An Anachronism on the World Stage
Collective ideas change our world. They are very powerful in our cultures and can make the difference between humanity progressing and surviving or struggling, stagnating and dying. Our ideas about religion, race, men’s and women’s roles, cigarette smoking, alcohol, marijuana, gay marriage, immigration and politics are in constant flux and the integration of these ideas will determine the health of societies and the world. One of western society’s greatest cultural gifts is the Christian principal of love and forgiveness extended to our enemies. It has allowed our society to progress without generations of perceived disgrace and endless retribution. It is a simple idea that took hold and shaped the modern world.
I remember my retired grandfather dressing in a suit jacket, vest and pocket watch before walking, with his cane, down to his daily haunt, the local firehouse where he was a lifetime member. To him his appearance was public evidence that he as not a bum and that he had achieved a certain degree of status and respect in his life. My generation, even as adults, hardly aspired beyond blue jeans and flannel shirts, which promoted an unhurried sense of leisure. Today the only outward difference between me and a wealthy man walking downtown may be what we are able to access with our phones. We no longer can measure our worth in the traditional sense, for much that we value exists as arrangements of invisible magnetic charges in a bubble outside dimensional space, currently referred to as “the cloud.” Unlike my grandfather’s pocket watch, my smartphone will never be a valuable keepsake to be left to my grandchildren. My phone is just a disposable gateway to the minute dipolar treasures that I can access.
This digital technology has not only changed how we spend our money but, more significantly, our attitude of ownership. The “pay to use” culture is casually accepted by Millennials. The responsibilities of ownership have been relegated to businesses and professionals. The digital generation has grown up measuring prosperity as access. Data access can determine their job, transport, housing, food, and entertainment. Telecommuting allows work from home, and home can be a time-share, youth hostel or Parisian coffee shop. The romance of the rambling rover, the carefree drifter, has a modern analogue with the digital nomad. Digital life discourages physical ownership of property and other bulky stuff. Untethered by ownership, leasing, renting and sharing are promoted by the new business model. Home exchange, Zip Car, Uber, Airbnb, SnapGoods are examples of the growing shared economy and the freedom from physical possession empowered by digital connectedness. Our personalized desktop display has become our home. Internet access can fulfill our needs for familiarity, comfort, entertainment, identity, individuality, fellowship and intimacy. Concepts like national identity begins to fall away when combined with fast, cheep and comfortable international travel, commerce and communication.
For better or worse, large corporations no longer propagate a national identity but exist as an overlay across world markets. NGO’s have usurped some of the roles of national governments. Nations have become less tenacious about their real estate. The peaceful hand over of Hong Kong by the British to the Chinese , the sanctioned vote for independence by Quebec and Scotland all indicate the deemphasis of large governments and the diminished importance of state control over territory for national vitality and security. At one time such independence movements would have prompted a bloody societal crackdown or a call to war. These are encouraging examples of the enlightened political reality. The Japanese, a resource poor country, stripped of their military since the end of WWII, is today one of the great modern economies. The Japanese quickly learned that the world’s resources are for sale no matter who controls them. Dictatorship, theocracy or democracy, the trading and marketing of national resources on the international marketplace brings wealth and prosperity to all participants.
Traveling between EU countries is now as simple as driving down the freeway. It used to be that border checks, changing trains, and documents officially scrutinized was the norm. Openness is the trend and it is good for the politics and the productivity of the economies involved. Would the German public ever again support a war with France when they can move to France and buy a home, property or a business there? Today Japanese or Chinese or Russians can start businesses, buy private property or own factories in the US, Brazil or South Africa. What is the point of military invasion when access is for sale and negotiable.
So what’s with Putin? Why is he acting like an autocratic Tsar ruling over illiterate feudal clans. He seems a non-participant in our digital enhancement. Unlike Peter the Great, a social reformer in his time, Putin is no enlightened leader. The world has opened up. Control of a country is not what it used to be. Yes, it is still possible to impose economic control over people. But how does an authoritarian government control the minds of a connected populace? Communication networks blanket the globe. Satellite communication has brought American TV, movies and culture to the world. Just as Al Jazeera, German and Japanese TV is broadcast in the US. Cheep and available cell phones send text, photos, audio and video around the world instantly.
Unless our modern communication systems are dismantled or politically controlled, people in all countries will access, send and share information to the outside world regardless of authoritarian constraints. The Ukraine, even under Russian military control, cannot be forcibly isolated and suppressed. Maybe coerced and temporarily contained, but not suppressed. Whatever the Ukrainians have that Putin wants is already accessible to Russia and the rest of the world. All the Ukrainians want is to sell their commodities internationally to their best benefit. If Russia offers the best deal, Russia can have them.
Obama properly responded to Putin’s delirious belligerence in excluding a military response. Putin is squandering Russian resources in pursuit of military dominance. His actions are anachronistic and a guaranteed formula for social unrest. Forceful dominance creates bitterness that endures for generations and frightens away investment and business. Military overrule has always been transient. It appears even more baffling to us, watching from a culture that is moving away from an economy of personal possession toward that of a shared economic model.
My grandfather would understand the politics of military domination. In his life he saw plenty of it. He would also, no doubt, be as lost and uncomfortable in my connected world as he would be going outside in ripped jeans and a faded T-shirt. As long as progressive democratic societies remain socially dominant and economically vital in the world, societal progress will continue. Coupled with continuing developments in communication technology that permeates and empowers world populations, human consciousness will continue to evolve ahead of political ideology and resist old world ideas like Putin’s power politics.