Tuesday, April 19, 2016

UN Countdown

Who would have thought, in 1944, as the US, Great Britain and Stalin’s Soviet Union finalized plans for an international institution they hoped would be better than the League of Nations at making the world a peaceful place, that the United Nation would so quickly lose the backing of Washington, while the President of Russia would eventually campaign to return it to its founding principles? 
When the US realized it could no longer control either the Security Council or the General Assembly, whose members have gone from a founding 51 mainly ‘Northerners’, to almost 200 mainly ‘Southerners’, it turned to disparagement, while keeping a firm hand on the choice of Secretary General. We’re due to get a new Secgen before the year is over and for the first time, Russia is challenging the right of the US to determine who that will be. 
President Putin wants to make the world body more representative of the many, rather than a vehicle for domination by the few. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, representing an informal grouping of past high-ranking officials known as The Elders, came out recently for a woman, while Moscow wants Eastern Europe to have a turn.
According to International Business Times, http://www.ibtimes.com/will-woman-finally-lead-united-nations-2016-secretary-general-election-could-make-2264195 Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, who currently serves as the director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) is one possibility, and the international effort to restore the ancient ruins of Palmyra in war-torn Syria will bring her to international prominence. Vesna Pusić, who serves as the first deputy prime minister and Minister of Foreign and European affairs of Croatia, is another possibility, while Dalia Grybauuskaite, President of Lithuania, would probably not have President Putin’s backing, given the Baltic countries’ claim that Russia threatens them.
Should the next Secretary General be sought from the ranks of the 140 Non-Aligned countries, Brazil’s President Dilma Roussef, a declared candidate, may have ruled herself out with growing calls for her impeachment over a huge bribery scandal. From Western Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel could probably win President Putin’s backing, and although she is a Westerner now, she was born and grew up in East Germany.
Several Eastern European male candidates might be acceptable to Moscow, including Vuk Jeremić, former Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former President of the United Nations General Assembly, or János Áder, President of Hungary, whose Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has loudly sided with Putin on many issues.
The unexpected convergence of social views between the European far-right and the Russian President, points to the cultural divide that overlays the world’s left/right divide, and I’m positing that it is likely to influence the selection of the next UN leader. 
The twentieth century was consumed in a knock-down drag-out battle between fascism and one form or another of socialism. In the seventies, a prominent American political scientist, Samuel Huntington penned an essay that became a meme. “A Clash of Civilizations?” is suggestive of what we’re seeing today, although Huntington got his time-frame wrong and painted the clash broadly between whites and non-whites, which he called “the Confucian/Muslim civilizations”. While China headed down a path of exponential economic growth, the Islamic world took center stage against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, however it loudly opposes the societal model that grew out of capitalism, in which 1) the female body illustrates the fact that 2) anything goes’, and 3) everything can be monetized. 
Last New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, a thousand men believed to be of North African origin sexually molested dozens of celebrating women. If, as has been suggested, they entered the EU as part of the summer’s migrant wave with the deliberate aim of challenging Western culture, this is as troubling as European arson against refugee accommodations. In any case, while Huntington focused almost exclusively on the danger of nuclear war and economic issues, it turns out that the clash of civilizations is largely about sex. Most recently, the mayor of a small German town advised local women to dress less provocatively, causing indignation, probably to no avail: historically ‘intruders’ have transformed their hosts instead of conforming to their culture.
 At its best, the West’s definition of sexual equality suggests that respect and complicity are inseparable from pleasure, however, the culture of more led to the notion that everything can be denominated in coin, which in turn led to the commercialization and trivialization of sex. While women worldwide continue to demand sexual equality, Muslim men in particular, while submitting to the Prophet’s injunctions, are not ready to acknowledge those of women.
Until recently, it has seemed that current Western memes are one hundred percent against them. For example, although genital mutilation is still practiced in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, Ghana recently produce its own version of Sex and the City. This American series ran for six years, definitively burying the Puritan dogma that dominated American culture for over three centuries, giving rise to Prohibition and Freud: sex is now recognized not only as ‘good for you’ but as no more related to feelings than is chewing gum. 
But now that meme turns out to be more damaging than was Puritanism: The April 11th issue of Time Magazine devotes its cover story to a revolt against pornography by young American men! The Western press has reserved some of its most disparaging remarks for Vladimir Putin’s condemnation of the West’s “degradation and primitivization of culture,” and this latest bombshell is going to require some high-wire journalistic doublespeak. The six page story details large numbers of physically fit young men who find that spending hours each day watching widely accessible porn is causing erectile disfunction (ED). This condition, usually reserved for older men, is preventing them from having sex even when they are strongly attracted to someone. Their plight has become so dire that they have set up internet sites to teach their peers how to wean themselves off porn so that they can enjoy a normal sex life!  
One young man interviewed emphasized that this was not about morality, but about reacquiring the ability to enjoy sex, but it comes at  a signally opportune moment: As the climate crisis deepens, people realize that greater economic equity must be accompanied by a lesser emphasis on ‘things’, replaced by stronger interpersonal and family ties. Less porn and more good sex can only contribute to that. 
While mindful of sweeping generalizations, I am convinced that the current standoff between neo-liberal ‘freedom’ and conservative ‘tradition’ is as fundamental and meaningful as the economic antagonism between the many and the few. The West’s primacy of external freedom (freedom to act) has led to the loss of internal freedom, which includes moral certainties and spirituality. The same people who defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to mock Muhammad defend the Russian group that performed ‘sacrilegiously’ in a church. But if First Amendment defenders of ‘free speech’ think back to the American Founders, they will realize that the universe those (…men) inhabited, far from being similar to ours, would be more easily recognized in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and much of the rest of the world. 
According to Sergei Glaziev, an academic who is close to President Putin, a multi-polar world order - of which a re-imagined UN would be an integral part - could be based on a synthesis of social-conservatism that combines the values of the world’s religions with the achievements of the welfare state, and the imperative of sustainable development. The same mindset could help build an anti-war coalition and establish, in Glaziev’s words “universally acceptable principles for harmonizing social, cultural, and economic relations worldwide”. 

For those who may wonder about traditional morality’s incompatibility with the socialist ethos, the Russian President recently pointed out that both the Bible and Islam anticipate socialism, confirming that a future UN is likely to have a much broader vision than the original.  

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