Fukuyama describes how democracy is unraveling

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Francis Fukuyama, an acclaimed American political philosopher, entered the global imagination at the end of the Cold War when he prophesied the “end of history” — a belief that, after the fall of communism, free-market liberal democracy had won out and would become the world’s “final form of human government.” Now, at a moment when liberal democracy seems to be in crisis across the West, Fukuyama, too, wonders about its future.

“Twenty five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward,” said Fukuyama in a phone interview. “And I think they clearly can.”

Fukuyama’s initial argument (which I’ve greatly over-simplified) framed the international zeitgeist for the past two decades. Globalization was the vehicle by which liberalism would spread across the globe. The rule of law and institutions would supplant power politics and tribal divisions. Supranational bodies like the European Union seemed to embody those ideals.

But if the havoc of the Great Recession and the growing clout of authoritarian states like China and Russia hadn’t already upset the story, Brexit and the election of President Trump last year certainly did.

Now the backlash of right-wing nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic is in full swing. This week, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced her candidacy for president with a scathing attack on the liberal status quo. “Our leaders chose globalization, which they wanted to be a happy thing. It turned out to be a horrible thing,” Le Pen thundered.

Fukuyama recognizes the crisis. “Globalization really does seem to produce these internal tensions within democracies that these institutions have some trouble reconciling,” he said. Combined with grievances over immigration and multiculturalism, it created room for the “demagogic populism” that catapulted Trump into the White House. That has Fukuyama deeply concerned. [Continue reading…]

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The rise and fall of European meritocracy

Ivan Krastev writes: … it is loyalty — namely the unconditional loyalty to ethnic, religious or social groups — that is at the heart of the appeal of Europe’s new populism. Populists promise people not to judge them based solely on their merits. They promise solidarity but not necessarily justice.

Unlike a century ago, today’s popular leaders aren’t interested in nationalizing industries. Instead, they promise to nationalize the elites. They do not promise to save the people but to stay with them. They promise to re-establish the national and ideological constraints that were removed by globalization. In short, what populists promise their voters is not competence but intimacy. They promise to re-establish the bond between the elites and the people. And many in Europe today find this promise appealing.[Continue reading…]

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China takes center stage at Davos and says ‘no’ to protectionism

Christopher Dickey writes: … global leaders are looking elsewhere for a stable anchor in a stormy world, and the country that’s stepping forward at Davos to present its case for leadership is not the United States, not even Russia, and not any European country or collection of them, but China. Xi Jinping will give the opening address for the conference, the first time a Chinese premier has ever taken such a role.

“We’re at an inflection point,” says Adrian Monck, a member of the WEF [World Economic Forum] managing board and longtime director of communications.

Yes, Secretary of State John Kerry, a Davos regular, will be making an appearance, but he’s the lamest of lame ducks. The United States is pulling back. And where President Barack Obama tried to lead from behind in order to build broad consensus in global affairs, Trump may decide simply to walk away if the world won’t play by his ad hoc and sometimes arbitrary rules.

So, says Monck, “What China has to say about its role in the global economy is hugely important. The potential lies there for trade wars, and some warn of shooting wars. But even if the Chinese meet Trumpian truculence with Mandarin delicacy, much of the planet may start looking to them to set the tone for international affairs. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Chinese President Xi Jinping cautioned against protectionism as he pushed back against criticism of globalization by Donald Trump and other Western populists.

“Protectionism is like locking yourself in a dark room, which would seem to escape wind and rain, but also block out the sunshine,” Xi told the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, the first Chinese head of state to address the annual gathering in the Alpine resort town of Davos. “No one is a winner in a trade war.” [Continue reading…]

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Open society needs defending

George Soros writes: Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of closed societies – from fascist dictatorships to mafia states – are on the rise. How could this happen? The only explanation I can find is that elected leaders failed to meet voters’ legitimate expectations and aspirations and that this failure led electorates to become disenchanted with the prevailing versions of democracy and capitalism. Quite simply, many people felt that the elites had stolen their democracy.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the sole remaining superpower, equally committed to the principles of democracy and free markets. The major development since then has been the globalization of financial markets, spearheaded by advocates who argued that globalization increases total wealth. After all, if the winners compensated the losers, they would still have something left over.

