17.02.2004
Russia’s Mission in the Age of the Second ‘Gutenberg Crisis’
№1 2004 January/February

Global television broadcasts, the tidal waves of speculative
capital that sweeps away or erects national economies, the
cyberspace and interactive media – are all part of the omnipotent
financial and information global system that is based on novel,
above all computer technologies.

The broad impact of its outward signs must not hide the main
feature of this reality – the impact of information technologies on
society and humankind. It was the use of these technologies that
transformed human consciousness, at the individual and collective
levels, into a well-connected money-making enterprise. Mankind has
gone from transforming the outside world, which it did throughout
its long history, to transforming itself (which occurred in just
the past ten years at most). This is a revolution that is
transforming the very nature of the development of the human race.
One of the results is the spread of new technologies, which is
predetermined by the quickly growing volumes of information. This
places huge obstacles in the way of social institutions and
governance systems: they simply are losing the ability to keep up
with the changes.

It is worthwhile to recall that humanity – at least the part
known as Western civilization – had gotten itself into a similar
predicament on at least one occasion in the past. It was after the
advent of book-printing in the 15th century when a real information
boom began. The quantities of information multiplied, together with
the people’s access to it, and there arose a growing propensity for
abstract thinking.

The governance systems of that time proved to be incapable of
accommodating themselves to this information revolution, nor of
digesting the problems that it had borne out. As a result, there
arose the Reformation and a chain of brutal religious wars which
produced massive devastation, on a scale comparatively larger than
the impact of World War II. Take, for example, the Thirty Years War
in Europe in the first half of the 17th century, when the
population of Germany fell from sixteen million to four million
people. Against the backdrop of those huge losses, the fact that
contemporary Western civilization was molded from the harsh events
of those times is small comfort.

Today, there are strong similarities with those disruptive
events which occurred 500 years ago. The present information
explosion exceeds the capabilities of government structures and
puts humankind in the face of new systemic risks. This does not
mean that the second ‘Gutenberg crisis’ will inevitably cause
disarrays akin to the medieval religious wars, but many of modern
society’s painful problems underline a general tendency, namely,
the ineptitude of governance systems to adjust themselves to new
information and advances in communication. The consequential crises
are all-embracing and their handling requires much caution and
patience, as well as the constant redoubling of efforts. A
painstaking search for ways to solve these problems is a must, as
the alternative consequences of this crisis are all too
predictable.

CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE SYSTEMS

Modern governance systems were created before the technologies
of mass consciousness formation became widespread. The global use
of these technologies has now driven governance systems into a deep
crisis, where mistakes in governance are increasing exponentially,
while leading to ever more serious consequences.

Self-programming is the prime factor behind the crisis of our
traditional governance systems. Governance and control through
consciousness formation can solely be founded on powerful
convictions. Interestingly, the one who vehemently convinces others
of something may eventually himself become absolutely convinced of
the truths he is promulgating and lose the sense of objectivity.
This is a case when, contrary to a popular Uzbek saying, “a sweet
taste will not develop in the mouth if you say the word ‘halva’ [a
traditional Uzbek candy] one thousand times,” one does get the
result.

There is another factor concerning the crisis of governance that
goes hand-in-hand with self-programming – a desire to transform the
perception of reality, as opposed to changing the reality itself.
This seems especially odd since “remaking reality” seems to be the
easier option. This type of approach may be efficacious on a
limited scale, but its domination in governance strategies pushes
the latter into a corner. A good example is to be found in the
policies of the Russian president’s administration which has, to
all appearances, given up any attempts to steer the real processes
of social development. Instead, it has shifted its activity to the
sphere of information.

Factor number three involves the escalation of irresponsibility.
A CEO or government official manipulating televised images loses
the realization that his activities affect the lives of real
people. And decreasing responsibility, together with deteriorating
quality, may produce catastrophic effects.

Finally, a distinct feature of this crisis of governance is the
degradation of democracy. It does not boil down simply to the
dilapidation of the state, the major pillar of modern democracy,
since a government can definitely form society’s consciousness by
exerting influence on a relatively small social segment – the elite
that takes part in making crucial decisions and sets an example for
the rest of the nation. Planned efforts to enhance the
consciousness of the elite produces a situation where it will
alienate itself from society, while letting its own efficiency
slip. While this is happening, the original idea of democracy
wanes, as the elite becomes steadily incapable of assimilating
ideas born from the rank-and-file citizens. Russia witnessed such a
scenario in the recent past – by 1998, or a mere seven years after
coming to power, the country’s democratic governors had drifted
away from the rest of the nation much farther than the Communists
had done in their 70 years at the helm.

