WORLDVIEWS

Three lessons to fix America and prevent global decline

In an interconnected world, the consequences of one nation’s recklessness can spread quickly. Here’s how this can be averted.

As the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin notes in The Phenomenon of Man, “The existence of ‘system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature” and “Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others....”

Above all, the world remains a system of closely interrelated and intersecting parts.

It follows that the grievously evident shortcomings of US society and foreign policy exert substantial impact upon world politics. Reciprocally, this impact “feeds back” to institutions in the United States, creating a constantly-changing source of persistent global transformations. This dynamic cycle of impact and counter-impact continues, perhaps more pronounced, in the openly “anti-system” and anti-globalism era of the Trump administration. Humans stubbornly cling to tribal behaviours while expecting the rest of the world to follow suit. Most plainly, the ironic consequence of individual states expanding unilateral military power is often an actual diminution or reduction of such power. In modern political philosophy, the relevant analytic problem is sometimes referred to as an example of the “tragedy of the commons.”

To respond usefully, three core lessons come to mind.

Lesson 1

Science is not always arcane or diffuse, and, in fact, generality is a conspicuous trait of all serious meaning. What matters most for science and reason are not tantalising particulars or eccentricities of various nation-states and personalities, but rather the indispensably systematic identification of recurring policy issues. In the end, therefore, all purposeful national policies and global improvements must center on the determinedly continuous discovery of regularities.

In global politics, it’s only by classifying an otherwise amorphous mass of disjointed individual cases that our leaders can ever hope to unearth illuminating and predictive data. Only by deliberately seeking general explanations can we expect to suitably tackle world problems. To begin, the conceptual focus of any such search must be at the level of individual human psychology – more precisely, this requires far greater understanding of our utterly primal human inclination to find comfort within “tribes.”

Lesson 2

The desperate human need to belong at all costs is a principal cause of species-wide suffering. In our perpetually fractionated universe, where becoming an individual is blocked by demeaning entertainments and ritual formalisations of anti-reason, “non-members” including refugees, “infidels,” “apostates,” and others are conveniently designated as extraneous, subordinate or inferior. This potentially fatal designation, one whose logical end point is inevitably some form of “tribal” extermination or conversion, was recognised not only by philosophers Søren Kierkegaard, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, but also Max Stirner whose original The Ego and its Own was the intellectual starting point for Ayn Rand.

From the start, our ancestors’ global affairs have been driven by “tribal” conflict. Without a clear and persisting sense of an outsider or enemy, of a suitably despised “other,” whole societies might have felt insufferably lost. Drawing their necessary self-worth from membership in their state, faith or race – what Friedrich Nietzsche had called “herd” and Sigmund Freud called the “horde” – such dehumanised humans could not have hoped to satisfy even the most elementary requirements of global order and system-wide coexistence. Yet, despite detailed histories and advanced technologies, global politics in the 21st century continue to mirror the most corrosive stigmata of our primal human failings.

As much as we still like to cast ourselves as a “higher” species, the veneer of human society remains razor thin. Although largely inured to almost every shade of civilisational horror, we still witness routinized accounts of child soldier atrocities, rampant slavery, proliferating terrorism, human trafficking, rape camps, nuclear proliferation and genocide. Somehow, although impressively conversant with abundantly sanitising statistics, entire nations still manage to glance smugly over freshly eviscerated corpses and declare without shame, “Life is good.” In this lethal inclination, Trump-era America is no exception.

For the jihadists, terrorism and war are only superficially about politics, diplomacy or ideology. In reality, they represented an aptly celebrated “marriage” of violence and the sacred. In this fashion, seductive whisperings of the irrational can offer potential aspirants a seemingly prudent path, a temptingly consecrated road to personal belonging and life everlasting.

Hope still exists, but it must sing softly, sotto voce, in a cultivated undertone. Although seemingly counterintuitive, in order to fix the world, we must pay closer attention to our intensely personal human feelings of empathy, anxiety, restlessness and desperation. Correspondingly, there can be no satisfactions from any atavistic celebrations of insularity, belligerent xenophobia or “America First.”

While private feelings may remain unacknowledged as hidden elements of a wider and safer world politics, they are also starkly determinative for all global relations. Instead of retrograde affirmations of crudely zero-sum orientations to world affairs, we must understand that the “whole” of world civilization cannot be greater than the sum of its individual human “parts.” This is, in fact, precisely what was meant by Swiss psychologist Jung’s “molecular” description of human civilisation as “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.”

Flagrantly, the concept of “soul” is unscientific. Still, crucial issues of the world often rest beyond easily manipulated boundaries of verifiable assessment. To wit, even before Jung, Freud placed unashamed emphasis on the centrality of “soul,” seele, in German, treating it as a helpful metaphor for human essence. He even applied the special referential richness of “soul” to the United States, a country he had regarded with deep pessimism, if not outright loathing. “America is gigantic,” he remarked to fellow psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, “but it is a gigantic mistake.” Americans, of course, are apt to be offended by such a harsh observation, but what specifically troubled Freud was this nation’s overriding commitment to crass materialism and technology. What Freud prescribed instead for human societies was a “spontaneous sympathy” of one’s own unconscious with that of all others.

Americans may or may not be prepared to embrace policy-oriented notions of “soul,” yet many struggle to understand that national and international life is always ultimately about the individual. Accordingly, and this may sound downright blasphemous in for a technology-worshipping society, the time for “modernisation,” “artificial intelligence,” “entrepreneurship” and “new information methodologies” is nearly over. To cooperate and survive together on this earth, the only really durable form of survival, the increasingly fragmented residents of this imperiled planet must discover a more authentic human existence, one detached from traditional and ultimately deadly “tribal” differentiations.

In this connection, Freud and Jung would certainly have agreed that nothing could be more patently misconceived than the ominously shallow mantra of “America First.” What’s required, instead, is an altogether fresh awareness of global interdependence. “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself is false and against nature,” reasons Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man. “No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

Lesson 3

Only in the vital expressions of a thoroughly reawakened human spirit can Americans learn to recognize what’s essential for national and global survival. The poet Bertolt Brecht warned, “The man who laughs has simply not yet heard the horrible news.”

Despite plans in Washington, the unceasing barbarisms of life on earth cannot be undone by ramping-up of competitive economies, building larger missiles or abrogating international treaties. Inevitably, intertwined humans still lack a tolerable global future not because we have been too slow to learn, but because we have failed to learn what is truly important.

To improve foreign policies, to avoid recurring global misfortunes, America must learn to look insightfully behind the news. In so doing, we might acknowledge that the root remedies for war, despotism, terrorism and genocide are never discoverable in corrosively parasitic political institutions or in intellectually barren political ideologies. Instead, these core explanations lie more or less hidden, dormant, but still promisingly latent, in the timeless personal needs of individuals.

Only when we can meet these critically underlying human needs can we hope to improve the global system in its entirety.

This article first appeared on Yale Global Online.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.