The argument was misleading, because it ignored the fact that the winners seldom, if ever, compensate the losers. But the potential winners spent enough money promoting the argument that it prevailed. It was a victory for believers in untrammeled free enterprise, or “market fundamentalists,” as I call them. Because financial capital is an indispensable ingredient of economic development, and few countries in the developing world could generate enough capital on their own, globalization spread like wildfire. Financial capital could move around freely and avoid taxation and regulation. [Continue reading…]

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Nobody is home

Charles Leadbeater writes: Heidegger detested René Descartes’s dictum ‘I think, therefore I am’ which located the search for identity in our brains. There, it was secured by a rational process of thought, detached from a physical world that presented itself to the knowing subject as a puzzle to be solved. Descartes’s ideas launched a great inward turn in philosophy with the subject at the centre of the drama confronting the objective world about which he tries to gain knowledge.

Had Heidegger ever come up with a saying to sum up his philosophy it would have been: ‘I dwell, therefore I am.’ For him, identity is bound up with being in the world, which in turn means having a place in it. We don’t live in the abstract space favoured by philosophers, but in a particular place, with specific features and history. We arrive already entangled with the world, not detached from it. Our identity is not secured just in our heads but through our bodies too, how we feel and how we are moved, literally and emotionally.

Instead of presenting it as a puzzle to be solved, Heidegger’s world is one we should immerse ourselves in and care for: it is part of the larger ‘being’ where we all belong. As [Jeff] Malpas puts it, Heidegger argues that we should release ourselves to the world, to find our part in its larger ebb and flow, rather than seek to detach ourselves from it in order to dominate it. [Continue reading…]

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Stephen Hawking: This is the most dangerous time for our planet

Stephen Hawking writes: As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.

And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.

So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.

It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.

I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate – or at least a sufficiently significant proportion of it – took no more notice of me than any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country.

What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake. [Continue reading…]

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Why we have globalization to thank for Thanksgiving

By Farok J. Contractor, Rutgers University

As Americans sit down to their Thanksgiving Day feasts, some may recall the story of the “Pilgrim Fathers” who founded one of the first English settlements in North America in 1620, at what is today the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The history we know is one of English settlers seeking religious freedom in a New World but instead finding “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men.”

What many Americans don’t realize, however, is that the story of those early settlers’ struggle, which culminated in what we remember today as the first Thanksgiving feast, is also a tale of globalization, many centuries before the word was even coined.

Crossing the Atlantic began a century before the Pilgrims’ passage to the New World aboard the Mayflower. By the 1600s, trans-Atlantic travel had became increasingly common. It was because of globalization that those first settlers were able to survive in an inhospitable and unforgiving land. And the turkey on Thanksgiving tables may not be a bird native to the U.S. but is more likely a (re)import from Europe.

Two short stories will help me explain. As a professor of international business at Rutgers University, I have been fascinated by the history of trade going back millennia, and how most Americans do not know the background story of Thanksgiving Day.

[Read more…]

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After Trump win, parallel path is seen for Marine Le Pen of France’s far right

The New York Times reports: It was a moment of intense French patriotism on a sunny Friday, Armistice Day. A band blared “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem. Shouts of “Vive la France!” filled the chilly November air. And there, too, was Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, beaming.

Before Donald J. Trump’s presidential victory in the United States this week, Ms. Le Pen was considered a disruptive political force but far from a true threat to become president herself when France votes next spring. Not anymore.

Since Wednesday, French news outlets, along with Ms. Le Pen’s mainstream political rivals, have been repeating the same thing: It could happen here.

And Ms. Le Pen is not alone. From the Balkans to the Netherlands, politicians on the far right have greeted the election of Mr. Trump with unrestrained delight and as a radical reconfiguring of the political landscape — not just in the United States, but in Europe as well.

