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Venomous World Venomous World
by Nikos Laios
2016-12-01 11:31:20
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The world is filled with so much venom and conflict at the moment in just about every field of human interaction and endeavour, be it politics, economics or international relations.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the problems that we face as a species are increasing rapidly in our overcrowded world as we stretch the finite resources that this planet has to offer. Rather than meet in a peaceful communion and transcend our differences to solve our problems, we have instead resorted to primitive rivalry and competition and the problems that we face in the meantime are mounting. The late American scientist Carl Sagan said about life on our planet in his documentary, 'Pale Blue Dot: A Vision Of The Human Future In Space' the following:  "Consider again that dot [Earth]. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisation, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

nikos01_400Regardless of the fact that as a species this planet is the only home that we will ever know, we live in constant discord and violence; and from one corner of the globe to the other, the media is filled with crisis after crisis. In the United States for example, the Obama administration has retreated from the world stage like a sucking wave on a beach leaving a vacuum, and where American society is convulsing and buckling under the strains of its own internal problems. National debt is running out of control, the explosion of health care costs have made it virtually impossible for the average American to afford any health care at all, the rise in the deaths by gun shootings, and the American nation's inability to review the original meaning and context of the second amendment in its original framing to accordingly revise and update this amendment to suit a modern nation of the 21st century. Also, the other societal feature has been the failure of the free market in America to 'trickle down' some of the wealth from the top of society down to those in need at the bottom. So besides these long term internal societal problems, the United States is also facing an upheaval of its political status quo by the presidential elections and its two presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

On the one hand we have Donald Trump who is reviled and ridiculed by people around the world, and on the other hand we have Hillary Clinton, an institutional hawk who is beloved by the left and the elites but hated by a large section of her very own people. This writer has seen many articles appear in magazines and the press here in Australia, Greece, the U.K and Europe and other parts of the world  - and even in the pages here of our own OVI magazine - ridicule and revile Donald Trump as a caricature. The point being here that regardless of how I as a person and a writer might feel about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, it's not up to me or you, or anyone outside of the United States to frankly criticise internal American politics regardless of how it affects us without actually being part of their society and understanding its culture and identity. These issues regarding the presidential candidates are frankly internal political questions for the citizens of the United States to answer, and only they can untangle this political Gordian knot. That is what a  democracy is all about, that no matter how well liked or odious political candidates are, the citizens of that society are the only ones that can choose and affect the outcome regardless of how their choices impacts the rest of the world. Even though the civilizational benefits of Democracy are obvious and of its positive influence on nations and societies throughout history, we here in Europe we have experienced the darker side of Democracy throughout the 20th century whereby we have found that the masses can be led astray and have selected from amongst us people who were dangerous psychotic demented demagogues such as Mussolini and Hitler. Fascists born from the democratic process yet who have caused so much death and suffering in the world, but here is the crux of the issue; that it is for the citizens of every nation to choose from amongst themselves those whom they would like to represent their own political and societal aspirations, attempting to balance the good with the bad.

The other lesson to grasp from this is that democracies at times fall by the wayside when nations are run as capitalist concerns, and here we need to discuss and question capitalism, globalisation and their viability. The famed English economist John Maynard Keynes and one of the most influential economists of the 20th century whose ideas changed the theory and practise of macroeconomics said the following about capitalism; “The decadent international but individualistic capitalism, in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war, is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous, and it doesn't deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed."[1]

Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Capitalism has existed on a small scale for centuries but was carried across the world by the process of globalisation and by the 18th century became the dominant global economic system. Industrialisation has allowed for the cheap production of household goods using economies of scale and where rapid population growth created a sustained demand for these goods. Yet the odious European imperialism of the 19th century also contributed to the growth and spread of capitalism by the first and second Opium Wars and the British conquest of India, where the vast populations of these regions became potential consumers of European goods. Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands were also incorporated into the world system and yielded valuable natural resources such as coal, diamonds and rubber which fuelled both trade and rivalries.