The situation is further aggravated by the fact the elite in an
information society, where technologies of mass consciousness
formation are broadly used, is much smaller than the elite in an
older society. The explanation for this is technological: the new
society’s resources are highly mobile and highly concentrated at
the same time; the stock markets provide a classic example. Changes
in the consciousness of just a hundred key market players can rock
through the financial sector across the world.

To sum up, a set of objective factors that will be hard to
eliminate over the short term depresses the efficiency of
traditional governance systems, worsening their execution of even
routine daily functions.

CRISIS OF THE UNDERDEVELOPED WORLD

A threat to global stability coming from a governance systems
crisis has an additional aggravating component – the gap between
the advanced nations and the rest of the world has acquired
technological dimensions, while the existing paradigm of global
development does not offer mechanisms for overcoming it.

This situation is hinged on four factors.

In the first place, groups of people working with information
technologies (IT) are keeping aloof and forming the information
community, which is concentrated in the more developed nations
where it gets bigger material remuneration.

In the second place, novel meta-technologies widening the
technological gap have arrived, which rule out competition between
technology consumers and producers. These are new weapon systems
with intrinsic and inextricable friend-or-foe identification
systems that deny any chances for them to be employed against the
producer countries; network computers with distributed memory which
gives the developer access to all the data of the user; and
advanced telecom technology ensuring online analysis of telephone
messages (a commercial use of such analysis caused the well-known
scandal between the U.S. and Europe over the Echelon system).

Consciousness formation technology falls into the same category.
It comes in the form of sophisticated dynamic combinations of
different instruments capable of affecting the information field –
mass media, advertising, activity of individuals and organizations
having social significance, rumors, and active events. The
combinations are based on the achievements of psychology and
mathematics. This technology requires regular upgrading, since the
popular consciousness quickly becomes accustomed to external
influence and loses sensitivity. Failures in regular upgrading may
bring about a loss of controllability. This is how the consumers
acquire a strong dependence on the developers of technology.

Reason number three for the emergence of the technological gap
is that the impact of information technologies alters the major
resources of development.  They are not merely a space with
fixed production relations; they have encompassed mobile finance
and intellect that have dramatically changed the patterns of the
relationship between the developed and developing nations. Past
epochs saw the productive exploitation of one group of countries by
another group. This was the essence of British colonial rule based
on political domination, as well as of American neo-colonialism
which manipulated economic controls. Now this productive
exploitation gives way to a destructive one, which causes the
alienation of finances and intellect in the developing nations.
This means that, in most cases, the developed society makes gains –
more often than not unconsciously – through the degradation of the
developing society, and the scale of that degradation exceeds the
gains of advanced countries. The latter is inherent in the
“development at the cost of degradation” pattern.

A realization of the consequences of that transformation brought
to life a diversity of politically correct – and hence
overshadowing rather than clarifying – notions like ‘failed’ or
‘failing’ nations that are used to describe societies which have
lost essential intellectual resources or the ability to generate
them.

Finally, the fourth cause for the technological gap between the
developed nations and the rest of the world lies in the global
monopoly of the transnational corporations that have perfected
their former practice of limiting or totally blocking the hand-over
of technologies. They are largely assisted by the institution of
intellectual property rights, which they widely use to cover up
gross abuses of their monopoly positions.

The above makes it clear that the undeveloped nations do not
have the necessary resources for being successful: the failure of
the concept of ‘catch-up development’ is obvious (in particular,
this has been proven in Vladislav Inozemtsev’s works). Competition,
formerly a mechanism for developing weak societies, has degenerated
into a mechanism for destroying them. While the global media are
propagating the high standards of consumption of the developed
nations, the intensifying competition caused by globalization
convinces the masses that those standards are unattainable either
for themselves or for their children and grandchildren.

The resultant despair produces global tensions. And while
international terrorism is a widespread phenomenon, it is far from
being the most ominous manifestation of this tension. Terrorism
appears to be just another aspect of the global protest, a highly
efficacious transnational business and a convenient tool of
political influence.

GLOBAL MONOPOLISM CRISIS

Economically weak countries are certainly not the only places
where problems are rife. Economic troubles have become universal,
and the root cause of this phenomenon – which is quite in line with
the teaching of Karl Marx – lies in the stagnation of the global
monopolies which remain outside the domain where states and
international bureaucracies have their levers of control.

At one time, national governments and international bureaucrats
were unable to bridle even the traditional industrial transnational
companies, while now they have come to confront largely informal,
and far from always ‘visible,’ financial & information groups.
Some of them, like the Silvio Berlusconi commercial empire, and the
so called Texas-Saudi oil group which has merged the interests of
U.S. oil giants and Saudi Arabia’s ruling dynasty, are less
intricate than others and are hence more noticeable.

