devaluation of currencies could still lead to the second possibility, he pointed out, in the same way as these precise factors had led to World War I and World War II. Protectionism and devaluation are therefore factors to watch closely.

The other key factor to watch is the current global discussion about the reform of the financial sector, in order to return it to the sort of responsible social function it had till the 1980s.

This is one example of a key area where global society is being confronted with a huge choice. If the wrong options are chosen, a new feudalism could return, in which a few super-rich would keep the rest of population under control.

Alternatively, biblical values could produce a world that is genuinely humane, just and environmentally responsible. Due to technological advances, which of course also go back to the Protestant Reformation, we have for the first time the possibility and means of clothing, housing and feeding everybody.

Global society is, in fact, facing a global civil war, between two sets of ideas: one of human responsibilty to society and to God, stemming from the Protestant Reformation but originating much earlier, in the Hebrew Bible; and the other rooted in the equally ancient "values" of human rationality, capacity and greed.

The future will have a more explicit clash between these two sets of values, predicted Prabhu, as he stepped from the podium." Sphere: Related Content

No comments: