Category Archives: Europe

The crisis of post-modernity in liberal Western democracies: first of all the US.

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Will the United States show again that is still one of the healthiest, besides one of the oldest, democracy in the world? Will be able to reform its too old institutions and reconcile its too polarized people, in a society that destroyed many moderate spaces of discussions in the public sphere, from education to media? The prospect of the new elected President doesn’t seem enlightened. Bill Clinton had to move his party to the center, to win two elections. Trump moved the party that hijacked to the extreme right, after the Tea Party and beyond the Alt-Right. Electing Trump the American democracy just chose to take a stop in leading the planetary future. After the first black president of its history, the US didn’t elect its first woman president and instead went towards the most macho chauvinist joker and ignorant president could find, because in the post-modern liberal democracies leaders don’t guide masses: they mirror them. The US went towards a cultural reaction that could reverse the country, and also the West, to a past of racism, nationalism, sexism, and many says Fascism. So apart all the issues on economy, anti-politics and fragmentation these elections have been also about culture, identity and post-modernity.

At a superficial level it seems that three main processes are happening today in the US but also in Europe and so in general in the Western liberal democracies: increased inequality, spread populism and extreme polarization. These trends are caused mainly by three factors: unregulated market and banking systems together with economic globalization as degeneration and contradictions of neoliberal extreme capitalism (see “Capital in the Twenty First Century” by Piketty); focus on technical and scientific education abandoning the liberal arts and humanities (see on this “Not for Profit”, by Martha Nussbaum); and the information technology transformation, including biased private news outlets and uncontrolled, instinctual, post-fact and post-truth social media information (see on this “The Filter Bubble” of Richard Sennet).

But at a deeper identity and cultural levels, and inside a longer historical view, four reactionary processes in reality are happening in the US and the West against the very fast progress that we lived in the last decades: sexism, nationalism, racism and religiophobia (mostly Islamophobia as Islam is the world religion with most impact on the daily life). These identity trends, present in particular among people living isolated and not used to socialize and so create trust, in rural areas more than urbanized centers, represents our ontological insecurity reaction to four changes: the starting of end of patriarcate, nation state, monoethnic and secular societies.  We are starting to live in the post-modern societies (not only “Post-modern States”, as Robert Cooper defines the West) with a more equal relationship between men and women, a more broad sense of belonging to an international community, a mixing of races with increased migrations and a return to religion as a political tool. The last one is happening first of all with Islamism but also, as a reaction, with the Christian right wing political stands (especially in the US) making us starting to live in post-secular societies (as defined by Habermas) that fight between religion in politics and religiophobia.

To use the words of Thomas Kuhn, we are living in a “paradigm shift”, not so much in the sciences (that evolve when society evolves) but in the society, in particular in the creation of a new planetary society. Our human nature is struggling on the tension between fear and mistrust on one side of its spectrum and love and trust on the other (see “Love and Hate” by Eibl-Eibesfeldt, the founder of Human Ethology). It is natural and it is good we could say. We cannot only progress going forwards otherwise only chaos will be in our future. The arch of history is always bent towards justice, as Marti Luther King said, but it progresses going forwards two steps and going backwards one. Now we are in the backwards one. The risk is that if we don’t control it, it could be a step back so big that would represent a giant leap towards darkness. An epochal crisis of our civilization. We don’t want that, but human nature sometimes has been ruled by irrational behaviors, and cycles of history repeat themselves, making arise and decline of societies and civilizations. As Plato’s five regimes teaches us after Aristocracy, Timocracy and Oligarchy there is Democracy, but after Democracy we go back to Tyranny and the cycle starts again. So we need to ask us today: which culture we want to choose for our future generations, the one based on liberal values or the one based on authoritarian values? Do we want a Renaissance or do we want to open the doors to a new “Middle Age”, the age in the middle between the enlightened times.

“An ignorant people can never remain a free people” said Thomas Jefferson. “We will give you a Republic, if you can keep it” said Benjamin Franklin. But to keep the ability to manage a Res-publica, the “public thing”, we need to fight ignorance, as ignorance breed polarization, populism and finally authoritarianism. This is one of the deepest crises of American and Western democracies: the increasing ignorance of a fast consumerist but slow (and superficial) thinking society that produced a lack of real knowledge, culture and so wisdom. All the rest comes as a consequence. Therefore to chose the path of evolution we need to go back to read books and travel, instead of googling everything, we need to go back to talk to each other’s in the streets, instead of staying closed inside our houses and cars, and we need to recreate that social capital and human trust that is the foundation of any functional society, in particular a liberal democratic one.

