Andy Schmookler: The problem and the solution are both exposed | Everyday
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities.”
In this Ukraine-Putin crisis, we can see both the dire consequences of the long-standing anarchy of civilization in the system in which societies interact, and the evolution of the world towards the kind of order we will need achieve to prevent human civilization from destroying itself.
The Brute and the Ugly
The most fundamental problem of civilization is brought into focus.
In an article here a few months ago (“What Rules This World?”), I showed that
• the emergence of civilization necessarily meant a plunge into anarchy, and
• that anarchy has given the “gangster spirit” an enormous and destructive role in shaping the societies of the civilized world.
It was inevitable that civilization – defined as “those societies developed by a creature which has extricated itself from the niche in which it biologically evolved by inventing its own way of life” – would emerge outside of any order.
• No Natural order—that’s what “extrication” means.
• But no designed by man neither is order, because civilization inevitably emerges in a fragmented way – clusters of small civilizing societies that need to interact with each other but have far too few interconnections between them to be able to make collective decisions that would keep an aggressor in check.
Thus, civilization is inevitably shaped disproportionately by those willing and able to sacrifice all to gain power. Warlords. Rogue.
That’s why I said, “The ugliness we see in human history is not human nature writ large.”
This problem persisted. Because power remains loosely controlled – thousands of years after the tyrants who ruled cruelly over the empires of the ancient world – the likes of Stalin, Hitler and Saddam still have a disproportionate impact on the human world.
And what we see today is a murderous gangster – Vladimir Putin – forcing the whole of human civilization to face up to his will to build an empire by force, ready to terrorize millions of people and killing thousands of innocent and vulnerable humans to quench his thirst for power. .
The old problem persists: a world in which intersocietal anarchy allows “the strong to do what they can and make the weak suffer what they must”.
Indeed, the danger of the “gangster mind” has reached an ultimate level in this crisis: with Putin in command of a massive nuclear arsenal, this possibly deranged thug has the ability to end human history. in a destructive way.
But this same crisis also reveals a reinforcement of the positive side of the challenge of civilization – that is, the challenge of creating the kind of intersocietal order that can overcome the terrible “war of all against all” of anarchy. .
It is the fragmentation of civilization that has made this “war of all against all” unstoppable. But the world has responded to Putin’s gangsterism with unprecedented consistency.
Ancient Rome built its empire by eliminating its neighbors one by one. Each of these neighbours, in this fragmented world, saw the fate of their neighbors as none of their own – until Roman power came to their doorstep.
But American leadership combined with European memories to move much of the global community to mount a swift, powerful and coordinated global response to Putin’s aggression. The international order was too incomplete to avert the crisis, but the world was linked enough to frustrate the gangster’s spirit of ambition.
Many nations have agreed to arm the Ukrainian nation – the victims of this rogue – to repel the aggressor. Ukraine is not, like Rome’s neighbours, left to fend for its power-hungry, empire-building neighbour.
The increasingly dense intertwining of the global economic system has also strengthened the ability of the global community to defeat the Russian gangster scheme. The fact of economic interdependence made possible the imposition by a multinational coalition of the harshest sanctions to plunge the aggressor’s economy into a depression. (Even the usually neutral Swiss joined us.)
(Nothing like this would have been possible with the more isolated economies of the various ancient empires.)
Ultimately, we will need an intersocietal order that makes inviolable the norms against aggression that Putin violated. Although we are far from this accomplishment, the world’s powerful response to Putin’s violation reinforces these standards.
In fact, the ultimate outcome of this crisis, in terms of the overall trajectory of human history, seems likely to shift the battle between good and evil in a favorable direction. This expectation is based on the likelihood that Putin will become a loser and a failure, as well as a war criminal.
So if we survive the threat of this nuke-wielding thug, the gangster’s spirit – the evil side – will be discredited and weakened, its sheer ugliness on full display.
And in the meantime, having achieved this result, the international community – having united to prevent evil from being rewarded – will be victorious and celebrated.
Good – in this case the forces working for a better intersocietal order – will be fortified, as humanity works towards a future intersocietal order that ensures that no such thing – a rogue with veto power over human survival – will can never reproduce.