The thirteenth World Public Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations" held in Rhodes in early October 2015 presented as usual a diverse and multidisciplinary cluster of ideas, observations and recommendations on the state of the present world. It would be presumptuous and probably vain to try summing up the positions taken by people from many countries in one consistent agenda, but a few general conclusions may be drawn in order to broadly define what more and more "wise" people, not converted to the dominant creed of globalized homogenization under one supra-national technocratic and financial power, think of the present and of probable or possible future developments.
1-Mankind cannot and should not abolish or reduce to insignificance the many traditions, cultures and civilizations which account for the existence of separate national and regional societies. The global, predominantly anglo-saxon and judeo-christian, albeit officially secular or agnostic, ideology and way of life that has developed out of the British and American successive and related empires is only an additional layer on top of many earlier supra-national influences that shaped most civilizations in past centuries. Many speakers reaffirmed this, such the Forum's founder and chairman Dr Vladimir Yakunin, Harvard Professor Tu Wei Ming from the standpoint of Confucianism, Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, the head of India's Asia Project, Dr Johann Galtung, the Norwegian founder of Transcend, Dr Chandra Muzaffar as a representative of the Malaysian multi-religious Indo-Arabo-Chinese identity and representatives of the Roman Catholic, Greek, Lebanese and Russian orthodox churches, among others.
What we call modern global civilization will evolve and be modified by many national and local cultural factors, while the quasi-global imperium built by the political, business and military leaders of the current Euro-American oligarchy will continue to weaken and break up under its own weight and as a result of the increasing resistance it is meeting with in many parts of the globe. This was clearly shown by experts in both political and economic-financial areas, like Professor Richard Werner, Dr John Laughland and Dr Akeel Bilgrami from Columbia University.
2-The countries best placed perhaps to gradually replace the current hegemonic system with one of their own making are the most powerful states of Eurasia, China and Russia as well as the other BRICS members and regional partners like Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, Iran and Japan. Although those powers appear to have little in common beyond their interest in surviving the sharp decline of the hitherto sole superpower and of its subordinates, the former European colonial hegemons, they agree on certain principles of co-existence and are interested in combining assets and resources to improve the international situation and their own respective positions.
The extensive presentations and discussions on the new financial and economic mechanisms being set up to complement and eventually replace the World Bank, IMF, WTO and others controlled by western great powers made that clear, while the former president of Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus exposed the inefficiency, wastefulness and political agendas behind the US-centric globalist institutions which perpetuate the Bretton Woods legacy. Manuel Montes, Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Professor Ilios Iliopoulos were a few of those who dissected the fatal flaws of the hitherto dominant structures.
3-It is perhaps easier to define the rules that the current hegemonic system seeks to impose in order to highlight in contrast the issues on which the emerging 'alternative bloc' differs. It must be clarified however, that many people, and probably a majority of citizens within the dominant Euro-American region, disagree with many if not all of the policies and principles espoused and enforced by their leaders, although they may not be in a position to effectively oppose or stop them.
If we are to list the core principles of the current global system, disregarding the many but minor deviations that can be observed in practice, we can retain those which were commented upon by several participants such as Cynthia McKinney, the former US Congresswoman, Teresa Okafor, Director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage from Nigeria and Dr Richard Falk, former UN Rapporteur for Human Rights from the USA. They are
(a)-The supremacy of financial capital as a commodity produced by a few globalized credit-creating privately controlled institutions,
(b)-The promotion of individualism and personal choice or whim over and above any spiritual, religious or simply socio-cultural norm or convention,
(c) The almost exclusive concentration on boosting human material consumption of goods and services in order to support an ever expanding and more automated industrial productivity (entailing the unlimited elimination of the human workforce) and ever "freer" global trade,
(d)-the focus on ever faster techno-scientific innovations and enhancements to shape human development, even at the cost of mechanizing human beings and regarding them both as machines and as animals dedicated to certain productive or consuming functions.
4-In practice, the general principles evoked above inspire international and domestic policies that, hidden behind a mask of democracy, are devised and enforced in the interest of certain global elites. They translate into such diverse and apparently unconnected effects as the rise of unemployment and dwindling of stable careers and jobs, the destruction of the environment, the unsustainable and wasteful use of plant and animal species as mere commodities and resources for human over-consumption, the erosion of families and social communities, increasingly replaced by virtual associations often justified only by common material interests (money, sex, drugs or sports) and the dehumanization of people who are either being driven towards a trans-human technocratic dystopia or are pushed into physical self-merchandization to satisfy the desires of others.
All that is being orchestrated and controlled through increasingly sophisticated methods of technological surveillance and repression designed to enforce what is defined as "politically correct". Dissenting states, groups and individuals are being targeted and condemned with a view to their elimination.