The first sign of stagnation in the global monopolies emerged in
the 1990s when, for the first time since World War II, the
accumulated riches stopped alleviating many humanitarian problems,
like environmental degradation, shortages of water, illiteracy,
disease, poverty, women’s inequality, exploitation of children,
etc., which testifies to the exhaustion of the traditional
mechanism of mankind’s development, and to the obvious necessity
for changing its paradigm.

The second sign is the structural crisis of the developed
economies. Their domineering positions push the entire world
economy completely off balance. The high efficiency of IT has
suddenly generated a global crisis involving the overproduction of
products that are manufactured on this relationship. The crisis is
aggravated by two barriers impeding the sales of such products. The
first one is commonly known: the spread of new technologies has
slowed because of their complexity, excessively high quality and
unaffordable prices. This factor deprives the developed nations of
the resources needed in order to maintain technological progress on
the market principles. Then comes the so called ‘digital
inequality’ that restricts the future prospects for the developing
and developed nations alike.

The second barrier pertains to the targeting of information
technologies at human consciousness. If the target individual
belongs to a different culture, the IT efficiency goes down and the
demand for them weakens. As a result, the cultural barrier does not
obstruct the promotion of products from companies like Ford, but
turns out to be an almost insurmountable challenge for CNN
products.

In light of the situation, the struggle for expanding IT markets
turns automatically into a struggle for Westernizing traditional
societies, thus causing a collapse of statehood in weak countries
(even in Russia, which has a thick Western cultural layer, attempts
to enforce a swift Westernization produced a national catastrophe
in 1991 and a financial and ideological default in 1998) and
fueling tensions between relatively strong non-Western societies
and the West.

Western countries are using these tensions to procure finances
for further technological progress: an increase of global tensions,
sometimes in the wake of mounting international terrorist activity,
induces greater defense spending, which, in turn, reanimates the
national economy in what may be seen as an instance of ‘military
Keynesianism.’ Furthermore, it is an efficacious tool for promoting
technological breakthroughs.

But this method of accelerating progress can only be efficacious
over the short term. When prescribed as a remedy, it has more risks
than the disease itself: apart from stimulating conflicts between
the developed and developing nations, it breeds tensions between
countries belonging to different civilizations.

CRISIS OF INTER-CIVILIZATIONAL COMPETITION

Socialism and capitalism at one time competed in the format of a
single cultural and civilizational paradigm, and the power field
created by that bipolar standoff placed the rest of the world
within a circumscribed framework, exerting a strong transforming
influence on it. When the bipolar system collapsed the power field
dissipated. At this point, two civilizational entities, the Islamic
and the Chinese, came into the limelight.

World competition is now swiftly taking the form of competition
between civilizations, and mankind is just beginning to realize its
terrifying sense. The easiest way to understand that horror is to
draw an analogy with inter-ethnic conflicts, particularly shocking
because of their irrationality – the warring parties abide by
different systems of values, and bringing them to agreement is
quite difficult.

Inter-civilizational competition produces a much deeper split
between the sides. The parties involved have different methods in
pursuing their goals. In most cases, they are totally unable to
fully understand each other’s values, purposes, or methods.
Financial and technological expansionism of the West, China’s
ethnic expansion, and Islam’s social and religious expansion are
unfolding on three different planes. But there is more to it: these
three sources of expansion regard one another as alien phenomena.
Their hostility does not stem from a natural struggle for power; it
indicates a difference of lifestyles.

Unlike intra-civilizational conflicts, the understanding by the
parties to inter-civilizational conflicts of their positions does
not provide a clue for reaching compromises. Morever, it can
annihilate the very possibility of compromise solutions – trying to
understand each other may only convince the sides of their mutual
incompatibility. Each of the three currently expansionist
civilizations fail to enrich the other civilizations as it
penetrates them – actually, they degrade and destroy each other.
Take, for example, the ethnic divide inside American society, or
the consistently faltering pro-Western regimes in the Islamic
countries. A compromise is possible only if the opposing side
totally changes its way of life, that is to say, if it is destroyed
as a civilization. This is fighting without compromise which gets
more intense even when there is a seeming balance of forces and no
chances for success on any one side.

