Sunday 12 April 2009

East and West

Barack Obama visits Europe and gets the opportunity to speak with many of the world's leaders at the G20 summit about the economy. Next on the list is the gathering of NATO and the topic is America's foray into Middle Eastern entanglements. After this experience he lands in Turkey where he told them what they wanted to hear.

But not everyone there desires joining the European Union for the same reason. The secular part would appreciate membership for the political openness and its pragmatic opportunities. On the Islamic side the largely cosmopolitan mantle draped over a medieval religion bestows useful advantages. It is questionable whether either side cares too much about the deeper factors influencing the affects such a move would produce. The same goes for the US.

We have arrived at a junction in time when historical currents can well up from distant pasts.

Human affairs proceed along timelines that are relevant to the scales they represent. Comparisons can be drawn between a human life and the existence of a society or civilisation or culture. One is measured in decades, others in centuries, and cultures need millennia.

On that broad canvas the world of today offers three cultures that have several things in common. They managed to keep their long-term memory, they achieved self-knowledge, they are still active, and they possess mass. From east to west these are, China, India and Europe.

Each one of these can draw on thousands of years of history, each one of these can use their own glories and disasters to interpret the present, and they all are powerful enough to influence the planet through the mental resources coming from ancient sagas, generations of experience and intellectual achievements.

Just as the individual addresses a problem more effectively with a sound memory, so do societies deal with issues at their scale depending on their ability for recall. Lack of experience, forgetfulness, or the wilful burying of inconvenient events impoverish one's knowledge base. Without content to be processed wisdom cannot emerge.

When in the near future oil runs out, when the effects of climate change overtake the contemporary plans of everyone, when the scarcity of resources impacts on standards everywhere, then the sheer drama which accompanies the destruction of the status quo will make itself felt. The aspirations, indeed obsessions, of so many interest groups are bound to join the stirred mix of smaller nations in which the multitude of incoherences add to the chaotic scenario.

When disaster strikes one does not call upon children to save the situation. Similarly, at the level of global humanity it takes the maturity of age to bring order into chaos.

Europe, India and China fulfill the equation. Even in geometric terms a triangle makes for stability, and a council of three strikes a useful balance between variance and homogeneity.

At the moment Islamic extremism enthralls our minds and holds our resources to ransom. Yet against the dangers building on the horizon they should be a mere thorn in the side at worst, an interesting interlude at best. Failing nations unable to leave their traditional shackles behind should hardly be a concern for that part of humanity which is capable of perceiving the future. Nor is it for the US to tell Europe whether ambiguous Turkey should or should not enter its realm.

A triumvirate of great minds has better things to do than enmesh itself in the inconsolable minutiae of the naïve.

And even in a space station the thoughts from a Parzival, a Mahabharata, or a Confucius have something to say.