They are seeing it as a sign that their time has finally arrived, and that the politics of heightened nationalism, immigrant-bashing and anti-globalization have overturned the pro-globalization, pro-immigration consensus. [Continue reading…]

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Globalisation backlash enters new phase with Trump win

Larry Elliott writes: Same story. Different country. Much, much bigger implications. That’s the economic message from Donald Trump’s victory in the year of shocks. By comparison, Brexit was a sideshow.

If 1989 was the year that marked the beginning of the global age, 2016 has been the year when the basic tenets of globalisation have been challenged – first in the UK and now in the US. The wall came down in Berlin on a November night 27 years ago. The question now is whether they start going up again.

It’s not that there have not been beneficiaries from globalisation. The past quarter of a century has seen the development of a massive new middle class that has done well out of trade and the free movement of capital.

But that middle class has been in Shanghai and Mumbai. Working people in the north of England and the rust belt of America think they have had a raw deal from an economic system that has favoured the well educated and the better off. Just like Brexit, Trump’s victory is a rejection of the status quo – of multinational companies that don’t pay their taxes, of trade deals weighted in favour of the boardroom rather than the workers on the shop floor, of year after year of squeezed living standards, of rising inequality, of being ignored and patronised.

It is, of course, ironic that Americans have chosen a billionaire who doesn’t appear to have paid much tax for the past couple of decades to be the next occupant of the White House, but in this race Hillary Clinton was the candidate of the establishment – the choice of Goldman Sachs and the Washington elite. Trump marketed himself as the outsider.

So what are the implications of his victory? Financial markets seemed reassured by the president elect’s victory speech and the hope that Trump might not be as bad as feared meant the initial reaction on stock markets and on the foreign exchanges was muted. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Trump has threatened to build a wall across the Rio Grande and to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), the biggest early casualty was the Mexican peso.

There are though potentially far-reaching medium and long-term implications of a Trump victory. [Continue reading…]

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Guns, empires and Indians

David J Silverman writes: It has become commonplace to attribute the European conquest of the Americas to Jared Diamond’s triumvirate of guns, germs and steel. Germs refer to plague, measles, flu, whooping cough and, especially, the smallpox that whipsawed through indigenous populations, sometimes with a mortality rate of 90 per cent. The epidemics left survivors ill-equipped to fend off predatory encroachments, either from indigenous or from European peoples, who seized captives, land and plunder in the wake of these diseases.

Guns and steel, of course, represent Europeans’ technological prowess. Metal swords, pikes, armour and firearms, along with ships, livestock and even wheeled carts, gave European colonists significant military advantages over Native American people wielding bows and arrows, clubs, hatchets and spears. The attractiveness of such goods also meant that Indians desired trade with Europeans, despite the danger the newcomers represented. The lure of trade enabled Europeans to secure beachheads on the East Coast of North America, and make inroads to the interior of the continent. Intertribal competition for European trade also enabled colonists to employ ‘divide and conquer’ strategies against much larger indigenous populations.

Diamond’s explanation has grown immensely popular and influential. It appears to be a simple and sweeping teleology providing order and meaning to the complexity of the European conquest of the Western hemisphere. The guns, germs and steel perspective has helped further understanding of some of the major forces behind globalisation. But it also involves a level of abstraction that risks obscuring the history of individuals and groups whose experiences cannot be so aptly and neatly summarised. [Continue reading…]

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How work can lead to suicide in a globalised economy

By Sarah Waters, University of Leeds and Jenny Chan, University of Oxford

A Paris prosecutor recently called for the former CEO and six senior managers of telecoms provider, France Télécom, to face criminal charges for workplace harassment. The recommendation followed a lengthy inquiry into the suicides of a number of employees at the company between 2005 and 2009. The prosecutor accused management of deliberately “destabilising” employees and creating a “stressful professional climate” through a company-wide strategy of “harcèlement moral” – psychological bullying.

All deny any wrongdoing and it is now up to a judge to decide whether to follow the prosecutor’s advice or dismiss the case. If it goes ahead, it would be a landmark criminal trial, with implications far beyond just one company.

