You may have noticed higher food prices, global debt, food shortages, inequality, vast unemployment and climate change—how it’s all interconnected. Francis Fukuyama’s final form of civilization and government, right?
This morning I read an article published yesterday in The Guardian entitled “Why food riots are likely to become the new normal.” It was written by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development (IPRD), which bills itself as an “independent non-profit research organisation for transdisciplinary security studies, analysing violent conflict in the context of global ecological, energy and economic crises.”
While none of what Ahmed wrote was news to me, it did get me thinking, yet again, of Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History and the Last Man.
I’d been given the book roughly five years ago by a co-worker at an indie bookshop at which I worked. “Read it,” the co-worker said. Alright, I thought, it sounds interesting enough. I recalled hearing about it during my Political Science studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but never so much as picked it up (too busy educating myself in other ways, in the Mark Twain tradition). Rather immediately I took a dislike to Fukuyama’s analysis. It was arrogant absolutism masquerading as reasoned argument.
Granted, Western civilization’s liberal democracy was as good an idea as any, and Fukuyama’s insight is not without its logic. But Fukuyama’s perspective has two fatal flaws—one a failure of imagination, the other a consequence of The End of History having been written in 1992 before the Internet Age.
Allow me to elaborate.
Fukuyama may have admired Hegel and dialectic, but he seems to have not reckoned with the reality that historical forces are leading us toward a mounting problem. Western liberal democracy may encourage new markets and lift people upward socially, but if every country on Earth desires to expand its economy and consume exponentially, a critical mass is approaching in which such delusions cannot be sustained. Fukuyama seems rather disinterested in this problem. It’s not convenient to his great work. That is the first fatal flaw.
The second is that the Internet is starting to radically transform the ways in which people make democracy work. It is connecting people in untold ways, creating a post-national means of solving the world’s problems. In short, it’s rendering liberal democracy obsolete; slowly but surely. People are exhausted with political paralysis—especially in America—and they are starting to do things at the grassroots level, using the Internet to share successes and failures.
So, after reading Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed’s op-ed, should we still believe that an absolutist free market-capitalist civilization is the best way forward for humanity and the planet's ecosystem?
I reckon it is not. Based on what we see in current events, the contemprorary way of going about business won’t work in the long term. I'm not advocating for a return to past, failed systems but something more sensible and sustainable; an acknowledgment that while this system has lifted many people up over time, in its current form it might well be bound to fail. The rate at which we consume “stuff" will render current intermittent problems (food shortages, energy crises, climate change, civil unrest, rising prices—thanks to speculation) big problems down the line. Perhaps not in five or ten years, but maybe in the mid-21st century.
But I admit that I do not have an alternative plan, nor would I be so arrogant as to impose one.
There are limits to deep sea fish catches so as to not eradicate entire species; do we seriously think that this doesn't apply to other areas of the ecosystem and civilization? A certain ecological and evolutionary balance brought us to this very moment, and we've been messing with it for quite some time.
Time to evolve and quit acting like children.