Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The World Turns: Columbus, Luther and Putin (Aug 18)

Five centuries ago, the age of the West was born when an Italian nerd went looking for the Orient across the Atlantic, bumping into America. Notwithstanding its internal conflicts, the Old World initiated wars of discovery and conquest in the new, facing West for the first time.
 In the late nineteenth century, shortly after celebrating its centennial, America took over the Philippines and Hawaii, and in the 20th century it teamed up with Britain and France to weaken China, plying its population with opium. After winning two World Wars in Europe and also defeating Japan, linking two oceans, the US looked down on a world that suddenly seemed full of ‘others’. Alongside Peace Corps do-gooders, corporations and banks enrolled the Pentagon in efforts to turn them into good global citizens. This did not mean building their lives and their countries according to the UN Charter, but turning away from each ‘other’ toward ever more ‘stuff’.  
There is nothing in the house that Jack built that cannot be counted in coin, or turned into coin. There is always a buck to be made somewhere, new professions are born every day, as living is made easier, sometimes ridiculously so. In today’s America, you can hire someone to pack and unpack your house when you move, receive a dinner recipe along with the precise amount of each ingredient needed to prepare it, drop-off toddlers in centers open 24/7 instead of hiring a baby-sitter, and when you want to book a hotel, Trivago, a modern Aladdin’s lamp, allows you to click on the cheapest price. One of the few ‘industries’ that doesn’t involve fewer human interactions is the care of the elderly: if you can afford it - and there’s an insurance policy you can pay into during your active life for that - when you’re too old to cruise from one resort to another, you can be cared for in your own home by someone who will become your only companion, as your children and grand-children show up perfunctorily for major holidays.
While these innovations were taking place in the North (usually referred to as ‘the West’), brown people hop-scotched around wars and revolutions, their populations growing exponentially. It all happened so quickly that the current generation remembers things that were once free, such as water, as the free pleasures of proximity disappear down the elevator shafts of high-rises. They never know when their leaders will incur the displeasure of new overlords, who will resort to bombs, or drones, or at the very least false flag operations, stimulating unrest which, cleverly manipulated, will pave the way for new leaders to open their lands to more methodical plunder.
The competition between capitalism and communism during the Cold War saw each side recruiting followers in the Third World, but after the Soviet Union collapsed, most of them lined up behind the West. Now its leaders are wondering how they could have brought so much misery upon their people. As Wall St. puts the finishing touches to its destruction of the European welfare state, brown people are reshaping the Old World to their beliefs and customs, instead of adapting, forcing European parliaments, normally occupied with matters of war and peace, finance and health care, to legislate on women’s clothing. Only a hundred years ago in the West, the veil signaled a woman above reproach; now it is seen as anti-social: the hidden face could be that of a terrorist - in any case, what is she thinking behind her burka? I believe some of the women on European streets bundled up in robes console themselves for not being allowed to wear jeans and short hair, knowing they are irritating former colonial masters.  
While France and Italy bar the burkini (a full-body swim suit) from their beaches, citizens of Pisa try to stop a mosque from being built near the Leaning Tower, while the German government advises citizens to stockpile food and water in the event of a major terrorist attack. (The last time this sort of advice was issued was in the days of ‘duck and cover’. Apparently, Europeans experience the influx of Muslims almost as traumatically as the US experienced the nuclear threat.) After a fire in a refugee center, an RT reporter embarrassed conservative Germans by asking whether they realized they shared many of the same values as Muslim immigrants. Although Germany has been importing Turkish workers for decades, they did not.
Partly as a result of this failure, the world is undergoing a tectonic shift from West to East. For the past few years, Erdogan facilitated the sale of ISIS stolen oil and cared for its wounded, thinking they would help him recreate the Ottoman Empire. Now he is poised to join Russia in the fight against terrorism, trading in Turkey’s sixty-five year long NATO membership for the lead Muslim role in a community that stretches from the Bosphorus to the Pacific Ocean, and includes a large swathe of Muslim countries inhabited by Turkic peoples. 
Five hundred years after Martin Luther invented individual freedom and sanctified profit, the world turns toward the east, reinstating religion and responsibility in politics. Orthodox Christianity again plays a major role in Russia, China has rehabilitated its ancient Taoist and Confucian sages, and now preparations are under way for the Sunni Erdogan to visit Teheran, the capital of Shia Islam, as Islam’s warring cousins prepare to join the same organization. 
In the face of the Russian President’s two-fer, US arms-makers tout future sales to a world steeped in conflict, but Washington is removing its missiles from Turkey’s Incirlik air base, (one of the Air Force’s many ‘homes away from home’) to avoid running into the new Russian guests. 

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