Workplace suicides are sharply on the rise internationally, with increasing numbers of employees choosing to take their own lives in the face of extreme pressures at work. Recent studies in the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, India and Taiwan all point to a steep rise in suicides in the context of a generalised deterioration in working conditions.

Rising suicides are part of the profound transformations in the workplace that have taken place over the past 30 years. These transformations are arguably rooted in the political and economic shift to globalisation that has radically altered the way we work.

In the post-war Fordist era of industry (pioneered by US car manufacturer Henry Ford), jobs generally provided stability and a clear career trajectory for many, allowing people to define their collective identity and their place in the world. Strong trade unions in major industrial sectors meant that employees could negotiate their working rights and conditions.

But today’s globalised workplace is characterised by job insecurity, intense work, forced redeployments, flexible contracts, worker surveillance, and limited social protection and representation. Zero-hour contracts are the new norm for many in the hospitality and healthcare industries, for example.

Now, it is not enough simply to work hard. In the words of Marxist theorist Franco Berardi, “the soul is put to work” and workers must devote their whole selves to the needs of the company.

For the economist Guy Standing, the precariat is the new social class of the 21st century, characterised by the lack of job security and even basic stability. Workers move in and out of jobs which give little meaning to their lives. This shift has had deleterious effects on many people’s experience of work, with rising cases of acute stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, burnout, hopelessness and, in some cases, suicide.

[Read more…]

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The era of the angry voter is upon us

Der Spiegel reports: Paula Heap and Joel Coe live 6,400 kilometers apart. They don’t even know each other, but they share the same sense of outrage.

She voted for Brexit and he intends to vote for Donald Trump in November. She hails from Preston, a city in northwest England that never truly recovered from the decline of the textiles industry. He’s an American from the small town of Red Boiling Springs in northern Tennessee. His textiles factory, Racoe Inc., is the last of its kind still in business in the area.

It’s Heap’s view that globalization has created a lot of winners and a lot of losers, and that Preston is among the losers. She describes the EU as an “empire” that regulates her electric water kettle but doesn’t create any prosperity. She’s riled by the many immigrants, saying the pressure on the labor market and the health system is increasing. “We want to retain control over immigration,” she says.

Heap is a career advisor, whose motto could be “Make the UK great again,” to borrow a line from Donald Trump’s US presidential election campaign.

Coe, the Trump backer with bulky upper arms and a bushy, reddish beard, blames the NAFTA free trade agreement for the fact that jobs in his industry have been relocated from Tennessee to Mexico. A little bit more of the America of the clattering sewing machines — which are still standing behind him, operated by around 50 women who sew jackets and pants for the US military — disappears each year.

Coe says he plans to vote for trump because the candidate has “never been a politician.” Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been “bought by large corporations and is corrupt.” He says if Trump weren’t in the picture, he would probably vote for Bernie Sanders. Both candidates, he says, are running against “the system.”

He says he doesn’t know a lot about Britain, but he has the feeling that the British vote against the EU is somehow related to his own battle. “It’s good that Britain is leaving the EU,” he says. “Each country has its own identity.”

The phenomenon of the angry voter currently appears to be making significant strides toward conquering Western democracies at the moment. The outrage is directed against elites in politics and in the business community, against the established political parties, against the “mainstream media,” against free trade and, of course, against immigration. Many Brexiteers are among these angry voters, as are Trump supporters in the United States or Le Pen voters in France.

“Take back control” was one of the main slogans used by Brexit supporters in the United Kingdom. It could stand is as the cry for help from angry voters all around the world. In an era when increasingly complex free trade agreements or unknown EU commissioners are determining peoples’ own living conditions, voters once again yearn for borders, national legislative control and closed economies.

It’s a phenomenon that didn’t just pop up yesterday. But the rage has reached a boiling point this year, fueled by the financial and euro crises, by destabilization in the Middle East and the refugee flows it has spawned, by the rise of China and by the deindustrialization that has taken place in recent decades in many Western countries. In the Internet, this rage has found a forum where it can thrive. [Continue reading…]

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The revolt of the fragments

Kenan Malik writes: Over the past few decades, trade unions have weakened, social justice campaigns eroded, the left crumbled.