Post-modernization and global/glocal-ization contributed to create this superficialization. It is a physical law: if you go horizontally you cannot go vertically, if you expand you become more superficial. There is a superficialization in many spheres: there is a reduction of general power (see “The end of power” by Moises Naim); there is a reduction of the “public sphere”, as Habermas called the space for social life (instead we created superficial, fragmented and polarized networks); there is a reduction of the importance of the mediation of elites (with anti-establishment sentiments against the casts of politicians, the oligarchies that became our democracies); there is a reduction of differences (from languages dying every day to ethnic mixing); and there is a reduction of active political life respect to economic and social automatism and conformism (see already “The Human Condition” by Hanna Arendt).

Also, post-modernity and globalization destroyed the organized and clear life we had in the past creating a life based on thousands of possibilities but also contradictions. We can, but more “we have”, to choose everything in our life, from the type of morning coffee to the health treatment for our lives, from deciding to marry or not (and at which age, with who, for having children or just for having a life in two and so on) to should I answer to this message or not. So our time is constantly interrupted, our space constantly disturbed, our identity constantly recreated in a process of choices, including political choices that resemble more and more a gigantic shopping mall instead of a reflected decision for our future, because we are living in a post ideological society. But this doesn’t make us happier, on the contrary worsen our satisfaction, as we cannot have the pleasure of surprise or calmness, the  “creative idleness” (otium) of the ancient Latins, and we rise expectations and alienations with more disappointments and frustrations (see the TED talk “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less” by Barry Schwartz).

Our post-modernity is living in constant change, constant crises. Zygmunt Bauman calls our society the “liquid society.” Antonio Gramsci, last century, called the social crisis we were going to live the Interregno “Inter-kingdom.” He argued that the crisis of change consisted precisely in the fact that the old was dying but the new could not be born; in this phase a great variety of morbid symptoms and chaos appear. We know from where we escape but not where we are running. That is what is happening to the US and Western world right now: we know from where it escapes from but not where it is running. Nevertheless as again Latins said: dium vitam et sursum corda, long life and lift up your hearts! As the evolutionary trend of the human specie is what makes its survival. And the optimist trends of modernization and improvement of human life around the planet (from increasing literacy to reduction of extreme poverty, improvement of health and individual empowerment) are there to demonstrate it.

Integration and resilience: European tools against terrorism

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My last piece on Fikra Forum

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/fikraforum/view/integration-and-resilience-european-tools-against-terrorism

 

The strength found from admitting to genocide

Armenians being deported

The Strength Found from Admitting to Genocide

Here we are again, human beings suffering and politicians clueless on how to react

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Here we are again, after Ankara and Bruxelles, but also Ivory Cost and Nigeria in the last ten days, speaking about how to fight ISIS and terrorism in general. And here we are again with politicians and leaders missing the point of the whole picture. We cannot “fight” or “battle” against terrorism, as it is like to fight against guns or worst, again ourselves. We can only defeat it or succumb to it. Terrorism is a human product and as Giovanni Falcone, Italian judge killed by the Mafia, once said about Mafia we can say today of terrorism: “is a human phenomenon, and as all human phenomena has a start, an evolution and will have also an end”. We will defeat it in time, the point is how to do it earlier instead than later, that means how to prevent it working on its roots instead of reacting to it just working on its fruits.

If we don’t want to succumb to it for the next decades there are three paths to start, as I already wrote on this blog after Paris last November and Egypt last February 2015: diplomacy, inclusion and protection, which means new approaches to foreign policies, integration policies and security policies.

