Revolution in Human Affairs: The Root of Societal Violence

At the time of writing, there is an obvious and tragic upheaval in the Arab world and a large number of other developing nations. North Africa from Mauritania to the Suez Canal and Yemen, the Persian Gulf from Iraq to Bahrain and Oman, and Afghanistan are on fire, much of it fuelled by religious ideologies, but also supported by Great Power politics. This upheaval comes on the heels of a four-decade old, asymmetric war through irregular fighting and terrorism, with the Islamists’ non-military side having been encouraged to fight in the name of religion with a role reversal of most of the participants (except Pakistan). Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) may or may not be anything else, but it certainly has been the epicentre of global terrorism and narcotics growth and trade for four decades. Many optimistic experts believe that the war and conflict in Iraq are over. Others conclude that oil is the main prize in this widespread upheaval, especially since it seems to be on its way to decline by mid-21st century. But that should not blind us to the underlying causes of instability in large parts of the world, which like a smouldering volcano are liable to erupt any time.

Let me state at the beginning my conclusion that this upheaval and violence have been triggered by what could be termed as the “Revolution in Human Affairs”

War and conflict have defined the contours of history of the human race. Revolutions, domestic violence, terrorism, crime and societal turbulence are some of their expressions. Many of the factors that have been responsible for such violence are also common to both interstate and intrastate wars and armed conflict. But national revolutions which have taken on different forms, whatever the reasons, are rooted in a set of factors that can be identified reasonably clearly and have a great deal of commonality among them, even if these revolutions have been separated by space and time spread over centuries.

A large number of global issues and mega trends are beginning to impinge on national/international security and human consciousness; and many have an impact down to the level of the individual. Regular wars between states, as we have known them for many centuries, now appear less likely to occur. But in the process of their winding down, they unleashed terrorism and armed violence with sophisticated weapons where the risk of nuclear weapons/materials leaking to jihadi warriors is high on the list of international concerns. The new “wars” often termed as “4th Generation” or asymmetric warfare include a variety of types of armed conflict, including insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, trans‑national terrorism and other forms of armed conflict within states, though often triggered and aggravated by external factors and actors. Wars and armed conflict of the future, therefore, are likely to involve the use of military force, but not necessarily in direct contact. Threats and challenges to security are increasingly non‑military, though most remain military‑related. Crime, corruption, and murder have become endemic, especially in the emerging economies. Global problems will require global cooperation for their solutions. Otherwise, some states may be able to solve some of the problems, especially from their own point of view. But this would inevitably trigger new issues and disputes. Global threats, unfortunately, do not command immediate attention or a wide consensus on the need to meet the challenges. But it is important to understand the root causes of terrorism and other forms of violence in order to initiate corrective measures.

The New Revolution
The greatest global challenge that faces the international community today is that of the current trans-national revolution in human affairs, which in turn is triggered by the combination of three revolutions:

1. A revolution of rising expectations,
2. The information and communications revolution
3. A broader industrial-technological revolution.

Harlan Cleveland was the first person to identify the “Revolution of Rising Expectations” while administering relief and development aid in East Asia in the early 1950s − an awakening of the population of former colonised nations, releasing immense expectations of a new life after independence based on liberty, equality and fraternity. Expectations of people rose rapidly, in large part because of the rhetoric of independence and the sense of freedom that would create a new life for every one. But the realities did not change as rapidly as the political map of the world. The horrors of the Second World War, with the atomic bombing of Japan, also led to a wave of decolonisation. But most decolonising countries ended up with either violent revolutionary insurgencies (like Malay, Vietnam, Algeria, Indonesia, and even China) or the post-independence new rulers, in many cases, military men who acquired power on the basis of their control over the instruments of violence which had become ever more lethal and triggered numerous ethno-sectarian conflicts. The gap between the aspiration of the people and the reality of existence (which would take decades to change) created an intrinsic instability in the developing countries. India was fortunate, though it had its share of ethnic cleansing and communal riots which overshadowed the non-violent struggle for independence.

Poverty alone does not necessarily lead to societal violence and revolutions. This is particularly so in the earlier history of nations when communication of information and knowledge was slow and limited in space and time. The trigger for revolutions (and its lesser manifestation as social turbulence and armed violence) rests in the rise of awareness of the gap between expectations and reality in life. This had happened earlier during the Industrial Revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries when the normal means of economic productivity shifted from human labour to machine-based production. In turn this led to demographic shifts toward the sources of energy (initially coal), raw materials and markets. The Industrial Revolution first started in the 17th century on the basis of steam driven machines in Britain. This also saw a rapid growth of urbanisation to facilitate the utilisation of new means of production. Living conditions deteriorated and crime, social turbulence and violence increased.