One consequence of this shift has been to lead many on the left to look to bureaucratic or managerial means of creating a more progressive society. This is one reason that the EU has become so important for many as an institution for protecting social needs and equal rights. It may also be one of the reasons for the generational division over the EU – many young people who have grown up from the 1990s onwards view the EU both as a vital component of their lives and identities and as a crucial institution for the enabling of social change.

A second consequence of the erosion of broader social movements is the creation of more fragmented, parochial, even sectarian, forms that popular disaffection increasingly takes. In an age in which there are few collective mechanisms to bind together the experiences and grievances of different groups and communities and to channel them into a common goal of social transformation, people often express their different experiences of discontent in very different ways.

It is against this background that much of the Brexit debate became polarized between, on the one hand, a liberal Europeanism that celebrated the managerial over the democratic, and ignored, or underplayed, the undemocratic character of EU institutions, and, on the other, a Euroscepticism that played on hostility to migrants, and that, in conflating democracy and national sovereignty, advanced a narrow, divisive notion of democracy. What was missing was the argument for a pan-European solidarity built from the bottom up, and which sought to break down national barriers through the extension of democratic institutions, not their emasculation. [Continue reading…]

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Brexit is a rejection of globalization

Larry Elliott writes: In the age of globalisation, the idea was that a more integrated Europe would collectively serve as the bulwark that nation states could no longer provide. Britain, France, Germany or Italy could not individually resist the power of trans-national capital, but the EU potentially could. The way forward was clear. Move on from a single market to a single currency, a single banking system, a single budget and eventually a single political entity.

That dream is now over. As Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform thinktank put it: “Brexit is a momentous event in the history of Europe and from now on the narrative will be one of disintegration not integration.”

The reason is obvious. Europe has failed to fulfil the historic role allocated to it. Jobs, living standards and welfare states were all better protected in the heyday of nation states in the 1950s and 1960s than they have been in the age of globalisation. Unemployment across the eurozone is more than 10%. Italy’s economy is barely any bigger now than it was when the euro was created. Greece’s economy has shrunk by almost a third. Austerity has eroded welfare provision. Labour market protections have been stripped away.

Inevitably, there has been a backlash, manifested in the rise of populist parties on the left and right. An increasing number of voters believe there is not much on offer from the current system. They think globalisation has benefited a small privileged elite, but not them. They think it is unfair that they should pay the price for bankers’ failings. They hanker after a return to the security that the nation state provided, even if that means curbs on the core freedoms that underpin globalisation, including the free movement of people.

This has caused great difficulties for Europe’s mainstream parties, but especially those of the centre left. They have been perfectly happy to countenance the idea of curbs on capital movements such as a financial transaction tax, and have no problems with imposing tariffs to prevent the dumping of Chinese steel. They feel uncomfortable, however, with the idea that there should be limits on the free movement of people.

The risk is that if the mainstream parties don’t respond to the demands of their traditional supporters, they will be replaced by populist parties who will. The French Socialist party has effectively lost most of its old blue-collar working class base to the hard left and the hard right, and in the UK there is a danger that the same thing will happen to the Labour party, where Jeremy Corbyn’s laissez-faire approach to immigration is at odds with the views of many voters in the north that supported Ed Miliband in the 2015 general election, but who plumped for Brexit last week.

There are those who argue that globalisation is now like the weather, something we can moan about but not alter. This is a false comparison. The global market economy was created by a set of political decisions in the past and it can be shaped by political decisions taken in the future. [Continue reading…]

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The dangerous new age of global autarky

British Conservative MP and Brexit supporter, Boris Johnson

British Conservative MP and Brexit supporter, Boris Johnson

Catherine Rampell writes: The age of autarky is again upon us.

Britain, in two weeks, will vote on whether to leave the European Union, that great postwar project to promote both peace and prosperity.