This is happening in step with an incipient civilizational (as
opposed to economic) transatlantic split in the West, which is
proving to be more dramatic than the divide between the Western and
Islamic civilizations. The rift between the U.S. and the European
Union does not make it possible for them to act as a united force
in combating threats, such as drug abuse. In 2002, the U.S.
administration declined to introduce sanctions against Afghanistan,
for reasons that this might hamper America’s interests. Meanwhile,
after the Americans had driven the Talibs out of power, the output
of drugs in Afghanistan grew by many dozens of times. Illegal drug
exports to Europe and Russia have increased dramatically as a
consequence. But the mirage of Afghan stability that is weakly
hinged on a fragile agreement between the field commanders
(synonymous with drug barons) and the U.S. forces appears to be
more important for Washington than Europe’s problems. In other
words, the interests of individual global competitors apparently
outdo the interests of solving global threats.

Another thing that the three civilizations are competing for is
the right to draw up the agenda, i.e. to map out specific areas and
principles for the standoff. The U.S. remains in a privileged
position here. It has the most universal set of financial and
economic goals, while its ‘burden’ of humanitarian values is less
great than that of the Europeans. Unlike ideological, religious or
ethnic expansionism, financial expansion does not produce an a
priori repulsion, and the circle of their potential proponents is
always at the highest maximum level, as is the opportunity to
choose the best human and organizational resources.

Any market player can promote financial expansionism, which
naturally follows from the very nature of market activity. A
proponent of one civilization or another (rather than some of its
aspects) would insist that the only correct way to live is the one
stipulated by this civilization. That is why an analysis of the
orientation of the countries’ elite – a key component of global
competition – must necessarily consider the universality and
convenience of Western values.

THE ROLE OF THE ELITE’S CONSCIOUSNESS

While the state stands for society’s brain and hands, the elite
are the central nervous system of society. It identifies the
impelling impulses – mitigating some and amplifying others – and
then concentrates and transmits them to the corresponding muscle
groups in society. The motivation and will of society expressed by
the elite determines the long-term competitiveness of a nation. In
this age of globalization, competition has shifted into the area
where consciousness is formed, and the people giving shape to the
consciousness of the elite take on a crucial role concerning
society’s competitiveness. It frequently occurs that the elite’s
mentality is molded from the outside. This is a veiled form of
outside administration. If this administration is created by the
strategic competitors of a given society it will become inadequate,
and the elite’s goals will be ruinous for the social organism.

Yet, the forming of the elite’s mentality by its own society
does not guarantee that it will have nationally oriented interests.
The elitist quarters have a natural tendency for liberalization, as
it may furnish them with new opportunities, albeit undermining the
competitiveness of their own country and pushing the people into a
whirlpool of grievances. Globalization opens up tremendous
opportunities for the powerful, while it generally brings mischief
to the powerless. Plainly speaking, it divides the insufficiently
developed societies: it gives advantages to the elite and problems
to the average citizen.

There is one more factor concerning the separation of the elite
from society. Relatively underdeveloped societies have
traditionalist cultures and conservative bureaucracies.
Traditionalism combined with bureaucratic pressures forces
energetic people into a sort of alienation and shocks their senses
in a natural way. These individuals cannot rid themselves of
feeling estranged from their society, even if they overpower the
resistance of the social strata and become part of the elite. This
provokes a hostility on the part of the elites toward their own
society, which they begin considering to be a mob of ugly and
dangerous people. This type of thinking has a deep-rooted tradition
in Russia and is also widespread in many other countries. This
tendency has been getting more pronounced with the spread of
Western standards of education and a reorientation of a part of the
young elites in insufficiently developed, and mostly non-Western
countries; it occurs as civilizations lean toward Western values.
Their attempts to revitalize their native countries – even though
motivated by lofty desires – through a mechanical replication of
Western realities and values on native soil are prone to
devastating that society. This occurs because the society may be
unprepared to accept alien values, or it finds them inimical from
the civilizational point of view. The erosion of a society’s system
of values and, subsequently, the society itself, begins in the
elitist quarters and its younger members.

An instrumental criterion by which to measure the patriotism of
the elite is by its method of handling assets. As a corporation,
the elite is destined to safekeeping and boosting its own material
and immaterial assets, the latter notion embracing influences,
status, reputations in the crucially important milieu, information,
etc. In a situation where a critical part of those assets is
controlled by strategic competitors – this may happen if the elites
are seeking some sort of approval by the leaders of competitor
societies, rather than from their own nation – the elite will be
implementing foreign interests and thus committing an act of
collective treachery.

RUSSIA: SOLVING GLOBAL PROBLEMS AS DOMESTIC ONES

Russia is going through a very deep crisis, which is a
continuation of the national catastrophe that began during the
disintegration of the Soviet Union. The country’s population is
declining and is not demonstrating any willingness for
self-organization, while the state administration is remarkably
losing its efficiency.

