There’s been a fundamental shift over the last 70-ish years in how we understand ourselves and the world, at least in the West. I consider it to mark a categorical shift in our culture. The generations since the advent of nuclear weaponry understand that the end of humanity can be entirely contingent and purposeless.
|If you ever watch the movie Threads, it's a docu-drama|
depicting how what remains of society would collapse
into mass misery after nuclear war, if we were unlucky
enough to survive. It's traumatizing to watch.
This isn’t universal for every culture or society, because some societies have such strong religious beliefs that even a contingent end is seen as the culmination of a divine plan. Or their education standards have been terrible.
It makes sense to say that for the vast majority of human history, we’ve understood ourselves as having some kind of role in a divine order. Maybe it’s the profound humanism of the Western religions, the broadly ecological Asian faith and ethics traditions, or the animist traditions of the rest of humanity. But there’s a divine order to the world and time.
Except I can’t bring myself to believe that, and I think that view became very popular since the Second World War. The main driver was public knowledge of what nuclear weapons could do, and the cultural context of the American-Soviet arms race and geopolitical standoff.
A global misunderstanding with just a teaspoon too much paranoia could end all life on Earth in a bath of fire and radiation. During the same era, the environmentalist movement also took hold, whose core concept is that pollution and other destructive side effects of otherwise productive human industry could lead humanity to drown in its own shit.
So it’s weird to read Francis Fukuyama and find him seriously considering the notion that history culminates with a human triumph. While humanity could come to a contingent, undignified end, he gives the idea lip service, as if it were a possible accident unimportant to understanding human purpose.
Fukuyama envisions the culmination of human history in a secular kingdom of heaven where everyone is perfectly satisfied. Such a kingdom, says Fukuyama on the democratization of Russia, is capitalist liberal democracy.
It's weird to me to read someone so sincerely write this. Most ardent defences of unrestrained capitalism are today made by right-wing ideologues for whom suggestions of building a universal health care system or unionizing the local Walmart is totalitarian communist subversion.
Even the dry economist’s tone of Friedrich Hayek could sometimes burn with the nervous electricity of an extremist’s pitch black fear.
Progressive left politics today are the social movements popular protest and utopian visions of a world free of racism, authoritarian police power, or environmental destruction. The expressions of the new 21st century Western left in state politics are similarly opposed to unrestrained capitalism: Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos.
I’m not accustomed to hearing a voice as calm, peaceful, and hopeful as Fukuyama’s praising pure capitalism as the only social system that provides universal prosperity.
This is because he believes in a mechanism – a universal framework of human desire and knowledge – that drives human history toward a society that most efficiently and creatively develops our knowledge to satisfy our always-shifting desires. For Fukuyama, that’s capitalism in a liberal democratic society.
His reason for believing this lies in how he understands why societies collapse. Fukuyama talks about societies collapsing from internal contradictions, social and economic structures that put different populations in conflicts that can only be solved through confrontation.
So the perfect society would be one that’s immune to revolution. Is that really pure, individualistic, capitalism without restraint? To be continued . . .