Economic Goods and Political Gods: On Civilization’s Cultural Tectonics
In the hot peace after the “cold war”, a plethora of memories start haunting the minds of peoples awakened from blurry “isms” to old identities. Crosses, crescents, stars, tunes, tales, and togs, anything that can be symbol of the cultural self, start filling the new societal vacuum with the deep creed that nothing could be a better bond than the blood you are born with, flowing through your veins, and nothing could be a more poisoned tie than all the cunning ideologies, which are frivolous summer romances inclined to violent divorces. The present generation of conflicts, (re)ignited after communism’s foreclosure and capitalism’s restoration, was assessed as a culture-based one, with severe hardships for the civilizational old school peace-makers who espoused free movement of goods, services, capital, knowledge, and, yes, people. They are now floundering on the shoals of the reality of cultural differences and, let us say it, ambitions, that put lie to the supposed universalism of their values and their models. As Samuel Huntington wrote in 1997, expressing timeless insights into just one of the conflicts shaping our world: “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization, whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the US Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world. These are the basic ingredients that fuel conflict between Islam and the West”.
The enemy of globalization, of a global community, was not the surrogate communism, but the surrogate capitalism which followed its own remorseless logic, careless of the prospect of cultural allergies. Considerations of labour price and availability, consumption and growth trumped the natural human tendency for crises to beget a closing of the ranks, a rejection of outsiders, a reassessment of support networks and of dependability rooted not just in hedging strategies and futures contracts, but in ties of kinship, shared values, and identity. Whether capitalism was ignorant of these truths, or hoped they were unfounded in an age where prosperity made exuberant cosmopolitanism a crowning virtue, the results are here for all to see.
Culture is the locus geometricus of own (yet shared) values, beliefs, traditions, and heritage. Civilization is the (by-)product of social cooperation (yet based on the division of labour). In the common understanding of culture, the default image is one of elevating goals, of nobility, of humanism, portraying a reality where, verbally, conflict isn’t easily accepted as a premise. In the Western understanding of civilization, the picture is of a summa of rational means, relying on basic truths, accessible to human beings reigning over inanimate and unconscious surroundings. But the image of nowadays is of a hypertrophy of insufficiently-scrutinised (“cultural”) ends and a severe atrophy of their (civilized) resolution; still, what is the ultimate cause of such conflicts? For many, the fullest explanation for large scale conflict emergence is the improperly-addressed (in terms of social rules/laws/institutions) scarcity of resources relative to the needs. Certain schools of economic thought proposed the wise use of boundaries, delimiting, according to the very rules of the logic of human action, each individual’s range of property rights over limited things. By exchanging property rights, a fabulous architecture of prices would emerge, reconciling and disciplining the production and consumptions of goods, for the thriving of working, peaceful men. Politics tried to redesign the abovementioned private property borders, trespassing and usurping the natural ones and creating fallacious entitlements in the name of superior social concerns. This passed beyond the level of collective exactions required for the creation and maintenance of a commonwealth and the basic provision of public goods like justice and defense. By this systemic alienation of genuine created value to the benefit of the lazy, the insidious and the violent, communities (of any scale) get disrupted; when the free riders are alien, the dam bursts with fury that approaches rage the more it has been suppressed by official and unofficial means.
Gathered under the overarching theme of “community disaggregation”, the texts that follow try to address it from deliberately different perspectives and on different levels, eschewing a uniform and convergent manner. Alexandru Georgescu explores in the opening essay on “the loss of formal and informal social capital within communities at multiple levels, wherein the individual of today’s community has fewer of every intangible wealth than his predecessors – guidance, connection, identity, purpose, stake, continuity between forbears and posterity and meaningful political engagement”. Theologian Petre Comşa and economist Costea Munteanu argue in favour of a deeper and broader image upon the human being who is striving for securing his existence (more or less equally) on immanent and transcendental realms. Matei-Alexandru Apăvăloaei de-homogenizes two processes – economic and political integration – showing that the first must only come at the expense of the second (a phenomenon noticeable at communal, national, and international levels). The issues associated with the resurgence of nationalist and extremist parties that gather momentum across Europe, benefiting from the growing wave of Euroscepticism, are addressed by Andrada Nimu and Clara Volintiru, with a focus on the Law and Justice Polish political party, while Viorel Mionel minds the gap between equality, advocated in mature Western societies, and the self-segregation of the disturbing new comers.
A special interest is devoted to a geo-cultural, geo-economic, and geopolitical case study: the Middle East. Marius-Cristian Neacşu sketches a map of time and a calendar of places, some quantic leaps from “micro” human impulses to “macro” human movements for survival and expansion in both heavenly symbols and earthly substance. Historian-journalist Cătălin Gomboş is powered by energies stuck in a mud brick, inscribed with cuneiforms, found while visiting the ruins of mythical Ur. He left the thousands-years-old brick there, in quietude, in sharp contrast to the rowdy life of this turntable region for mankind. Mihaela Simina asked Mircea Barbu to recollect thoughts from his in situ experiences in Syria as a reporter, in a territory which looks pretty much close to the dystopian view of a Hobbesian war, while Răzvan Munteanu draws a sordid parallel: Yemen today may be Afghanistan of tomorrow. The final question from this promenade is asked bluntly by Adrian-Ioan Damoc: “Is World War Three upon us?” and is followed by a brief reflection on the state of the international stage. All these intellectual itineraries are chosen with a picture in mind which eventually unites them. The world remains, across times, the space of a fight for and between two types of power: that over nature and that over man. The first one is civilized quest, while the second one is rooted in human instincts (of which the base outnumber the noble). The first one is about economy and technology, the second one about status and control. The first one delivers fine goods, the second one, failed gods.