No matter that economists have almost uniformly warned that a possible “Brexit” would devastate the British economy, with an estimated cost of approximately $6,000 per British household. Disregard news that markets are already freaking out about the consequences for the pound and the overall financial sector; that high-skilled talent has become skittish about moving to the British isles, whose relationship to the E.U. in a post-Brexit world is as yet unknown; and that foreign clients have begun suspending or delaying contracts with British companies.

Who cares that these small islands, so dependent on the continent for both what they consume and where they send their exports, are putting so much economic activity at risk?

Many Brits want to withdraw, to show they’re separate and politically self-determined and not really into all this expensive pan-ethnic, pan-European unity rubbish. So withdraw they might. Recent polls show the “leave” and “stay” contingents about evenly split.

Financially self-defeating as it may seem, the British are hardly alone in their flirtation with economic, political and cultural separatism. [Continue reading…]

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Revealed: Honeybees are being killed off by a manmade pandemic

By Stephen John Martin, University of Salford

We live in a world where large numbers of people are connected by just a few degrees of separation. But while having friends of friends all over the globe can be great for holidays, trade and networking, travel also allows viruses to move like never before.

Zika is the latest “explosive pandemic” to be declared a global emergency by the World Health Organisation. But viruses don’t just target humans – they can infect all forms of life from bacteria to bananas, horses to honeybees.

A lethal combination of the Varroa mite and the deformed wing virus has resulted in the death of billions of bees over the past half century. In a study published in the journal Science, colleagues from the Universities of Exeter, Sheffield and I report how the virus has spread across the globe.

[Read more…]

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A global identity crisis has triggered a regression to tribalization

Koert Debeuf writes: The anti-forces of the liberal order, authoritarian nationalism and religious extremism are back with a vengeance. The most obvious example of the return of authoritarian nationalism is Russia. The same trend is also clear in most member-states of supra-national Europe, not the least in Hungary and Greece. Religious extremism is on a scary height in the Arab world, but also in parts of Africa, India and Myanmar.

The US and Europe seem to be too tired and powerless to halt this decline. Even though both liberal powers know what they want, both are deeply divided. It looks like both powers are facing a global system failure and have no idea how to deal with it. Both know that their influence and power is not what it used to be, but they haven’t found a new role yet. It’s not an exclusive Western problem. The entire world is plunging into an identity crisis.

What is an identity crisis?

An identity crisis or existential crisis is a psychological state of mind of  —  mostly high-achieving individuals who feel depressed, angry and lost and question the very foundations of their lives. It usually occurs after a traumatic experience such as an extreme disappointment, a broken relationship, the death of a loved one or a sudden loss of status. These traumas result in a loss of confidence and self-esteem.

In trying to find a way out of this depressive disorder people tend to take four different paths: anchoring, isolation, distraction and sublimation. Isolation is an attempt to keep all negative feelings outside. Distraction is trying to prevent the mind from turning on itself. Sublimation on the other hand is refocusing on positive energy in order to keep the negative away. However, the path that most people with an identity crisis are taking is the one of anchoring: finding a well-known fixation point such as religion, closed social groups or one particular idea or ideology. People are looking for the security and warmth of a group, or what I call a tribe. In Arabic there is a word for this: qabaleya, or tribalization. It is the choice to go back to the tribe, its warmth and clear-cut identity. What’s interesting is that psychologists have found that in looking for a way out of an identity crisis people often prefer a negative identity rather than a weak identity.

What counts for individuals counts for groups as well. It makes sense to say that societies can suffer from an identity crisis too. The first study of the psychology of the masses was written in 1895, by Gustav Le Bon in his book ‘Psychologie des foules’. Since then many Social Psychology studies have drawn similarities between the psychology of individuals and that of groups. Psychiatrists too have been researching how groups can suffer from a kind of equivalent of the mental disorders usually only attributed to individuals. Psychiatrist and politician John Lord Alderdice even suggested psychologically informed strategies to address such crises in the psychology of large groups including the regressive pattern I am calling tribalization and other phenomena such a fundamentalism, radicalization and the cycle of terrorism.