The global community and Russian businesses are developing this
country’s natural resources by following a simple looting principle
that does not envision the regeneration of the economy in the
future. The developed countries are acting toward the ex-Soviet
property on the territory of the Russian Federation in a way that
resembles a popular saying about “cooking a hare that has not yet
been killed.” The hare is getting weak and has lost the ability to
walk without support, but it continues talking about its role in
world history and about mutually beneficial cooperation with
hostile groups of hunters and marauders.

While Russia is weak, it nonetheless continues to maintain
control over a range of unique resources, vital in our modern world
– it has a territory for transits between Europe and Asia,
unparalleled resources of Siberia and the Far East, and skills in
creating novel technologies. All of these factors make it a prime
target of the civilizational expansions, and the sources of that
expansionism are sheltered in close vicinity with its borders.

That is why the major problem of the day – the clash of
civilizations – will turn Russia into a place where the scene will
be set for critical action in the next fifteen years or so. It will
be the place where humanity will be forging a destiny for itself.
The contest of civilizations is likely to take the form of an overt
clash – a clash where everyone struggles against everyone else – on
Russian territory, with the clashing sides focused on control over
Russia’s resources. What is more, the frontline of the
civilizational struggle will lie not along the perimeters of
Russia’s geographic borders but within the sections of Russian
society as such. Under such conditions, Russian society becomes a
key, or even the backbone, factor of humanity’s further
development.

The fact that our country and our homes are going to become the
arenas for solving global problems is our weakness and our strength
at the same time. On the one hand, we have perfect knowledge of the
battlefield and we can influence the development of the entire
human race. On the other hand, the kind of “power borne out of
weakness” can make life itself the price that we will have to pay,
as any error may prove fatal for us. On the practical plane, Russia
is facing the challenge of harmonizing the interests and balancing
the efforts of different civilizations which are trying to expand
into its territory.

So, regardless of our wishes, Russia’s domestic policy will
become an instrument of solving global – not simply international –
problems. However, its mission should not be directed outward under
any circumstances. Society must develop for its own benefit rather
than for the benefit of external forces. The reason is simple:
neither Russia of today nor Russia of tomorrow will have enough
strength to bring benefits to anyone but itself.

That forcible self-restriction rooted in our weakness –
hopefully a surmountable one – should not be regarded as a virtue
or made a basis for isolationism (or the so called constructive
isolationism, which has become popular of late). In essence, it
means ignoring the West in a style similar to that offered by
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Chinese emperors of the mid-19th
century.

Russia must attract any external forces that are capable of
offering it assistance, but the ones whom we attract should
understand that such engagements are possible only if the
participants have a genuine community of interests: our weakness
makes any payment for assistance (including concessions) simply
impossible. We must exert energetic influence on those
civilizations presently expanding on Russian territory. While
pursuing these efforts, however, let us bear in mind the relative
shortage of our resources and concentrate our energies on the
solution of these problems, not abstract geopolitical schemes.

One idea pertaining to the search for our common role in the
progress of mankind – the so called ‘liberal imperialism’ – has
been clearly formulated of late. It is built on the idea that
Russia will turn into a regional power while U.S. interests —
totally alien to the Russians as well as to other former Soviet
republics – will be implemented into the Commonwealth of
Independent States. This concept is doomed to failure, and
differences in Moscow’s and Washington’s positions on a long range
of issues or the presence of contending (European in the first
place) interests are not the only explanations for it. The main
reason is Russia’s weakness, and we must realize that a more or
less weighty outward policy will only be possible when Russia has
the tangible resources to support it, i.e. when we put things in
order at home. Russia is able to work out the models and algorithms
for solving global problems at the level of its domestic policy. By
organizing our own house, we will bring harmony into this
world.

Most likely, the revitalization of the Russian economy will
require some steps that do not fit into the stereotypes of liberal
fundamentalism. It may be necessary to intensify protectionism (a
global tendency these days) and to issue state guarantees for
investment projects that are beyond the possibilities of the
business community, yet critical for the economy (the International
Monetary Fund gave its consent to Russia for such an investment in
April 1999). These should not be considered intimidating measures,
as long as they are necessitated by pragmatic, rather than
ideological, approaches and with the realization that they must be
transparent. As the economy starts rejuvenating and regains its
competitiveness, the country must be opened for external
competition. But the intensity of that competition must not be
destructive for the economy. Rather, it must be proportionate to
stimulate economic efficiency.

Russia has a long-term strategic goal of re-establishing itself
as an independently powerful civilization with the role of an equal
player in global competition. But the road to this achievement has
several transitional stages. Russia is presently on the
battlefield, and it will require some time before it reaches the
next stage. That new level will demand a bridge that links the
economically and politically powerful civilizations.