Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Something is winning, but what exactly?

It’s hard to believe that anything could be winning in this world of chaos. But take a look again at the map: “something” is winning, and doing so overwhelmingly.

All these countries fracture the earth as if a God-sized hammer smashed its outer crust. Even in our minds, this splintering has convinced many the world is broken beyond repair, forever resigned to competition. But none of these ideas are natural in the slightest, and that should ring alarm bells.

In this sense natural doesn’t refer to border lines carved physically into the earth, as the concrete thinking of five-year-old might understand it. Instead, it is the “naturalness” of borders which exist only in a person’s mind which explains the modern world system. It is flippant, for instance, to say the Afghan people don’t register the borders of Afghanistan in the same way a German person might. This is an illuminating point often missed but worthy of deeper consideration.

Most people understand that victors write the history. This seems to be obvious at a deep level. The ability to convince others of a particular version of past events is integral to the retention of power. What truly creates power, however, is when the victor no longer needs to write anything and historical interpretation is self-driven by the losers as if it were their own idea.

In last week’s column, I described the concept of the international community as the default assumption in the world system. Moreover, it was shown to be a legacy of the post-1945, US-led world order which was itself inherited from the British-led world order.

The idea of an international community relies on the concept of the nation state. The 1648 treaty of Westphalia introduced the nation state to the world, spreading from Europe across the planet until it created the map before us. The international community was neither a British idea nor a US idea, yet it has been unbelievably effective.

So effective in fact, that the concept has almost entirely conquered the world on its own. All the baggage of Western thought – Christianity, science, currencies, media, etc – is included in the victory of the international community. It comes from Puritan ideals: that all humans are created equal, the individual is central and the inexorable march of progress (divine providence).

Those Puritan beliefs are today dominant in American tradition guiding both the writing of its constitution and the structure of its society. Puritanism has contributed to everything seen on a map: its nation states, capitals and governments. It is not a supernatural force. The international community idea is now the default assumption not only of the US government, but of much of the rest of the world too.

This is why the US/Cuba and the US/Iran rapprochements are so curious. With Iran, the agreement was presumably about nuclear weapons, while for Cuba the opening was about repairing ideological cracks. But this is only the first layer. Both are about winning, pure and simple.

The international community structure is bigger than any imperial plans Washington might have. The idea is integral to the US system, but Washington is only the current custodian of the concept.

In an insightful interview, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently described the international community as an end goal for the Ukraine crisis – not just for the US, but for the world. Breaking Russia, he says, “has become an objective; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it.” In other words, Russia’s integration is more important than US victory. And he is exactly correct.

National independence – whether illegal or legal – can only occur within the framework of the international community. This is why the map is fragmented. The US is no longer the driver of the international community, the community has matured to a point where it is maintained by the very people it was built to control.

The “something” which is winning is the international community idea. Observe how successful this idea has become and understand that the Cuba and Iran agreements were all but inevitable. Whether this structure will persist is unknown, but like a virus it has burrowed deep into the consciousness of the entire world and looks set to remain as default for a good while yet.

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