Vision for the 21st Century
Copyright © Hee-Sik Song (lawyer, chairman of Korea Buddhism and Society Research Center. phone # 02-574-1073)
--translated/eddited by Ki-Woon Sung (Dong-A univ.)--
II. Dilemmas of the 20th century.
III. Decline and Demolition of civilization
IV. Transformation of civilization: reformation of structures.
V. Transformation of civilization: reformation of the spirit.
Conclusion: Struggle with time.
An anecdote: The declination of civilization/ transformation and religion.
One hundred years ago, in 1895, no European thought that there would be a world war in 20 years. Furthermore, nobody could foresee that the 20th century would be a century of massacre by two world wars, revolutions, and civil wars. It was the period of veneer stability until 1914 since the end of the Napoleon War, in 1815 and such crisis as world war was far away from people's imagination. 100 years later, our 1980's was the time of proliferation of Marxism belatedly, instead.
Some 20 tears ago when communism was on its peak after Ho Chi Minh won the Vietnam war, I was once ridiculed as I said that communism would witness its end. At this point, when capitalism is on its peak. We are in the mood as if globalization would promise prosperity and peace. I will state my perspective different from the current general mood. That is the demolition of capitalism and modern Western civilization . This is the main idea of my argument.
Current human civilization is what modern Western civilization has been globalized. The essence of modern civilization can be defined by individualism, rationalism, and materialism. This is also having to do with the capitalist market structure. Such modern structures of the West and its civilization have achieved an epochal result by science, technology and economic development.
My claim in this essay is that such dazzling modern civilization individualism, rationalism, materialism, nation-states based on liberal democracy, and the capitalist market structure has finished. This is our main thought. In discussing the thought, let's start from understanding today's reality in the turning point to the 21st century.
After cold War, the world shows several conspicuous trends of the time. These characterize the situation at the century's end reality.1) Annihilation of the enemy and declining influence of super violence
The original propulsion that has driven the world into advancement so far was the modern violence(military power) supported by science and industry. Now, after the end of the Cold War, world military order has been established which places the US in its center. The enemy rebelling against the West has disappeared. The US is firmly grabbing the neck of world military hegemony, but the influence is different from the past, decling.
But the fact that the enemy has disappeared also means that the frontier of Western civilization has disappeared. At the beginning of modern ages, America, Asia, and Africa were frontiers in the view of western civilization. Western civilization was born by plundering those frontiers. Then, in the time of imperialism, the West made them colonies. Two World Wars were internal hostilities in Western civilization. And then, on beginning the Cold War, communist states had come to the front line of the group of enemies against the west. Now, all those enemies have been annihilated. Enemies who fueled internal solidarity to the West were disappeared, and the frontiers that nourished the expansion of western material civilization had disappeared.
Simultaneously, the role of modern violence(military power) itself has been downscaled. In this situation that the enemies and frontiers are absent, military power have become less efficient. In the same way. the Soviet Union, once a huge military body, was demolished in such a short period of time, the absolute military power of the US becomes less influential, different from the past situation. In fact, America couldn't apply its military power in the same way as they did in the past in places like Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, and North Korea. Violence is available only when its intimidation is able to overshadow human consciousnes obey. Violence is useful when it is able to subordinate 100 people by killing one. Now, however, violence has no target to kill; or cannot leave anybody to subordinate by killing so much; or is not able to acquire the compliance of the rest. In addition, violence cannot control such expansion of communications as the information technology and society advance. It means that violence is useless in controlling human consciousness any more. The influence of modern violence has been weakened.
That is the reason that the overwhelming US military cannot resolve those worldwide struggles and confrontations. This gives economy superiority to military power, of course. Additionally, this is why democracy is gaining universality. Because an autocracy is not able to suppress the communications of the public by means of violence any more.2) Formation of the world single market.
People say the economy has been globalized. This implies a capitalism-based world single market is being formed. With the end of the Cold War, socialist states have had no alternative but to choose the market economy. The entire world has become networked by the information technology. Furthermore, multinational corporations(or ultra-state capitals) having a stage named the world are strongly forcing the world to conform to the world single market and states are trying to bring that to real life.
This is basic differencies of the world single market from the conventional modern economic structure defined by state markets(internal markets) and international trade. At first, long-distance trades were developed prior to markets. Then, local markets and state markets had been formed, and, in sequence, international trade relationships(long-distance trade of the past) were established among states in the the modern age. But now the world is getting into the age of a single market, and long-distance trade(international trade) is losing its meaning. Anyway, it is the first time in history that the entire world is arranged a unique capitalist market.3) Decline of the modern states.
