GLOBAL ANXIETY (Issue nș 26)

by Serge Berthier

The issue nș26 of Asian Affairs was supposed to be titled: "Global security". After reviewing the articles that have been selected for this issue, we decided to change the title to "Global anxiety" as it appears that no one is quite confident that a peaceful future is in front of us.

Each of the writers, and they reflect a broad range of view, has its own worry. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Badawi, known as a man of moderation, focussing his attention of the Asia-Pacific region, rather than on Middle-East policies about which he made clear he does not share the views of President Bush Jr, sees the revamp US/Japan alliance as more trouble ahead rather than less. Alliances, he considers, are never harmless, and this particular alliance is the clearest sign that the United States consider China as a threat.

Yoshihide Soeya, a Japanese analyst, disagrees. The alliance is necessary to bring peace and stability around it. He justifies this position by arguing that in the past the alliance served the Asia-Pacific region very well. And the region has not yet sorted out the North Korean issue, or the Taiwanese one. In other words, it is too early to call the Cold war over in this part of the world.

Peter Cozens and Michael McDevitt focus on the if, when and why would things go wrong. As Peter Cozens puts it "US bilateral alliance arrangements between, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Thailand, unlike the emerging hub and spokes system centered in China, has a hard edge to it".

As for Michael McDevit, he clearly is a military-minded person. He states the reverse. We discussed at length in the issue nș 18 the return of the military mentality. The fact that it never really achieved anything that could not have been achieved through peaceful means has never been so obvious. Paul Rogers explains to us why we have entered into a period of endless war against an enemy that Shareen Mazari describes as born-out of "a sense of deprivation and injustice". Furthermore she argues rightly "framing the terrorist issue in religious terms is equally counterproductive since terrorism has political roots". In any case, she argues that at best the war, after so many deaths, has reached a stalemate.

Everyone in the most powerful military establishment of today, the Pentagon, seems to admit she is right. Even generals on the grounds acknowledged now what Saddam Hussein said before: a war in Iraq is unwinnable. The inevitable conclusion is that the United States have lost yet another war, while Afghanistan, which was not a war of any kind, has returned to warlordism and narco-state.

The outcome of those failures are not more peace in the future but more anxiety for every one because history shows that anxious governments are prone to more war rather than less.

The problem we are facing is of human nature.

We all crave for a status in the society. At the personal level, one's position in society is the necessary seed needed for capitalism to be accepted and cherished. Capitalism values one's importance in the eyes of the world. What is no longer recognized with globalization is that different societies have awarded, over time, different status to different groups. Today, status in a global world is exclusively awarded in relation to financial achievement.

That perception has spilled over in public life, with at the forefront, the United States and Great Britain, awarding themselves by association a very high status, as if there were a reliable rule between economic achievements and moral values.

As a very fine British writer, Alain de Botton, argues, it was probably inevitable. Since Rousseau and Marx, and many before them, had claimed that the wealthy and the powerful must necessarily have attained their positions through corrupt means, conversely the meritocratic system that underpins capitalism established the reverse rule. Capitalism resting on competition and the survival of the fittest, called for fair competition and equal opportunities. Those emerging from the pie are then considered the best and the cream of society. Their status is rewarded by financial goodies such as stock option and extravagant salary. The role model is Bill Gates, never mind the fact that his company has been accused of predatory tactics and unsavoury business practices. After all, the same was said of Carnegie or Rockfeller in older days.

"An increasing faith in a reliable connection between merit and worldly position in turn endowed money with a new moral quality", A. de Botton writes. "The rich were not only wealthier; they might also be better". This pervasive idea found its way into the religious realm, with many Christian thinkers, especially in the United States, arguing that wealth came as a reward from God. No wonder that President Bush Jr has faith in Christianity. Probably he truly believes, like John D. Rockfeller the first, that "it was the Lord that had made him rich". In any case, he made clear that it was God's will if he is President of the United States.

The rise of an economic meritocracy, associating wealth with goodness had a corollary: if the rich were talented and deserved their status, so the poor deserved as well theirs. Thus the poors were sinful and corrupt. Their poverty was the result of their own stupidity; otherwise they would not be poor.

This pervasive idea is indeed never far away from the American neo-conservatism agenda (see Paul Rogers article).

But such a high perception of oneself is always associated with another syndrome: the pernicious feeling that things might change, that we are always in danger of failing to conform to the ideal of success, that we may be stripped of the dignity and respect associated with it.

It is called anxiety. Rare individuals aside (mostly philosophers, religious and dedicated bohemians), our self-conception is dependent upon what others make of us. This is because we rely on signs of respect from the world to feel tolerable to ourselves. And if some of us could forget it in the past, the advertising world using modern technology is now paid to brainwash us that it is not acceptable in a capitalist society.

That is why, at all level, our position in the ladder is a matter of such a concern while anxiety is its permanent companion.

What this issue of Asian Affairs outlines with so many divergent views is that, since 9/11, the administration of President Bush has not only been unable to convince the world of its values but has lost all the capital of his country overseas. The result of failure is that the United States status in the world is falling apart. Therefore it is likely that status anxiety is now the only emotion driving any of the actors of the White House, hence the title of this issue.

That state of mind explains the confusion, unexplainable errors and lapse of judgement on most of the issues made since 9/11. Anxiety is somehow a double-hedge sword. It might bring out the better, or alternatively the worse, of the anxious person. That is why what is foremost a problem at the heart of the American society is also a matter of concern for the rest of us.

Serge Berthier