Collective wisdom and virtue are the sole solutions to help the world recover from today’s crises, which are the root cause of an age of contagious chaos, affecting everything and everybody regardless of what or who they are
The current state of chaos in the world is contagious. It affects everything and everybody. It moves from one country to another, from one region to another. The world has become so interdependent that no one can claim immunity from the penetrating crises of the age regardless of where they occur.
The promise of the Enlightenment has come at a high price: European colonialism, the destruction of traditional forms of social and political association in much of the Muslim world, Africa and Southeast Asia, the two “world” wars (which were in fact mostly European wars), the cold war period and its aftermath. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening, thus deepening the sense of mistrust and despair among hundreds of millions of people who live at the bottom of the world. Capitalism continues to renew itself at every opportunity with a big price tag for the poor of the world and the natural environment. Capitalism thrives on cheap labor and goes after it wherever it is, i.e., Africa and Southeast Asia.
Globalization promised a worldwide re-definition and re-arrangement of everything: history, memory, society, politics, communication, economics, education, religion, belief, art, and so on. The big expectation was that the rigid borders of individual and communal identities were going to be replaced by a sense of world-citizenship in which everyone would feel, believe and live a more or less a similar life. Francis Fukuyama found a name for it: the end of history.
The end of history never came. Given the unfolding complexities of the age in which we live, it would be wise for all of us to avoid any “endism.” Instead, we should focus on the best practices to end injustice and equality and put the values of reason, wisdom and virtue to the best use we can. The first principle to observe is the interdependence of the current world system. This means that no actor can claim victory in self-destructive battles that lead to the destruction of all. Therefore it is morally wrong and self-defeating to define and defend one’s interest at the expense of others. Wisdom and justice are not simply moral and intellectual virtues. If one is wise, one would know that they are also political necessities.
The issues of global justice and equality are not simply problems for the poor and struggling countries. To the contrary, they are problems that need resolving in the world’s rich and powerful countries. The reason is that the current power gap and disequilibrium is a legacy of colonialism over the last several centuries and cannot be overcome until and unless those who created it in the first place take responsibility for it. The fact that capitalism needs cheap labor does not justify the exploitation of human beings as machines without souls.
On the political front, the current proxy wars fought in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere will not bring peace, stability or prosperity to anyone. It will only create bigger misery, deepen the sense of resentment and play right into the hands of the violent extremists that look for any opportunity to disrupt whatever degree of peace and stability exists in the places in which they operate. Fighting terrorism requires a globally coordinated effort but most importantly it must be an honest and sincere fight. The chaos created by terrorism is also contagious.
Finally we come to the big questions of identity, self-perception and worldview. Human beings have maintained a certain form of self-identity and a view of others as part of their engagement with the world. The current state of contagious chaos and insecurity has not changed this fact but transformed it. We live the processes of rootless urbanization and nativism, globalization and localization, social networking and extreme individualism all at the same time. This is perhaps one of the most pressing aspects of our age: we live these contradictory sentiments so intensely and so confusingly that no one knows exactly how to chart a course in this mayhem of insecurity, unpredictability and despair. Populist, xenophobic and racist discourses appeal to people’s sense of misdirection and narrow-minded politicians exploit these feelings. But these short-term political gains make the world an even more insecure and chaotic place.
The last two decades of globalization have shown without any doubt that the issues of identity, loyalty, collective memory and cultural-religious belonging will not go away. And there is no need for them to disappear. To the contrary, they can be a source of collective wisdom and strength against the onslaught of contagious chaos that is tearing the world apart.