By: Frank Joyce
The forces changing our world are not those that are measured by years or even decades. We are in the midst of changes that are measured by centuries. We all know something about the transformation from feudalism to capitalism or the shift from an economy based on agricultural production to an economy based on industrial production. But even these reference points do not capture the magnitude of the dynamic at work today.
Climate change. A new nuclear order–or disorder as the case may be. The globalization of the economy under the domination of transnational corporations. Changes in the species homo sapiens. These four forces are rocking our world as it has never been rocked before. Any one of these changes would be significant. But of course they are all happening at once and each of them is impacting each of the others.
Understanding and analyzing them will take time. Many aspects of the twentieth-century world order were mapped and defined with considerable clarity by John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and others. But that has yet to happen for the emerging world order of the 21st century.
That is not to say that such efforts are not underway. There is Naomi Klein’s shock Doctrine and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. From the scholars at the Ho Chi Minh Institute in Hanoi to Grace Boggs drawing on the foundation laid by the late James Boggs and many others, much good work is being done to understand, describe and define the forces that are in play. It isn’t easy. The reality is extremely complex to begin with and the pace of change adds a whole other level of difficulty. That said, for all we know, a breakthrough is right around the corner.
While we wait, we can at least do two things. We can keep on working to identify and deepen our understanding of how and why the world is changing by the minute.
And, we can make one fundamental choice based on the information that is already clear. The alternatives are these: do we want to claw our way back to the old social 20th century social contract, or should we shift our energy to working on the new one? To me, the decision is obvious: every hour we spend grieving over the loss of the old world order is an hour we are not spending on imagining and creating the new one.
I believe that for many reasons. One of them is the idea of a political framework encompassed by neo cons, neo liberals and neo Marxists is itself obsolete. Equally outmoded in my view is the obsession of many political thinkers and activists with going backwards not forward. In the US for example we hear calls from all points of the ideological spectrum to: take America back, recapture the American dream, restore America’s place in the world and even to recreate the Ronald Reagan coalition. Elsewhere the Taliban and other organizations are also dedicated to restoring a long gone and never to return social order.
Not me. I don’t think the new reality can be crammed back into the old assumptions and structures. I don’t think that “left to right” is the immutable and permanent way of defining the political positions that humans can adopt. Of course the left-right spectrum retains some descriptive power. But as a tool of analysis—not so much.
Analysis or not, more and more people instinctively grasp that things are very different. Part of the attraction to Barack Obama’s call for change rest on the awareness that the old answers no longer apply—even if we don’t yet know what the new answers are. The quest of the World Social Forum and its US counterpart are also manifestations of the search for new solutions and new forms of organization. For that matter, so is some of the gridlock and polarization on issues such as immigration, health care and “national security.” Trite as it sounds, we do indeed live in amazingly interesting times.