The Industrial Revolution gradually expanded across the Channel into Western Europe during the 18th century. This resulted in nearly endless rebellions and revolts throughout the century till finally the French Revolution provided the major demonstration of the revolution in human affairs, having its roots in the inequities and disparities in social, economic and political domains, and the awareness among people of this phenomenon. Inevitably this awareness led to growth of a sense of relative deprivation among the deprived segments of society; and this most affected youth. The deprived also became vulnerable to exploitation by ideologues, disgruntled elites, and even the affluent, as can be seen from the history of French Revolution where the aristocracy first supported the uprisings against the royalty, only to be swept aside by the anger of the mobs when things did not improve perceptibly. Here the question must be asked: why did Britain not witness a major revolution in the process of rearrangement of social, economic and political life? One answer is the movement of increasing numbers of British citizens, rich and poor, to other lands to be employed in trade, military service in its “small wars” across the globe, and associated professions, which resulted in the extensive British Empire (on which, it was said, that the Sun never set).

Other European countries followed suit and started the migration and colonisation of Asia, Africa, North America and Latin America with twin results: the growing affluence of metropolitan powers and the decline in the socio-economic conditions of populations in the imperial colonies. Only Russia was deficient of maritime power to sail out and occupy the territories and resources of what became the developing world. Hence it set about expanding its territories on the Eurasian continent till it came up against the British Empire to its south. On the other hand, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 broke the myth of the superiority of the European races. It also denied Russia a foothold in the maritime domain on the strength of which it could further expand, although small countries such as Belgium, Denmark and Holland managed to establish colonial rule over territories in Asia and Africa and control their resources, both material and human. Similarly, Spain and Italy expanded to control Latin America, as did Portugal after it failed to get a foothold beyond the small enclave at Goa in India, and Macao in China.

Colonisation by the metropolitan powers of Europe to control the human and material resources of the other continents on the strength of their technological superiority derived from the Industrial Revolution also led to the progressive de-industrialisation of many of the countries which till the beginning of the 18th century had dominated the global manufacturing output and income. China accounted for nearly 33% of global manufacturing output and India, nearly 25% at the beginning of the 18th century. By 1950 both countries combined accounted for a mere 1.3% of the global manufacturing output and income. This impoverishment also implied that they became essentially raw material suppliers, while importing value-added goods from European industries. It was only around the time of the Second World War that industrialisation began in China and India, while most of the other colonies became home to plantations and mining with native labour under European control and ownership.

Decolonisation naturally started the industrialisation of countries such as India. Like the European countries in earlier periods of industrialisation, urbanisation, social imbalance, crime and violence also spread. It is in this milieu that the information-communication revolution impacted on the developing countries. Expectations started to shoot up, especially in the generation after independence when pessimism arising from slower than anticipated progress began to increase. But while India was not fortunate enough to escape the revolution of rising expectations completely, it was moderated by the adoption of democracy and secularism based on the idea and principle of “equality of the human being” which constitutionally narrowed the gap between the haves and have-nots and allowed people’s aspirations to be met through legitimate political and socio-economic processes. Countries such as Pakistan, which ignored the longer term processes affecting human affairs and hung on to medieval style feudal societies, suffered increasing poverty and the rule of the gun.

The revolution in rising expectations, especially when coupled with a growing consciousness of inequities and disparities in social and economic fields as a consequence of an industrial revolution, has been the most common cause of revolutions. The modern information and communication revolution has promoted global awareness of these revolutions, enhancing the sense of relative deprivation resulting from consciousness of disparities and inequities. The increasing gap between rapidly rising aspirations and glacially slow change in social realities has often been exploited by those with a lust for power and by ideological extremism willing to use terror as a tool for political and foreign policy goals.

For the first time in history these three revolutions have converged in space and time to generate a Revolution in Human Affairs. Violence and armed conflict in the Arab world today is due in no small measure to the impact of this Revolution, aggravated by the increasing gap between the affluent and the deprived. The future international order, peace, and security will substantively depend on the progress of this Revolution and the way the international community, states, and societies respond to it. If we look at major departure points in intra-state balance of power and societal equations, we find that the present Revolution, in fact, is the fifth such revolution related to the structures of society and state in modern world dominated by western civilisation.

Pages: 1 2

Tags: , ,