Societies  –just like individuals  –can suffer traumatic experiences too. The anthropological study of René Girard shows how traumatic experiences make tribes focus on their core identity, returning to a stronger emphasis on law, culture and the sacred, and how they deal with their fear and aggression by turning against ‘the Other’ — — the scapegoat mechanism. Just like individuals societies often respond to traumatic experiences with an identity crisis by regressing back into what they know best from the past  —  what I am describing as tribalization. They go back to the tribal (old) ideas and tribal (old) behavior. These tribal ideas are mostly based on myths of a great past as the only way towards a great future. Tribalization is a process that almost always includes the creation of enemies. [Continue reading…]

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How whales are struggling to make themselves heard in the world’s increasingly noisy oceans

Peter Brannen writes: At 5:30am I awoke to the sound of the diesel chug-chugging of a lone lobster boat carving into the glassy Atlantic. An audience of shrieking gulls hushed in the engine’s wake as it rumbled through the narrow strait that separates the United States from Canada. After the boat pushed out into the open ocean, the gulls resumed their gossip, and I began preparing for a day on the water, still groggy from the night before, after joining a group of researchers over beer. I had come to Lubec in Maine with a bizarre question: what was 9/11 like for whales?

I sleepwalked to the pier and helped pack a former Coast Guard patrol boat with boxes of underwater audio-visual equipment, as well as a crossbow built for daring, drive-by whale biopsies. A pod of 40 North Atlantic right whales had been spotted south of Nova Scotia the day before and, with only a few hundred of the animals left in existence, any such gathering meant a potential field research coup. ‘They even got a poop sample!’ one scientist excitedly told me. The boat roared to life and we slipped past postcard-ready lighthouses and crumbling, cedar-shingled herring smokehouses. Lisa Conger, a biologist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), manned the wheel of our boat, dodging Canadian islands and fishing weirs. As the Bay of Fundy opened before us, a container ship lumbered by to our stern: a boxy, smoking juggernaut, as unstoppable as the tide.

‘After 9/11, we were the only ones out here,’ Conger said over the wind and waves. While this tucked-away corner of the Atlantic might seem far from the rattle of world affairs, the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC of 11 September 2001 changed the marine world of the Bay of Fundy, too.

Conger leads the field team in Lubec for Susan Parks, a biology professor at Syracuse University. As a graduate student, Parks found that right whales were trying to adapt to a gradual crescendo of man-made noise in the oceans. In one study, she compared calls recorded off Martha’s Vineyard in 1956, and off Argentina in the 1977, with those in the North Atlantic in 2000. Christopher Clark, her advisor, had recorded the Argentine whales and, when Parks first played back their calls, she thought there must be some sort of mistake.

‘It was older equipment – reel-to-reel tapes which I’d never used before – so I went to Chris to ask if I had the speed of the tape wrong because the whales sounded so much lower in frequency than the whales I had been working with.’

In fact, Parks discovered, modern North Atlantic right whales have shifted their calls up an entire octave over the past half century or so, in an attempt to be heard over the unending, and steadily growing, low-frequency drone of commercial shipping. Where right-whale song once carried 20 to 100 miles, today those calls travel only five miles before dissolving into the din. [Continue reading…]

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Marx was right

a13-iconSean McElwee writes: There’s a lot of talk of Karl Marx in the air these days – from Rush Limbaugh accusing Pope Francis of promoting “pure Marxism” to a Washington Times writer claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an “unrepentant Marxist.” But few people actually understand Marx’s trenchant critique of capitalism. Most people are vaguely aware of the radical economist’s prediction that capitalism would inevitably be replaced by communism, but they often misunderstand why he believed this to be true. And while Marx was wrong about some things, his writings (many of which pre-date the American Civil War) accurately predicted several aspects of contemporary capitalism, from the Great Recession to the iPhone 5S in your pocket.

Here are five facts of life in 2014 that Marx’s analysis of capitalism correctly predicted more than a century ago: [Continue reading…]

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