To change foreign policy in the Middle East, Europe will need to invest in mediation and diplomacy efforts and disinvest in bombing and trading arms to the region: we cannot expect to build sustainable peace and economic development if we keep with the old colonialist approach of wars and power politics, “divide and rule” and profit from selling weapons. Foreign policy should mean first of all diplomacy, this should be the real goal of a successful foreign policy, but after the two world wars Western foreign policy meant mostly military invasions and arms trade. And terrorism is the direct result of this. We need instead change direction, start to support negotiating efforts, like we did with Iran, to help to build a new regional order, involving the regional powers of the Middle East, first of all Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as all the other actors, including the non-state actors on the ground, often defined terrorist groups because of their fight for self-determination, like PKK/PYD for Kurds, Hezbollah for Shia in Lebanon and Hamas for Palestinians.  Unless we will be able to involve all of the legitimates needs and request of all the actors on the ground, we will never have peace in the Middle East, as these groups will never abandon the armed struggle and transform from armed groups to political parties or social movements.

We will also need to stop fueling sectarianism in the region with identity construction discourses and weapons sale. This will require both a change in the political and media discourse of Western powers and also their industrial transformation in the long run, from economies based on arms production and resources exploitation to new technological productions and green industries. Europe need to stop the flows of money and weapons from some of the Middle East powers, often our allies like Saudi Arabia or Turkey, to DAESH/ISIS and its affiliated terrorist groups, forcing instead these allies to make a real military battle to defeat the ISIS armed group that is controlling the territory between Syria and Iraq, with our external support in particular protecting civilians and minorities. If they will not be able to do it, because of their opposed interests (Sunni versus Shia dominated powers, or Turks versus Arabs versus Kurds), then the external powers, in primis US and Russia, will have to intervene in force, asthey did in the past for common enemies like Nazism. And finally the EU needs to integrate Turkey: only with Turkish membership we will shift towards a real pluralistic Union, not anymore a religiously homogeneous continent but a pluralistic one, as in its ideals, that will welcome moderate Muslim countries and will increase its Muslim population from the current 45 million to 120 million, making the narrative of “clash of civilizations” just a ridiculous rhetoric of the past.

Second, to change the type of integration we have today in Europe we need to create a new social contract in the continent, based on real inclusion and participation and not anymore on the isolation of communities of immigrants that has been created by both multiculturalism and assimilationism, in particular now with the arriving of millions of refugees. This marginalization created the humus for the terrorism, and often not only in the streets or houses but in the prisons, where small criminals become terrorist for a lack of a better future. It is not a case that the last attack has taken place in Bruxelles, the capital of European Union, and Belgium in general, a place where pluralism should be the basic factor but where the “European bureaucrats” don’t create a real Belgium identity, that instead is divided between Fleming and Walloon, making the integration of immigrants, their feeling of belonging to a state, even more difficult. The European Union therefore need to re-discover again its meaning, the foundation of a continent “United in diversity” as its motto says, respecting the differences but giving to everyone the same European identity and equal access to resources, following closer the United States example, who has been more able to put in practice the principles of its Declaration of Independence that says: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Until now these unalienable rights have been given only to some part of the European population and so the European dream is still to be realized.

Finally, even if this is the least important of the three, to change the approach to security we will need two processes, one at individual level and one at political level. At individual level we need to learn as citizens to be more aware of our environment, in order to proactively be able to self-protect us more, controlling abandoned packages, reporting suspect people etc. in order to live free to move where we want and at the same time being aware of living in dangerous times. But on the other side, at political level, we need to build a more efficient and less frightening Big Brother, based on real intelligence control, that doesn’t mean necessary loss of privacy or principal freedoms, but instead more integration and exchange of information among European states and agencies, to facilitate a real common police and common security policies. It is not a question of suspending our rules and Constitutions, like France did last year, it is a question of maintaining our freedom and at the same time work in a more efficient way. It is not possible and neither acceptable that one of the most advance security system in Europe, the Belgian police, took 4 months to get one of the attackers of Paris. This is the right thing to do, find the perpetrators and arrest them as normal criminals, without making them dangerous heroes reacting to their action with full military force, but cannot be done in an amateurish way.

If we will be able to do all this, the Jihadist terrorism will end sooner than later. The path is still long though, it will take probably one generation, but we will then be able to go on with the development of the Middle East and also the other excluded parts of the world, in particular Africa, helping the progress of all the nations on the Earth. If we will fail, terrorism will continue for generations to come, at least until some people of the world will be marginalized and will not share an equal Liberté Egalité Fraternité.