The modern states were a subjective to and also a unit of history in the modern age. The history of the modern age was the history of states and that of relationships among the states. But the function of such modern states is being weakened. Modern states are attacked on both sides by the following two factors. The first is that modern states are not able to take any effective counteract against competitors in the world market based on capitalism. The other is the fact that the meaning of state is being reduced by a trend of localization. The EU is trying to construct a decision-making process in a level of Europe continent beyond that of individual states.
What supported the establishment of the modern states and its continuation were three mainstays; military, beaurocracy, and control over the monetary systems. But as we have already discussed above, military influence(violence) is losing its effectiveness. Things that can be resolved by means of police or military measures of a nation(or nations) are gradually diminishing, and even bringing an order in a society or keeping security in a society is going beyond the control. As beaurocracy composed of traditional rank systems turns out to be incapable of the impact of advancement of the information technology, it is forced to restructure itself. Traditional beaurocracy came to be not appropriate to control the increasing complexity and knowledge-dependent society and the economy effectively. Besides, control over monetary systems is showing a trend of independence from government. It is because authority and politics of the the modern states are not able to control the economy properly. The modern state is becoming incompetent in function because of the progress to the world single market and of the impact of knowledge informationization.4) Informationizing Knowledge.
In modern Western civilization, what dominated human consciousness was rational knowledge instead of past religious tenets of the middle age. Rational knowledge was expected to conquer medieval superstitious and to light up a torch of truth. In that sense, knowledge also a basis forconviction. Once ideology(conviction based on knowledge), instead of religion, generated the Cold War as well. But now, that knowledge is expanding enormously. As we contain all knowledge accumulated from the birth of humanity on the earth until 1980 in one book, it can be considered as two books in 1987, and four in 1994. How does the result affect human consciousness?
It was not long ago that people found that those truths believed with conviction were no less than knowledge-information that has reciprocal value. Theology in the middle ages was the truth that nobody could stand against. In the modern age, however, academia has been the place to study the truth, and some knowledge was considered to be truth. The end of the Cold War, however, swayed the pillar of this belief. The end of the Cold War was the close of an age dominated by ideologies. It means that the period of absolute knowledge that gad taken the place of medieval theology was over. Then a lot of new knowledges having the same value as what is flourishing all over the world. Now, knowledge is not the truth any more but the information and data which covers every part of our life and society.
Knowledge impacts on human and society in two aspects.
The first is that every field in military, politics, economy, society, and culture are redefined around knowledge. Knowledge becomes a source of benefit, power, and social hegemony. This is what destroys the material and economic structure supporting modern civilization of the West so far. Competition to acquire knowledge is replacing that of economy.
The second, by contrary, the informationzation of knowledge is destroying the foundation of value consciousnes. Even if it is a knowledge illuminated by the guide of rationality, it cannot provide a common standard of conviction and of value to all people. A fact or a thing being right to you is not always right to me, and vice versa. That is just a kind of information what you believe truth. Sometimes, the truth in the West is not that in Arabia. The right in the west is a piece of information of the West. This means the change in human spirit. This also means the collapse of the spiritual basis(modern spiritual civilization of the West) having supported modern society and of its civilization so far. Now, modern ideologies are losing their persuasiveness for the integration of society and the world. Post-modernism is a reaction to the above trend. We are now losing the common spiritual basis, and the human race is also losing its universal spiritual foundation(the modern spirit)
All these changes have been brought by the splendid success of modern western civilization. In other words, those changes are the product of a completely successful result by the modern Western civilization that had continued the development of weapons to preoccupy the superiority in violence. And, such superiority had globalized modern Western civilization. It was gunpowder that gave birth to Western civilization. After a series of staggering developments, nuclear, biochemical, and space weapons were invented at last. These absolute weapons have made violence ineffective. Those absolute weapons made by Western civilization have gone beyond the certain level of proprietary(to intimidate 100 by killing one) for the use of violence. Being powerless in violence(military power) is a result of complete success by which the West had been propelling consistently.
On the one hand, the history of modern capitalism is that of market expansion. Market expansion had started from the slave trade and was performed through pillage, by imperial way, and by the way of world division, and, with the end of the Cold War, the world single market has been established. Genghis Khan used violence in trying to make the world one civilization. However, the modern Western civilization has used not only violence in binding the world into one civilization, but used the economic method of market expansion. Now, all these changes reached a stage of completion.
The modern Western civilization was a process of development of nations. Then mankind has created a strongest nation like the US for the first time in human history, and has made the most perfect democratic country that the human race can ever reach. Although, somebody sets up an ideal standard and embellishes democratic reality, that is just an idle ideological argument ignoring reality as Norberto Bobbio indicated in his book "The Future of Democracy". No nation is able to deny the liberal democracy nowadays. And there is no more room to advance liberal democracy. Today's nation is the last stop in the history of the modern age. By that way, ironically, the completed nation became powerless.