These disruptive processes combine and manifest as the seemingly permanent economic and financial crisis which is invoked by governments to justify policies of austerity and cost-cutting that impoverish large sections of the population and rapidly boost inequality to the benefit of the ever wealthier oligarchies. The United States today provides a grim picture of the aforesaid processes, resulting in widening violence, depravity, insanity, the rapid criminalization of society and the spread of sociopathic epidemics such as pornography, child abuse, sado-masochistic practices and other aberrations that are gradually being normalized through the media and changing juridical theories and practices.
Another very visible consequence is the proliferation of imperial wars of conquest waged to submit recalcitrant countries, called "rogue states" for that purpose, generally ending in the execution of their leaders, the destruction of their political and social systems and the resulting anarchy and mass migrations used to implement a semi-colonial system of exploitation and (remote) control. This facet of the current global regime was described from various angles in the plenary panel on "hybrid warfare" moderated by Austrian Professor Hans Koechler, president of the International Progress Organization.
Although many of those features are not new to our age and have existed more or less through human history (think of poverty, plunder, ecological devastation, prostitution, slavery, revolution and war as long-lived ancestors of the present plagues), they are expanding on a planetary scale and are invested with the ever growing power of finance, global trade, technology and industry now operating at the speed of thought. A mechanism has been put in place to impose globally ideas, opinions and concepts supportive of the ruling system through the media, judicial threats and procedures and overwhelming military force as international lawyer Christopher Black from Canada illustrated vividly from his personal experiences. A critical role is played by the new information technologies and their extension to the "Internet of Things" are other far-reaching developments that were also analysed in the Forum under the stewardship of Professor Jens Wendland from Germany.
Mankind and the world are increasingly ruled by "intelligent" machines that seem destined one day to escape human control but if the disintegration of states and governments predicted by Dr Rob van Kranenburg of the Netherlands may result from the invasion of digital systems and artificial intelligence, Dr Daya Thussu (India and the UK) was one of those who pointed out that the largest number of users of these new technologies are in the developing countries, especially China, India and Brazil, although the USA still controls most of the underlying structures and search engines. This situation is not viable in the long run and the emerging powers are taking steps to achieve autonomy in the cyber-sphere.
5-Against this lingering unipolar system we can see the beginnings of a reaction whose outline can be defined by the following features, if one again forgives the necessary simplification:
A-The resolve in certain countries to define and uphold national models and policies, rooted in their respective civilizations and independent of the global "imperial" system that is being pushed on them.
B-Those national models and policies are usually related to the spiritual and religious worldviews inherited by those countries from their respective past: Confucianism in China, Buddhism in Japan, the Sanathana Dharma in India, Orthodoxy in Russia, Shi'ite Islam influenced by Platonism in Iran (described by Dr Ghahram Soleimani Kahnouj as a "cultural cosmopolis"), the national monarchical and patriotic culture in France and in other European countries and so on.
The principles common to those diverse revival processes are rooted in the millennial experience of wisdom schools of many regions: respect for the laws of nature that are detected in physics and biology as in the social area, protection of the dignity and inner divinity of human beings (which does not however rule out severe punishment for the crimes that greviously violate those precepts -- charity is different from permissiveness), compassion for and acknowledgment of the sanctity of life (and not only human life), acceptance of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, the practice and education of the population in the universal virtues such as truthfulness, altruism, benevolence, patience and humility and inculcation of the sense of beauty and harmony in the public mind.
That set of shared values must be imparted to all people, especially in the up and coming generations and one of the Forum's roundtables was dedicated to the ongoing project to set up "schools of dialogue" to fulfill that agenda.
Although such moral tenets appear obvious and almost cliche, it must be pointed that most of them are being actively denigrated or at least pushed into the background by the current globalised cult of limitless greed, opportunism and spiritual nihilism or subjectivism, often camouflaged under the label of newly found "universal values", solely defined by personal desires divorced from biological and moral realities. In the prevailing paradigm, the human being is still seen as the supreme master of his own destiny and owner of the universe in which all other things and creatures are resources to be exploited and harnessed in the service of his or her own desires.
While "beauty" is labeled "fascistic" or described as a matter of mere individual opinion and feeling, monetary reward is projected as the only measure of success and talent. In matters of faith the two extremes of radical militant atheism, which rejects the very notions of reverence and mystery, and of fanatical promotion of a particular literal creed, leave little room for open-minded and non-sectarian spiritual experience.
It is now frequently heard from positions of authority that art is no longer about beauty but rather about shocking and creating discomfort in the viewer or hearer, the usual justification being that the modern world's violence, pain and anger are reflected in the art it produces. However it is not often retorted that art, as a mirror and fount of beauty, has always been seen as a metaphor of the harmony that the universe expresses and a euphemism for a reality that makes no sense unless it is raised to the level of myth in the heaven of imagination. By reflecting and increasing the ugliness of present-day and perennial features of the human experience, contemporary art is only perpetuating and worsening the anguish and suffering of its creators and its public, and becomes a sickness instead of providing a salve. The spread of self-proclaimed satanic cults in certain societies of the Americas and Europe is another reflection of this "infernal" course.