It is assumed in our modern western culture that democracy is synonymous with capitalism, but is it? Democracy became widespread at the same time that capitalism did in the 19th century leading capitalists to posit a mutual or causal relationship between them. Yet in the 20th century, capitalism has been accompanied by various forms of political organisation; fascist, monarchical and single-party states. Singapore for instance is a single-party state that regulates its press yet has a successful capitalist economy. Augusto Pinochet for example became dictator of Chile following a United States backed coup d'état on 11th September 1973 that overthrew the elected government of President Allende, and under the influence of the free-market orientated neoliberal 'Chicago Boys' implemented economic liberalisation; including currency stabilisation, removal of tariff protections for local industry, banned trade unions and privatised social security - which lead to economic growth and high levels of inequality. Finally with China today as another example, it is ruled by a single party communist authoritarian government. Yet their capitalist sector has grown and thrived and the irony here is that China is now throwing its weight around in the South China Sea ignoring accepted international norms and treaties and is acting just like an odious imperialist power not dissimilar to the European powers of the 19th century, and accordingly causing tensions to increase and affecting negatively peace and stability in the Asian region.

Thomas Piketty from the Paris School of Economics claims in his 'Capital on the Twenty-First Century'  that inequality is the inevitable consequence of economic growth in a capitalist economy and the resulting concentration of wealth can destabilise democratic societies and undermine the ideas of social justice [2]. In the end, capitalism depends on the free market, on the consumption of goods driven by the increase of demand over supply and this presupposes either an increasing level of consumption by existing consumers or an increase of the population base to therefore enable new consumers to be fed into the consumption chain. Yet a cursory look into world demographics indicates that populations around the word are peaking and in turn shrinking, which means a reduced consumer population and in turn a reduced taxpayer base; which therefore leads to a reduced tax receipt by governments and an increasing indebtedness to world banks and monetary funds to enable them to pay for their social obligations. So what is the alternative to capitalism? At the moment there is none; socialism and communism have been tried and failed, as have forms of fascisms and dictatorships, and these as well have failed. As imperfect as the capitalist and globalisation systems are, they have been around now for a few hundred years and are the only systems we have and which have brought about many civilizational benefits - and the issue here is until something better comes along -   we need to augment capitalism and globalisation with a social contract of sorts within every exchange that guarantees and gives a value to the intangible social benefits. But to be able to do this, we need a unity and an accord within societies, nations and civilisations, for the making of money cannot be the only thing that defines us, and here the international banking and monetary system has a lot to answer for. Yet at the moment we have so much discord, conflict and venom in our societies that we cannot agree on a single issue.

A perfect example of this societal discord at the moment is the European Union and its bumbling responses to its own social, economic and political problems. For Europeans that live in Europe and for we Europeans that live outside of the European Union, we are well acquainted with the issues concerning the European Union, but for the people in the rest of the world, a brief excursus is required here. The European Union is a politico-economic union of 28 member states that has developed an internal single market through a standardisation of laws that apply to all members; and that ensures the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. The EU enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. The EU established a monetary union of its members in 1999 and nations ceded partial sovereignty to be able to enjoy the privileges of the EU. After the chaos of World War 2, the idea for the European Union developed as an idealistic antidote against the extreme nationalism that ripped apart Europe through two world wars during the 20th century.

However, to become full members of the EU the fulfilment of certain criteria and treaties are required such as the Copenhagen Criteria. The Copenhagen Criteria were adopted in 1993 which requires of member states the adherence to certain conditions and the adoption of fundamental values; a stable democracy, the rule of law, the respect of human rights, equality, a functioning market economy and the acceptance of the obligations of membership which includes the adoption and application of EU law. Yet regardless of the grand idealism that is enshrined in the European Union's institutions and treaties, the European citizenry is far from happy at the moment.

