When Icebergs Clash
It is surprising how fast everything is moving – the pandemic, vaccinations, digital upgrading, robots and AI – there is a long list of developments moving at a pace we have never seen or dreamt of before. I hear a plea for slowing down – and not just from Senior Citizens. Young people, children even, are searching for a quieter pace, more time to reflect, long enough for the latest phone / camera / flat screen / foldable to run its warranty.
It is not just the technological world that is bounding away with developments. Politics are, too. The Biden era has marshalled in a whole raft of changes, many reversing the decisions of the last regime. They are welcome, of course, but they come so fast that we can hardly keep up with them. Shifting the posture of the USA means changing relationships with everyone in the world. How is that affecting China after her rumpy-pumpy dance with the last President? Is President Xi using the USA’s uncertainty to push more assertively? If so, where will that lead?
Relations over the South China Sea are already looking hostile. What is acceptable as showmanship rather than force? If one side or the other decides to say ‘Enough’ we may have conflict. What will that be like? Will it be entirely cyber? Will it be a localised military battle or will it spill over Asia, even beyond? What would we be fighting for? The last two world wars have been largely about sovereignty – the right of a nation to decide its own future. The landscape of nations has changed since then. But the wish of some nations to influence others has not.
More importantly, the power of those nations professing the ideologies of freedom, in a form broadly described as democratic, has declined while the power of nations exercising autocratic management as the more successful way of life has blossomed. It is sometimes said that all big wars are religious in the sense that they are fought over beliefs that are not scientifically provable. But one autocratic regime has demonstrated efficiency rather better than some of the democratic ones. Indeed, democratic nations are moving towards greater internal control, tighter people management, more success-based judgments. More autocracy, perhaps.
That means less freedom. Freedom gives you the right not to play football if you don’t want to, even if you are a star player. Efficiency commands that you do play – or run the risk of punishment. Freedom rests the judgment of your behaviour as social or anti-social with independent courts. Autocracy’s decisions are peremptory and often demonstrably unfair in any human sense. Either you believe that “I disagree with what s/he said but I will fight to the death for their right to say it” or you don’t. Both are religions.
Neither can be “proved” right or wrong. The analogy with religion cannot be pushed too far. Religious beliefs and ideological beliefs differ in a most fundamental way – the former more for after life, the latter for during life. Some of the fiercest wars have been fought over life after death – a contradiction if ever there was one. Wars to improve life on earth are almost always about land or control. Land is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. The pace at which it does will increase as climate makes some regions uninhabitable and science allows people to live longer.
We are now judging life on the basis of ‘success’ – criteria different from those we used when professing a religious faith. Our measures are now about the most comfortable, the best fed and watered, the best housed, the most travelled, the most technologically advanced, the richest, the longest life. These are different from the criteria we used when attending a place of worship on whichever day of the week our religion celebrated it.
The most successful by these new criteria will be the most efficient in their use of time and resources. So we have come to regard Efficiency as the epitome of a good life. Certainly capitalism demands efficiency because it provides the best return to stakeholders – at least to those who invest for profit. The move towards green investments as a way to sustain the planet and push back climate damage will reduce the immediate profit motive but it won’t remove the criteria of Success as the overall objective. Some individuals have taken the decision to live a more natural life and have returned to being nearer the earth and more interested in personal satisfaction. They often seem to be living happier lives.
So if there is one, what will the next war be about? Territory would seem to be the most obvious reason. But I think it is likely actually to be about the criteria of Success, about my belief in my system for achieving it versus yours. All very relevant if Success means Happiness, the condition we seek on earth. Ridiculous if Success is not actually a cause of the greatest Joy.
If Success is to be the universal goal democracy will lose.
Because Freedom is not the most efficient way to live.
But I think it is the most agreeable.