C-The growing awareness of the environmental/climatic hazards related to unregulated and unsustainable human activity and consumption was highlighted notably by US Professor Steve Szeghi. Together with a new understanding of the nature of reality provided by current insights of science this realization is translating into a new ecological vision of the future of technology in particular and for civilization as a whole. The need to see mankind as a part and parcel of cosmic nature and no longer as the master race of a mechanical universe in which reason and mind are prerogatives of human beings, leads to a radical evolution in economic and political philosophies.
The current global hegemonic system is extremely ill-suited for the new paradigm, which contradicts many of its fundamental dogmas and "source code". The transformation may only be possible under the leadership of the emerging powers that oppose it for various reasons. Although those emerging powers have so far broadly functioned within the ruling paradigm, they are increasingly uncomfortable with it, as they are kept in relative subservience and cannot come into their own as long as they subscribe to its precepts and rules.
Russia has long been a fountainhead of alternative ideas for mankind and has resisted in various ways the hegemony of the liberal capitalist system since the late nineteenth century. China and India, like many other old nations have very rich and ancient civilizational legacies which contain many ideas for modifying and replacing the current system, while other, formerly colonized or dominated countries also seek to emerge from the era of Euro-American dominance that is ending amidst fast spreading chaos, as was pointed in a discussion moderated by Professor Fred Dallmayr, co-chairman of the Forum.
French member of the European Parliament Dr Aymeric Chauprade called for a union of countries around Russia in order to counteract the pervasive destructive influence of the current global hegemonic regime, through the invocation of transcendent values rooted in universal spirituality and biological realities.
The struggle for liberation now coming to a head, both in military and economic terms, may be regarded as a new phase in the process of decolonization which began with the second world war. It translates into the major international financial initiatives being taken by the BRICS nations to reform the global economic order through various major new institutions and programmes, described by Professor Peimin Ni as the New Silk Road world order. However, it also results in the expanding wars in West Asia and North Africa and in mounting military tensions in the Western Pacific. The emancipation of the majority of mankind from its hegemons may not happen without a new cycle of violent confrontations that may turn out to be fatal for mankind as a whole because it is rare for a ruler to give up power without a bitter fight, often to the end.
Not always so visible but equally significant is the "culture war" that pits the upholders of diverse national, ethnic and religious traditions against the promoters of a standardised global model of modernity, mainly inspired by the post-modern American social model in its extreme commercialism, individual atomism, moral anomia and utilitarian cynicism to which we alluded earlier. In that system personal biological identity is under attack, as it is seen as a purely socially construct, to be replaced by willful temporary choices that reduce human beings to the status of undefined creatures separated from their natural and social environment and suitable for economic use and harvesting.
There is a clear tendency, perceptible in fashionable economic, psychological and artistic theories, to reduce people to the animal element of their nature, contrary to the tropism of ancient civilizations which emphasizes the divinity of the soul and the dignity of the body translated in various rites and codes related to chastity, modesty, decorum and privacy.
The "man as a - domesticated - animal" zeitgeist is an outcome of the mechanistic theories of geneticists like Richard Dawkins who describe all living creatures as biological robots used as containers and vehicles by their "selfish" genes, denying the existence of the soul and of any higher purpose in life other than reproduction and proliferation. Cartesians saw animals as mere biological machines and many materialists accordingly reduce human beings to the status of mechanical creatures that may be bred in industrial facilities through cloning, artificial insemination and stem cell culture. The question however arises as to which of the humans will breed others? Will there not be masters and tools, creators and creatures?
The current ideology, despite its loud calls for individual rights and liberties, is indeed spawning a world in which all living forms, including humans, are commodities or goods within the global market. Yet at the same time, the inevitable scientific recognition of animals as close relatives of human beings, also endowed with intelligence, sensitivity, emotions and reason, makes a society based on the exploitation and mass killing for human use increasingly unacceptable. Either life in all its diverse unity is acknowledged as deserving of regard and protection - as it was in many ancient cultures such as India's -- or else human beings too will increasingly be objectified and deprived of their dignity and freedom in the pursuit of economic gain.
If the above lines appear too simplistic and one-sided to reflect the complexity of the currently prevalent ideology, it should be pointed out that the pernicious principles I have outlined are not universally and uncritically applied and accepted in our global society. However they are gaining increasing power and agency because of the mighty financial and political forces that promote them. What has been said may thus be regarded as a rather grim, perhaps exaggerated but essentially truthful outline of the future that awaits us if the present hegemons continue to have their way.
All efforts must be made to convince people all over the world of the need for a radical change in the global order and in socio-economic philosophy before it is too late. They must unite to fight the powerful minorities bent on retaining control over the planet's destiny and, as geopolitician Chauprade put it "reaffirm the necessary verticality in politics" which must be connected with higher principles and values, in a spirit of cosmic humanism , and not merely serve economic interests and individual conveniences.
The world is not only a market, it is also and above all a politeia and a cosmos whose innate harmony must be understood, preserved and not subverted. To that end, the Forum in its concluding remarks called for "new models of inclusive and equitable development".