Jussi Pekonen

The Future of “Western” Societies?

Posted on Tuesday November 8, 2016

When I launched this blog, I made a promise to myself to not write about politics. The reason was obvious: my opinions are my own and they do not represent the ultimately correct alternative for that particular question/situation/country/whatever. But in this post I will talk about recent[1] development in the politics of the so-called Western societies.

The contents of this blog post have been stewing for a while. The final push to write this post was today’s (that is, November 8, 2016) presidential election in the United States of America. However, this post will not be about the election. It will focus on the rise of populism in Europe (and the USA).

The past times are not coming back

The major selling point of a populistic political viewpoint is during the “good times of the past” everything was better than now. Any progress in various areas of life (like healthcare, overall quality of life, etc.) can be ignored because some, most likely very irrelevant things (may) have changed to worse for some people. The populists pick such things up and blow them out of their real proportions. That is why everything seems to be really, really bad, and only they can Make Things Great Again™.

Similarly, when the world is changing in a big way, the populists oftentimes resist the change and they try to stop the change with legislation. If the populists happen to be in the position where they can make such a legislation, they will do that[2]. If they are not, they will use all their verbal (at least hopefully only verbal) power to attack the politicians in that position[3]. Because their cause always gets popular among their supporters, those people get alienated from the other politicians. This leads to a never-ending loop, where the people trust politicians and the political process less and less.

I have bad news for you who think the populists are right: the past times are not coming back. Life moves forward and dwelling in the good olden times makes more harm to you than embracing the change. Yes, the change may be painful, but if you get through it you will be better equiped for the inevitable future.

“No man is an island.”

That is a excerpt from a poem written by an English poet John Donne. It reminds me of the fact that no choice, personal or political, happens in a vacuum. The word “man” could be replaced by practically anything (a nation, a political action) and the excerpt would be still true. The populists often claim that a political action will affect only this one thing, only locally, etc., but they seem to forget that it has often wide-reaching ramifications they did not take into account, either deliberately or out of pure ignorance.

A common theme in populists’ agenda is a boost to a local economy that has suffered over the years because of global economic changes. Like we people, local economies just need to suck it up and adapt to the changing world. Sticking with the things that made the local economy boom 30, 40, 50 years ago may lead to worsening (local) recession when the world around thrives. For example, if a local mine was closed some time ago because its finances did not make sense to keep it running, it will not be financially viable in the future either. Unless the global economy takes a huge dive. The likelihood of that happening, though? Once again, I have got bad news for you. It is practically impossible to happen. The global economy survives. It will find a way. Always.

Similarly, a political action in one country can cause major global reverberations. Wars have been started because of seemingly minor changes in politics (such as in the attitude towards other nations, nationalities, religions, political opponents). Today, the larger the impact of the political actor to the global economy is, the larger the global ramifications of the action are. Yet, even a small actor can (still) start a world war if they so will.

The world after November 8, 2016

The terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001, changed the world in a dramatic way. In my opinion, today marks another major day in the history of that nation and, by the global economic proxy explained above, the history of this planet.

Why a Finn is so concerned about the stupid presidential election of a nation he is not a citizen of? For two reasons. First, if Hillary Clinton wins, Donald Trump has said he will blame the political system for crooking the result. If Donald Trump wins, who knows what will happen. Either way, the internal politics of that nation will be a huge mess for who knows how long. In the worst case, if the country gets severely divided because of this, I fear that they will end up having a second civil war. I truly wish the mess does not get that ugly.

Second, I fear the global ramifications when one of the major global political actors is incapacitated due to its internal fighting. How the global economy will be impacted? Will another major actor take a bigger role or will there be a fight for the leadership? What I fear the most is that nations around the world use the result of the election as a reason for boosting nationalism and intolerance. If such things happens, I see that we will be heading towards a new world war. For the sake of the future of humanity, let’s hope that will not happen. Ever.

  1. And by recent I mean the past 20 years.  ↩

  2. Case in point, Poland.  ↩

  3. This happens everywhere. Even in your own country. Just take a closer look at it.  ↩

Tags: Politics, Future