While there are many obvious advantages of being a member of the European Union, there are however many disadvantages as well to balance the ledger here. Firstly there is an actual fiscal cost entailed for each member state for the privilege of being a member, the cumbersome EU bureaucracy in Brussels has instituted inefficient policies such as its agricultural policies that has distorted the agricultural markets over time by placing minimum prices on foods which has led to higher prices for consumers and encouraged an over-supply. The adoption of the Euro currency has in many cases lead to problems and contributed to low rates of economic growth and high unemployment rates; where the adoption of one currency and the monetary mechanism by many different and varying economies has meant that the very tools that nations would have used to manage their economies by supply and demand via the inflation/deflation of currency values and interest rates has been denied them due to their adoption of the Euro. Whereby the only tools that where left to these EU nations after the global financial crisis of 2008 was economic austerity policies of spending cuts and strict budget deficit targets that were dictated by Germany and its Brussels minions, which after the global financial meltdown further exacerbated and contributed to a prolonged stagnation which for some EU nations has rivalled the great depression of the 1930's. Also besides these problems, the EU has been unable to formulate and adhere to a humane migration policy that can be agreed to by everyone that both fulfils its human rights obligations and which also listens to the concerns of its citizenry; and lastly and most importantly, the increasing of the EU elite Brussels bureaucracy has meant less democracy for its citizens. This along with the economic stagnation and the other societal problems has fuelled an anger and scepticism in the average European citizen towards the European Union and its institutions.

So in spite of noble idealistic sentiments, democracy and capitalism, the EU citizen is angry, unemployed, hungry and disillusioned; that the Brussels elite has stopped listening to the everyday person and their concerns, that the average citizen has not seen this 'trickle-down' of wealth and capital from the top echelons of society downwards to the middle and lower stratums of society that was promised by the forces of the free market. When the people of Britain voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, this democratic expression of the will of the British people has been met with anger, disdain and disrespect by the EU elite and also by other member nations and which has - along with the previously discussed problems affecting Europe - injected venom, conflict and resentment among the member nations. This unhappiness and discord is not only limited to the US, Asia and Europe, but has also infected Africa and the Middle East.

Where Africa and the Middle East has been affected not only by the meddling of European and American imperialism, but also due to the civilizational failure of the Islamic world which has been in a perpetual decline since the seventeenth century which was the apogee of its territorial expansion, and whereby it is now unable to evolve and adapt to solve the social, economic and political problems that its peoples are facing. This resentment and loss of face has in turn recently spawned radical religious fundamentalist Wahhabism movements, and violent fundamentalist Utopian apocalyptic movements such as Al Qaeda and ISIS amongst many others that has spread so much death and violence around the world. Who believe that the strict adherence to the religious laws of some invisible god and apocalyptic prophecies will somehow make all the pain, misery and injustice in the Islamic world go away like magic. So with all this conflict, venom, violence and unhappiness and resentment in the world, what is the solution?

At the end of the day regardless of the culture, all that the average person wants is to have some food and shelter, to be able to provide for themselves and their families, to live a happy and contented life and hopefully if leisure time allows, to find themselves, to find their self and their own authenticity. There are no instant quick-fix solutions as yet to all these problems, but the brave and effective things that societies and civilisations can do is firstly not be afraid to ask difficult questions, not be afraid to listen to difficult answers, and to place egos to one side and to look for the similarities in each other and not our differences. Yet in our small blue globe of finite resources this might be too much to ask for but is something worthwhile reflecting upon and aiming for.

We all live on a small precious planet that floats in the black nothingness of space suspended like a jewel, our small dazzling blue world. Whereby the conflict and venom that we humans have filled this beautiful world with in comparison seems so petty and unimportant in the grand overarching scheme of things. The Dalai Lama once said; “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves." Indeed, how true, peace has been an often sought after elusive goal that has been celebrated in both verse and song throughout the long history of humanity, but how wonderful would it be if we managed to finally attain it for both our own sakes, and the world's.

*************************************************

REFERENCE:

1. John Maynard Keynes, "National Self-Sufficiency," The Yale Review, Vol. 22, no. 4 (June 1933), pp. 755-769.

2. Piketty Thomas (2014). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Belknap Press. ISBN 0-674-430- x. p.571

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