Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interdependence: "The Peace of Dives"

Nearly a century and a half ago, a young Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem called "The Peace of Dives" in which he offered an economic solution to the problem of war.  Remember that Marxism was a new and as yet not disproven theory then, so a young intellectual could understandably be persuaded by the idea that Economics Is Everything;  therefore, wars are fought for economic reasons -- the hopes of defending one's own goodies while snatching the other guy's.  Kipling proposed that the solution was to get every government in the world in debt to each other, giving all of them a claim to each other's goodies, so that one couldn't go to war without having one's goodies destroyed or confiscated.  "Not for Ashdod overthrown will the kings destroy their own", he claimed.

Well, Kipling was a good observer and honest with himself, so in a few years he saw that his theory was wrong;  economics is not humanity's only motivation for anything, and wars are fought for other reasons than getting economic goodies -- as viz. suicide bombers.  Kipling's writings just twenty years later clearly recant the Peace of Dives.

'Tis pity that most of the governments in the world aren't as smart as a 19th-century English poet.

After World War II the governments of the winning countries, shaken by the sheer destructive extent of the war -- not to mention the amazing destructive potential of nuclear weapons -- searched frantically for some means to end war.  One solution they came up with was the United Nations, originally the winners' circle of WWII, hoping it would eventually include all the world's countries and provide a forum where all governments could talk out their differences -- as if all differences could be talked away.  Another solution they came up with was the Peace of Dives, which has since been labelled "Global Interdependence".

The theory is still the same: get all countries financially dependent on each other, in debt to each other, and they won't dare make war on each other.  This theory shares the great Progressive assumption that all people and all cultures are essentially alike, that the only real division between countries is national boundaries, and an interlaced economy can make those irrelevant.  It also assumes that interlaced economies will make all countries equally healthy, wealthy and wise, so there will be no motivation for war.  This explains the NAFTA treaty, the growth of international corporations, and the western countries' willingness to bend over backward appeasing demanding Arab organizations.  It's all in the hope of preventing war.

Hasn't worked very well, has it?

Kipling knew better.  In dozens of his poems and stories he shows the primacy of culture -- the psychology of whole societies -- and how this is the driving engine behind attempts at conquest and war. 

Arab culture, for example, is based on sexism, self-righteousness, envy and spite -- as its history shows.  This is why, when they weren't attempting to conquer their neighbors, Arab countries would fight among themselves -- on any pretext -- until they ran out of money and soldiers.  Note Syria.

The culture of China, for another example, always (at least 3000 years back, anyway) contained a vast arrogance which held that Chinese were as superior to other humans as the gods were superior to them -- as revealed in their common name for China as "The Middle Kingdom": midway between heaven and the rest of the earth.  This has led the rulers of China to play economic warfare with other countries, to its own serious detriment, just to prove their superiority to those "foreign devils".  Note the Opium Wars.

It's true that economic conflicts reliably lead to wars, but the root of those economic conflicts is cultural.  Yes, there are very different cultures in the world, with deep and fundamental differences, and all the economic ties in the world won't stop them from battling until one or the other goes under.  Global interdependence has only made economics into a weapon which hostile cultures can use to damage each other.  Worse, it has created an international aristocracy of the very rich which has a culture of its own -- and that culture shares little or nothing with the cultures of the western democracies.  Recent revelations about the infamous "one percent" have shown us that;  they are no one race or religion or nation, and have no allegiance to any of those, but value only their own class and power. 

Finally, Global Interdependence has created worldwide debt and worldwide economic depression, such as we've seen around the world for the last five years.  No government will admit to this, but the previous decades' orgy of debt has run everyone but the very rich broke;  all those debts have come due, and it turns out that there's nothing solid to pay them with.  Half a century's financial manipulation has manipulated all the money into the pockets of the financial manipulators, with everyone else left dead broke.  The Peace of Dives benefited no one but Dives. 

No doubt the financial aristocrats assume that they can now rule the world as they see fit by doling out the money, but history should advise them otherwise.  Money as receipts of ownership becomes worthless when large numbers of desperate people simply stop recognizing the legitimacy of the receipt, and come after its owners.  Imagine a Russian or French style revolution on a global scale.  "Eat The Rich" just might cease to be a joke.  The Peace of Dives ends in either global feudalism or global war.

The solution is to put an end to Globalism and return to independence -- of each nation, society, town and even household.  It was possible in 1776 and it's even more possible now.  There is a movement afoot to do just that, but it's the subject of a whole 'nother story.

--Leslie <;)))><                           

4 comments:

Paradoctor said...

Trade prevents conflicts over resources, and mitigates culture clashes, but does not eliminate them. It's like how most homicides are _not_ done for monetary gain, but as street justice. A professional crook knows violence is risky and expensive; but a vigilante on a mission ignores such computations. And since people automatically rationalize their actions, trouble is always the other guy's fault.

To this add the narcissism of the local. We're #1, we're the Middle Kingdom, we're the House of Faith. Yawn. There's nothing less exceptional than exceptionalism.

I take issue with your pessimism. Actually, lately the Peace of Dives has been working fine. As for culture-wars; the biggest one planetwide is generational, especially in the theocracies.

But I do agree that we've probably traded in a World War Three for eventual planetary revolution; one which might not come out the right way, at least the first one.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Nat. True, everybody thinks they're The Best, but "exceptionalism" varies in its intensity and application. After all, there are so *many* things to be Number One *about* that everybody's pride can be satisfied on something. F'rinstance, I'm probably the world's greatest filksong writer, so it doesn't bother me at all that I'm probably the world's worst cook (Really! To save my life, I can cook only seven dishes -- and one of them is salad). Also, the price of one's exceptionalism can be a mitigating factor. America's original Puritanism claimed "we are the Elect, the pure, the holy", but also included "oooh we're such sinners and so guilty, we must make amends to satisfy The Lord" -- which is the cultural origin of Liberal Guilt.

'Tis the Peace of Dives that created the One Percent and our current worldwide depression, so I wouldn't say it's been working that well. Modern communications has exposed the New Aristocracy to all the world's resentment, so I wouldn't give much for the 1%'s long-term survival, either.

The main cultural conflict right now, I'd say, is between the imperialist theocracies (Tibet isn't having much trouble with the rest of the world) and everybody else; the Moslem states' frantic jihad efforts reveal a need to conquer the world quickly before the power of their own culture is eroded away. If the conflict were only generational, we wouldn't see so many willingly brainwashed young suicide bombers.

I suspect that the success of the global revolution will depend heavily on how many libertarian/Enlightenment concepts can be spread around the world, and how quickly. With the line between the telephone and the computer blurring so rapidly, and the prices thereof dropping likewise, I have reason to be optimistic about the outcome.

Jo-Ellen Bass said...

Is it also possible that Kipling, canny student of human nature that he was, wrote "The Peace of Dives" as a sort of tongue-in-cheek commentary?

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Jo. Hmmm, no, the dates of his writings don't bear that out. Also, at the time, the British Empire was upheld by simple force of arms, which the British were quite willing to use, rather than international debts. In fact, it was China's attempt at economic warfare with Britain that created the Opium Wars, so the Brits would not be terribly inclined to play that game themselves, at least at that time.