Transition to a New Society


The contemporary world is global, uncertain and rapidly changing. The present economic, social and political paradigm is destroying natural, human and social capital at an accelerating pace. Problems generated by these destructions require urgent solution. All these problems are complex, and cannot be addressed in a piecemeal, sectorial fashion. These problems cannot be solved within the existing paradigm. They have to be addressed holistically, simultaneously and immediately. A new holistic economic, social and governance paradigm is needed. The new paradigm has to be human-centered and sustainable. It should be global, constantly evolving by overcoming inherent uncertainties. A new paradigm is achievable while preserving the valuable components of the existing paradigm.

Five scenarios are possible: one, no change; two, business as usual; three, incremental changes; four, revolutionary changes and five, paradigmatic changes (a concept introduced by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolution (1962) for development of scientific research. I will use it here in the sense of socio-economic-political development and in a narrower way distinguishing it from revolutions).

Changes are imbedded into our society, e.g. demographic transition and technologies built in our lives; they cannot be stopped even if dedicated efforts were institutionalized. There is no end of history as F. Fukuyama and Hegel suggested, and option one is just not possible.

The last century witnessed major progresses: life expectancy increased by almost a factor of two, gross domestic product per capita (GDP/c) increased almost five times, freedom and democracy (one of the Kantian conditions for peace) now encompass a large fraction of humankind and the international system of sovereign states has produced notable successes such as the UN system and Montreal ozone agreement. One could conclude that business-as-usual is a desired scenario.

It is not!

Ecological footprint is considerably larger than what our Earth can tolerate and if business-as-usual continues in the year 2050, we would need two Earths. Since colonization of the universe is by no means as simple as the discovery of the New World 500 years ago (notwithstanding the fact that our mobile phones and GPS prove that we are already in the space outside of our Earth), the present ecological footprint is unsustainable. Much worse: our destruction of Natural Capital has been considerably deeper (e.g. destruction of biodiversity, nitrogen cycle and climate changes as demonstrated in Bankrupting Nature by A. Wijkman and J. Rockstrom). Life on Earth is threatened.

The enormous, not fully realized human potential, the guarantor that humans could overcome most of the obstacles, is destroyed by business-as-usual. Low employment rates, now in many countries below 70% (particularly vulnerable are two groups: young and those above 50) and huge inequalities (hundred-thousand times larger than recommended by Plato 1:5, and J.P. Morgan 1:20) lead to lower life expectancy, increased crime rate and deteriorate all socio-economic indicators (it is known that there is a window of desirable and acceptable inequalities). Human Development Index decreases because of inequalities. The loss is largest in education (e.g. 57% in Arab countries and 50% in South-East Asia) and in health (45% in Sub-Saharan Africa). Present economic structures and institutions are in conflict with current and developing economic realities as demonstrated by frequent and prolonged financial and economic crises. Business-as-usual led to serious destruction of trust and of social capital.

There are about 3000 different cultures which we have to preserve and 200 sovereign states which grossly differ in size, and the subsidiarity concept that could overcome this discrepancy is hardly implemented. The very concept of sovereignty in the 21st century is not what it was in the 17th century. The raison d’être of sovereign states is, to assure human security through maintaining order and justice internally and to provide common defense are questionable; the number of failing states increases even more ominously; democratic deficit increases since barely about 50% of citizens vote and many polls indicate that about 70% consider that their countries are governed contrary to their will. The governance system of the current world is not adequate ? both at the level of sovereign states (it is interesting that the author of the famous Incompleteness theorem K. Gödel while going to get the US citizenship was prevented by his friend A. Einstein from saying to the clerk that the US Constitution has a logical inadequacy that could lead to dictatorship), and at the international level (The UN system designed after WWII is not adequate for the current world and in several ways has even deteriorated: The UN Security Council with veto power of five permanent members, the now established G8 or G7 or G20, and the fact that still there is no UN parliamentary assembly and most notably, no global governance).

Nine sovereign states (with about half of the world’s population) have detonated nuclear weapons, and though numerous treaties have reduced nuclear stockpiles, about 20,000 nuclear weapons, a large fraction of them on trigger-alert status are threatening to destroy our world. Many times since the end of WWII the world came very close to destruction: to list just two, the Cuban crisis and on September 26, 1983, when the USSR’s nuclear early warning system reported missile attack from the USA. Stanislav Y. Petrov, an officer on duty, assumed it was false (and it was a false alarm) and so saved the world. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists put a Doomsday clock on its front page. It was put at 7 minutes to midnight in 1947, and was moved to 2 minutes in 1953 when the USA and USSR exploded their H-bombs, less than a year apart. At the end of the Cold War it was moved to 17 minutes. On January 14, 2014, it was put on 5 minutes to emphasize the danger of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD: nuclear, chemical and biological) and destruction of Nature caused by humans. Superimposed on WMD which are the weapons of the 20th century, new 21st century automatic robot weapons are being designed and deployed. Now I would put the clock again at 2 minutes before midnight, since current political actions are pushing the world toward a renewed Cold War superimposed on terrorism and on all social, economic and political problems. Politics permeates everything, but as the 17th century Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna said, “Politics is done with enormous stupidity.” It leads to strange results as often stressed now on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of WWI that claimed to be an improbable war and yet resulted in the largest casualties. “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times”, were the words of Charles Dickens describing the time of the French Revolution, which have now turned into “to be or not to be”, as underlined by WAAS Fellow Winston Nagan.

Ivo Šlaus: Honorary President, World Academy of Art and Science; Dean, Dag Hammarskjold University College for International Relations & Diplomacy, Zagreb
This article is based on a presentation made by the author at the international conference on “Transition to a new society” organised by the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts and held in Podgorica on 21-22 March 2014.

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