Knowledge informationization originated from the completion of the modern Western civilization. At the extreme point of intellectual advancement since the modern age, knowledge creation and supply is exploding now and the very explosion itself makes knowledge the information. Human occupation of the knowledge that has a status of the truth is because of its rarity and/or monopolization. The limited possession of knowledge had made its outfit to be truth. However, such rarity and monopolization is rapidly breaking down. That is also a result of the splendid development of modern civilization of the West.
The modern Western civilization has come to reach its last stop by its success after all. Then, what is the next stop? This - the last stop- is our historical reality.
Now, we are trying to figure out if the last stop is safe and is a utopia, or if there is another stop to go, though invisible, and also trying to figure out if we have to transfer to plane or if there is a plane to transfer to.
The present tragedy is that the internal validity(homeostasis) to date has collapsed as modern Western civilization being completed. Modern Western civilization used to give following internal validities. On the first hand, the Western market structure had been protected conflict and the international conflicts had a structure being resolved by violence(police, military). On the other hand, rationality-based advancement of knowledge had grown up moral civilians, and had provided common convictions to unify individuals around the state by spreading knowledge. As this internal validity of the modern structure collapses , however, the following "century-end dilemmas" are being generated.1) Dilemma of the World Market and Modern State.
The economic structure of modern civilization was a market structure protected and regulated by the state. But now, with the formation of the world market, the state became unable to control its market. The market became larger beyond the control of a state. Today, no nation can control the world market -- even if it is the US. Right after the Second World War , the US was occupying about 50% of the world's production. Therefore, the entire economy of capitalism could be regulated as the US regulated its own market. That has become impossible now. Lester Thurow(in his work 'Head to Head') said that the engine driving the world economy has gone away. This is not merely a matter of economy but civilization.
It is widespread economic knowledge that the capitalist market structure is not self-completive(or self-controllable), and history proves it. During the reign of neoclassical economics, it was believed that the market automatically controlled itself by the 'Invisible Hand'. However, the Great Depression in 1930 blew up the belief all hollow. Keynes insisted that the market which is not revised by government should fall into a deep depression by not keeping full employment because of unstable investment demand. Even though we do not depend on Keynes' theory, not even an economist would not believe the arrival of the depression, in the case that there is no government intervention. If we look into the history of capitalism, our argument becomes very clear. Internal markets in Western states grew up by pillaging non-Western areas or by colonizing them under the lead of their own government. After World War II, the US had selected Keynes' theory and controlled the economy on the background of huge productivity and its internal market. Nowadays, the US has discarded the policy to correct the world market only with a great amount of financial deficit and trade deficit. The US has turned into an individual state that competes with others by openly suppressing small countries. Eventually, the current dilemma is that states are still local ones, though the economy has become globalized already. There is no state that can lead and correct the world market. States are temporarily copying throughout the international cooperation or that among developed countries currently. They also form local economic communities to cope with ultranational markets like the EU. But this cannot be a fundamental solution. Regulating an internal market was difficult as a unit of nation, but regulating the world market by means of international cooperation or economic organization of an economic community is quite impossible. The extreme situation of that appeares as an instability of the world financial structure. In today's world economy, financial transaction part is much fatter than that of material transaction. Speculative financial transactions are 37 to 120 times larger than financial transactions for material transactions(in 1995, 120 in London, 37 in Tokyo, and 38 in NY). Such financial part is so instable that no country can correct it-- Recently, the Bank of Japan poured $10 billion into the Tokyo foreign exchange market during March to prevent the slump of the dollar, but the average transaction volume in Tokyo foreign exchange market is about $200 billion a day.
Under such circumstances, today's economic structure has become a mechanism where a mistake in speculation by an employee of a multinational corporation can make a negative impact on the entire world economy(ex. Bearing Co.). Whole industry of speculators (in the recent case of Mexico) is the same as well. Radical changes in exchange rates and stock prices are what states can hardly control. The world economy is in a situation where a crisis of depression is opening its mouth in a step ahead and there is no entity(ex. world government).
This shows that the most important foundation of the modern Western civilization(economic structure) is in a severe dilemma. The world market and local states(modern nations) are incompatible. The modern structure is the structure that is not able to work properly anymore.2) The Dilemma of the Information Society and the Market Structure of Capitalism
Pseudo prophets are confident as if the human future will be optimistic because of the information revolution. But the most severe problems on a society from knowledge informationization are an aggravation of employment and distribution problems. Knowledge informationization is rapidly diminishing employment in the fields of conventional industries such as manufacturing(for example, the world's 500 biggest sales enterprises fired 4.4 million people between 1980 and 1993, however, sales increased 1.4 times and assets 2.3 times more than before). Knowledge informationization is surely forcing industrial society to end. But there is no industry that can absorb those jobless people drained from conventional industries.
The modern age of industrial society is the time, so to speak, when the ratio of people engaging in agriculture has decreased to 20 25% from 70 80% the past. Modern civilization is, in a word, manufacturing civilization(or industrial civilization). But now, the employment ratio in industry(manufacturing ) is walking the same step that are agriculture did. Currently, the employees in manufacturing industries are around 18% of the entire employment, and, by the year 2010, it is predicted that the ratio will have fallen to under 10%.(Peter F. Drucker: "Post-Capitalist Society") The problem in the current capitalist market structure is that there is no industry that can absorb the jobless --they are drained from conventional manufacturing industry-- into work. The generally spoken knowledge information industry can never bring such a number of people into work. Most of the employees dismissed from conventional manufacturing industry are absorbed by a lower class service industry paying less. However, it is not enough to accommodate the unemployed. The results turn out to be an increase in unemployment and aggravation of distribution. The 10% unemployment in average is being general in Europe(with 20% in Spain), and this ratio is considered to be consistent until the beginning of the 2000's. The product of the information revolution in the capitalist market structure is all unemployment and the aggravation of distribution.
In addition, the capitalist market structure does not match with the information society. Excludable goods like material goods(excludability: a characteristic that if one person possess something, nobody can afford it) are the premise of the capitalist market structure. But knowledge has an intrinsic characteristic of inexcludability. Therefore, artificial excludability is now created by legal manipulation. However, the higher the ratio of knowledge and cultural goods, the more the struggles by such artificial manipulation, and the economic distribution will be a matter of legal struggles.
By the way, when information becomes a source of profit, those who have information may sweep money rather than those working in manufacturing. This trend makes an economy a place of speculation, while increasing the proportion of the financial division. Speculators make more money than those manufacturers do, and a multitude of people come to devote their time to speculation. Thus, today's capitalism is 'Casino Capitalism'(Susan Strange). This means we are accumulating the danger of depression. The characteristic of the information revolution differs from that of the industrial revolution(Information skills have a characteristic of social organizing or cultural skills rather than industrial skills). Those talking about the 'third wave' fail to notice the fact that the information industry is not a field that can absorb a number of employment as the manufacturing industry did in the past. It is manifest that the information revolution is breaking down the industrial society that was once the foundation of the modern Western civilization. We are now going to the era of post-industrial society. Nevertheless, the capitalist market structure is not suitable for the new society. Information revolution may destroy the capitalist market structure; otherwise, the capitalist market structure will cease the information revolution(throughout the devastation of civilization).3) Dilemma of Materialism and the Environmental Crisis
The essence of the modern Western civilization that peeled off the religious world of the Western middle ages was mundane material advancement. Such material civilization shows off its bottom. Wealth has always been considered to be goodness, and the mythic conceptions of advancement and economic development for wealth have dominated us. However, this kind of materialism doesn't gather the attentions and expectations of people in developed countries any more. It is often said that the current age is a period of decreasingly diminished expectation. (Paul Krugman:"The Age of Diminished Expectation") The marginal utility of material abundance is diminished itself; further more material abundance is not anticipated any more. Today, increasing investment is required to make individuals feel the abundance. As compared with the above fact, the progress in material abundance has become worthless. We are keeping production not for abundance but for the maintence of employment. The rich chase the accumulation of financial assets, not material abundance.
Additionally, the environmental crisis has posed a fundamental doubt. The environmental crisis has shown us ths absence of free goods(goods that pay no cost). There is no production and consumption without pollution. Production and consumption of material goods also mean producing and piling up pollution. As well as pleasure, progressand development carry pain, too. The increase of pain from the environmental crisis is very conspicuous, rather than the scale of economic growth that people cannot feel in real life. The environmental crisis is scattering the convictions of limitless material advancement. The awareness of environment protection is spreading in al lot of countries, even though they abandon higher growth(numeric growth).
The environmental crisis was out of arguments in the modern Western civilization. When the economies of Britain and the US were growing up, nobody worried about the environment. But, the nature is holding back material development now. In other words we are facing "natural hostility". Is modern Western civilization subtainable, though the engine of modern civilization, material growth, has become useless? This is another dilemma of modern Western civilization. To Westerners, civilization has meant overcoming nature. But humans live in nature, not on the death of nature.